Pluralistic Societies: Integration and State Policies

Al Mesbar’s 108th monthly book, for December 2015, addresses religious, cultural, and political pluralism in Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, and Sudan. It explores identity, its cultural manifestations, and its relationship with history, heritage, and collective memory. The study is grounded in the desire to trace hopes for a “pluralism” that is built on freedom, coexistence, and “the right to be different;” a pluralism that acknowledges social diversity and allows for manifold perspectives to be represented politically — in state institutions and elected legislative bodies.

A fair and just management of pluralism should be founded on regarding all denominations and strata of society without religious, racial, or gender discrimination.

Societies made up of up different religions, sects, cultures and races often pose tough questions: How can the denominations maintain their traditions, yet coexist? To what extent can civil rights based on citizenship help build a harmonious society? What are the means by which constitutions and laws maintain pluralism and prevent political clashes that negatively impact society and coexistence overall? 

The papers included in this volume explores a variety of “cases in point,” such as the circumstances of Morocco’s non-Arab “Amazigh” peoples, and the management of political pluralism by Islamists in Morocco and Tunisia amid competing definitions of what it means to be Muslim.

Numerous challenges will face any effort to incorporate pluralist principles into state institutions. Among them is the historic failure of Arab governments to establishing systems built on merit, and the failure of shared, “ equal citizenship” in a given country to serve as a basis for sectarian, religious, tribal or ideological differences to be leveled. Further complicating the effort is the political struggle for domination of key state institutions, as well as the state’s relationship with the security sector. In much of the region, the preservation of a tenuous status quo has a way of keeping the quest for pluralism at the bottom of consecutive governments’ priorities.

Islamist parties in the Arab world, so far, have not contributed to the struggle for pluralism, nor improved the status of minorities. Islamist literature, in addressing the issue of citizenship, prescribes a vague notion of Islamic unity under one “Umma” that by its very nature excludes non-Muslims and, for that matter, Muslims who do not embrace the ideology. In Morocco, Islamists’ answer to the “Amazigh question” has been to attempt to “Islamize” the Amazigh population.

The fragility of Arab societies, in the present conditions of war and terror, lends itself to further crumbling and division. Thus, it is important to strengthen the resilience of these societies, and in order to do so. One part of doing so could potential involve building on existing constitutions guaranteeing equality to all citizens which have historically been honored in the breach rather than the observance. Another component, with respect to legislation, is to amend constitutions that do not even pay lip service to egalitarian principles — a process that began amid the wave of protests in 2011-12.

With respect to the role of Islamism in the current status of pluralism in the region, the book works through the Amazigh experience in Morocco to pose a variety of questions: What answers has Islamist literature offered to questions of citizenship, in its discussion of Amazigh aspirations? How have Islamists “managed” the Amazigh issue in their approach approach to the relationship between identity and citizenship? How do Islamists relate more broadly to the ideals of ethnic, religious and political pluralism? What hopes or fears do minorities pose in their eyes? Finally, what are the determinants and textual references which Islamists use in their perception of the “political” or “ethnic” other?

The center extends its gratitude to all contributors to this volume, particularly our colleague Husam al-Din Ali Majid, who coordinated it.