Muslim Brotherhood expert Alaya Allani discusses Maghreb Salafism
The following article is republished with permission from Magharebia.
Muslim Brotherhood expert discusses Maghreb Salafism
By Houda Trabelsi
October 1, 2010
Alaya Allani is a professor of contemporary history at the University of Manouba in Tunis and a specialist in political Islam. He has published several studies on the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafist currents in the Arab Maghreb. Magharebia sat down with Allani in Tunis to discuss the dangers of the spread of Salafism and what he sees as the root causes of the problem.
Magharebia: You have warned against the dangers of militant Salafist groups. What exactly do you mean?
Alaya Allani: First of all, we must stress the need to differentiate between Salafism as a conservative religious current that has been known throughout history for its call to return to pure faith and for its insistence on its stances that reject violence and hold to the legitimacy of rulers and the need to disobey them, even if there were some violations committed, as long as those rulers preserved the identity of the nation, and between Salafism in its contemporary meaning, which coincided with the appearance of the political Islam current.
We now generally talk about appeasing Salafism and militant Salafism; scientific Salafism and another jihadist Salafism. In general, we can say that the militant Salafist groups you mentioned in your question are mainly represented in the jihadist Salafist groups and in some other scientific Salafist currents.
There are common factors that led to the appearance of jihadist currents. These currents are either external or internal. No one can deny the role played by some Western countries in supporting the Afghan jihad to overthrow the communist regime in Afghanistan, and the assistance rendered in this effort by some Gulf countries.
As to internal factors, tension exists between the prevailing jihadist currents and local Muslim governments because of differences in understanding religious texts. Jihadists usually embrace the apparent meaning of texts, accusing all those who oppose their understanding of texts of being infidels, and permit the use of arms against those who oppose them. This is the most dangerous thing in these groups, as there is absence of dialog and physical liquidation becomes the prevailing form of dealing.
Magharebia: How widespread are these types of groups?
Allani: The militant Salafist groups are spread in all Muslim countries with varying degrees. Their presence in Asia, whether in Caucasus countries, Pakistan, Afghanistan, India or some Arab countries, has grown over the last two decades. As to Africa, except for Egypt, their presence is considered relatively new in the region. This may be linked to the implications of modernisation experiences in these countries, where the failure of pattern of development and rising rates of illiteracy played a role in the expansion of pockets of poverty.
The state no longer became the primary sponsor of economy and the main employer of individuals; something that contributed to the rising tensions. The most prominent example may be found in Algeria in October 1988 when there was popular anger over the deteriorating living conditions of the people and over some social and cultural problems and the inability of the state to meet the basic needs of population. In this environment, the Salafist current, as represented by the Islamic Salvation Front, tried to take advantage of this anger and entered into an intimidation battle with the authorities. The result was victims, bloodshed and cancellation of election results, and then outbreak of a long wave of terrorism that almost destroyed everything.
When we check the social base on which the Front built its presence, we find that the marginalised categories in popular and poor neighbourhoods gave their votes in large numbers to that group in the 1991 elections. In Morocco, investigations proved that most of the members of jihadist cells in that country hail from poor neighbourhoods or shantytowns.
The liberal, Islamic and leftist movements started presenting their alternatives. However, the alternative offered by the Islamic Salvation Front, which included a minority of moderate Islamists and a majority of extremists with Salafist inclinations (whether scientific or jihadist), won the trust of voters. This led to the cancellation of election results in 1992, and after that Algeria entered into a bloody decade of terrorism in which 100,000 victims were killed.
Then al-Qaeda in Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) came at the beginning of the third millennium to further confuse cards and to involve some African countries, such as Mali, Chad and Niger which had no previous experience with the activities of Islamic armed groups.
Magharebia: What are the most important principles of Salafist groups present in the Maghreb?
Allani: The principles of the jihadist Salafist current in the Maghreb region are derived from the literature of symbols of al-Qaeda: Bin Laden, al-Zawahri, al-Maqdisi, Abu Qatada and others. This literature urges people to consider jihad as an individual duty rather than a collective obligation, and it accuses the society and state of kufr because of their negligence in implementing God’s Sharia.
Magharebia: Are the factors that led to the growth of these Salafist groups in the Arab Maghreb political, social or ideological, or are there any other factors?
Allani: The growth of these Salafist groups in the Arab Maghreb is more due to political and social factors than it is to ideological factors. The wide gap between the social classes increases the state of social tensions, and the violent dealing with ethnic and cultural diversity has contributed to the instigation of sectarian feelings.
As to ideological factors, they come last.
Magharebia is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Defence, Africa Command.