Academic journal article Middle East Review of International Affairs (Online)

Moroccan Islamists: Integration, Confrontation, and Ordinary Muslims

Academic journal article Middle East Review of International Affairs (Online)

Moroccan Islamists: Integration, Confrontation, and Ordinary Muslims

Article excerpt


Since its inception in late 1960s, the Islamist movement in Morocco has been growing-especially on university campuses1- and has been dominated by two distinct currents. The two tendencies present different perspectives on political activism and thus reflect distinct political cultures. One leans toward integration and political participation; it is aware of the importance of democracy as a necessary instrument for the right to run for public office and vote. This group believes in political pluralism, tolerance, and equality. The other "distances itself from the institutions" and refuses to be integrated into the political system.2 This group seems to lean more toward a strategy of confrontation, and struggle vis-à-vis the status quo in its political behavior, and an ambivalent stance on the notion of democracy.

The Islamist movement in Morocco appears to have developed in two distinct phases. One began in the late 1960s and early 1970s and could be considered the birth, infiltration, and expansion of radical Islamism into society.3 This stage was also marked by the complacency and even open government complicity in the development of this early religious movement. Part of this movement became even more radicalized in the early 1980s, prompting the government to pursue a dual policy of greater repression of the most radical elements and increased control of its moderate ones.4 The second phase began in 1974 and was led by Abd al-Salam Yassine, whose famous epistle to King Hassan II defied the monarch and asked him to repent for all of his sins and redeem himself.

In both phases, Moroccan Islamism was influenced by the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. Hassan al-Banna and Sayyid Qutb have had a deep impact on Abd al-Salam Yassine and Abd al-Karim Mouti, the two prominent Islamist leaders, influencing their thinking and writings, and even their organizational strategies for the creation of a functioning Muslim umma (totality of the world's Muslims).


In late 1960s, the Islamic Youth Movement (IYM, Harakat al-Shabiba al-Islamiyya) was founded by Abd al-Karim Mouti, an inspector at the Ministry of Education, and became an official organization in 1972. Mouti's initiative most likely received the government's blessing.6 Since its early inception, the IYM was marked by the influence of the Muslim Brothers, who fled the crackdown on religious activism in Egypt and Syria and found refuge in the Maghreb. The IYM began in earnest to spread its roots and gain more adherents, using the writings of Sayyid Qutb and Hassan al-Banna as its ideological base.7

The IYM was legally founded in November 1972 and was dissolved in December 1975. In his application for the IYM, Mouti' emphasized to the authorities his organization's religious and educational aspect, arguing it was not interested in politics. The Islamist leader further argued that his movement was an organization of a group of Muslims and did not claim to represent all Muslims. Its educational activities were based on the Islamic principle of exhorting people to urge what is good and to explain the Muslim faith.8 However, the IYM engaged in political activism thereafter, becoming increasingly radical and leading to a government response. The security forces managed to infiltrate the Islamist organization and began to discredit it by jailing many of its leaders, including Mouti himself.9

Among Morocco's numerous militant Islamist groups, the IYM is considered to be the most radical and has been known to engage in violent acts.10 The IYM's radicalism could be summarized by the following quote from one of Mouti's interviews: "Our present and our future are caught between the hammer of the American imperialism and the anvil of its agents represented by the corrupt monarchical regime and those who support it.... For the Arabs are Muslims... the Arabs will never return to their greatness unless they open their hearts to Islamic brotherhood and cooperation, and their minds to the guidance of Muhammad. …

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