Jihadism enters its final phase

In Morocco, the monarchy guarantees Islam while the state is responsible for secular affairs. In Tunisia, the new constitution separates state and religion. There is thus now a process in place in North Africa that might bring an end to violent jihadism.

“My view is that Islamic jihadism as a way to achieve political goals has entered its final phase, in spite of all the media attention,” says Rachid Benlabbah, a guest researcher at the Nordic Africa Institute from Mohammed V University in Rabat, Morocco.

In his studies of Morocco, Tunisia, Libya and Mauritania, all states created by colonial powers and in which political Islam is a key factor, Benlabbah has detected a momentum towards “institutionalised dialogue.”

“The secular parties in Tunisia have negotiated with the Islamist Ennahda since 2005 about how to define the state. Now there is a new constitution that separates the religion from the civil state,” says Benlabbah.

This dialogue is a prerequisite for a paradigm shift, which Benlabbah calls “hybridisation” in accordance with postcolonial theory. Secular parties and Islamists, once sworn enemies, have managed to compromise on Islam as the basis of core values, while the state is to be secular, with no sharia law.  Two seemingly incompatible worldviews have been fused in the Tunisian constitution, and the state is superior to religion.

However, Benlabbah, is also critical of the constitution as contradictory and lacking in precise provisions about how the state will govern.

“Islam is the state religion. The state is civil, yet there is no clear definition of human rights, democracy and plurality, all of them key components of a civil state.”

A further issue is the governance of religious institutions in Tunisia. Islamist Ennahda rejects state control. For Benlabbah, “privatisation” of the religious sphere is problematic.

“In 2011 and 2012 salafist jihadism was preached in thousands of mosques and in universities. Now, thousands of Tunisian jihadist fighters have returned from wars in Iraq, Syria and Libya.”

In this context, political Islam can be broadly divided in-to the followers of the Muslim Brotherhood, and Salfist jihadism. Salafist jihadism involves an extreme interpretation of Islam, as in the case of IS, al-Qaida, Boko Haram and Ansar al-Sharia.

Islam plays a role in the power structure of Morocco, as symbolised by the monarchy. The influence of religion is balanced by the non-inclusion of sharia in the constitution. The moderate Islamist PJD party and a new generation of Salafist activists who renounce jihad have been a part of this new dispensation. Even leaders sentenced after the suicide bombings in Casablanca in 2003, seek to participate in this peaceful process today.

Benlabbah is presently concentrating on developments in Mauritania.

“The process has not come so far and is mainly about identity. The role of Islam is not yet on the table.”

Ethnicity is a key factor in Mauritania. Political representatives of the people in the south are now demanding autonomy as a result of previous persecution, expulsion and discrimination.

“Identity is more important, which indicates the end of Islamism. The nation, created by the colonial powers, is also questioned,” concludes Benlabbah

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