Master and Disciple: The Cultural Foundations of Moroccan Authoritarianism

Master and Disciple: The Cultural Foundations of Moroccan Authoritarianism

by Abdellah Hammoudi

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In the postcolonial era, Arab societies have been ruled by a variety of authoritarian regimes. Focusing on his native Morocco, Abdellah Hammoudi explores the ideological and cultural foundations of this persistent authoritarianism.

Building on the work of Foucault, Hammoudi argues that at the heart of Moroccan culture lies a paradigm of authority that juxtaposes

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In the postcolonial era, Arab societies have been ruled by a variety of authoritarian regimes. Focusing on his native Morocco, Abdellah Hammoudi explores the ideological and cultural foundations of this persistent authoritarianism.

Building on the work of Foucault, Hammoudi argues that at the heart of Moroccan culture lies a paradigm of authority that juxtaposes absolute authority against absolute submission. Rooted in Islamic mysticism, this paradigm can be observed in the drama of mystic initiation, with its fundamental dialectic between Master and Disciple; in conflict with other cultural forms, and reelaborated in colonial and postcolonial circumstances, it informs all major aspects of Moroccan personal, political, and gender relations. Its influence is so pervasive and so firmly embedded that it ultimately legitimizes the authoritarian structure of power. Hammoudi contends that as long as the Master-Disciple dialectic remains the dominant paradigm of power relations, male authoritarianism will prevail as the dominant political form.

"Connecting political domination to gift exchange, ritual initiation, social loyalty, and gender reversals, Master and Disciple is nothing less than a thoroughgoing revision of our understanding of authoritarian rule in Morocco and in the Arab world in general."—Clifford Geertz, Institute for Advanced Study

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Master and Disciple

The Cultural Foundations of Moroccan Authoritarianism
By Abdellah Hammoudi

The University of Chicago Press

Copyright © 1997 The University of Chicago
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-226-31528-7

Chapter One

Foundations of Monarchical Authority and Forms of Exercise of Power: Toward a Redefinition of the Moroccan Political System

What forms does the exercise of power take in the postcolonial Moroccan nation-state and what are the sources of its vitality and continuity since 1956? The description called for by the first, typological question will help us refine the terms of the second question. In other words, defining a type of power will lead to a better understanding of its foundations; a closer look at ways of governing will undoubtedly provide us with a better grasp of their internal mechanisms. One can account for the perpetuation of a form of exercise of power either in terms of values which are supposed to be held dear by those who submit to it, or in terms of factors which, unbeknownst to them, guide their will. Explanations based on economic interest belong to the second category, whereas explanations focusing on legitimacy fall into the first one.

Objectifying description is relevant not only for the so-called external factors, but also for the justifications that make certain forms of the exercise of power desirable or simply tolerable to the governed. Whether or not the actors are aware of their operation, these justifications serve as guidelines for individual and collective action. The daily experience of all who take part in an action is made up of attitudes, feelings, and gambles; judging by the endlessly varied comments any action may engender, transparent motivations are rare. Assuming that we agree on this last point, the so-called objective factors and their perception as expressed by the actors themselves can no longer be considered as belonging to different epistemological orders. We are then faced with the problem of deciding which factors to highlight in order to interpret action.

In the present case, namely postindependence Morocco, any consideration of material interest inevitably draws us into a sort of paradox: the assumption that the privileged classes support the regime for reasons of material interest leaves us uncertain as to why the majority, despite deprivation, is acquiescent. Inversely, it is questionable to attribute the popular attitude simply to repression, possibly combined with a system of ideas and beliefs that functions as an opiate. Aren't the elite and the popular majority alike on a constant quest for greater proximity to the center of distribution of wealth and power? If so, the impact of economic interest might account for the comportment of the underprivileged masses as well as that of the privileged classes. But it first undergoes a transformation which ties it to the source of its meaning, namely the mystique of the distributing center and its chief.

Is this a paradox? Not really; rather, the paradox lies in the patience of the underprivileged, who continue to hope for a miraculous improvement in their lot despite the regular frustration of their expectations. The persistence of such hopes does not, however, point to fatalism or fear of repression. The outbursts that periodically shake the cities, only to be harshly repressed, reveal an anger fueled by frustrations and unkept promises which alternates with faith in the capacity of the distributing center to save the most underprivileged.

My line of argumentation may help to resolve the apparent contradiction between growing inequality due to the regime's political and economic choices, on the one hand, and reference to "popular" le gitimacy, on the other hand. The way both the underprivileged classes and the postcolonial elites perceive the system is related to the so-called objective factors involved in unequal development. The center which distributes favors to elites represents the only system known to the masses.

This link seems to have escaped the attention of both ideologists of the Moroccan political system and observers attempting to account for its considerable success. In this book, an examination of the ideologies of the present monarchical system will be followed by a reconsideration of the postcolonial political struggles as seen by political scientists. Both will contribute to a typological assessment. They will also enable me to outline the phenomena of perception and belief which give the variables of economic and sociological structure an orientation contrary to that usually attributed to them.

Allegiance, Charisma, and Royal Arbitration

Alawists posit the existence of a direct relationship, sanctioned by divine decree, between the sovereign and his subjects-thus establishing through a kind of structural confusion what constitutes legality in their eyes. (I prefer in this context to use the notion of divine right, which is clearly distinct from the doctrine of general will in Hegel's sense of the terms; the divine right of kings, in a Hegelian perspective, would be regarded as a nonright.) Those who hold such views assert that this primordial relationship is expressed in the solemn oath of allegiance (bay'a) presented by the community-as represented by the ulema, or doctors of Islamic law-to the candidate of its choice at the outset of each new reign. This oath of allegiance, renewed every year on the great Muslim feast days, constitutes an unbreakable bond between the people and the king. It also places the king above any cleavages which may divide the community.

Postindependence Morocco has had several constitutions, which have introduced a parliamentary system and the concept of a legislative assembly elected by the people, but the sovereign retains the initiative by divine law. The original nature of the situation stems from the fact that the constitution itself-especially the 1972 constitution—recognizes the sovereign's right to make decisions and legislate without regard to constitutional restraints. The allegiance of the Moroccan people-considered as a distinct Muslim community which at the same time is part of the worldwide Muslim community-establishes the monarch as "commander of the faithful." His power thus presents a doubly formidable obstacle for those who might think of vying for supreme command: attacking him would be both a crime and a sacrilege-inseparable notions in this logic-at once a violation of divine law and the desacralization of a figure of Islamic piety. Let us not forget that God ordains that the community never remain without a leader (imam) and indicates to everyone through the consent of the community which candidate is his elect. Herein lies the very first dissuasive argument against any act of rebellion.

A second argument follows naturally. The oath of allegiance is based on a consensus which now must be consolidated. The community transcends its divisions through obedience to this sacralized authority and, as a result, is in a position to triumph over both internal and external threats. Alawist monarchists forcefully claim that in the absence of a leader whose religious standing places him above civil society and its power struggles, divisions between townsfolk and country people, Arabs and Berbers, the bourgeoisie and the populace could break up the nation-state. Supporters of a monarchy of divine right use this argument, based on a particular interpretation of Islamic law and a particular form of allegiance, to underscore the eminent qualities of the ruling family as well as its accomplishments. As a descendant of the Prophet, the monarch incarnates in the eyes of the people the miracle of his ancestor, namely the emergence of a community which restores the primordial Word and builds a new order. Consequently this lineage, which God's will has put above all others, is capable of transcending all differences. It has indeed always been able, historically speaking, to save the country-first in its fight against covetous Christian powers beginning in the sixteenth century, and more recently in the mid-twentieth-century campaign for independence, the "King's and People's Revolution." Even more important, Morocco has owed its existence as a political and cultural entity to the chorfas (descendants of the Prophet) since their founding of the first Muslim kingdom in the eighth century.

This theory of allegiance, as presented by a segment of the cultured elites, does not inform the perception of legitimacy held by the rural and urban masses. The sharifian dimension, on the other hand, imposes itself in everyone's mind; no one ever forgets that the sharifs assumed leadership at crucial times in the community's struggle for survival. Charisma and sharifian action therefore override the theory of allegiance. W e can reasonably assume that this has been the case throughout Morocco's modern history. An added dimension today is that the concrete expression of allegiance and the attending ceremony are regularly presented to everyone by the media. In terms of perception alone, the ritual of submission shown to general audiences puts the monarch above his society. The idea that sharifism is the foundation of the Moroccan nation and is responsible for its continuity since the eighth century is, however, a recent point of view, which may, incidentally, contradict the scholarly theory of allegiance."

Whatever the case, neither sharifian charisma nor leadership in the community's struggles for survival can be regarded as a simple and transparent concept. It is not sufficient to inherit charisma, for it can only be validated by actions and success. As for leadership, it has to be negotiated. Let us note that these qualities, which according to the Alawist theory of monarchy foster a direct relationship between the king and his people—a relationship not mediated by civil institutions—turn out under examination to be highly problematic and open to interpretations imposed by power relations. This has been clearly demonstrated by a number of crucial events in Moroccan politics since the beginning of the century.

The relationship which once existed between the sultan and his subjects was profoundly modified during the period of the French protectorate, instituted in 1912. Resistance to foreign invasion, carried out in the name of Islam and local values, then coincided with the traditional power center's apparent collaboration with Christian invaders. Between 1894 and 1927 sharifian charisma gave way to other forces. These took strikingly different forms: resistance by tribal chiefs assisted by religious leaders (not all of whom claimed sharifian descent), foundations directed by thaumaturges, wars between tribes that had regained their autonomy, nationalist struggle fueled by religious faith. The so-called Rif War falls into this last category. As an organized movement with relatively clear objectives, the Rif struggle, under the leadership of Mohammed ben Abdelkrim al Khattabi, introduced modern reforms and founded a republic without any reference to sharifism. Its popularity and the degree to which it inspired others in Morocco indicated a weakening of sharifian legitimacy.

In fact it was urban nationalism that pulled the monarchy and its symbols out of a long period of lethargy stretching from the death of Hassan I to the first decades of the twentieth century. Historians usually consider that the beginning of this new nationalist movement coincided with the protest against the so-called Berber Dahir of May 1930. When the sultan, Mohammed ben Youssef, refused to sign this law, which would have divided the country between Arabs and Berbers he was echoing popular feeling, but he was not then leading the movement. Nevertheless, as a result of his resistance the young sovereign-who had acceded to the throne in 1927-promptly became the leader of a movement activated by the urban elites, particularly the ulema; those who headed the protest against the Berber Dahir claimed him as the symbol of a nation threatened by colonial maneuvers and compliant centrifugal forces. These events drew the nation's attention to a monarchy which had been confined to the palace and reduced to figurehead status by the protectorate and its neosultanian administration. From these early stages of the struggle until the achievement of independence approximately a quarter of a century later, there was increasing collaboration and consultation between the Palace and the nationalists. It was the nationalist party that militated in favor of the monarchy's recovery of its lost prestige, promoting the idea, through constant campaigns and mass demonstrations, of the king as symbol of national unity. This designation was later clearly ratified in the triumphant reception of royal visits to the so-called imperial cities. The visits to Fez (1934) and Tangier (1947) are still vivid in many people's memories." They had been preceded by the nationalists' Manifesto for Independence (1944), which made the preservation of monarchy and the nation a primary objective.

It seems almost impossible in this context to distinguish what stemmed from charisma and traditional legitimacy, on the one hand, and from the outcome of nationalist political strategies, on the other. The 1953 coup de force, which resulted in the deposition and exile of the king, changed the course of the struggle, which intensified and turned violent. Again the sultan's popularity was growing, as was that of Allal al-Fassi, the uncontested leader of the nationalist party Istiqlal. In the countryside the figure of Mohammed ben Youssef, the future Mohammed V, was invoked and legends circulated about the wonders that had occurred during his exile;12 but there was also much reference to al-Fassi, the actual commander of the nationalists operating in the field, who was called al-za'im (the leader).

The sultan's recovered charisma therefore appears to have been due in great part to the efforts of the nationalist militants, but the single banner of the nationalist party covered divergences which soon came to the surface. A number of urban armed groups and the mountain-based Army of Liberation were so far beyond the control of the nationalist party that, after independence, the party joined efforts with the Palace to integrate them into the armed forces, the police, and the administration of the new state. In spite of the sultan's prestige and fervent support for the za'Im, repression was necessary to liquidate or integrate the independence fighters. The monarchy has in fact waged a continuous power struggle with various political organizations, trade unions, and other such forces, seeking to eliminate or at least weaken them so as to be able to claim unmediated legitimacy, as recognized by the people. 14 Thus, the celebrated direct link between the king and his subjects is in fact a recent slogan which has been transformed into an explanatory construct and a policy objective.

All observers agree that from the early days of independence to his death in 1961 King Mohammed V was the object of extreme veneration by his subjects. His appearance captivated the crowds and his presence unquestionably had spiritual power. There was definitely a direct relationship between him and the people. But should his popularity be attributed only to the sovereign's hereditary credentials? Again I do not think so, for the Alawite genealogy contains names of other sovereigns and pretenders who had become discredited or anonymous by the time they died. Moreover, Mohammed V was able to activate the charisma he inherited at the very moment when the nationalist movement was stripping his opponents of their legitimacy. In the early stages of the protectorate some religious leaders-particularly the heads of Sufi brotherhoods-stopped resisting and allied themselves with the colonial administration. The nationalist groups, in organized demonstrations during the 1930s, fought the Sufi brotherhoods in the name of religious reform (salafiya), accusing them of excessive ecstatism, anthropolatry, and collaboration with the occupying forces.

The fate of the Kettani zawiya (religious brotherhood) and its head are exemplary in this regard. During the troubled years in which the occupation of Oujda (1907) was followed by the French troops' landing in Casablanca, Mohammed ben Abdelkebir Kettani established himself as a champion of domestic reforms and of the struggle against the invaders. It was in 1907 that the ruling sultan was overthrown in Marrakech, to the benefit of his brother who was brought to the throne precisely on the basis of such a program. These events led Kettani to initiate a movement in Fez which combined brotherhood Sufism and a reformist Islam of salafi inspiration; the objective of this movement was to impose a representative constitutional regime while reactivating resistance against the Christian invaders. The new sultan was offered conditional allegiance, and the spokesman for the demands listed in the text of the bay'a was Kettani, who until his death never stopped confronting the sultan on these issues.


Excerpted from Master and Disciple by Abdellah Hammoudi Copyright © 1997 by The University of Chicago. Excerpted by permission of The University of Chicago Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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