Morocco largely avoided street protests in 2011, and the king appointed an Islamist-led government in November of that year. As part of a broad counter-radicalisation effort after a spate of terrorist attacks in Casablanca in 2003, the Moroccan state has been gradually seizing direct control of the mosque. A new school for imams, including foreign ones from sub-Saharan Africa as well as France and Belgium, opened in Rabat in 2015. It seeks to promote a moderate form of Islam, based on Morocco’s Maliki school of thought and, crucially, acceptance of the king’s traditional status as “Commander of the Faithful”.
It has also begun a pioneering programme to train women as mourchidas (spiritual counsellors). One of them, who did not want to be named, explained that her task was to work with women and children on a range of issues, including literacy and fighting drug abuse. “We sometimes come across preachers who promote a radical message. We have to intervene to tell them to change their discourse. When we started there was more religious radicalism; we have noticed that it has dropped.”
The risk is that all this will be dismissed by some Muslims as phoney “state Islam”. Still, the campaign seems to be having some impact. Take the experience of Abdelkrim Chadli, a Salafist preacher who was arrested after a series of suicide-bombings in Casablanca in 2003, accused of inspiring jihadists (which he denies) through his writings. Pardoned by the king in 2011, he is now urging fellow salafists to join a royalist shell party called the Democratic and Social Movement (founded by a former police commissioner). Within three or four years, he hopes, it could win elections and hasten the process of Islamising society. It is a striking transformation of Islamists’ stance, brought about in part by fear of the sort of chaos seen elsewhere, in part by the firm limits set by the king, and in part by his good sense in giving Islamists a political outlet. “Today all salafists are the first defenders of the monarchy,” says Mr Chadli, “We consider Morocco to be an Islamic model—even with the drinking bars.”