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North African Hope

December 29, 2019

Can North Africa be the magic number that augurs a better future for the Middle East? Though on the fringe of the Islamic world, the regions of Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria were interconnected with the flourishing Andalusian culture and had centers of learning akin to universities that produced vibrant Sufi streams, jurisprudence and classic gems in history and medicine.

The Fatimid dynasty in Egypt of North African background ushered in the first arts of distinctively Islamic character. The region was also a beacon of universalism where Arabs and Amazigh lived side by side, with ruling dynasties alternating from both groups, a phenomenon which despite the linguistic differences have somehow given the region a unique character: partly Arab, partly Amazigh and partly Mediterranean/Greco-Roman. Muslims and Jews coexisted for centuries in relative harmony. They still do, by the way, in Morocco.

Following centuries of deterioration with the decline of the Islamic civilization, the region received a new cultural impetus with the French presence in the 19th century.

Maintaining my neutrality on the debate regarding the civilizing mission of Western colonialism, I would certainty give the French credit for dissolving to a large extent tribal structures in North Africa. The preponderance of the nomadic element in Morocco and Algeria hampered the full of utilization of their agricultural potential and the formation of stable, centralized states.

In the 21st century, 60 or 70 years since independence, the region stands aloof watching the disintegration of the Middle East. Cohesive societies have been built with significant middle classes. Strides in education, modernization and women rights have been covered in Tunisia. Algeria over the past 20 years have resolved thorny questions regarding identity and an unhealthy cultural stratification in society. That is not to say that image is all rosy, as the region is plagued by same problems of the rest of the Islamic World: a strangulating oligarchy, a disconnected elite and destabilizing pockets in the Rif region in Morocco and the South of Tunisia.

The recent successful democratization of Tunisia offers a glimmer of hope for a democratic success story in the Arab world, once the political caste has reached a consensus on an economic road map for the country. Developmental economics should be the logical next step: exhorting entrepreneurship, industrialization, a level business playfield, social expenditure, and growth- oriented monetary policies.

Algeria also offers reasons for optimism, for despite the historical traumas witnessed by the country and the social and cultural tensions that generated a decade of Islamic terrorism, the country has seen a new, aware, moderate and rather homogeneous generation go out to the streets demanding an end to oligarchy and corruption. The measured and calm response of the authorities proves that against the yardstick of historical centuries, Algeria has matured in a miraculous pace, which can be taken as enough reason for optimism.

Democracy alone can bring transparency regarding the workings of its opaque ruling clique and re-institute developmental economics. Most of the Algerian interior is conservative, self-contained, insular and Islamic though way more moderate than its Saudi, Afghani, or central Asian counterparts. Entrenched Sufism– which is pit against salafism albeit not necessarily at loggerheads with formal political Islam, for Sufis can quite easily switch to the more puritanical political Islam– as well as expansion in and improvement of education should tamper the Islamist tendencies.

Political Islam, however, should not be confounded with militancy in Algeria, as the nation has already acted out the repressed violence of the war of independence in the dark 90s decade of Islamist insurgency. The social base of violence has been dismantled and is too fragmented. Also, specific to the Algerian case, unlike Tunisia and Morocco, there is no umbrella group creating a linkage for the scattered Islamists.

Nonetheless, an Islamist victory in free election remains a solid probability which could take the country back to square 1. It’s the Islamists now who must call the shots, following in the footsteps of the more sophisticated Tunisian ones, by asserting dedication to an inclusive regime. On the other hand, the Amazigh demands in Kabylie for some autonomy or cultural assertiveness are containable and manageable.

Morocco is not situated in a vacuum and what happens in its sister countries will reach it by osmosis. There are already signs there of some political reform and attempts at economic modernization.

One Comment
  1. Reblogged this on ALGMARTUN.

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