“The Maghreb is affected by new religious offerings”


Karima Dirèche is a historian, research director at the CNRS, affiliated with the joint research unit Telemme (Time, spaces, languages, southern Europe, Mediterranean) of the Mediterranean House of Human Sciences in Aix-en-Provence. Director, between 2013 and 2017, of the Institute for Research on the Contemporary Maghreb (IRMC), in Tunis, she directed the collective work Algeria in the present. Between resistance and change (IRMC-Karthala, 2019). Among other areas of research, she investigated the phenomenon of neo-evangelical conversions in Algeria.

“La Montagne aux étoiles I”, by Rachid Koraïchi, acrylic paint on canvas (140 x 140 cm), 2021.

Political Islam of the Muslim Brotherhood type, which had been carried by the wave of the “Arab Spring”, suffered a series of disappointments in 2021 in the Maghreb. In Morocco, the Justice and Development Party (PJD) suffered a bitter electoral setback. In Tunisia, Ennahda, which had become unpopular, was ousted from power by a coup by President Kaïs Saïd. Has the Maghreb entered the era of “post-Islamism”?

There is, in fact, an erosion of Islamist parties of the Muslim Brotherhood type in North Africa. At the same time, we are witnessing a very strong return to religiosity and Islamo-conservatism, but in an apolitical mode. These new expressions of religiosity are influenced by what is called dawla salafiya, that is to say the school of quietist Salafism. And they are reinforced and fed by the regimes which make it a weapon of neutralization of the supporters of political Islam, likely to compete with them, and especially which relays a State Islam imposed in the 1980s. This official Islam aimed, at the time, both to repress the epicenters of student and union protest, and to control as closely as possible the activism of Islamist movements. In these three countries of the Maghreb, the State had seized on the religious, first to short-circuit the discontent and the exasperation of the societies and, then, to neutralize the oppositions of the left and the extreme left.

How to explain the erosion of these Islamist parties which had benefited so much from the “Arab Spring”? Is this the price to pay for compromises in the exercise of power?

These Islamist parties had undeniable popular support and constituted the main opposition political force. But it is true that they then suffered from the normalization process through their integration into the state apparatus. National configurations are different. The Moroccan PJD, before becoming head of government in 2011 in the wake of legislative elections, was an Islamist opposition party, but it was a “light” Islamism, decaffeinated, inclined to negotiation. permanently with the Palace. In Tunisia, Ennahda also came to power in 2011 through elections, with an extraordinary aura, the image of a “martyr” of repression under [Habib] Bourguiba [président de la République de 1957 à 1987]then under [Zine El-Abidine] Ben Ali [président de 1987 jusqu’à sa chute, en 2011]. He was supposed to clean up, moralize public life. But his stint in power proved disastrous, as he was unfit to lead the country. As for Algeria, the Islamist opposition to the regime has been partly discredited by the appalling war of the “black decade”. [les années 1990]. Its shift into violence has chilled part of its historic electorate. And, then, a fringe of these Islamist parties was taken over by the regime of Abdelaziz Bouteflika [1999-2019] and, there too, they were discredited by their belonging to power. In all three societies, disappointment with this political Islam paved the way for quietist, apolitical Salafism, cultivating social consensus, loyalist and reverent towards the state.

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