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Islamic Authority and Arab States in a Time of Pandemic

Author: Frederic Wehrey,  Nathan J. Brown,  Bader Al-Saif,  Intissar Fakir,  Anouar Boukhars,  Maysaa Shuja Al-Deen

Affiliation: Carnegie Endowment for International peace, George Washington University, Carnegie Middle East Center, Carnegie’s Middle East Program, Sanaa Center for Strategic Studies

Organization/Publisher: Carnegie Endowment

Date/Place: April 16 2020/ USA

Type of Literature: Report

Number of Pages: 10


Keywords: Islamic Authority, Pandemic, Cleric-State Relations, North Africa, Middle East.


The article focuses on the role of Islamic authority in the light of the pandemic circumstances. The coronavirus could represent an “existential test” to Arab political systems, due to its poor health and economic systems, as Arab regimes seek a “moral suasion” to manage the crisis and try to control the spread of the pandemic. Through mobilization of religious institutions, clerics and influential figures of Islamists, Arab governments aim at controlling and limiting the spread of the coronavirus by locking down the public spaces including religious ones. Islamic authority could provide a solution to the weak political and economic status of Arab regimes. Due to the low public trust and legitimacy of these regimes, Arab governments depend on the Islamic institutions and both national and local clerics to assure the compliance of people to the procedures issued to confront the spread of the pandemic. On the economic side, Islamic charities relieve the direct economic impacts resulting from the breakout of the coronavirus. The authors underline that the pandemic outbreak coincides with the consolidation of power and control over religious institutions in the Arab regimes as a pretext to their war against terrorism. This, accordingly, could be considered as an opportunity for intensifying more control and surveillance over Islamic authorities.  On the other hand, Islamic establishments as well could gain more privileges through this intermediary role between state and society, benefiting from the crisis, they could maintain a remarkable social position. To sum up, the article claims that the pandemic could clearly influence “cleric-state relations.” Additionally, Islamic institutions will serve as a moderator between the state and the society and the pandemic’s consequences might redraw such relations. The article then reports about some Arab states and the attitude of Islamic establishments in these countries whether pro-governmental or not. The article discusses the situation in some Arab states including Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Tunisia, Yemen, and Libya. These countries, with exception of the last two witnessing civil wars, shared a sense of mobilization of religious institutions under the control of the government that assured the compliance with the announced procedures of the political authority. Both official and non-official religious figures were employed to maintain the following of state policies to confront the crisis.

By: Yomna Süleyman, CIGA Research Assistant



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