Why Stable Morocco Is Not Going the Way of Algeria

WILLIAM PFAFF

July 09, 1992|By WILLIAM PFAFF

TANGIER, MOROCCO — Tangier, Morocco. -- The rise of Islamic fundamentalism in the countries of the southern Mediterranean littoral follows the abject failure of the nationalist governments formed in the 1950s and 1960s. The nationalist movements ended colonialism, but the people they liberated mostly are worse off than before.

Morocco has largely been spared the fundamentalist reaction because it was never colonized. The Moroccans have possessed unbroken national sovereignty since the 11th Century, under the present dynasty since the 16th Century.

Moroccan society thus has retained its political integrity, despite the French and Spanish protectorates that were imposed between 1912 and 1956. The Moroccans have continued to consider themselves in control of their country.

Elsewhere in Islamic North Africa and the Middle East, this has not generally been so. Neighboring Algeria was not merely colonized by France but annexed, with a subsequent and sizable European migration to its farms and industries. Thus until 1962 the French held that Algeria was as much France as Normandy or Provence.

This was why the Algerian independence war in the 1950s was so bitter. The French were able to let Tunisia go, and abandon their Moroccan protectorate, because people recognized that the day of European empires was over. But a part of France itself could not be let go. It was not, until the existing French republic itself collapsed, and General Charles de Gaulle was brought to power.

Obviously the Algerians had not been willing to consider themselves Frenchmen, nor had the French really treated them as if they were French. The experience they underwent between annexation in the early 19th Century and the successful uprising that began in 1954 had all but pulverized their independent confidence as a people and a nation.

There, and elsewhere, the nationalist movements which produced the liberation struggles of the 1950s were founded by people influenced by the liberal and secular political ideas of the West, but who were also, after World War II, crucially influenced by the myths of socialism.

Because the struggle was against European colonial powers who were also democratic and capitalist, as well as allies of the United States, the new North African and Arab nationalist leaders decided that their ally had to be the Soviet Union, a single-party Marxist state and Washington's enemy.

They decided that single-party government, and state ownership the economy, were ''progressive'' policies, and that anti-Americanism was a corollary of anti-imperialism. This produced much grief for them (and for Washington).

Out of it came their political and economic failures. ''Liberation'' from colonialism ended in one-party governments, eventually military dictatorships. The nationalization policies of the new states saddled their economies with irrelevant heavy industries, while penalizing agriculture and private commerce. Today, 40 percent of Algeria's (non-governmental!) employment is in the faltering state industrial sector.

Despite cosmetic reform, political power remains with the army. Recent attempts to liberalize the Algerian political system saw the fundamentalist Islamic Salvation Front gain an almost certain popular majority.

National elections were therefore canceled last January and fundamentalist activists locked up. With President Mohammed Boudiaf mysteriously assassinated last week, by a member of his own security force, Algeria is at the edge of grave civil disorders, if not civil war.

People turned to the fundamentalists there, and elsewhere in the Arab world, precisely because the secular nationalists of the first generation have so bitterly failed them. The heroes of the Algerian revolution went on to become the country's dictators -- and worse, its incompetent and corrupt dictators, squandering Algeria's considerable resources.

The fundamentalist leaders offer the same promises the nationalists made before: restored national self-respect, prosperity -- and also personal reassurance that one is in pTC harmony with what God wants. The secular nationalists offered what they called progress: industrialization and economic development through alliance with the socialist world. That failed. The fundamentalists now offer a reactionary solution: to go back to the theocratic system of the Middle Ages, Islam's years of glory and power.

The advantage of the Islamic monarchs is that they can offer both progress and the value-reassurance of theocratic government.

The legitimacy of Morocco's King Hassan II rests not only on the 400-year continuity of his family's rule over the country. It is based as well on his descent from the Prophet himself, and thus on his position as the religious leader of the Moroccans. Similarly, a principal source of King Hussein's strength in Jordan has been his family's historical role as custodian of the Islamic holy places.

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