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States and Women's Rights: The Making of Postcolonial Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco / Edition 1

States and Women's Rights: The Making of Postcolonial Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco / Edition 1

by Mounira CharradMounira Charrad
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At a time when the situation of women in the Islamic world is of global interest, here is a study that unlocks the mystery of why women's fates vary so greatly from one country to another. Mounira M. Charrad analyzes the distinctive nature of Islamic legal codes by placing them in the larger context of state power in various societies.

Charrad argues that many analysts miss what is going on in Islamic societies because they fail to recognize the logic of the kin-based model of social and political life, which she contrasts with the Western class-centered model. In a skillful synthesis, she shows how the logic of Islamic legal codes and kin-based political power affect the position of women. These provide the key to Charrad's empirical puzzle: why, after colonial rule, women in Tunisia gained broad legal rights (even in the absence of a feminist protest movement) while, despite similarities in culture and religion, women remained subordinated in post-independence Morocco and Algeria. Charrad's elegant theory, crisp writing, and solid scholarship make a unique contribution in developing a state-building paradigm to discuss women's rights.

This book will interest readers in the fields of sociology, politics, law, women's studies, postcolonial studies, Middle Eastern studies, Middle Eastern history, French history, and Maghrib studies.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780520225763
Publisher: University of California Press
Publication date: 10/30/2001
Edition description: First Edition
Pages: 359
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.90(d)
Lexile: 1480L (what's this?)

About the Author

Mounira M. Charrad is on the faculty of the Department of Sociology and the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Texas, Austin.

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State Formation in Kin-Based Societies

Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco share a common denominator with many postcolonial nation-states in that they are "old societies" at the same time that they are "new states," to use Clifford Geertz's classic formulation. What makes them new is the novelty of their political independence. Until fairly recently on the world historical scene, these countries were colonies or enjoyed only limited sovereignty. Their populations, however, are not new. They have had a cultural identity for centuries. Upon gaining sovereignty, a major imperative confronting postcolonial nations such as those of the Maghrib was to develop a national state and nation-wide institutions in the context left by colonial rule. The task often was to be done in a society characterized by a segmented social organization, as colonization had left many new nations with separate collectivities that were not integrated into a national whole. The separate collectivities varied in nature. They could be ethnic, caste or kinship-based, tribal, religious, or linguistic. In the case of the Maghrib, they were largely tribal and kin based.

The important similarity among many old societies and new states is that loyalties and foci of solidarity rested with the collectivities themselves rather than with nation-wide institutions. Postcolonial newly independent nations had to become nation-states in which the territoriality of the nation was coterminous with that of the state. Following a worldwide wave of decolonization in the mid-twentieth century, the development of nation-states generated tensions with localsolidarities in many parts of the world. The problem of state formation, nation building, or national integration has been widespread in the postcolonial world, as is demonstrated by references "to 'dual' and 'plural' or 'multiple' societies, to 'mosaic' or 'composite' social structures, to 'states' that are not 'nations' and 'nations' that are not 'states,' to 'tribalism,' 'parochialism,' and 'communalism.' "

This chapter discusses the conceptualization of state and state formation in societies characterized by politically significant local solidarities. The essential starting point is an appreciation of the tensions inherent to nation building and state formation in postcolonial nation-states in general and in the kin-based societies of the Maghrib in particular.

States, Nations, and Local Solidarities

When analyzing state formation, it is more appropriate to consider the extent to which a given collectivity meets criteria that are part of statehood in given periods than to ask whether a collectivity does or does not constitute a state. The same applies to nationhood. Max Weber offers a definition useful for the conceptualization of the state used in this book. He writes: "A compulsory political association with continuous organization will be called 'a state' if and in so far as its administrative staff successfully upholds a claim to the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force in the enforcement of its order. A state thus is an institution that places a claim on the authority to make binding decisions for all, on the monopoly of force, and on a territory. In the modern world, a state is usually associated with an administrative apparatus in the form of a bureaucracy.

By implication, state formation involves the expansion of administrative reach over a territory combined with authority within national boundaries. Nation building refers to the development of a collective identity and the integration of separate collectivities into a national whole. The connections between state formation and nation building are intricate and vary from case to case. Some countries face nation building and state formation all at once. Others already have a collective identity when they develop a central state. Still others become national entities only after the development of a central state.

As an overall concept for the social ties binding communities in old societies with separate collectivities, Geertz speaks of "primordial attachments." He sees the attachments as stemming from the "givens of social existence," mainly "immediate contiguity and kin connection," including kinship, ethnicity, language, region, religion, or custom. The concept of primordial ties taps a crucial reality in the new nations because it highlights the segmentation of social organization. Primordial ties often serve as a source of solidarity and cohesion for communities in local areas. They serve as a basis for members of communities to claim their separateness both from other communities and central power. If primordial ties remain strong and separate collectivities persist, it is generally not because people refuse to relinquish centuries-old, deep-rooted beliefs that no longer make sense in a modern era. The ties remain, not as meaningless vestiges of the past, but as social forms that serve a useful function in the here and now. In some cases, ties previously forgotten are reinvented. In the Maghrib, as elsewhere, traditions are invented, abandoned, reinvented, and transformed for reasons rooted in the present.

There is a direct conflict between local solidarities based on primordial ties (which I refer to in brief as local solidarities) and a nation-state. Each institution requires loyalties of its members. Each involves mutually exclusive definitions of what the maximal political unit ought to be. Insofar as primordial solidarities sometimes become candidates for nationhood, they compete with the state or challenge its very existence. Precisely because they represent alternative institutions of power and social control, primordial communities and national institutions find themselves in a relationship of ongoing tension. The tension may be open or latent. Considering other nations may help to place the Maghrib in perspective. In India, for example, the tension has crystallized into violent conflict. Many of the problems of Indian society involve managing the complexities of a society that includes several languages, castes, religions, and ethnic groups. Similar conflicts based in part on similar kinds of solidarities have arisen in places as diverse as Morocco, Nigeria, Rwanda, China, the former Soviet Union, and the former Yugoslavia, to name only a few. One may think of Lebanon and Afghanistan as countries where in recent history, for a variety of national and transnational reasons, loyalties grounded in kinship, ethnicity, or religion challenged the state and one another.

The tension between communal solidarities and society-wide institutions is not unique to new nation-states. It was also experienced, but in a different way, by the West. Reinhard Bendix reminds us that Max Weber's lifework was an effort to analyze the tension. Bendix writes about Weber's work: "[It was an effort] to document the proposition that Christian doctrine and the revival of Roman law militated against familial and communal ties as foci of loyalty which compete effectively with the universal claims of legal procedure..." Such familial and communal ties as foci of loyalty competed also with national political, social, and economic entities. Some communal ties, particularly ethnic, linguistic, and religious, remain to this day social and political issues in advanced industrial nations. Witness, for example, French-speaking Canada, Basque nationalism in Spain or, on a more limited scale, the Corsican movement in France. In general in Western Europe, however, communal solidarities were broken, or at least weakened, in a gradual fashion, over several centuries by industrial capitalism and political struggles in absolutist regimes. Jack Goody traces the weakening of solidarities grounded in extended kinship ties to an even earlier period and associates it with the expansion of the Christian Church in Western Europe.

In the Maghrib as in other new nations, there are two essential differences. First, the timing of state formation is different. Whereas England and France, for example, were already nation-states when industrialization took place, the new nations sometimes had to face state formation, nation building, industrialization, and a host of other imperatives all at once. Second, some of the primordial communities have remained basic social institutions up to the present in many new nation-states. This is not to say that there was no change in those societies until recently. In many cases, however, the dynamic of change was such that primordial communities were able to maintain themselves, either by making necessary but minimal adjustments or by openly struggling for their autonomy.

The development of a national state requires the redirection of resources previously embedded in local networks of obligation toward national goals. As new states attempt to channel resources away from local communities, they challenge primordial ties. Members of separate collectivities find their autonomy jeopardized and their life affected in all respects, sometimes even the most private. To establish the hegemony of the state, the groups in power must transfer social control at least in part from its prior basis in local, ethnic, or kin-based communities to national institutions. Only then is the state in a position to make binding decisions for all. Although new nation-states share the primordial-national dialectic, the particular way in which this dialectic is played out varies greatly, as is evinced by the diversity of institutional configurations in the postcolonial world.

There are multiple kinds of national unity, multiple kinds of nation-wide institutions, and multiple forms of state hegemony. In theoretical terms, central power may a) confront kin-based solidarities and try to subordinate them; b) tolerate them and timidly chip away at their political leverage; or c) manipulate them in a divide-and-rule approach to politics. Conversely, kin-based corporate structures may exist in a variety of relationships to the state. Such structures may a) compete with the state by representing a focus of loyalties for those groups trying to escape state control; b) support the state in both direct and indirect ways; or c) compete among themselves in an attempt to gain the favors of the state. Groups in power can establish state hegemony in a variety of ways, thus giving different forms to the relationship between central power and local solidarities. There also can be shifts in the strategy of any given state, resulting in variations from one historical period to another in the same country. And the process may reverse itself. As Lisa Anderson reminds us, "the march of bureaucratic domination," to use Weber's phrase, is reversible and states may lose power they once had over the periphery.

Central/Local Tension in the History of the Maghrib

The nation-state had an ambiguous identity in the political history of the Maghrib. Only with the achievement of independence from colonial rule has the modern state emerged to challenge or undermine the authority of traditional structures of solidarity and social control. Historically, authoritative institutions were of two types in the Maghrib: the immediate kin-based community or tribe on the one hand and the world Islamic community on the other. Neither unit of reference overlapped with the boundaries of a nation-state. One unit of identification, the tribe, did not reach the level of the nation-state. The other unit, the world Islamic community, bypassed the nation-state altogether. It transcended it geographically, and it subsumed the political within an all-encompassing religious frame of reference.

In terms of social organization, the tribe or kin grouping is critical because it historically has constituted the basic community in the Maghrib. A feature shared by Maghribi and other Middle Eastern societies is their origin in a tribal structure. Nikki Keddie states that, when analyzing the history of the Middle East, it is necessary to consider how a large-scale tribal presence has affected the society as a whole. Tribal origins do not belong to a forgotten past. There are entire regions where individuals continue to identify themselves as members of a tribe. Scholars have documented the existence of a tribal structure to varying degrees in Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco well into the twentieth century. Elbaki Hermassi, for example, indicates that most rural areas in the Maghrib "remained predominantly tribal, preserving their social structures intact until the beginning of the twentieth century. Tribal solidarities may overlap with linguistic, ethnic, or other identities. In the Maghrib as a whole, however, significant local solidarities have rested primarily upon tribal roots.

The Maghribi experience derives in large part from a history of tension between a social group holding power in the political center and autonomous local collectivities resisting its control. Precolonial states, with varying degrees of administrative capacities, expanded and contracted depending on how much control they could master over tribal areas in the periphery. Tribes coexisted with partially bureaucratic centers that had shifting boundaries and often lacked stable systems of administration at the regional and local levels. Keddie has suggested that Middle Eastern history could be reconstructed by looking at the "various permutations and combinations of a nomadic-agricultural-urban synthesis." This applies well to the Maghrib. The nomads were usually at the periphery, resisting control by the center. Settled agricultural populations occupied a middle position; they reluctantly submitted to partial control by central authority when it was ascendant. Urban groups, those at the center, constituted the core of the state's domain. They submitted to taxation and provided a pool for the armed force of the ruler.

A phrase attributed to the Prophet Muhammad reads as follows: "The plow will not enter a family's dwelling without also bringing debasement." Whoever uses a plow is attached to a piece of land. The notion expressed in the phrase is that with the tie to land comes the obligation to submit to the demands of central authority and, in particular, to pay taxes. The nomad, who has neither plow nor land, has freedom to move and thus to escape obligations. The nomadic way of life is often glorified in Maghribi culture. Even today, it is not uncommon to hear that whoever has Bedouin blood (i.e., nomadic ancestors) belongs to the authentic core of Maghribi society. Until the nineteenth century in most of the Maghrib, power was the basis of wealth, which was under constant threat if it did not go hand in hand with control over tribes. Ruling elites usually had little or no stable landed patrimony and therefore lacked an enduring basis for support. Wealth in the form of land for the settled population and cattle for nomads could disappear suddenly in case of war among tribes—and these wars occurred frequently. It would also vanish if the social group in the center were displaced by another group—and this too happened quite often. The best way, then, to retain wealth was to be in a position of political power, that is to say, to be in control of other tribal groups.

The clash between tribes and central authority in precolonial times characteristically was less acute where central authority infringed little on the life of the population. In areas where central authority restricted its demands to the payment of a tribute and to respect for peace, settled agricultural communities could tolerate these demands. They did not feel overly threatened as long as the institutions of social control, the organization of production, and the general orchestration of communal life were still in their own hands. Furthermore, numerous communities were altogether out of the reach of central authority. The relative autonomy left to separate social groups—even to those from which the political center succeeded in extracting tributes—contributed to the preservation of different social norms and to the ongoing cohesiveness of each group.

The "Republics of Cousins" in Politics

Reflecting the importance of kin-based solidarities in the Maghrib, there has been a revival of the work of Ibn Khaldun, the great Maghribi historian of the fourteenth century (1332-1406). There are obvious differences between Ibn Khaldun's time and modern times. In particular there are now territorial nation-states with fixed boundaries. Yet, there is good reason for turning to Ibn Khaldun. His analysis provides insights for the understanding of the Maghrib in the nineteenth century and the first half of the twentieth. The main question preoccupying Ibn Khaldun was that of "solidarity" or "group cohesion." He was concerned with what held a collectivity together, gave it strength and power, and prevented its atomization.

The concept of asabiyya, central to Ibn Khaldun's work, has proven particularly useful for the analysis of Maghribi history. Asabiyya is often translated as "solidarity" or "esprit de clan." A more accurate translation proposed by David Hart is "unifying structural cohesion" or "agnation in action. "What mattered greatly for the history of any group was the strength of its asabiyya, its "unifying structural cohesion" based on ties among agnates, or male kin in the paternal line. The groups with the greatest asabiyya were those best capable of resisting control by other groups, including central authority, and sometimes to displace central authority altogether. Hence, a strong asabiyya was politically advantageous and instrumental for the survival of the tribal group. The French anthropologist Germaine Tillion effectively captures this linkage between kinship and politics by referring to the many "republics of cousins" in the traditional political order of the Maghrib. The patrilineage historically has been the building block of tribal communities or larger kin groupings with political functions. Members of a tribe typically perceived themselves as related to one another through kinship ties, however broad the definition of a meaningful link might be.

Colonization did not fundamentally alter extended kinship systems in the Maghrib. Its effect on kinship was far from a simple restructuring. The era of colonization in the Maghrib as a whole covered part of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth. At that time, the world-historical setting was such that colonizers primarily were interested in the economic advantages provided by colonies. They were concerned with matters of social organization such as kinship or the family only insofar as these matters facilitated or hindered colonial rule and economic domination. Often, the objective of the colonizer was to make tribal kin groupings serve as conservative, stabilizing elements of the social order, as political power at the center was monopolized by colonial authority. Among the colonized, the extended kinship unit acquired further value as a refuge from those dimensions of society being transformed by the colonizer. Kin-based solidarities thereby were reinforced in response to the experience of colonial domination.

Kin groupings historically acted as corporate structures striving for autonomy from the centers of political power. In the precolonial and colonial periods and in some instances after independence, the republics of cousins engaged in intermittent conflict, latent or overt, with the political center. Because local collectivities found their source of cohesion in the nexus of kinship ties, the process of state formation demanded everywhere in the Maghrib a social transformation involving the integration of republics of cousins. Throughout the Maghrib, a transformation from a locally based society to a centrally integrated nation-state confronted the political leadership after independence, even where the process had started before colonization. The transformation was not smooth; on the contrary, it was accompanied by conflicts serious enough to threaten the stability of the polity.

During the nationalist period, kin-based local solidarities entered the political equation in all three countries in the Maghrib. Although it had developed a semibureaucratic state earlier than its neighbors because of developments starting in the precolonial period, Tunisia nevertheless experienced the turmoil of tribal politics during the anticolonial struggle. Algerian and Moroccan societies exhibited an even more segmented social organization in which ties of lineage and tribe remained stronger. About Algeria at the end of colonization, Jeanne Favret remarks that "social discontinuity [was] more marked than in any other country freed from colonial rule."About the formative history of Morocco, Clifford Geertz notes: "The critical feature of Morocco is that its cultural center of gravity the mobile, aggressive, now federated, now fragmented tribes who not only harassed and exploited [the cities] but also shaped their growth." Commenting on the later phase of the colonial period in Morocco, Ernest Gellner writes: "For the tribesmen, political life was the conflict of local groups, alignments, lineages, families, for local power, and the game was played out within the region."

Solidarities based on kinship may respond to change in numerous and complex ways: they may resist it; they may tighten up protectively in the face of external threats; they may change in limited ways so as to adapt to new situations; or they may change in substantial ways. Instead of treating kinship as an institution that is immediately altered in response to changes in the society at large, it is thus helpful to use a broader conceptualization of how kinship systems respond to social transformations. Furthermore, interesting questions can be raised if one considers the relationship between changes in kinship and in other institutional spheres. Kin groups or families have been primarily defined as economically relevant units, whether these units are seen in their productive function in preindustrial societies or in terms of their socio-economic status in advanced industrial countries. Once the economic aspect of kinship units is emphasized, the main question that arises concerns the reciprocal effect between kinship and the economy. This is an important question, but not the only one worth considering.

Kinship systems also can be seen in their political and integrative functions, and therefore in relation to the polity. This is especially the case in parts of the world where clans, lineages, and other kin-based forms of association remained meaningful social entities in the modern era. For example, Judith Stacey shows how kinship systems in China not only persisted but played a crucial role in shaping the course of social and political change. In the Maghrib, throughout the nineteenth century and in many regions in the first half of the twentieth, kin-based solidarities remained strong in local areas, although profound changes were affecting the region. Even when they had not maintained enough separate identity to be properly called a tribe, many republics of cousins had retained a sense of themselves as corporate entities and remained operative in the political order. In several regions of the Maghrib, the coming of national independence heightened the tension between local collectivities and central authority. The intervention of nationalists and then of the national government in rural politics reactivated kin-based local solidarities in all three countries but it did so within different scenarios.

In Morocco in the aftermath of independence, the monarchy was the key arbitrator in an intricate web of loyalty and dependence within a system of segmented politics. I. William Zartman indicates that the royal strategy was to form alliances with tribal notables in rural areas. John Waterbury calls attention to the king's ability to manipulate, encourage, and balance off factions. Given that many factions were anchored in rural coalitions that included a tribal base, it would not have been advantageous for the monarchy to challenge kin-based solidarities. It was more sensible to maintain them and to leave unthreatened the kinship structure that served as the basis of social organization in rural areas.

In Algeria, the strategy of the political leadership was double-sided. A major postindependence insurrection showed a republic of cousins coming together. According to Favret, it was an example of the manipulation of kin-based groups in rural areas by what she calls their "elite city cousins" in national politics. She remarks that the primordial groups in newly independent Algeria survived "not as unconscious anachronisms but as a result of deliberate reaction. "This was only part of the story, however. There was a tension in independent Algeria between the manipulation of local kin-based solidarities and an attempt to create a polity independent from such solidarities.

In Tunisia, conflicts involving kin-based solidarities flared up in violent outbreaks during the nationalist struggle and immediately following independence, but the conflicts ended with the defeat of tribally based coalitions. In the aftermath of independence, the balance of forces was favorable to those elements of the national leadership that were most interested in reducing the political weight of social groups attached to kin-based solidarities. As a result, the national state in Tunisia had a better chance to achieve autonomy from tribal kin groupings than either its Algerian or Moroccan counterpart.

To emphasize the importance of kin-based solidarities is not to say that the Maghrib was classless until the mid-twentieth century. Once capitalism developed as a world system, no world region escaped its influence. Furthermore, there was some form of semibureaucratic state with uneven control over territory and frequently changing boundaries in each Maghribi country already in the precolonial period. "State" by definition implies appropriation of surplus and therefore class inequality. The important point is that kin-based political organization and noncapitalist social formations coexisted with capitalist interests. Where kin-based political solidarities existed during the colonial period, they continued to make their mark on politics after independence, this time within a national context.

When nationalist leaders mobilized tribal areas in the nationalist struggle or after independence, most did so to increase their power in national politics, not to create a separate nation. It would be an anachronism to treat the politics of the mid-twentieth century as nothing other than a sheer reenactment of tribal dissidence in the precolonial period. Coalitions based on tribal kin groupings played a role in nationalism and then in the independent nation-state, and they did so by entering the modern politics of the mid-twentieth century.

In the context of the Maghrib, the solidarity of tribal kin groupings as political communities claiming the loyalty of their members thus must be given central place in the investigation of issues of political authority at least until the period of national independence. Whatever institution or policy at the national level is studied in the period of independence, it is necessary to ask how it was affected by the interaction between the local areas where tribal organization prevailed and the newly formed central state. The integration of tribes into a nation-state was a long process, often accompanied by bloodshed and violence. The timing and particular mechanisms of that process have shaped the development of the national state, its relationship to social groups, and the policies it adopted in the aftermath of national sovereignty. I turn next to another major similarity in the Maghrib, the centrality of Islam and family law.

Excerpted from States and Women's Rights by Mounira M. Charrad. Copyright © 2001 by the Regents of the University of California. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Table of Contents

List of Maps and Tables
Note on Foreign Terms and Transliteration

PART ONE: Similarities: Common Heritage of the Maghrib
1. State Formation in Kin-Based Societies
2. Islam and Family Law: An Unorthodox View
3. Women Ally with the Devil: Gender, Unity, and Division
4. Men Work with Angels: Power of the Tribe

PART TWO: Historical Differences
5. The Precolonial Polity: National Variations
6. Colonial Rule: French Strategies

PART THREE Three Paths to Nation-State and Family Law
7. Palace, Tribe, and Preservation of Islamic Law: Morocco
8. Elite Divisions and the Law in Gridlock: Algeria
9. State Autonomy from Tribe and the Transformation of Family Law: Tunisia

Conclusion. State-Building, Family Law, and Women's Rights
History, Strategy, and Policy
Some Theoretical Implications

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