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Beyond colonialism and nationalism. (Review Essay).

Ahmida, Ali Abdullatif (ed.). Beyond Colonialism and Nationalism in the Maghreb: History Culture, and Politics. New York, N.Y.: Palgrave, 2000. 255 pages. Hardcover $55.00.

The contributors to this interdisciplinary publication provide, in 9 chapters, a critical overview on the interconnection between Colonialism and Nationalism, as concepts and socio-political realities. The work is divided into 5 Parts that focus on "Historiography;" "Orality, Agency, and Memory;" "Identity Formation, Gender, and Culture;" "Nationalism, Islamism, and Hegemony." Part five is devoted to the "... search of Pan-Mghribism." Alternative approaches are presented in order to understand Maghribi societies and states (mainly Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Morocco, and Tunisia) during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Social formations and political institutions are examined as they operate within their own dynamics as well as in relation to Europe and world capitalism.

The nationalist ideologies and policies of the colonial and the postcolonial states fed each other the know how of social control wrapped in a discourse of civilization-liberation. This requires a special attention and a new methodology that help investigate the involvement of the actors behind colonialism/nationalism. To prepare the terrain for a genuine emancipation, there is a need for founding social sciences and knowledge on bases that are decolonized, denationalized. Beyond colonialism and nationalism there is an invitation to rethink and redefine the colonial racist history of the conquest-imperialist period as well as the elitist dictatorial nationalist historiography of the populist independence era. Misled by the mythical opposition between colonialism and nationalism, politicians and specialists alike, often mystified by the state, became accustomed to stressing the role of Islam, tribalism, sects, national character, and principles at the expense of other considerations related to social stratific ation, power struggle, state formation, and the impact of world capitalism. The failure of the dominant theoretical approaches to the Maghrib was evidenced by the work of anthropologists, and social scientists in general, who perpetuated Orientalist assumptions and modernization theories. Having postulated and identified the process of transition to modernity, they tended to view positively the expansion of European and American capital and the diffusion of western cultural values and political ideologies. Many of the predictions of neo-orientalists and neo-modernizers were belied by the development of socio-politico-religious movements and popular oppositional forces in a partly westernized-modernized-secularized public sphere. Meanwhile, no industrial and economic achievement or a meaningful degree of political participation and enjoyment of human rights became a palatable reality. How did nationalism as popular ideology of resistance and liberation, historically and politically limited to targeting oppress ive colonialism, become a system of belief, often manufactured and manipulated by the state, associated with acquiescence and servitude? This is certainly a question asked tragically by the masses through their daily unbearable lives and through their struggle for dignity. This means that it is becoming necessary to discover alternative historical possibilities that require looking beyond the contemporary postcolonial nationalist state and its linear and manichean views of the colonial past for the purpose to secure its shaking legitimacy.

The editor's own chapter analyses the trilogy of the Libyan writer Ahmad Ibrahim al-Faqih, born in 1932. The themes of identity, cultural encounter, and alienation, are exposed for their relevance to the understanding of Libyan society and culture, from the time of the monarchy (1951-1969) to the republican era, since 1969, and the proclamation of Jamahirriyya. Indirectly, this essay is a critique of current studies that remain centered on the state and the political elite if not reduced to overestimating the role of the autocrat Qadhafi. The author calls upon mainstream scholars to pay as much attention to different actors and to listen to voices and alternative sources like peasants, tribesmen, minorities, women, non-conventional elites, literature, films, oral tradition, music, songs and poetry. It is with this perspective that the editor uses cultural and social material in his study of politics in Libya. A "middle class modernist writer," al-Faqih, dwells with the drama of "western educated" Libyan intel lectuals in the post-colonial era. This is a time of capitalist transformation when culture and class are problematic and introduce us to the contradictions of Libyan society. Ahmida's analysis constitutes a reminder about the need to rediscover that ignored and silent social history of key events and groups beyond the written records of the colonial and nationalist states that remain marked by racist and elitist distortions.

Elliot Colla's survey investigates the ambiguous side and ambivalence of nationalism and of the state, in Egypt, through the critical interpretation of Shadi Abd al-Salam's film al-Mumya. The author succeeds in showing how al Mumya, while it remains in line with a tradition that deals with national liberation, cultural authenticity, and resistance to colonialism, departs from these mainstream themes by its images and narratives. The discursive "elitist categories" are perceived as embedded within Egyptian cinematic canon (p.ll3). The film's tale is about the struggle of the "affendi officers" of the Antiquities service, from the enlightened capital, Cairo, with the rural South, the site of Pharaonic artifacts, including the mummies. Southerners of Upper Egypt are depicted as backward clans of traditionalist tomb robbers selling Egypt's artifacts to European collectors (p.ll4). The state control over things, the ancient artifacts, is going to pave the way to its control over the Egyptian people and their econo my. The anti-colonial struggle appears here as led by the "modern, urban national liberation movement" (p.112), against foreign oppression. It is also a struggle against tradition-bound peasantry. This peasant culture of Upper Egypt is supposed to represent the "true" national culture of Egypt...even if, under colonial pressure, it became a local culture alienated from itself, according to the filmmaker. The significance of the film is inseparable from a long history that invokes ancient Egyptian symbols and themes. The post WWI period marked the zenith of the political and literary movements that drew inspiration from the ancient past they came to consider as theirs. The history of the "struggle" for national liberation, and the "authenticity" of the national culture, as conveyed by the film al-Mumya, offers the possibility of a reading that shows how the struggle does not lead to liberation from foreign oppressors, without subjecting the people and the culture of Upper Egypt to the upper strata from the cap ital and the North. The subordination of the South to the needs of the North, and of the rural to the urban is associated with the elite nationalism and its nation-state. Thus, using the mummies as material objects, and as discursive figures, to explore the colonial struggle between Egypt and Europe, ended up uncovering the parallel process by which the nation-state asserted itself over Egyptians by bringing them under a central authority and a modem myth. However, Colla did not stress enough the implications of the continual reference to "Egypt" and "Egyptians" by the different players seeking to politicize the contemporary history of a developing country.

The author, A. Ayoub. investigates the situation of Arab folklore through the work of folklorists operating under severe political restrictions set by statist-nationalist regimes. Arabic traditions and folklores are called upon to strengthen the governmental position. In his native country, the folklorist who attempts to be objective is at least marginalized or accused of subversion, especially if he/she deals with minority rights. In contrast, the "official" folklorist is praised for his panegyrics addressed to the political authorities, if not the main ruler. The folklorist who feels and acts as "a part of a large ethnic and social community that calls itself Arab," and tries to be involved "in the political and social problems facing the Arab community" (p.39). ends up repressed by the post-colonial nation-state that thrives on breaking such sense of belonging. These practices may explain the scarcity of folklore studies in Arabic.

Edmund Burke, III's objective is to theorize the history of colonialism and nationalism. Colonial historiography is approached beyond its goal of legitimizing colonialism and its reflection of the values of colonial societies. On the other hand, nationalist historiography is considered critically in its claim to represent the colonized people. The analysis shows how in fact, it mainly gave voice to the urban elites, in the defense of their interest, at the expense of the rural population, women, and ethnic minorities. More importantly, the essay investigates, and questions, the changes of meaning that accompany the ongoing re-writing of colonial-colonialist and postcolonial-nationalist histories of North Africa. The nationalist histories claimed to be progressive and followed a pattern of a three-fold sequence: pre-colonial, colonial, and post-colonial. It is interesting to interrogate the links and the political transformation of both colonialist and nationalist discourses as deriving from Enlightenment thou ght. Colonial historians tended to present colonial conquest as necessary for the incorporation of the region into modern history. Nationalists viewed the victory of the anti-colonial struggle as restoring the national past, and its cultural continuity. The Maghrib is now witnessing the unfolding of Islamist discursive and political strategy. These new developments justify even more the need for rethinking both the colonial and the nationalist literature.

A. Maghraoui focuses on the Moroccan "Goums," "Tirailleurs," and "Spahis" soldiers who fought in the French army, as colonial institutions that were created respectively in 1908, 1911, and 1912. Both colonial and nationalist historians have ignored or dismissed these armed forces. The author explores their voices through oral memories. The reevaluation of the politics of colonialism and empires, as well as of nationalism and new states, is facilitated by a set of concepts such as "post-Orientalist," "subaltern group," and "postcoloniality" developed by studies on colonial India. This essay gets the analysis close to the indigenous colonized soldiers enlisted in the colonial armies, under colonial rules. Soldiers, like the Goums, are given a voice as a subaltern group written out of official colonial and nationalist histories and discourses. Their conditions of "subalternity" explain why different narratives, and their codified versions, silenced them. The "grand narratives" of nationalist histories were mainl y constructed around the conventional and rhetorical opposition between "resisters" and "collaborators." This type of history did not have room for modest segments of Moroccan society from which the colonial soldiers came. The author supports new scholarship on different aspects of social history of the war, such as class distinction, and gender roles. This helps broaden our understanding of the political, social, and cultural dynamics of colonial rule in the Maghrib.

In "Cartographies of identity: writing Maghribi women as Postcolonial subjects," Mona Fayad examines the postcolonial view of identity of two Maghribi feminist writers: the Algerian novelist and filmmaker Assia Djebar, and Moroccan sociologist and essayist Fatima Mernissi. Both are considered as advocating the introduction of ambivalence in the re-writing of a gender-oriented nationalism that makes room for the postcolonial subject. The issues of cultural identity as faced by Arab women go beyond national identity allowing a position that differs radically from the reductive role that they have been given within national narratives. Here the feminist perspective points out the need for rethinking nationalism itself and its discourse. While drawing on the Islamic tradition, Mernissi and Djebar attempt to articulate a resistance to colonialism beyond the end of the historical colonial occupation itself and address the problems related to the cultural erosion in many countries of the Arab world. The feminist str uggle as it relates to Arab women's desire for liberation has to tackle the terms of the debate: modernity (Western)/liberation, tradition (Islamic)/oppression. This dichotomy denies women an identity other than that defined by their religion and leads to an a-historical conception of non-Western women by Western feminists themselves.

Mernissi uses the harem paradigm to examine fundamental issues regarding Moroccan women's postcolonial identities as a constructed subjectivity, positioned vis-a-vis the nationalist movement. Assia Djebar remembers the harem and the veil as a highly charged orientalist symbol. She perceives them through the eyes and the language of the French education she received, at the crossroad between gender and national identity.

In her paper, Marnia Lazreg examines the ideology and action of the Islamic movement, in Algeria, within the framework of civil war. Her main argument is that the objective of the Islamists, in their search of hegemony, is the "recolonization" of Algeria, culturally as well as politically. The author argues that the Islamist movement hopes by all means to redirect the sociopolitical evolution of Algeria through "cultural re-colonization." Lazreg questions the post-independence state's performance, at the political and economic levels, as incubator of a new social stratification. The emergence of a professional, political, and business class is then linked to the state. Thus, adds the author, when the crisis of the state, parallel to the oil crisis, became a crisis of identity, the socialist facade could no longer hide class inequities in postcolonial Algeria. In order to secure social consensus and cohesion, the state appealed to religion and this was to backfire later.

In this study Stephen J. King argues that with the economic liberalization in Tunisia, in the eighties, the "hegemonic party" ceased to represent a "broad segment of society" and became a "vehicle" of the "rural bourgeoisie" and the "urban manufacturers." Parallel with "economic liberalization," and market reforms, the constraints of the global economy diminished state's autonomy and favored the emergence of the Tunisian Islamic movement as the "strongest organized" opposition force in the country. After more than four decades, since Tunisian independence in 1956, a de facto single political party, or ultra dominant party, operating under different denominations and leaders, Neo-Destour, Socialist Destour, and Democratic Destour, has monopolized, and continues to do so, the country's political system as the party of the President claiming always its constitutional (Destourian) liberal label! Tunisia's state party, which remains more than a simple ruling party, started as a nationalist splinter movement led by an "administrative elite" (p.165). The relations of the "administrative elite" to the "nationalist movement" and to state "patronage," have to be understood in the light of the type of "development strategy" that was adopted. Ideologically, and only at the symbolic and discursive levels, the populist nationalist movement-party, and its "national organizations," seemed to act as an umbrella organization attempting to respond to all constituencies in Tunisia. The inability of a sole party to represent all social groups and to defend equally their different needs, interests, choices, values, goals and ideologies is evidenced by the crises within the same party and the repression of all socio-political forces and actors that aimed at standing for their own autonomy and challenged the authoritarian autocratic new political regime.

However, King remains inclined to think that the "administrative elite," before the 1970s, was able, and willing, to challenge the interests of the most powerful social forces within and outside of the country (p.166). The idea of a relative independence of the Neo-Destour from vested interests is contestable throughout the political history of the party. The incorporation of the rural bourgeoisie into the nationalist movement as the principal support of a petit bourgeois leadership explains why the new state policy was often moderate, reformist, and gradualist. This is why the "Bourguibist" philosophy tried always to accommodate the demands of the powerful social forces. The Neo-Destour claims that it brought "all Tunisians" together to fight, within "the national liberation movement." It is true that "The Party" sought also support from small and medium scale peasants. Likewise, it is not wrong to state that both large landowners and rural masses "joined" the Neo-Destour and the national movement. And if th e large landowners supplied the finance, it was not intended to serve the interests of the troops that were constituted by country peasants and city plebeians. The relative economic backwardness of the indigenous bourgeoisie explains why this latter legitimately expected to benefit from the promotion of "national growth." The ability of the "rural bourgeoisie," in using its privileged access to the "administrative elite," to prevent land reform and sabotage the economic plan of the 1960s sheds some light on the issue discussed in this paper, the hypothetic autonomy of the administrative-political elites vis-a-vis the various socio-economic groups. The economic liberalization that started in the 1970s is another good example of how state policy is biased in favor of the landed elite. The unbridled private sector capitalism is replacing the passe state-dominated economy in line with "privatization." The increasingly powerful capitalist sector explains partly the absence of real political opening. The political party that emerged in 1934 and got to power in 1955-56, does not look as having ever made serious "historical commitments to equity" as S. J. King, (p.190) would like to persuade us. The particular trajectory of the Neo-Destour, Destourian Socialist Party, and lately labeled, Democratic Constitutional Destourian Rally, does not leave room for the development of political parties that do represent "labor and the peasantry." This is disappointing for the author in search for a "truly competitive political system."

For David Seddon, the process of integrated regional development in the postcolonial Maghrib was inhibited by the domination of European economies. He does not consider the struggle for national development as having helped to build a pan-Maghribi union. It just launched the vision. In addition, the enforced liberalization in the region is leading to its subordination to European hegemony within the Euro-Mediterranean Free Trade Area. The author approaches the Maghrib as an integrated political-economic entity under construction and as a unified postcolonial reality. From this perspective the Maghrib, he argues, has been constrained both by internal and external forces. European neo-colonialism and Western- dominated globalization are assessed as being in contradiction with the needs and the well being of ordinary Maghribis. In the 1990s the Maghrib states faced popular challenges to the legitimacy of their regimes. A decline in living standards exemplified the failure of governments to provide economic polic ies that safeguard security and welfare. It was only through heavy state repression, that the governments, in the region, managed to maintain control. According to the author, the individual states of the "union" are integrated into an unequal partnership with Europe, which is deepening its historic dominance and hegemony over all Maghribi economies. The bilateral economic Association Agreements signed with Morocco, and Tunisia, for example, stress free trade and not free movement of labor. If the objective is less to create a free trade zone than a safe backyard for Europe, it would then be important to examine the reasons that make the Maghribi states and the dominant groups become part of this regional scheme. But these reasons are not even alluded to by the author.

M. Moncef Khaddar teaches at Roger Williams University, Bristol, Rhode Island.
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Author:Khadder, Moncef
Publication:Arab Studies Quarterly (ASQ)
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 22, 2002
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