The Journal of Modern African Studies

Civil society, Islamism and democratisation: the case of Morocco 1

Francesco Cavatorta a1
a1 School of Law and Government, Dublin City University.

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The positive role that an active civil society plays in processes of democratisation is often highlighted in the literature. However, when it comes to the Middle East and North Africa, such activism is considered to be detrimental to democratisation because the predominant role is played by Islamist groups. The explanation for this rests with the perceived ‘uncivil’ and undemocratic Islamist ethos of such groups. This paper challenges this assumption and argues that Islamist associations can be a potential force for democratisation for three reasons. First, they are capable of political learning; secondly, they generate secular civil society activism as a response to their activities, increasing the number of actors in the political and social system; and finally, they can cooperate with other civil society groups on a number of issues, given that they are all subject to the same authoritarian constraints. The paper focuses in particular on the case of Morocco and the Islamist group Jamiat al-Adl wal-Ihsan.


1 The author is grateful to Robert Elgie and three anonymous referees for their comments on earlier drafts. The usual disclaimers apply. The author also acknowledges the financial aid received by the School of Law and Government Research Committee and in particular Dr Gary Murphy.