The Islamist Movement Since the Late 1980S

The Islamist Movement Since the Late 1980S

Until the late 1980s, the government required that imams be named by the Ministry of Religious Affairs and prohibited the formation of any Islamist political or public association. Sermons and religious speeches were monitored, and worship services could be held only in officially designated mosques. But, with the urban growth that occurred during the 1970s and 1980s, the government could not keep up with the proliferation of mosques and neighborhood associations. This "imam shortage" opened the way for the independent Islamist movement, which quickly moved in to fill the public arena. These "unofficial imams" preached wherever they could find space and occupied official mosques in defiance of government legislation. The Islamists who occupied these urban mosques offered comprehensive social programs that included schooling, business development and neighborhood beautification, garbage pickup, tutoring sessions, and economic assistance for needy families. In a time of severe economic crisis and apparent government ineptitude, the Islamists did not seem to be limited by the reductions in municipal budgets and appeared committed to social welfare programs and improving the material condition of the general populace.

This social commitment would later benefit the political aspirations of the movement by creating a mass base from which to draw public support, even from those sectors unlikely to support an Islamist party. In fact, the commercial bourgeoisie --entrepreneurs driven by profit motives--were among the most important financial contributors to the Islamist movement. These businessmen were attracted to the FIS program by promises of tax cuts, deregulation, and economic incentives for business development. The Islamist movement has a national as well as a religious appeal. It has attacked the widespread corruption in the government and suggested solutions for the housing and unemployment crises. All of these efforts provide attractive campaign points for any opposition party, religious or secular, and allow the Islamist movement to transcend the traditional bases of Islamist support.


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