Amid the volatility of the post-Arab revolts of 2011, Salafi ideology and activism have emerged as the locus of societal contention and political controversy. Scholars and pundits of this ultra-conservative brand of Sunni Islam continue to debate its complexity, contextual diversity and internal dynamics. The most reductive explanations associate Salafi activism with violent extremism or the austere expressions of Saudi Wahhabism. The most insightful ones are those that provide access into the diversity of the Salafi experience, uncovering the social forces and national political trajectories that power its surge in contexts where it was long thought of as a parasitic fringe of contention. Reassessing the reconfigurations of national Salafi ideological politics and their interactions with regional and transnational dynamics is crucial to understanding the ambivalence and complexities of the Salafi phenomenon in the post-Arab Uprising era.
This article takes the Maghreb as a case study to investigate how the Salafi movement in its different stripes has been reshaping both society and politics in different national political contexts. In so doing, it traces the intellectual history and popular origins behind what has become an observable sociological and political phenomenon. Tracking the evolution of different strands of Salafi thought and activism in Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria provides a nuanced understanding of the many forces that contributed to the forceful re-emergence of politicised and radical brands of Salafism in the wake of the post-Arab uprisings.
II. The Making of North African Salafism
North African Salafism bifurcates between an indigenous nationalist strand and imported strands that lay either inside or outside the realm of Islamic modernism and politics. The two strands have connected at different historical intervals, producing different approaches to political and social reform. Historically, the most dominant strand embraced Salafism as a theology of rational knowledge and national social reform. During the colonial era, North African Salafism took a distinctly intellectual reform shape than that advocated by the puritanical Islamic reform movement originating in Saudi Arabia....