Morocco’s moderate Islamic movement puts pressure on monarchy over Palestine

Developing Just Leadership

Our Own Correspondent

Shawwal 06, 1421 2001-01-01

Occupied Arab World

by Our Own Correspondent (Occupied Arab World, Crescent International Vol. 29, No. 21, Shawwal, 1421)

The trial of some 300 members of the outlawed Moroccan Islamic Justice and Charity Group (Jama’at al-’Adl wal-Ihsan) started on December 11. They are among some 800 people arrested for taking part in rallies marking the United Nations Human Rights Day held on December 10 by human rights and Islamic groups. The rallies, which also demanded that the ban on the Islamist group be lifted, were broken up violently just hours after king Muhammad VI appeared on television to deliver a speech full of lyrical pronouncements about applying ‘international norms’ of ‘human rights’ in his kingdom. Yet while the king waxed eloquent about human rights, his security services beat up protestors in the streets before herding them onto buses, where they were beaten again.

Among those who appeared in court are nine relatives of the Justice and Charity founder-leader Shaikh ‘Abd al-Salam Yassin, including his activist daughter, Nadia. Shaikh Yassin (73) was released last May after more than 10 years under house arrest without trial.

Justice and Charity is the largest Islamic group in Morocco, attracting primarily high school and university students as well as civil servants. It was established in 1981 after a few years of relative vacuum in the realm of organized, broad-based Islamic political activism in Morocco, left by the splintering of the Muslim Youth Association (Jam’iyyat al-Shabibah al-Islamiyyah). The Association was established in 1969 by ‘Abd al-Karim Muti’, a veteran of the Moroccan resistance movement against French colonial rule, and legally accredited as an organization in 1972. However, the Association, which defined itself as being “in the vanguard of an authentic Islamic revolution in Morocco,” disintegrated into a number of bitterly antagonistic factions after the assassination of left-wing leader ‘Umar Bin Jalloun by two of its young members (1975). Bin Jalloun’s assassination led to an internal debate over strategy and tactics, focusing mainly on the utility of violence, which ultimately led to the group’s disintegration.

Yet, unlike that of the Association, the political and organizational ethos of Justice and Charity does not see violence as a component of its activist doctrine. Instead, it advocates the primacy of preaching and education over violence and armed revolt. This reflects mainly the reformist thinking of the group’s founder, who has demonstrated an inclination to press for change from “within” the system, rather than by overthrowing it.

Yassin, who worked as inspector and administrator in the ministry of education, made his debut on the Moroccan political scene in 1973, when he sent a 114-page letter to king Hassan II, admonishing him to hold firmly to the teachings of Islam and forsake the unIslamic policies he had been pursuing. In his letter, entitled al-Islam wal-Tufan (‘Islam or the Deluge’), Yassin decried imperialism, westernization, moral decay and social injustice. He urged the king “to get rid of his advisers and entourage, to abolish the coercive pact of allegiance (al-bay’ah al-qasriyyah), to repeal the transgressions that had been committed, to seek the advice of the men of da’wah after abolishing political parties, to establish an Islamic economy and, finally, to pronounce repentance loudly and clearly.”

Yassin’s advice to the king landed him in a psychiatric hospital-cum-prison from 1974 to 1977. In 1979, he launched an Islamic periodical titled al-Jama’ah (‘the group’), which attracted widespread attention. Following the government’s ban of al-Jama’ah in 1983, Yassin moved to publish a daily newspaper calledal-Subh (‘the morning’). However, the government banned the paper and sentenced its publisher to two years’ imprisonment.

During the 1980s, Justice and Charity bore the brunt of the reign of terror instituted by king Hassan II to crush the country’s growing Islamic movement. Scores of members were arrested, tortured and sentenced to long prison terms. This campaign intensified after the government’s suppression of a wave of demonstrations in January 1984, when the late king ordered the army to “use all force necessary” to quell the popular uprising. The suppression, euphemistically called “the Troubles” by Moroccans, claimed the lives of hundreds of people. The group was ultimately banned in 1990 and Shaikh Yassin was placed under house arrest.

However, the crackdown failed to stem the rising tide of the Islamic movement in Morocco. In 1991 Justice and Charity gave a powerful display of its continued appeal when it mobilized about 10,000 demonstrators against the American intervention in the Gulf. Last September hundreds of thousands of activists, belonging to Justice and Charity and a host of other smaller but more radical Islamic groups, outnumbered government supporters at a massive rally in the capital, Rabat, called by the authorities in support of the al-Aqsa intifada.

The rally, which attracted an estimated one million demonstrators, was the largest pro-Palestinian solidarity demonstration in the Arab world. In recent years, Justice and Charity has controlled many of the student unions on university campuses around the country. A propitious vacuum engendered by a crisis that has ensnared the left-wing student movement for the past 15 years facilitated the group’s domination of the student unions.

While under house-arrest in Sale, Shaikh Yassin provided another stirring display of his character as a moral reformer when he sent an open letter to king Muhammad VI shortly after he became king (1999). In his letter, Yassin articulated the discontent of Moroccans and called on the country’s monarch to use the billions of dollars of his deceased father’s wealth to pay off the ballooning national debt that is crippling the economy.

Last March, Justice and Charity joined forces with other Islamic groups to draw hundreds of thousands of Moroccans onto the streets of Casablanca in protest against government proposals to introduce unIslamic family laws. Pressure from Islamic groups and a number of independent ulama forced the government to turn the proposals over to a committee for revision, and to dismiss Sa’ad Sa’adi, the minister promoting them.

In November, the Islamic movement scored another victory when it pressured the government to lift a ban on the sale of copies of the Qur’an at last year’s International Book Fair in Casablanca. Initially the government of Morocco, whose constitution invests the country’s king with the title of Amir al-Mu’minin, had ordered censors to confiscate books and pamphlets dealing with Islamic topics from booksellers and the public at the exhibition. Muhammad Acha’ari, the minister of culture, defended the government’s measures, saying that Morocco’s Islamic groups were selling copies of the Qur’an to raise funds.

In addition, the Islamic movement has recently started a vociferous campaign to express popular discontent with the prevalence of nudity and semi-nudity on the country’s beaches, where Western tourists and their local emulators flaunt their bodies as they bask in the North African sunshine. Hundreds of Justice and Charity members, both men and women, have been flocking to the country’s beaches, holding congregational prayers, rebuking and enjoining less modest Moroccans to do good and forsake evil deeds (al-amr bil-ma’ruf wal-nahy ‘an al-munkar), and jumping into the water fully clothed. Alarmed by this peaceful campaign, the minister of the interior ordered his police in July to erect checkpoints along the main roads leading to the beaches to stop men who sport beards. Scores of Justice and Charity members have also been arrested on the beaches

In one of his recent letters addressed to “the ruler” (al-hakim), Shaikh Yassin maintains: “We do not get bored of saying that political violence is childish and we call for responsible action. Yet unfortunately you refuse, due to your limited intelligence, but push those youth toward the only solution left to them, that is violence and to associate with the Devil.” He goes on to articulate some widespread popular grievances with words full of symbolism and pathos: “We don’t know why they are afraid of us in Morocco, although we have always insisted that we are against violence. There are products and servants of jahiliyyah from among us in our Muslim country. They govern us according to what has not been revealed by Allah. And if the ruler annuls religion and rules according to what has not been revealed by Allah, then he is from among the unbelievers, the transgressors, the oppressors.”

So far Yassin has been content to play the role of a moral reformer, full of zeal and audacity, demanding the full implementation of the Shari’ah. But as the government increasingly turns a deaf ear to his entreaties and appeals and intensifies its repression to squash the Islamic groundswell, one wonders whether Yassin will become a moral and revolutionary warrior, adding to his demands for the implementation of the Shari’ah calls to his people for a total Islamic Revolution.

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