Morocco’s New Public Diplomacy Network: West African Sufi BrotherhoodsMarch 23, 2015
In theory public diplomacy is about building relationships. In practice countries rarely start from scratch they build from a base provided by relationships that already exist.
There’s an interesting example of this in a new report from FRIDE on Morocco’s Religious Diplomacy in Africa. Morocco has tended to ignore Africa but because of the economic situation in Europe and the regional security situation it has launched a diplomatic offensive to build relations with African countries. One of the relationships it is activating is that with the Tijaniyyah Brotherhood a Sufi network with millions of members spread across west Africa. Because the Islam in the region was originally spread by the Moroccan Almoravid dynasty the king of Morocco is regarded as a religious leader and Fez as destination for pilgrimage this network is being activated as an asset for Morocco. This means pledges to build mosques, offers of training for imams and cheap flights for those coming to Morocco on pilgrimage. The promotion of Moroccan sufi Islam is extremely welcome in Senegal, Guinea, Nigeria, Niger and Benin presumably as a balance to the activities of more hardline varieties of Islam.
Of course this being International Relations there’s a competitive element here – Morocco traditionally regards Algeria as a rival and the sufi card is one that Algeria, as a formally secular state lacks.