A forum devoted to current political, economic trends, and news of the Maghreb region.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Blogging in Morocco...And Bureaucratization of Religion

Just back from Morocco, where I had the pleasure to meet various young and upcoming bloggers from Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco. Conversations were inspiring and informative. Exploring the blogosphere in the Maghreb, Morocco and Algeria seem to be relatively freer than Tunisia subject to a stifling environment. Whereas in Morocco, one knows the red lines and taboo subjects outside the limits of freedom of expression, Tunisia's guidelines are arbitrary. Recently, fellow blogger Lina Ben Mhenni's blog (Tunisian Girl بنية تونسية) and facebook page were censored by "Ammar," name 'affectionately' given by Tunisian bloggers and activists to state Internet censorship in Tunisia. The authorities' actions are an attempt to silence Lina's writing on the plight of political prisoners and the dwindling space for freedom of expression in Tunisia.

While in Morocco, I attended the Friday prayer, where I thought the Imam was a public announcer speaking for the virtues of driving safety. I kept waiting for Islamic predication, instead what I heard were the enumerable casualties of Morocco's roads. I, by any means, minimize the issue, but the whole purpose of the Friday sermon in my opinion is not to serve as a mouth piece for any state ministry. This episode is indicative of the larger process of the bureaucratization of religion, which is common place in the Muslim world. Some (see Noah Feldman's "the Fall and Rise of the Islamic State) have traced this process back to the Ottoman's codification of Shari'a law, and the effective relegation of the 'Ulama to mere state functionaries, serving as pawns in the apparatus of the regime. Feldman, for instance, argues that it is this subjugation of the religious class to the state, which is at the center of the decline of the Islamic state. The 'Ulama served as an independent check and a legitimizing force of state authority, forcing a sort of horizontal accountability over the state.

Back to Morocco, religion has been integral to regime hegemony. The monarch is considered the protector of the faith, a fact codified in the Moroccan constitution and monitored by the state through the ministry of religious affairs, which supervises the mosques, religious institutions, and appoint imams. The monarchical interpretation of Islam dominates Morocco’s political discourse and religious legitimacy is the basis of the power of the monarch. This claim is buttressed by the monarch’s claim of ancestral descent from the prophet’s family, which makes him “God’s shadow on earth.” This quasi-holy stature is consecrated in the bay’a (allegiance), which Moroccan monarchs command from their subjects every year and is done following an old Islamic tradition of political succession. The centrality of the monarchy in the religious realm has led to the monarch's dominance of religious discourse, proving crucial in the monarch's confrontation with Islamists.