Commander of the Faithless: Challenging the myth of monarchical religious legitimacy in Morocco

By Yasmina Abouzzohour, Ilyas Saliba,
Submitted to Session P4870 (Politics of Legitimacy in the Maghreb, 2017 Annual Meeting
Pol Science
Maghreb Studies;
LCD Projector with Audio Patch or Speakers;
The Moroccan monarchy’s religious legitimacy is taken as indisputable by the political science literature on the Alaouite kingdom (Benabdellah Alaoui 2016; Bouasria 2013; Joffé 2009, 155; Albrecht & Schlumberger 2004: 377; Bank 2004). Claims that this legitimacy stabilizes and strengthens the regime are widespread, and researchers usually point to the king’s religious role- as it is mentioned in the constitution (§23, 1996; §41, 2011) and as it is displayed to the populace during ceremonies- as evidence of faith-based support for the king (Pruzan-Jørgensen 2010: 274).

However, the religious legitimacy thesis is significantly flawed, as there has been no proof (empirical or otherwise) to show that: (1) the king’s self-proclaimed role and constitutional duties are congruent with the religious practices and belief systems of Moroccans; (2) that they increase political support for the regime. Furthermore, while constitutional texts represent the image that the monarchy wishes to portray of itself, and are thus important indicators of its instrumentalization of Islam, they do not equate to religious legitimacy in the eyes of the masses. Finally, just as military parades were no direct indicator of public support for socialist regimes during the Cold War era, ceremonial display of religious authority is not an indicator of the Moroccan monarchy’s success in drawing support from such traditions.

To address these issues, this paper pursues comparative-historical analysis as a central mode of investigation and combines Millian and statistical comparisons, discourse analysis, and within-case methods to investigate the question of how the Moroccan monarchy’s so-called religious legitimacy concretely affects the interrelationship between the regime, the population, and the country’s political institutions.

This paper contributes to the field of Middle Eastern politics and Comparative Authoritarianism in two distinct ways. First, it empirically explores the scarcely-investigated claims of religious legitimacy of the Moroccan monarchy. Through systematically examining the Makhzen’s strategy of instrumentalizing religion to exert and consolidate political authority in the palace, this paper effectively distances the Moroccan case from common arguments of exceptionalism and brings it back into the broader theoretical debates of authoritarian resilience and legitimacy. Second, this paper contributes to the current debate on legitimacy in non-democracies. Its case study, research design, as well as its empirical and systematic approach to investigating legitimacy in non-democratic contexts through a specific dimension of traditional legitimacy (Weber 1980), can be used to study other cases in the region where rulers claim religious legitimacy, such as Jordan and Saudi Arabia.