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Post-WWI Political Projects and Resistance experiments in North Africa

Session II-13, 2022 Annual Meeting

On Thursday, December 1 at 5:30 pm

Panel Description
North Africa was very seriously involved in the WWI, both through its contribution to the war effort on the European fronts and through the local battles that crossed it and which received little attention. After November 1918, the Mediterranean basin continued its conflagration, with several hotbeds of resistance in various forms. The anti-colonial resistance found a herald in Mustafa Kemal who reshuffled the cards in the Middle East. But North Africa was not left out with the powerful conflagration that broke out in northern Morocco in the Rif and that made the Spanish and French protectorates falter. Battles were also waged on the level of ideas to win hearts and souls. The new post-war order promoted by the European peace treaties was widely perceived in North Africa and the Middle East as unjust and gave rise to new forms of organisation and new political projects. Post-WWI Political Projects and Resistance in North Africa is viewed in the broadest sense, from Morocco to Egypt in its interactions with the Middle East. This panel will highlight the various forms that resistance took in North Africa after the First World War, whether expressed through arms or through different channels in the form of a variety of new political, civil, religious projects and experiments. The Rif war that broke out in 1921 was a complex form of warfare within the range of colonial wars. This new guerrilla warfare would later be emulated in other parts of the world during the forthcoming wars of decolonisation. Moreover, it also promoted a new political project with the proclamation of the ‘Rif Republic’ in 1923. The role of Sufi brotherhoods in North Africa has been greatly understudied. We will see how in the post-WWI period the Moroccan holy authority contributed to define the spiritual policy far beyond the Moroccan borders, especially through the role played by Moroccan Sufi currents of ideas as inspirers of resistance and revolt in the post-WWI. The focus will be particularly on the Great Syrian Revolt of 1920. Islamic reformers played a proeminent role in post-WWI Tunisia. Through Shaykh ‘Abd al-‘Azîz al-Tha‘âlbî’s and al-Tâhir al-Haddâd’s contributions, how the nationalist, trade union and women’s movement began between 1918 - 1930 and the cultural dimension of this awakening will be analysed. Their enormous influence on Tunisian society was a source of inspiration for future progressive Tunisian reforms among the most enlightened in the Arab world.
  • This paper discusses in a transnational perspective the emergence of a new form of warfare in North Africa (1921-1926) and a new political project concretised by the proclamation of the ‘Rif republic’ (1923). The Rif war that broke out in Northern Morocco in 1921 was a complex form of warfare within the range of colonial wars, which was also considered one of the most important anti-colonial wars of the inter-war period. It was both a form of armed resistance that held the Spanish and French colonial powers in check for five years and also the bearer of a political project that it implemented first with the declaration of the independence of the Rif, on September 18, 1921, then with the proclamation of the ephemeral ‘Rif Republic’ on February 1rst, 1923. From this point of view, the Rif war changes the established certainties of the old world and foreshadows new transnational dynamics of resistance. This new guerrilla warfare would later be emulated in other parts of the world during the forthcoming wars of decolonisation. The Rif war resonates with contemporaneous revolts, such as the Great Druze Revolt of 1925 in Syria or the resistance against the Italian occupation led by Omar al-Mukhtâr in Cyrenaica until 1931. Moreover, the proclamation of the ‘Rif Republic’ will be analysed as an example among the numerous experimentations with new State structures in the post-WWI period. The most famous of which is the establishment of the Republic of Turkey by Mustafa Kemal in Ankara on October 29, 1923 - some months after that of the Rif - because it became perennial. This contribution draws from various archives and documents throughout different sides of the conflict. The French diplomatic and consular archives, including the "Abdelkrim papers" which are Abdelkrim’s personal papers, as well as the French military archives will be particularly mobilized.
  • This paper discusses the role of 19th century Moroccan Sufi currents in globalizing North African conceptions of spiritual authority in the post-WWI period. More specifically it focuses on the thought of Muhammad al-Fasi (d. 1870), whose work built on centuries of Moroccan spiritual tropes vesting saintly authority in genealogical connection to the family of the Prophet Muhammad. Through Shaykh al-Fasi, this distinctly North African spiritual phenomenon gains global currency, primarily through his most famous disciple, the famed Algerian resistance leader the Amir 'Abd al-Qadir al-Jazairi. Through nineteenth-century migration from North Africa to the Ottoman East alongside the Amir ‘Abd al-Qadir, Shaykh al-Fasi's spiritual path internationalizes North African paradigms of spiritual authority, which in turn spark Sufi resistance movements throughout the twentieth century outside of the Maghreb. This paper will emphasize the role of Moroccan Sufi currents in inspiring resistance and revolt in the post-WWI Mashriq, with particular focus on the Great Revolt of 1920. And as the twentieth century progresses, Moroccan conceptions of saintly authority continue to animate revolt in the Arab East, both in the regime of Hafez al-Assad in 1970-80s in Syria, and again against the regime of Bashar al-Assad in 2011. The post-WWI era thus serves as a focal point for Moroccan saintly authority to define spiritual politics well beyond Moroccan borders.
  • Tunisia awakes : 1918-1930 : Islamic Reformers, Nationalism, Emergence of the Women’s Movement and Trade Unions Tunisia has a rich progressive Islamic tradition. Most Muslim societies have produced progressive graduates of Muslim universities, many of whom did not necessarily become religious teachers, but opted for political or social activism. Some challenged colonialism and exhorted their societies to speed up the processes of social change. However, colonial administrators allied to Muslim conservative ulema and other local elites often tried to erase from collective memory the deeds and words of these progressive individuals. Shaykh ‘Abd al-‘Azîz al-Tha‘âlbî (1876-1944), a Zaytûna graduate, collaborated with European progressives, native Jewish leaders, and the larger Tunisian Muslim population to forge a mass-based party to oppose the French protectorate leading to his exile in 1923. He had groomed his own disciple, also a Zaytûna graduate, al-Tâhir al-Haddâd (1899-1935), who, with the returned exile M’hamed ‘Ali, organized workers within an indigenous national labor movement in 1924-25. He described his activities in a book filled with astute sociological analysis published in 1927. He also championed women’s rights in Our Women in Law and Society that he wrote in 1930. Although al-Tha‘âlbî and Haddâd failed in the short term, their ideological influence on Tunisian society is enormous. They paved the way for later reforms, which made Tunisia into one of the most progressive societies in the Arab world. Using the Arab press of the period I will present materials dealing with women prior to the publication of Haddad's book to situate his work in a much larger context. Likewise, the rich poetry of the period and theatrical representations will be analyzed as contributory to the development of nationalism in the post World War I period. None of this has previously been unearthed and analyzed.