Daniel W. Drezner

That’s some interesting Islam in Morocco

Der Spiegel‘s Helene Zuber has an interesting story about how Morocco’s government recent efflorts to fuse Islam, modernization, and civil rights. So far, it seems to be working: Religion is making a comeback in Morocco, and more and more young, well-educated Moroccans are devouring the Koran. The new piety, no longer limited to the mosque ...

Der Spiegel‘s Helene Zuber has an interesting story about how Morocco’s government recent efflorts to fuse Islam, modernization, and civil rights. So far, it seems to be working:

Religion is making a comeback in Morocco, and more and more young, well-educated Moroccans are devouring the Koran. The new piety, no longer limited to the mosque or prayers at home, is evident in full public view. More and more women are wearing headscarves, even in Casablanca’s western fashion enclaves and Rabat’s gleaming shopping centers. The designers of expensive caftans — creations of brocade and silk, embellished with gold thread — are now selling their products as luxury couture for the next party, and their clientele is no longer limited to wealthy tourists. Morocco’s 42-year-old King Mohammed VI has discovered religion as a means of modernizing his society — and progress through piety seems to be the order of the day. By granting new rights to women and strengthening civil liberties, the ruler of this country of 30 million on Africa’s northern edge, which is 99 percent Muslim, plans to democratize Morocco through a tolerant interpretation of the Koran…. The Conseil Sup?rieur des Oul?mas, or council of religious scholars, which the king installed a year and a half ago, has been issuing fatwas on the most pressing questions of the 21st century — and, surprisingly, they’ve been well-received by both young people and hardened Islamists. If the king’s reform plan succeeds, Morocco could become a model of democratic Islam…. Traditionally women are not permitted to speak out during prayer, so as not to “provoke” the men, explains Fatima al-Kabbaj, a graduate of the time-honored Islamic theological University of Karaouine in Fez and the first woman in the 16-member Council of Religious Scholars. Kabbaj instructed the king and his siblings in the laws of faith. She says that the monarch has recognized that women are better able to gain the trust of the illiterate, most of whom are also women. Besides, says Kabbaj, devout women are also more effective with the rural population and Morocco’s four million poor than inaccessible imams…. But can the plan succeed? Can the Moroccan king control the interpretation of the Koran in a country where anyone can gain access to competing foreign views on the internet? The palace, at any rate, is willing to try anything. It’s even set up a website that will enable the faithful to chat with religious scholars at 1,000 key mosques. In addition, Radio Coranique Mohammed VI has been broadcasting religious programming for more than a year. And during the last fasting period, the king not only had a woman lead the traditional religious discussion panel at the palace, but also inaugurated an Islamic satellite TV station. Another tool in Mohammed’s battle for the souls of his subjects is the “National Initiative for Development.” Although officially more than half of the government’s budget is spent on social projects, Morocco is still ranked 124th on the United Nations Human Development Index. With a budget of just under ?25 million in immediate aid and another billion euros between 2006 and 2010, the government hopes to reduce poverty by half within the next five years. If the king has his way, Moroccans will liberate themselves from the slogans and handouts of radical Islamist preachers. Although they may represent a threat to Mohammed VI’s reform policies, the only Islamist party seen as capable of succeeding in next year’s parliamentary election is the Justice and Development Party. The party’s young leaders are using the Turkish ruling party, AKP, and the German Christian Democrats as their model. In the eight cities controlled by the Islamists, they have already dispensed with prohibitions on serving alcohol, Western films and provocative swimwear — knowing full well that Morocco’s economy depends on tourism.

 Twitter: @dandrezner

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