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New Texts Out Now: Mohamed Daadaoui, "Moroccan Monarchy and the Islamist Challenge"

[Cover of Mohamed Daadaoui, [Cover of Mohamed Daadaoui, "Moroccan Monarchy and the Islamist Challenge"]

Mohamed Daadaoui, Moroccan Monarchy and the Islamist Challenge: Maintaining Makhzen Power. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011.

Jadaliyya: What made you write this book?

Mohamed Daadaoui: I wrote the book because of a long-standing interest in my own country’s political system and the remarkable longevity of monarchical rule in Morocco. Looking at the literature in general, the book attempts to fill the literature gap in Maghreb studies in the English language, and sheds light on the idiosyncrasies of the Moroccan special case of regime sustainability. For a sizeable number of Moroccans, the monarchy is almost a sacrosanct topic, and one not without consequences for those intent on probing its inner workings, as journalists have found out in the last few years. I have always been fascinated by the traditional capital of the institution, but in particular, the different religious uses of its legitimacy. The spectacle of bay’a and rituals of baraka and prophetic lineage have sparked many questions that the book tries to answer.

J: What particular topics, issues, and literatures does it address?

MD: The book makes an important contribution to the literature and provides a new approach to the study of the prevalence of authoritarianism in the MENA. It re-introduces socio-institutional variables into this debate without resorting to essentialist macro-claims; rather, it focuses on the micro-dynamics of symbolic power. The book provides an alternative way to conceptualize political legitimacy and power in the Middle East. It argues that the monarchy’s religious authority and its use of rituals of power limit the ability of Islamist and non-Islamist opposition groups to contest the monarchy’s legitimacy. This study goes beyond most institutionalist accounts of authoritarian persistence by exploring the micro-dynamics of symbolic power and the extent to which the regime uses rituals of power to create a political culture conducive to the monarchy’s supremacy in the socio-political realm, thus promoting regime stability in Morocco. These rituals have been institutionalized in the political system and have become part of the political discourse in Morocco. The study examines the effects of the ritualization of the political process on oppositional—especially Islamist—forces. The book argues that the monarchy’s religious authority and its use of rituals of power impede the ability of Islamist and other opposition groups to mobilize and to penetrate Moroccan society. The prevalence of this cultural and social hegemony contributes to the stability and resilience of the monarchical authoritarian regime in Morocco.

[Mohamed Daadaoui.Image via the author.]

J: Who do you hope will read this book, and what sort of impact would you like it to have?

MD: I hope the book garners wide readership. It is useful to both specialists in the field and to a general audience interested in Morocco’s politics and state-society relations. The ideal target audiences are the scholars on the prevalence of authoritarianism in the Middle East and North Africa, but it could be a useful reference for upper-division undergraduate and graduate courses on politics in the Middle East and North Africa. While the book went to print before the current historical events of the Arab spring, its set of arguments still provides a useful lens to analyze the inability of the protest movement to challenge and shake the legitimacy of the monarchy in Morocco. The book helps explain why the current wave of Arab discontent will not be effective in bringing about regime change in Morocco. Hence, the inability of the protest movement in Morocco to challenge monarchical authority, which begs a different protest strategy to contest regime hegemony. The book avoids essentialist arguments of Moroccan “exceptionalism”; rather, it provides an in-depth historical and socio-cultural analysis of the sources of the monarchical process of manufacturing and using religious and traditional legitimacy.

J: What other projects are you working on now?

MD: I just submitted a chapter to an edited volume on the monarchy and Islamism in Morocco. The volume is entitled Contemporary Morocco: State, Politics and Society under Mohammed VI, edited by Bruce Maddy-Weitzman and Daniel Zisenwine, and will be published by Routledge.

Excerpt from Moroccan Monarchy and the Islamist Challenge: Maintaining Makhzen Power:

Recent scholarship on the prevalence of authoritarianism in the Arab world has focused on institutional factors that facilitate regime manipulation of oppositional forces. Chapter two discussed the institutional framework and its shortcomings in providing an accurate picture of the state-society relations in the Middle East. In addition, this framework strips institutions from their sociocultural roots, ironically in a region where politics is heavily influenced by cultural factors.

The approach that most adequately conveys this perspective in Arab politics ought to combine the institutional framework emphasized in the literature with sociocultural determinants of regime stability that are studied in sociology and anthropology. Institutional explanations dismiss the role of symbols and culturally derived variables as epiphenomenal;[1] however, they fail to address a central question: Why do states in the Arab Middle East spend so much resources and energy to cultivate state rituals of power? Similarly, if these symbols are useless and futile, why do states seek to incorporate them in their political authority?

This chapter analyzes the symbols of state power as independent variables that explain state power and prevalence of modes of authoritarianism. Culture is an elusive concept, which poses great methodological challenges for social science research. Cognizant of these challenges, the approach adopted in this chapter focuses on the material interpretations of cultural symbols. While insisting on ethnographic detail, the chapter covers the political manifestations and significance of rituals and symbols in Moroccan political culture. Analysis herein utilizes a socioinstitutional framework for examining the interaction of cultural symbols and rituals with interests and institutions, attempting “to fully appreciate the role of culture in political life.”[2]

This chapter advances an intersubjective view of culture and focuses on the shared meanings of particular symbols and places them in their political context. Culture, defined as a system of meaning and identity, has contributed to the understanding of a wide range of issues, such as collective action, political motivations, priorities, and patterns of association.[3] Cultural symbols and frames are accentuating devices that underscore and embellish a social condition. They also redefine dominant sociopolitical themes to justify the seemingly unjust.

Cultural understandings are helpful with regard to the debate about the establishment and maintenance of authority in political communities such as Morocco, where politics is an extension of cultural narratives. As Marc Howard Ross puts it, political authority is “culturally constituted and consists of regularized procedures that members of a community consider more or less legitimate, meaning that they have been arrived at by a procedure they consider fair, although the issue may continue to be highly contested.”[4] In this sense, culture has provided a new lens for looking at political authority separate from structuralist and rational paradigms that focus on the formal institutional realms, or on individual contingent and strategic choices underlying political authority.

The boundaries of power and authority are somewhat ambiguous. This is not unique to the Moroccan case. Arab Gulf states also use popular Islam to promote their legitimacy and political authority. These states reconstructed, synthesized, and even invented symbols that appeal to the populace at large. A strong political authority does not just rest upon economic or political incentives. To look at a state’s political authority from a largely economic perspective, as implied by the “rentier state” arguments of economic incentives, does not necessarily guarantee political authority. Quite the opposite may be hypothesized; derivation of the surplus from the world market in the form of oil wealth may ultimately weaken a state’s authority by isolating it from the community, as happened under the Shah’s exorbitant expenditure on the military elite.[5] However, the construction of a particular form of historical, socio-religious memory, whether through the use of history writing or the reinterpretation of folklore and symbols, helps create a more favorable environment to exercise and maintain political authority.

The ability to recast history and deploy culture is different and more subtle than the overt resort to codified forms of institutional authority, whether of a “traditional” (Gulf and Middle East monarchical states) or “rational legal” (democratic states) nature. It entails the construction of hegemonic discourse in the Gramscian sense of the term.

In Morocco, the dual nature of the state developed through the various stages of state formation is reinforced by a process of ritualization of political discourse. This means that political authority and power in Morocco are subject to a constant influx of sociocultural symbols that garner great societal significance. The ritualization of the political discourse serves to pacify and weaken oppositional forces in Morocco, while empowering the monarch as the epitome of the nation to rule unchecked. This ritualization relies on four main symbols of legitimation. These are the king’s claim as amir al-mu’minin, his sharifian lineage, baraka, and the elaborate annual ceremony of allegiance—bay’a. These are not mere symbols but institutions that have been constantly energized and renewed to maintain the monarch’s religious supremacy and cult-like personality. In their institutional guise, these symbols uphold the monopoly of the regime over the religious sphere in Morocco and facilitate state co-optation and “bureaucratization of religion,”[6] which weakens the resilient oppositional forces, especially the Islamists’ challenge to the monarchy.


[1] See for instance Brumberg’s discussion in The Trap of Liberalized Autocracy,” of the dual role of the monarchs in Jordan and Morocco “as modern leaders of a nation (watan) and traditional patrons of the Islamic community (umma)” (62), and their use of ideological and cultural “dissonance” to maintain their regimes. Lisa Anderson, “Absolutism and the Resilience of Monarchy in the Middle East,” Political Science Quarterly 106:1 (1991), 1–15, also emphasizes the role of the institutionalization of bay’a in the resilience of the Monarchy in Morocco. For a more comprehensive review of this literature, see chapter one.

[2] Marc Howard Ross, “Culture and Identity in Comparative Political Analysis,” in Mark Irving Lichbach and Alan S. Zuckerman, Comparative Politics: Rationality, Culture, and Structure (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1997), 42.

[3] Ibid., 46–52.

[4] Ibid., 47.

[5] Morteza Gharehbaghian, “Oil Revenue and the Militarisation of Iran: 1960–1978,” Social Scientist 15: 4–5 (1987), 87–100.

[6] Richard T. Antoun, “Fundamentalism, Bureaucratization, and the State’s Co-optation of Religion: A Jordanian Case Study,” International Journal of Middle East Studies 38:3 (2006), 329–393.

[Excerpted from Mohamed Daadaoui, Moroccan Monarchy and the Islamist Challenge: Maintaining Makhzen Power. @ 2011 Mohamed Daadaoui. Reprinted by permission of the author. For more information, or to purchase the book, click here.]

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