Soft Power, Hard Results in North Africa
By Ahmad Charai, Publisher of l” Observateur du Maroc and a member of Board of Directors of the Atlantic Council of the United States.
By Norvell B. DeAtkine
Early on the author of this article points out the difference in strategy between the U.S. and China in their approach to North Africa. While the U.S. has expended a lot of money and military efforts to subdue the terrorist threats emanating from the North African region, the Chinese has seen North Africa as a market. They are invested in roads, bridges and other infrastructure.
Charai posits that it is time for the U.S. to retune its policies in North Africa, and he views the efforts of King Mohammed VI as the example to follow. He sees the policy of the King as an astute use of “soft power.”
In this article he focuses on a speech the King delivered in Bamako, Mali, congratulating the people on the conduct of a “free and fair” election. Among the concrete steps he announced was the creation of a joint Mali-Moroccan two-year training program for 500 religious leaders.
It will be devoted to the Maliki rite of Sunni Islam and a “moral doctrine that rejects any form of excommunication.” This is significant for two reasons. The king is referring to the practice of Islamic militants to declare other Muslims of whom they do not approve as apostates, thus dehumanizing them. There is no word in Arabic for excommunication so the king used his French to convey the concept.
Secondly though the Maliki school of jurisprudence is less extreme than the Hanbali School, it is still quite strict in terms of women’s rights. For example, her father can marry a woman without her consent. How this resonates with the Moroccan society that has a large component of Sufism is hard to ascertain. Moreover the onus of being a cleric educated by the State always carries with it a price in credibility. People often associate them with the State apparatus.
The king also called for religious dialogue and the revitalization of charitable works designed to revitalize traditions of tolerance. He spoke of the need for “rehabilitation of mausoleums, the restoration of (religious) manuscripts, the preservation and revitalization of the socio-political life.”
This is the tack the Charai advocates for American diplomats, but the problem is that in matters of religion, especially Islam, American diplomats have no credibility. The King, who to many, represents the supreme religious authority in Morocco, and carries the title of the “Commander of the Faithful, ” can take this religious approach to peace and reconciliation.
King Mohammed VII has so far guided his country through a turbulent phase in Arab history, with wisdom and caution. But much of his success is due to a Moroccan society that does not have the violent past of Libya or Algeria, and has a legitimate religious leader to combine the secular with a more tolerate form of Islam.