Research (16)

Talks about the necessity to reform Islam are conducted for many centuries. Throughout the history of Islam theologians and thinkers never stopped attempts to give a “right” interpretation to the Moslem scriptures.

Absence of a hierarchal structure in Islam that does not imply existence of a single legitimatizing religious body as well as lack of a “core state” in Moslem civilization, according to notorious Samuel Huntington, has led to appearance of a huge number of Islamic schools, thoughts, branches and sects.

Before wide-spread dissemination of radical Islamism and terrorist attacks against peaceful civilians the talks about reform in Islam had been mainly prerogative of a narrow circle of Moslem thinkers and intellectuals.

Today as secular paradigm is being gradually substituted with the religiosity the rebirth of traditionalism is taking place all over. And Islam, being world’s most actively growing religion (the number of adherents will presumably have a 73% increase by 2050), is facing today challenges of terrorism and extremism, being involved into global political, economic and ideological games. Such state of affairs can easily discredit any religious system as well as divide the world into its advocates and adversaries.

Thus, the reform of Islam is a vital necessity for the humankind in general and for the Moslems themselves in particular.    

Not long ago the Egyptian president Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi has declared himself as world’s leading initiator of Islamic reform as he made several statements regarding the necessity of reform and even revolution in Islam.

In January 2015 at the world’s leading Moslem Sunni university “Al-Azhar” Al-Sisi made a legendary speech addressing country’s leading clergy: “It's inconceivable that the thinking, which we hold as most sacred causes the entire Islamic world to be a source of anxiety, danger, killing and destruction for the rest of the world. Impossible that this thinking – and I am not saying the religion – I am saying this thinking <…> It's antagonizing the entire world! <…> I say and repeat, again, that we are in need of a religious revolution. You imams are responsible before Allah. The entire world is waiting on you. The entire world is waiting for your word... because the Islamic world is being torn, it is being destroyed, it is being lost. And it is being lost from our own hands”. Later in his speech at the Davos Forum the Egyptian leader referred to this issue again, saying Moslems must change the religious discourse and remove things that have led to violence: “Islam is a religion with values of tolerance. It should not be evaluated by the actions of murderers. We must mobilize all our efforts to eliminate the scourge of terrorism”, - he stated.  

However it is very unlikely that “Al-Azhar” scholars, who receive a very particular type of religious education and consequently adhere to conservative and sometimes even retrograde views would be capable of accomplishing the presidential task.

Moreover, the idea of reforming Islam by theologians of Egypt or even the Arab world at large seems doubtful. This assertion originates from the particularities of the Arab culture, which is rightly described as a culture of shame (or shame culture) as opposed to the culture of guilt (guilt culture) that is characteristic for the Western world.

The shame culture presupposes orientation towards face preserving of individual or group. Dignity, honour and reputation are priority values and are subject to protection at any cost. The same applies to group honour. For a European as a representative of guilt culture the main barometer of acts and emotions is his or her personal feelings, Kant’s “moral law within”, consciousness or “inner god”. For an Arab the factor defining behavior would always lie outside, be external – be it public opinion, prescribed rules or group guidelines.  

Primary questions put forward by the guilt culture would be those of truth, freedom and preservation of individual rights. In the shame culture priority belongs not to ideas of a person, but to what group members think altogether, i.e. group morals, rules and norms.

The guilt culture is characterized by self-criticism, self-reflection, personal responsibility for one’s own life and actions. Shame culture is determined by lack and fear of self-criticism and self-reflection, while responsibility for individual’s life and actions to a great extent belongs to group or society.

According to researches, there is causal link between the types of cultures and societies: guilt culture is originating from individualistic (industrial) society and shame culture comes as a result of collectivist (traditional) society. 

It’s obvious that any changes to say nothing of reforms begin with discovering and realizing flaws of religious system or/and its interpretations. Yet, if we take the present-day Arab culture it would be clear that public criticism of religious interpretations is factually impossible. Attempts of this kind threaten to damage Moslem ummah’s reputation and are perceived as discreditation of Islam itself and its adherents, which is inevitably leading to accusations of blasphemy. Thus, Arab shame culture can not afford itself to have a critical view on Moslem religious tradition, especially taking into account self-awareness of Arabs as guardians of Islamic doctrine and theology. In other words non-readiness of Arab thinkers and society at large for a religious reform lies in the sphere of value orientations of Arab culture at the current historical stage.

Meanwhile living in mono-religious Moslem ummah does not help in critical analysis of one’s own religious system, while Moslem activists and thinkers residing in the countries of greater religious variety, who are permanently introduced to communication with adherents of different religions, are more open to rethinking Moslem guidelines.

In this context it is only natural that attempts to find new approaches to Islamic teaching are taking place outside the Arab world – especially in the region of Asia (India, Malaysia, Indonesia, Pakistan) and among Moslems of the West (EU, USA, Canada and Australia). Enough to say that the majority of “Muslim Reform Movement” founders originate from Asian and Western countries being graduates from American and European universities and permanently residing in either EU or the USA.

Reform in Islam at present remains to be absolutely acute and greatly demanded by both the world and Moslem ummah. However, the probability is high that innovative ideas in Islam would be formed outside the Arab world due to the Arab cultural particularities.  


Modern Egyptian society can have various definitions: traditional, collective, developing, industrial and many more. But above all it is religious. Having played fundamental role in country’s formation throughout several thousands of years religion is still playing significant role penetrating almost every sphere of life including politics, economy and culture. Described by the famous ancient Greek historian Herodotus in the V century BC as “the most god-fearing people in the world” Egyptians till today seem to bear this very characteristics. Throughout the history Egyptians had always been profoundly religious developing remarkable religious consciousness, which would be appropriate to call theocentric as long as the idea of God is central in their world perception.

Undoubtedly a key-role in value formation of Egyptian society belongs to the religious factor. The data of value surveys for Egypt conducted by the World Value Survey in 2011 perfectly illustrates this point: when asked about the importance of religion as much as 94.1% respondents said it was very important. The question about religion as an important child quality made 83.4% of Egyptians say they thought of it (for more details see “World Values Survey. WV6 Results – Egypt 2012”). Risking to fall into precarious generalization it is still possible to assume that religiosity is predominantly detected in the lower and middle strata of the country’s society.

Another paradigm that is often reasonably perceived as confronting religiosity in Egypt is secularism. Being associated with such form of globalization as westernization, the secular tendency is merely associated with the upper strata of Egyptian society. These two concepts – religiousness and secularity – inevitably tend to periodically clash arousing public unrest. Moreover, in the past few decades it is religiosity/secularism dichotomy that defines the tension fluctuations of the Egyptian public discourse. Enough to mention the two famous Egyptian-born formulas: “Islam is the Solution” used by the notorious radical Islamist organization “Moslem Brotherhood” and “Secularism is the Solution” used by the local liberals.

As mentioned above religion is inseparable from all spheres of life in the land of pyramids and marketing strategies are no exception: they are naturally worked out with serious consideration of the religious factor.

Consequently these two tendencies – religious and secular – are shaping modern female images used in Egyptian marketing presenting them in two various ways: either as a “Good Housewife” or as a “Liberal Beauty” (or sometimes “Femme Fatale”). (Photo Religious 1 / “Religious image ad pasta” & “Secular ad Eva cosmetics”)

The first case deals with the image of a carrying mother, who in most cases would be middle-aged, veiled, corpulent and representing a moral ideal of Egyptian woman. This type is targeting the audience of Egyptian housewives, predominantly conservative or religious as long as it portrays a real woman, with whom a potential consumer is capable to associate herself. This image is mostly used to market household products (laundry washing powder, dish washing liquid, laundry conditioner, soap, etc.) or food products (oil, ghee, pasta, sauces, etc.)
(Persil commercial

The second case portrays a secular young lady intentionally challenging traditional and conservative social norms. (The secular case would also include inviting local female stars and foreigner ladies to be the images of advertising campaigns). This image is targeting two categories – secularly oriented females and men. On the one hand, this beautiful woman becomes a dream model for young girls and ladies, who wish to acquire the same striking attractiveness (of course on condition they buy the advertised product). In this case the image is used to market either beautifying products (shampoos, body creams, etc.) or any other products associated rather with pleasure then with necessity. (Photo “Secular ad chocolate”) On the other hand, female sexual appeal is being actively used to target male audience. Such approach is applied to market goods that are traditionally purchased by men (be it real estate, ceramics, water heaters, etc.). (Photo “Secular ad of ceramics”)

Needless to say that these two images are precisely reflecting the two female stereotypes existing in contemporary Egyptian society. These main types of female images are perceived as exemplary.

Among the main Egyptian values shaped by Islam is family: religious tradition implies that family is the most important thing in human life. Thus, Egyptian women are expected to become one of these two – either ideal wife and mother happy with her family life or independent beauty-heartbreaker, who is attracting men and, thus, acquiring a high possibility to grasp a husband. So it’s all about getting married in the end – the necessary step in Egyptian successful life plan.

Interesting that there is a strict differentiation in the usage of female and male images in advertising as if these two worlds hardly intersect. For instance, banking and industrial spheres are believed to solely belong to men and consequently their advertising is aimed at purely male audience.

Saibank  commercial:

Misr Bank:


Since several decades now mass communication (and advertising being part of it) has become one of the most influential factors forming human concepts, ideas and worldviews. Consequently, marketing should bear social responsibility along with promoting successful sales. And this point is unfortunately not there yet – Egyptian advertising campaigns of today tremendously lack images of women aiming to achieve in life something more than just a happy marriage. It needs to promote images of successful and passionate female scientists, artists, writers, journalists or businesswomen, who freely pursue their high goals, be it impressive personal career or involvement in social matters.  






Over the past year, Russia has become an increasingly pivotal player in the Syrian war and, by extension, in the broader Middle East. Amidst the noise Russia’s impact in Syria has caused, the underlying drivers of its strategy – domestic, security and ideological – remain too often ignored. As a result, Russian decisions regarding Syria often seemed unpredictable and irrational to observers. However, Hanna Notte argues in her guest contribution, published by KAS and Maison du Futur, Russia’s strategy and fundamental interests in Syria have been remarkably consistent over the past six years.

To download a paper you can clicking the cover.

Research by our member Hanna Notte was made for Konrad Adenauer Center.


Russia's relationship with the Persian Gulf and the independent Arab monarchies, which have formed in the region over the past century, is proving complex and malleable. It ebbs and flows, characterized by significant political differences, which are related to various aspects of regional and global politics and are ultimately also a function of internal political transformations, both within Russia itself and the states of the region.

However, it should be pointed out that – all disagreements and heated discussions about the Syrian crisis and the Iranian nuclear deal notwithstanding – Russia and the GCC have never been such close partners, as they are during this current complicated and painful turn in Middle Eastern history, in that they share a wide range of common interests and understand each others' concerns. There is a mutual impact between, on the one hand, prolonged regional destabilization, multiple sources and theatres of violence and the loss of governability in the region, and the internal processes within the GCC member states, on the other. The GCC, a political-military alliance with great financial and economic potential, has - in Russia's view - transformed into a real power centre, exercising leverage on the overall situation not just within the region.

Everything is relative, so the mutual appeal between Russia and the Persian Gulf is best understood in its historical context. Let us take, for instance, the longstanding relationship between Russia and Saudi Arabia, which plays a leading role in the GCC:

The Soviet Union was one of the first states to recognize, and establish diplomatic relations with, the Saudi Kingdom in 1932. The Soviets viewed the momentum towards integration on the Arabian peninsula as a progressive development, especially against the backdrop of the colonial policies of Western powers, which had competed to divide the spoils of the Arab world amongst each other. The Saudis never forgot that Moscow, in those difficult initial years of the Kingdom's development, provided Riyadh with oil products, especially gasoline. This interesting historical fact must appear amusing and paradoxical today.

Later, after the Russian Ambassador was recalled from Riyadh, bilateral relations were frozen for a protracted period. The reason was not any foreign policy disagrement, but rather the internal political repression arising within the Soviet Union, which claimed many respected diplomats as victims.

During the post-World War II period of bipolar confrontation, the Soviet leadership viewed the Gulf region as a sphere of Western preponderance. This view was reflected in Soviet ideology at the time, which divided the Arab world into states characterized by a Socialist orientation and perceived as acting compatible with Soviet foreign policy doctrine, and into the «reactionary» oil monarchies, considered US satellites. This artificial distinction was also fuelled by Nasserist Egypt, which at the time was ambitious to spread Arab nationalism across the region, especially towards the Arabian peninsula with its significant oil resources. Soviet Middle East policy was then undoubtedly driven by apprehensions about Cairo's intentions, and it was occasionally difficult to establish, who was exercising the greater influence on whom.

A reinstatement of relations between Russia and Saudi Arabia at the end of the 1970s – a period when conditions seemed ripe for reconciliation – was complicated by the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, which caused great damage to Moscow's position in the Muslim world. It was not until the 1990s that both countries established diplomatic representations in each other's capitals, though bilateral relations were overshadowed by a whole range of irritants, such as the conflict in Chechnya and events in Kosovo. While the Saudi perspective on these conflicts prioritized the need to protect the Muslim population, the Russian leadership, urging the reestablishment of constitutional legality in Chechnya and refusing to recognize Kosovar independence from Serbia, looked at the situation through the prism of international legal norms, such as the sanctity of territorial integrity and the principle of noninterference in internal affairs.

Russia's internal problems in the 1990s, causing it to reduce its political activity and economic ties in the Middle East, additionally complicated relations with Saudi Arabia, as well as the other GCC states. To many in the world, Russia appeared to have turned its back on the region. This impression was reinforced by the fact that Moscow, against the backdrop of rapidly unfolding democratic changes inside Russia, embarked on an increasingly pro-Western oriented foreign policy course. Hence, the Persian Gulf was not so much looked at from Moscow as a region that ties should be fostered with bilaterally, but its importance was rather assessed within the overall context of Russia's partnership with the US, which was to provide the framework in which to devise a reliable Middle Eastern regional security system[1].

Russia's return to the region from the early 2000s then occurred under very different circumstances. There was a change in the very paradigm of Russian-Arab relations, which became mutually beneficial and evolved in different spheres. Purely pragmatic considerations assumed priority: the support of a stable political dialogue, whatever the disagreements, the strengthening of economic ties, as well as regional security. On this basis, Russia started building relations – rather successfully – not just with traditional partners, but with all Arab Gulf states, which were gaining in political and economic weight at the time.

During the same period, the GCC underwent a process of increasing institutionalisation internally, for instance in the spheres of common defense, coordination of actions on the international stage, coordination of oil policies, as well as economic integration. Given the emergence of this new, more integrated center of power in the Gulf, relations with Russia acquired an additional dimension.

From 2011, a Russian-GCC dialogue started to develop in parallel to the nurturing of bilateral relations; the former was aimed at the convergence and coordination of the participants' positions on regional and global problems of common interest, as well as the development of trade and economic relations. Five rounds of talks between all foreign ministers were held in Abu Dhabi, Riyadh, Kuwait, Moscow, as well as New York on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly. Regional security, especially the fight against international terrorism and a political solution for the conflicts in Syria, Iraq, Libya and Yemen – both intended to stabilize the Middle Eastern situation more broadly – became the central item on the Russia-GCC agenda. In this context, the Gulf participants emphasized, in particular, Iran's regional role and its relations with Russia, since they viewed Tehran as the main threat in the region.

The extent to which questions related to Gulf security are of utmost priority to the Arab states of the region is well understood in Russia. These questions already acquired heightened significance in 1990 during the First Gulf War. At that time, the priority for both the GCC and, by the way, Russia was to neutralize the threat emanating from Iraq. Following the overthrow of Saddam Hussein in 2003, the GCC started to view Iran – a state with substantial military might and wide-ranging possibilties to influence the Gulf states through its support for their Shiite communities – as their main enemy.

As a result of this development, the challenges of Gulf regional security acquired a new, more complex character, especially considering the heavy legacy of relations between these two centers of power in the region, a legacy that has its roots in the emergence and spread of Islam as a world religion.

The destruction of the old state foundations and the social and political upheavals, which afflicted the entire MENA region with the beginning of the «Arab Spring», forced the GCC to adapt to changing circumstances and to seek additional resources, in order to forestall the spillover of destabilization into the Persian Gulf at a time when power relations between major regional players were in flux. Egypt, living through two revolutions and suffering from their disruptive consequences, was temporarily weakened. Syria and Iraq have been torn by internal strife between groups close to either Saudi Arabia or Iran. And Turkey, which claimed the universality of its model of «Islamic democracy», has ceased to be regarded in the Arab world as a role model, given its growing domestic and external problems.

Unlike Jordan and Morocco, which swiftly embarked on a path of political modernization, the Saudi kingdom decided for more gradual development, starting by introducing economic reforms. And this is understandable: Saudi Arabia, as the guardian of the holy sites of Islam, carries a particular responsibility for the maintenance of stability, especially at a time when it found itself, as officials in Riyadh argued, caught between two perils: that of revolution and acts of terrorism, on the one hand, and that of surging Iranian regional ambitions, on the other. It should be noted that, while these worries shared by Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies were not entirely unfounded, they were in some instances overexaggerated, according to most Western and Russian experts.

It is certainly true that Shiite Iran has enhanced its position in Iraq over recent years, paradoxically enabled by the 2003 American invasion of Iraq, which changed the sectarian balance in positions of power in favour of the Shia, a fact that Iran has used in its favour. Saudi hopes that the Assad regime, close to Iran, would be swiftly overthrown did not materialize. Iran's influence in Lebanon, exercised through the militarily well-equipped Hezbollah movement, also increased. And at the same time, the Shia opposition in Bahrain became more active, as did the Houthis in Yemen, which are considered an outright product of Iran, though this is well known to be a stretch of logic.

Developments North to the Gulf, where a Tehran-Damascus-Hezbollah axis was perceived to form, as well as South, where the Houthis overthrew a legally elected President, were seen by the Arab Gulf states as a real threat to both their security and very existence. A new strategy, comprising a whole range of political, military, financial, economic and propagandist counter-measures, had to be devised. Changes at the top echelons of power in the Saudi kingdom hastened this strategy, which was ultimately intended to contain Iran, into action.

Given these assessments of developments in the Middle East, which are prevailing among circles in the Gulf, the US' changing regional policy, especially in relation to Iran, and its possible impact on regional relations, has been of particular concern. Should recent US policy be understood as the manifestation of a new regional strategy, aimed at rapprochement with Iran and the creation of a new regional equilibrium, or rather as a tactical feat? Especially Saudi Arabia viewed the toppling of Hosni Mubarak as resulting in the loss of a trusted ally and, even worse, as evidence of the unreliability of American patronage. America's flirtation with the Muslim Brotherhood, ascending to power at the time, caused yet more suspicion, which was then further exacerbated by President Obama's decision to conclude a nuclear deal with Iran. The not unfounded Saudi allegations that the US' policy of supporting Shia authoritarian leaders in Baghdad further allowed Iran to enhance its sphere of influence in Iraq, became an additional irritant in Gulf-US relations. The two sides also differed sharply on how to deal with the conflict in Syria. US policy in Syria was regularly criticsed in the Gulf as weak and inconsistent. As a result of the above-discussed irritants, and for the first time in history, US-Saudi relations were seriously tested, a development which reached its apogee in Riyadh's renouncing of the strategic partnership and heralding a «sharp turn» in its foreign policy[2].

Worries about losing the US as the traditional security guarantor in the region also precipitated the GCC's activisation of political contacts with Russia, including at the senior level. The Saudis figured it wise to assess the extent to which Russia could play a moderating role with respect to Iran, as well as to broaden their foreign policy ties in the international arena, given the new system of flexible and self-regulating balances in the region. Russia, in turn, had already from the early 2000s adopted a balanced foreign policy course intended at the levelling of relations with states of the «Arab bloc», which it viewed as an increasingly influential player and serious partner not just in the region, but also on global political and economic issues.

The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), signed between Iran and the «P5+1» on July 14, 2015, generated a whole range of commentary and prognoses. Two opposing camps, each assessing the deal in terms of its likely global ramifications for the nuclear non-proliferation regime, as well as its impact on Iran's regional politics, emerged.

The JCPOA's opponents in the US, like those in the region itself (including Saudi Arabia and the other GCC states) are far from convinced that the deal will lower Tehran's nuclear ambitions and moderate its regional strategy. Some even fear a regional nuclear arms race, driven by Iran's apprehensive neighbours[3]. The Gulf States do not hide the fear that the financial resources released to Iran post-sanctions relief will be used by Tehran to support the pro-Iranian forces and movements within the entire so-called «Shia crescent». The JCPOA's supporters, on the other hand, argue that the deal will not lead to a distortion of the region's military balance and that the US remains committed to its security guarantees in the Middle East. They also hold that the deal will strengthen moderate elements in the Iranian leadership, which compete with those who continue to support a harder line, especially on Syria. According to the supporters' logic, an Iran emerging from international isolation will act more responsibly, be ready for compromises, and the other Gulf states, having received guarantees that they will be protected against possible Iranian expansionism, will equally conduct a more restrained foreign policy in the region.

The agreement with Iran did not have any negative impact on Russia's relations with the Gulf countries. There is even reason to argue that – the disagreements regarding Iran and the Syrian crisis notwithstanding – meetings and conversations at the heighest political and diplomatic level became more frequent and assumed a more pragmatic outlook.

 President Putin, for instance, met with King Salman in Antalya in November 2015, and with Deputy Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman Al Saud in June 2015 in St. Petersburg, as well as in October of the same year in Sochi. Of course, in view of the complexity and multifaceted nature of the situation prevailing in the region, it was difficult to expect any major breakthroughs. Nonetheless, the two sides agreed on those issues, on which they differ most acutely and agreed to continue the political dialogue and cooperation in the trade and economic sphere. A mutual understanding prevailed that differences, whatever they may be, should not become a pretense for breaking relations. Both sides were cognizant of the fact that their disagreements were outnumbered by their converging interests and approaches on a wide range of issues on the regional and international agenda, including the Middle East peace process, regional security (including in the Persian Gulf), the promotion of a dialogue among civilizations, the fight against terrorism, extremism, piracy and drug trade. Such agreements, if carried out by both sides, would in themselves be a good achievement, if compared with the ups and downs in the history of relations between the two countries.

It is possible that the change in the very style of negotiations – from emotional outbursts to candid, business-like conversations – occurred precisely because both sides recognized their own and  their respective partner's important role in averting the materialization of worse-case scenarios in the region. This is especially true after Russia called for a broad antiterrorist coalition and started supporting the Syrian army decisively with airstrikes.

It is also worth pointing out a special relashionships between Russia and the Kingdom of Bahrein which are on the rise in all spheres – political, economic, banking, scientific, cultural etc. The relationships of the kind are based on close personal ties on the highest level between President Putin and His Majesty the King Hamad who had been visiting Russia four times during the last six years.

The Russian side, in the context of bilateral and multilateral (with the GCC) consultations, has been eager to convey to its Arab Gulf partners which regional and global considerations drive its policy in the Middle East. This has concerned, in particular, Moscow's relations with Tehran and its views of Iran's regional role, as well as Russia's perspective on international cooperation in the fight against ISIL and other terrorist organizations, which instrumentalize Islam to hide their political objectives.

It is critical to pause and discuss these issues, which take a central place in the Russian-Arab common agenda, in somewhat greater detail – especially given that mutual mistrust and mistaken interpretations of the respective other's intentions and motivations prevail in both the Gulf countries and Russia. From time to time, distorted ideas about Russian strategy in the region circulate in Gulf political circles.

For instance, before the Moscow meeting between the Russian and GCC foreign ministers in May 2016, the Al Hayat newspaper alleged that Iran assumes «the central place in Moscow's system of regional and international alliances», that «whoever rules Iran, be it radical or moderate mullahs, or even the Revolutionary Guards, Moscow views its bilateral ties with Tehran as of overriding concern, whether the Gulf Arabs like it or not» [4]. It is also no secret that, besides those who support building a constructive relationship with Russia, there are also those in Saudi Arabia who believe that an «either-or» choice – being with the Saudis or with Iran – will be inevitable for Russia[5].

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov addressed these questions, which appear of particular concern to the Gulf, during yet another round of the Russian-GCC strategic dialogue in Moscow. At the joint press conference with his Saudi counterpart Adel al-Jubeir, Lavrov noted that any country has the right to develop friendly relations with its neighbours and to strive to grow its influence beyond its borders. He also emphasized that this has to be done with full respect for the principles of international law, transparently, legitimately, without pursuing any hidden agendas and without trying to interfere within the internal affairs of sovereign states. The Russian side has also always warned of the dangers associated with portraying disagreements between Iran and the GCC as reflecting a split in the Muslim world. Russia believes it is unacceptable to further provoke the situation exploiting sectarian prisms[6].

The majority of Russian experts view Iran as one of Russia's major southern neighbours, with whom mutually advantageous cooperation on a wide range of bilateral, regional and international questions – including trade, energy and (military) security – is absolutely essential. Not just the Middle East counts here, but the entire Eurasian context. Russia is interested that Iran become a member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), a political alliance comprising non-Western states, which was founded by China and Russia.

Given these considerations, it is not realistic to confront Russia with an «either-or choice»: either Iran or the GCC. And though Russia and Iran have many common interests and their cooperation looks promising, their relationship is not without challenges. Moscow's and Tehran's foreign policy objectives coincide in some areas, but diverge in others, depending on the concrete circumstances. Russia recognizes Iran as a major player in the Middle East, yet like the Arab states does not want Tehran to acquire nuclear weapons. And the Rouhani regime understands perfectly well that Russia cannot build relations with Iran to the detriment of the GCC states' security. In Syria, Russia and Iran form a close military alliance, which however is not tantamount to a common political strategy. While both Moscow and Tehran seek to prevent the victory of Islamist extremists, their long-term goals and visions for a post-Assad Syria differ substantially. Russia is not set on retaining Assad personally, or the Alawite minority, in power, but is principally concerned with the integrity of the Syrian state, albeit a reformed one friendly to Moscow. In the security realm, Russia also closely coordinates its actions with Israel and therefore views Iran's reliance on Hezbollah suspiciously[7]. Iran's most prominent politicians are also far from contemplating the formation of an outright alliance with Russia. As Rouhani stated, «good relations with Russia do not imply Iran's agreement with any of Moscow's actions.» [8]

In general, many Russian and Western experts agree that, regarding Syria, there is Russian-Iranian agreement on the basis of  a situational confluence of interests, but that one cannot speak of a full-fledged military alliance between the two powers[9]. Unlike Tehran, Moscows maintains pragmatic contacts with a wide range of political forces inside Lebanon, eager to support national consensus and to prevent a slide of the country into the abyss of violence and religious strife. And regarding Yemen, their positions equally clash. While Tehran unequivocally supports Ali Abduallah Saleh and the Houthis, Russia has adopted a more neutral position on the conflict.

Drawing conclusions, it is critical to emphasize that Moscow does not support any Iranian great power ambitions in the Persian Gulf and categorically avoids interference in the Sunni-Shiite conflict, aware that - in conditions of acute rivalry for spheres of influence in the region - Iran instrumentalizes various Shiite forces in pursuit of its narrow political interests. Relations with Saudi Arabia are without a doubt valuable in themselves for Russia. Therefore, it is important to appreciate, just how difficult a balancing act it is for Moscow to simultaneously develop what it views as an indispensible partnership with the Saudi kingdom, to strengthen friendly ties with the other Gulf monarchies and to deal successfully with its Southern neighbour Iran, with which it shares a centuries-long history. Especially at the current stage, when the regional confrontation has gone too far and, most alarmingly, has become conceived as a clash between the two religious centers of the Muslim world, the Saudi leadership has decided to contain Iran by force.

As the two opposing camps deplete their resources, and the international community feels increasingly tired and powerless to stop the vicious circle of violence, conceptualizing a new regional security order, as proposed by Russia, will become all the more urgent. The Arab states have agreed in principle to such an initiative, but are against Iranian integration into a regional security system until Tehran starts pursuing a policy of good-neighbourliness and non-interference. But without Iran, the Russian project is not viable. Therefore, Russia has signalled its readiness «to use its good relations with both the GCC and Iran, in order to help create the conditions for a concrete conversation on the normalisation of GCC-Iranian ties, which can only occur through direct dialogue.» [10]

However Russian-American relations will develop, the Gulf States need to understand that, in recent years, the balance of power in the Middle East has been changing, alliances have been forming and breaking. The level of unpredictability is growing, new risks are emerging. Today, the US' allies in the region are not necessarily Russia's enemies, in the same way that Moscow's friends are not Washington's foes. All their disagreements about Syria notwithstanding, a further escalation in the Gulf – a region of utmost importance for the world economy and global financial systems – is not in the interest of either power. In the search for what would be a historical reconciliation in the Gulf, the common terrorist threat posed by ISIL and Al Qaeda could be a critical uniting factor. The number of supporters of the «caliphate» in Saudi Arabia and in the South of the Arabian peninsula is far from insignificant. Both also have ambitious plans for economic development and are very interested in creating a favorable external environment for their aspirations.

Dr. Alexander Aksenenok, Ambassador (ret), member of Russian International Affaires Council, senior researcher, Institute for Oriental Studies, Russian Academy of Siencies.



[1] См. Свободная мысль, Россия и Саудовская Аравия: эволюция отношений, Косач Григорий,

[2] см. http://lenta/ru/articles/2013/10/23/unfriended/.

[3] См. РБК, Ричард Хаас, Скрытая угроза: чем опасно ядерное соглашение с Ираном,

[4] «Москва арабам: Иран наш первый союзник», «Аль-Хаят», 19 февраля 2016 года, http://www.alh

[5] «Аль-Хаят», 26 февраля 2016 года,

[6] Выступление и ответы на вопросы СМИ министра иностранных дел России С.В.Лаврова, http://www/mid/ru/foreign_policy/news/-/asset_publisher/cKNonkJE02Bw/content/id/...

[7] Russia and Iran: Historic  Mistrust and Contemporary Partnership, Dmitry Trenin, Carnegie Moscow Center,

[8] См. Газета RU, 06.03.2016

[9] См. Брак по расчёту. Перспективы российско-иранского регионального сотрудничества, Николай Кожанов, Россия в глобальной политике, №3 май-июнь 2016

[10] Выступление и ответы на вопросы СМИ министра иностранных дел России С.В. Лаврова 15.09.2016,

The mass-scale protests in Arab countries triggered a tectonic shift in the Middle East.
Its entire system of cultural, social, economic, and political relations is undergoing reconstruction.

This reconstruction can be attributed to mostly internal causes – political, economic, cultural, and civilisation-related – but there is an obvious link to the most alarming trends of global development. Its gist lies in the loss of control over international processes,the return of the factor of force, the growing role of accidents, the strengthening of the world’s periphery, and the crises of national states and identities.

The material for discussion has been prepared upon the request of the Foundation for Development and Support of the Valdai Discussion Club by the research team of the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, IMESClub members.
Available for download [PDF] in:
- RU
- AR

Supervised by: Vitaly Naumkin
 Research team: Irina Zvyagelskaya, Vasily Kuznetsov, Nikolay Soukhov

This September is a 25-year anniversary of the reestablishment of diplomatic contacts between Russian Federation and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia on the level of ambassadors. The countries have many connections. In 1926  Russia was the first non-Islamic country to recognize the state, which eventually (in 1932) became the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. And the founder of the state Abdulaziz ibn Saud highly estimated the role of Russia in the world and tended to develop relations with it.

Active political contacts between Russia and the KSA and other GCC countries are just a recent trend. They were encouraged by the important changes on the international arena during that period, the advancement of the common challenges and threats that required joint decisions. The historical visit of Saudi crown prince Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud to Russia in September 2003 has created a new basis for the long-term relations of the two giant states – Russia in the world, and Saudi Arabia on the Arabian Peninsula. 2007 was marked by the first visits in the history to Saudi Arabia, Qatar and UAE by Russian President Vladimir Putin. The economic cooperation was one of the central topics of the negotiations. The parties have reinforced the legal basis of the relations, discussed the conditions and the prospects of the cooperation in oil and gas sector, in the investment, military and technical partnership, development of the transit infrastructure.

The visit of Russian Minister of Foreign affairs Sergei Lavrov to Saudi Arabia in the beginning of November 2011 has not only revealed the balanced approach of Russia towards the complicated situation in the region, but has obviously laid the foundations for the new period of relations between Russia and Arabian oil monarchies. The first joint ministerial meeting on the strategic dialog between the GCC ministers of foreign affairs and Russian minister of foreign affairs during his visit gives evidence of a higher level of cooperation.

I would like to distinguish several vectors of bilateral cooperation that have both important potential for rapprochement and certain difficulties in cooperation, I hope, manageable ones.

  1. The issue of international security. Now it is possible to definitely state the overlapping or similarity of Russian and Saudi positions on the majority of international and regional issues such as the non-proliferation of the WMD, organized crime, drug trafficking, conflict situations in the Middle East and in other regions of the world.

However, there are many problems as well. As Sergey Lavrov has declared in his speech in MGIMO on the 1st of September, “The current lack of cooperation between the big states may cause an irreparable damage to the world order. It is primarily connected to the growth of the terrorist threat”.

In order to minimize the challenge of the international terrorism, that comes from the Middle East as well as from other regions, to prevent the spread of radical Islamism in Russian regions, where the Islamic population prevails, the antiterrorist activity should be coordinated with the Council of GCC and with its particular member countries as well, firstly with the KSA. Our countries are close in their uncompromised position to struggle the international terrorism, which covers itself behind the banners of Islam.

Russia will obviously promote its plans to strengthen the regional security. The Arabic countries paid much attention to Russian concept of security in the Gulf region proposed in 2007, which based on the collective principle with the participation of all the regional and other interested parties. The signing of a corresponding international treaty will not only decrease the level of Iranian-Arabic tensions, but will also significantly improve Russia’s authority in the Gulf region.

During the second ministerial round of the strategic dialog, the parties have confirmed their resolution to further promote the creation of WMD and delivery systems free zone in the Middle East. They have also emphasized the importance of joint work on the preparation to carry the conference envisaged by the decisions of the Review conference of the NPT in 2010.

Regarding the Middle-Eastern peace process and its main vector, I would like to notice, that our countries have close positions in the Israeli-Palestinian settlement, promoting the total and just settlement in the region, which supposes the termination of Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories that started in 1967, and the creation of the independent Palestinian state. Our country is firm in its support of the Arab Peace Initiative that was adopted by the League of Arab States.  This document is aimed at achieving the overall peace with Israel and the end of Arabic-Israeli conflict on the main condition of Israeli withdrawal from the territories occupied in 1967 and its recognition of the Palestinian State on the West Bank and in Gaza strip with the capital in the Eastern Jerusalem. The initiative was proposed by the crown price of Saudi Arabia Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud.

There are several dimensions of the mechanism of international security maintenance. In the domain of economic security Russia and Saudi Arabia cooperate with other important countries and make joint effort to overcome the aftermath of the global financial and economic crisis within the framework of G20, which is considered the main mechanism for the coordination of approaches towards the global macroeconomic issues, reform of the international financial architecture, the increase of financial sector regulation efficiency.

  1. The strengthening of trust: prospects of cooperation with Islamic political movements. Humanitarian contacts.

Radical religious movements may have a dangerous response in the North Caucasus and Central Asia. Russia should attentively examine the situation as during the last years it has managed to have agreement with all the existing regimes that they will control their radical Muslims.

As a result, in the middle of the 90ies the influx of radical Muslims from these countries to our North Caucasus region has almost stopped. If the current uprisings and anarchy do not stop, and the overthrown regimes leave nothing but vacuum of power, Russia, as well as many Western countries and Israel, should be concerned, as the radicalization and Islamization of certain countries without leadership become imminent.

The positions of the parties towards the religious issues have a specific importance in the complex of the relations. The fact that Saudi Arabia is a particular center of spiritual life for Muslims from all over the world, that it is a guardian of the Islamic holy places, attributes an utmost importance to this domain. Russian politics towards Islam is based on the humanitarian element as well. The Saudi funds subsidize the pilgrimage of thousands of Russians to the holy places, building and reconstruction of mosques, and provide humanitarian aid. During the talks in UAE in November 2011 Sregey Lavrov has declared: “We are thankful to the leadership of Saudi Arabia for the constant attention to the needs of Russian pilgrims.” The first Russian Orthodox Church on the Arabian Peninsula was built in Sharjah (UAE) under the cooperation of the leadership of this country.

Russia thankfully accepts the support given to our country by Saudi Arabia which it received getting the observer status in the Organization of Islamic Conference (now – OIC).

The strengthening of trust, the increase of knowledge about each other between the peoples of Russia and the KSA, are extremely important to develop bilateral relations. Russian Ambassador to the KSA Oleg Ozerov has assessed the state of current Russian-Saudi relations as “…the sufficient experience of cooperation has not been accumulated yet, and the lack of knowledge about each other is visible. A complex approach is required to correct the not always correct perceptions about each other and improve understanding of the realities: to use personal and business contacts, to increase intergovernmental ties and to implement the means of “soft diplomacy’, mainly the ones of intercultural dialogue that should consider the particularities of both countries.” (“International Life. №11, 2011). It is possible to add that the development of studies of the languages of the partner countries is quite valuable.

In order to increase the efficiency of the cooperation on the intergovernmental level, the social institutes should be involved in this process; the humanitarian exchange should be intensified. Scientific contacts, youth and NGO delegations exchange will strengthen the trust between Russia and countries of the Arabian Peninsula. During the talks the parties have agreed to cooperate in the higher education and scientific research by maintaining contacts between universities and think tanks.

MGIMO is involved in shaping the Arabian vector of Russia’s foreign policy. The Center of Arabic language studies was opened in the University in March 2009. It was created at the initiative of the crown prince of Saudi Arabia Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud and he funded it as well. In November 2007 the crown prince was granted a title of MGIMO Dr. h.c. There are established regular contacts, student and professor exchange between MGIMO and scientific and educational centers of Saudi Arabia. Highly qualified graduates of our University implement the knowledge acquired during their studies in their diplomatic service in Russian embassies in the GCC countries. The employees of the Center of Middle Eastern studies of MGIMO propose the improvements for the mechanism of cooperation of our country with the Arabian states in their analytic research.

The creation of an adequate information space through the organization of days of culture and science, exhibitions, support of Russian and international printed and online media, radio and television in the respective countries is an effective measure in this direction.

  1. Economic cooperation

A new level of economic cooperation is required. Once kerosene oil was the most important article of Soviet export to KSA. International economic relations are essentially on a new stage of development. Thus, it is desirable to:

  • Promote the creation of a positive climate for the increase of bilateral trade (e.g. to create new free-trade zones) and investments through the stimulation of contacts between the representatives of business circles in order to use the investment capacities of the parties;
  • Develop the cooperation in industry, transit, communications, agriculture, tourism and healthcare;
  • Continue the cooperation in the energy and conduct joint meetings of experts and technical professionals, and cooperate in the peaceful atom, energy security and renewable sources of energy;
  • Start the creation of projects in peaceful space exploration;
  • Attract funds of GCC countries to upgrade Russian economy – implement the newest medical, energy and information technologies, develop space and telecom systems, decisive increase of energy efficiency

There is a good basis of the development of hi-tech cooperation. In his speech in Sochi on the 1st September 2015 Vladimir Putin asked “Will we create unique technologies ourselves, make a breakthrough in the economy, or envy the triumphs of others?”. It is an eternal question. Today both our countries may answer this question in favor of their national interests in cooperation with friendly countries.

The composite indexes of Saudi Arabia’s economic growth confirm its potential attractiveness as an international economic partner.

Considering the dynamics it is impossible not to mention that the KSA and Oman are among top 10 countries with the greatest progress in the humanitarian development, even without taking into consideration the performance of national economies.

Among the countries of the Arab world Saudi Arabia, UAE and Egypt are by far the most invested ones. According to UNCTAD, before the crisis, in 2007, the net influx of FDI in these countries was 12, 11 and 5 billion dollars respectively. Thus, Russian investors will get new opportunities with the opening of the Arabian capital markets.

However there are several restrictions:

  • The GCC countries compete with Russia not only in the energy markets. They produce 12% of world chemicals and fertilizers, and are an important player in the aluminum market. From the point of view of the development of trade relations with this group of countries such structure does not allow to definitely state the initial predisposition of Russian and Arabian economies for the intense exchange of services and goods. The similarity of industrial structures makes the countries search for the contact points on the intrasectoral level and in the industrial cooperation, including the orientation on the markets of the third countries.
  • Unfinished process of market liberalization that complicates the activity of economic partners, at least in small business
  • On the Arabian Peninsula Russian companies face competition from Western, Chinese and Indian ones (supported by their states) mainly regarding big contracts.
  • Differences in business model. Islamic economy.


The Arabian markets in their broad definition are a difficult target for Russian business. Continuous economic orientation of these countries to the West, South-Eastern and Eastern Asia, abundance of consumer and investment products challenge the strategy of Russian entrepreneurs and state’s economic institutions. Thus, I would like to present a hypothesis that the industrial cooperation on the basis of mutual exchange of direct investments, technologies and qualified workforce will become the “launching pad” of the renewal of the whole system of business partnership, instead of the trade exchange, which is prioritized by a number of notorious Russian arabists. Entering the peninsula through the “investment gates” seems more realistic.

Consequently, Russia has wide prospects for the development of cooperation with Saudi Arabia. A task–oriented and balanced policy is required in order to implement all the opportunities. It should be aimed at securing economic and political goals of our country in this region. A mechanism of multilateral cooperation with the KSA is currently being created. The adaptation of such approach is quite realistic.

Thursday, 30 April 2015 19:51

Les défis de l’Égypte du président Sissi

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L’Égypte – qui a connu en quatre ans deux révolutions, quatre présidents et trois constitutions – semble entrée dans une phase de stabilisation et de reconstruction politique et économique.

L’armée, après une période de retrait apparent, a repris le pouvoir et rétabli l’ordre. Les maladresses, voire l’incompétence de l’équipe de Mohamed Morsi, mais également l’hostilité que le pouvoir des Frères musulmans a suscitée dans « l’État profond », expliquent cette «normalisation». Élu par un scrutin quasi plébiscitaire, le général Sissi bénéficie d’une réelle popularité. Par des gestes forts, il cherche à rassurer une population qui, lasse du chaos, souhaite retrouver sécurité et emploi.

Le président Sissi ne veut pas apparaître comme le restaurateur d’un ordre ancien. En rupture avec l’ère Moubarak, ilentend gouverner autrement grâce à l’appui d’une nouvelle génération. Le premier défi qui l’attend est la reconstruction des institutions. La première échéance est celle des législatives, à l’automne prochain, qui pourraient bien se dérouler dans un contexte de dégradation des libertés publiques et d’atteintes aux Droits de l’Homme, qui touchent une Confrérie durement réprimée mais aussi les opposants libéraux. La stabilité politique ne sera assurée que si les nouvelles institutions associent les différentes sensibilités égyptiennes à la vie politique. Par ailleurs, la relance de l’économie est un autre défi. L’appui financier massif des pays du Golfe et le succès de la conférence de Charm el-Cheikh sont des éléments favorables à la reprise des investissements et de la croissance. Enfin, le terrorisme est un autre défi majeur que doivent affronter les autorités dans le Sinaï.

La politique étrangère du président Sissi est axée en priorité sur la volonté d’assurer la sécurité du pays. Trois zones appellent une attention particulière : la Libye, la bande de Gaza et le Yémen. Cette politique vise aussi à diversifier les relations extérieures de l’Égypte : avec la Russie, l’Europe et la France, et la Chine. Malgré quelques crispations, l’alliance stratégique avec les États-Unis ne sera pas durablement affectée. L’Égypte est de retour en tant que grande puissance régionale et veut reprendre le leadership du monde arabe comme on l’a constaté au récent sommet de la Ligue arabe de Charm el-Cheikh. Le Caire joue à nouveau dans la cour des Grands. 





En arrivant au Caire près de quatre ans après la révolution de la place Tahrir, nul changement significatif ne frappe. L’agglomération de près de vingt millions d’habitants connaît toujours les mêmes embouteillages, les mêmes voitures de luxe côtoyant des véhicules qui ne semblent tenir que par la rouille, et les mêmes charrettes tirées par des ânes. Autour de la place Talaat Harb, tard dans la nuit, les magasins fortement éclairés offrent au choix des complets vestons ou des habits traditionnels. Il en est de même au souk Khân el-Khalili, où chaque métier et chaque type de commerce ont leur place précise. La foule y est toujours dense, y compris dans les cafés et restaurants situés en face de l’université Al-Azhar. Si le hijab est de rigueur chez les femmes, beaucoup de jeunes filles portent pourtant chemisier moulant et jeans à la mode. Le café Fishawi, cher à l’écrivain Naguib Mahfouz, est toujours aussi fréquenté. Même affluence au parc paysager Al-Azhar, aménagé sur une décharge publique par la fondation de l’Aga Khan : il attire, malgré son entrée payante, un public familial nombreux qui pique-nique, danse et déjeune dans ses différents restaurants. Les jeunes mariés viennent s’y faire photographier.

Après avoir connu en quatre ans deux révolutions, quatre présidents et trois constitutions, l’Égypte semble retrouver une vie normale, même si plusieurs signes laissent penser que quelque chose a changé. De fait, après une période chaotique, le pays est entré dans une période de stabilisation et de reconstruction politique et économique qui n’est pas encore terminée.

Lorsqu’on traverse le quartier des ministères, à proximité de la place Tahrir, on constate que chaque bâtiment officiel est protégé par des murs en béton pour casser le souffle d’éventuelles charges explosives. Des militaires casqués et armés montent la garde. Des chevaux de frise sont pré-positionnés. Le siège de l’ancien parti – le Parti national démocratique –, incendié en janvier 2011 par les manifestants, reste une carcasse vide. Le Musée égyptien, habituellement animé par des groupes de touristes, est désert. La place Tahrir, réaménagée, est vide de manifestants et les marchands de souvenirs révolutionnaires ont disparu. Toutefois, les grandes fresques qui célèbrent la révolution et couvrent les murs de l’université américaine, située à proximité de la place Tahrir, sont toujours visibles.page6image20112

De fait, l’armée, après une période de retrait apparent, a repris directement le pouvoir et rétabli l’ordre. Le maréchal Sissi, qui bénéficie d’un large soutien de l’opinion publique, doit faire face à de nombreux défis : politiques, avec la mise en place de nouvelles institutions ; économiques, avec la nécessité de faire redémarrer une économie sinistrée par les troubles révolutionnaires ; et sécuritaire, avec un risque terroriste qui se manifeste au quotidien. L’Égypte, qui a toujours été le centre de gravité du monde arabe, entend affirmer à nouveau son leadership, se présenter comme une puissance régionale, et jouer dans la cour des Grands. 


Pour poursuivre la lecture cliquez sur le prévu du document: 

Summary: This article examines the status of Iranian Kurds in the Islamic Republic of Iran and the new ethnic policies being implemented by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani as compared with those of his predecessors. The current situation in the Iranian border regions, where Shia-Sunni relations can be problematic, is also examined.


Given the ethnically heterogeneous nature of the Iranian population, state ethnic policy is a critical issue for national unity and security, and one fraught with pitfalls in terms of human rights. Attitudes and approaches within the Iranian political establishment vary and are continuing to evolve. Prior to the Islamic revolution, the Iranian government’s ethnic policy was based on the principle of a “united Iranian nation,” a principle devised partly with the aim of preventing separatist trends and preserving the territorial integrity of the country, and one which led to a degree of “Persianization” of minorities. After the establishment of the Islamic regime, this aim remained a priority, but state ethnic policy was reconfigured around the concept of the unity of the Muslim Ummah (article 11 of the Iranian Constitution). In the Constitution of Islamic Republic of Iran, the term “ethnic community” was replaced by “religious community.” Although the Constitution proclaims Ja'fari Islam as the official religion of Iran, other currents of Islam are also acknowledged, as well as other monotheistic religions. Despite the assumption of power by the Shia clergy, the new Iranian Constitution preserved the same principles of relations between the State and the confessional minorities as those defined in the first Iranian constitution adopted in the Qajar period at the beginning of the 20th century. Unsurprisingly, the new model for “Islamic social justice” being realized by the Shia clergy did not correspond to the aspirations of many ethnic communities in the country, who were not prepared to embrace the concept of the Islamic cultural revolution and rebuild their lives according to the new Shia-Islamic social and legal institutions.

Reliable statistics regarding ethnic minorities in Iran are not easy to come by, but it is generally estimated that around 7 million Kurds are living in Iran, or 8% of the total Iranian population. The majority of them practice Shia Islam (about 4 million), with slightly fewer Sunni among them; and with about 500,000 adherents of Yarsanism or Yarsan, and about 300,000 Yazidis. The latter reside on the territory of Kermanshah: Dalahu, Sarpol-e Zahab and Javanrud, and do not advertise their religious affiliation. According to Article 13 of the Constitution of Iran, freedom of religion among minorities is guaranteed only to Iranian Zoroastrians, Jews and Christians. The Sunni largely consider themselves a minority.

Kurdistan and Sistan-Baluchestan have historically been problematic regions for Iranian governments, and they doggedly remain so today. Although gradually improving, the economic situation in Kurdistan remains worse than in other regions. It is noteworthy that local industry is growing in Iranian Kurdistan, while Iraqi Kurdistan is primarily developing only its oil and construction industries. The Sunni factor plays an important role: Sunni Kurds consider themselves deprived in many ways, while Shia Kurds (to the South) are well integrated into Iranian society and economic life. Some Sunni Kurds complain that the authorities consider Iranian Kurdistan an “internal colony,” focusing myopically on its exploitable resources, i.e. oil.

Terrorist groups and activities in Iran are tied primarily to ethnic issues, and the majority of terrorist acts have taken place among the minorities of populated regions. In the past few years, the most intense violence has been witnessed in Kurdistan and West Azerbaijan: the “Party of Free Life of Kurdistan” (Partiya Jiyana Azad a Kurdistanê [PJAK]) and the “Kurdistan Workers’ Party” (Partiya Karkerên Kurdistanê) [PKK] are active. PJAK committed a number of terrorist acts in 2010 and 2011. These generally targeted Iranian military personnel. Teheran responded by launching a series of successful operations against PJAK that led to the arrests or liquidations of many of its members. Yet despite the success of these special operations, the situation in these regions has hardly been defused.

Recently, PJAK has shifted its main activities into Syria, lessening its presence Iran itself. As this development can hardly displease the Iranian government, some experts have voiced the opinion that PJAK has established a kind of a ceasefire with Tehran. 

But if acts of violence have waned, the informational offense continues. PJAK carries out propaganda activity mainly in prisons in Iran — quite the same as it did in 1979-1983 in Turkey before the beginning of combat operations — and the party enjoys great popularity among Iranian Kurds. PFLK, for its part, has organized satellite TV channels especially for Iranian Kurds, which the Iranian authorities try with varying degrees of success to control.

Kurds in Iran are increasingly concentrating on cultural education and propaganda. Cultural Kurdish centers are opening – and occasionally being closed by the Iranian authorities. The image of Iraqi Kurdistan plays an important role in the propaganda, as well as the fact that there are many educated Kurdish youth in Iran demanding the rights and respected they see as existing in Iraqi Kurdistan. To use historian Benedict Anderson’s term, an “imagined community” has formed between Kurds in the region. Satellite TV channels have played a particularly significant role in this.[1] 

Political demands follow on the heels of a strong cultural consciousness. A large human rights movement is also unfolding, especially due to Iranian state reprisals, including the executions of Kurdish activists. State crackdowns may have a deterrent effect on violence but they also further poison the situation — even among Kurds in neighboring countries. In Turkey, for instance, executions have been stopped. Many feel that, ultimately, harsh reprisals only aggravate the Kurdish problem and that perhaps members of PJAK and PFLK often provoke them. There is no shortage of those eager to sacrifice themselves for entry into the “pantheon of heroes.”

The Kurdish separatist movement in Iran seems to be receiving much of its impetus from the increased autonomy of Iraqi Kurdistan. The strengthened sense of ethnic identity among Iraqi Kurds has been spreading to Iran and to Turkey. Sunni Kurds in Iran present the most challenges in this respect — Sunni Kurds living in Kurdistan; Shia Kurds, in the Kermanshah region. The negative economic situation in the areas inhabited by Kurds both in Iran and Turkey further aggravates the situation. This combination of factors means that the Kurdish issue will remain a difficult one to regulate, and a worrying security threat for Tehran. But a successful Iranian state policy towards the Kurdish population, one that could somehow balance Kurdish aspirations with the need for security and territorial integrity, would greatly strengthen Iran’s position in the Middle East.

The general trend of growing Kurdish and regional nationalism was somewhat mollified Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s term as president, when the Kurdish separatist movement was rather quiet; the only real activity being conducted by Kurds outside of Iran. Ahmadinejad made a priority of reducing the antagonism in the regions toward the sate, and soon after his election began regularly visiting these outlying ethnic communities, particularly the most economically underdeveloped ones. He also had official cabinet and committee meetings there. Thus, Ahmadinejad was the first Iranian president successfully to attract the attention of various government institutions to these remote and underdeveloped regions of the country. What's more, his government invested a part of oil profits into their development, and the Majlis subsequently agreed to cover the needs of the regions using the Stabilization Fund and the National Development Fund.

While it would be misleading to view this positive evolution in ethnic policy without taking into account the continuing restrictions placed on ethnic minorities by Tehran; it would be equally misleading to ignore the external influences on ethnic tensions. No domestic policy exists in a vacuum, least of all in Iran, in which large communities of ethnic groups spill over the Iranian border into neighboring countries. Ethnic terrorism is not simply a reaction to the policies of the central government in Tehran. Indirect support of it is one of the means used by other regional and international players to pressure the Iranian authorities, and it is quite possible that the influence of the ethnic factor on the stability of social and political life of Iran may greatly increase in the future.

A prime example of this problem is the Sistan-Baluchistan region (ostan), the poorest in Iran. Agriculture is not well developed, and the climate is dry. The Shiite minority in the region lives primarily in Sistan; while the Sunnis live in Baluchistan. The Baluch have been pressing for autonomy for the ostan — the largest in Iran in terms of territory — within Iran, largely on religious grounds; which the government in Tehran has not been willing to grant. Around the 100th day of Rouhani’s presidency, militants crossed the border from Pakistan and cut the throats of 17 border guards, filming and posting the killings on the Internet. The Pakistani militant group “Jundullah,” heavily influenced by Wahhabism, is particularly active in the area; and so in response to the border guard killings, the next day the state executed 14 inmates in the prison of Zadedan, allegedly belonging to “Jundallah.” It turned out, however, that “Jaish ol-adl,” a Baluch separatist group, claimed credit for the murder of the border guards. The cycle of misdirected, tit-for-tat violence was not over: Soon thereafter Musa Nuri Gale-Nou, the attorney general of Zahedan was murdered. For alleged links to this killing, 10 were people arrested, two of them women. And so it may continue.

 Like Ahmadinejad and other Iranian politicians, Rouhani has not failed to recognize the problem. During his election campaign, he repeatedly declared that ethnic policy would be a top priority for his government, and indeed, he received most of his votes in the regions populated by ethnic and religious minorities. Shortly after taking office, Rouhani’s government put together an action plan for resolving ethnic issues:


1. Preparation of legislation for the full implementation of the Constitution — Articles 3, 12, 15, 19, 22, in particular — and the building of a "state of hope and reason" (a definition given by Hassan Rouhani himself).

2. Broad general public participation (regardless of language and religion) in the process of governing and the implementation of governance by "meritocracy" at all levels. 

3. Appointment of competent local representatives throughout the country to top posts in local and regional institutions.

4. Native language instruction for minorities in schools and universities in accordance with Article 15 of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

5. Raise the level of awareness of culture and literature among various ethnic groups of Iran in order to bolster and preserve their ancient Iranian cultural heritage.

6. Respect of the rights of members of religious minorities, non-interference in their religious affairs.

7. Development of long-term and short-term programs (in the cultural, economic and social spheres), especially in depressed areas and border provinces affected by the Iran-Iraq war; the allocation of compensation funds for development in these regions.

8. Elimination of discrimination in all forms and guises.

9. End the practice of considering policy exclusively "from the point of view of national security" in relation to the various ethnic groups and cultures of Iran. Establish rational management in order to optimize the use of human and material resources.

In addition, Rouhani inaugurated the post — the first in Iranian history — of Special Assistant on Ethnic and Religious Minorities, whose duty it is to draw the public’s attention to these problems and meet with activists from ethnic community organizations. Ayatollah Yunesia was appointed to the post. 

The Ministry of Education of Iran has also established a special committee to address the issue of teaching the native languages of ethnic minorities. One of the bullet points in Rouhani’s ethnic policy program notes the need for socio-economic development in the provinces, first and foremost in depressed areas populated by ethnic minorities with the aim of eliminating the gap between the central regions and the periphery. 

Last year, Rouhani visited several ethnic regions and openly acknowledged the need for socio-cultural and economic change in these areas and the need to strengthen ties between Sunnis and Shiites. Shortly after his visit to areas with a Sunni majority, the Advisory Council of Sunnis was created.

It is clear that far from everyone supports Rouhani’s ethnic policies. The Academy of Persian Language and Literature (Farhangestan-e zaban va adabiyat-e farsi) excoriated the initiative for introducing ethnic languages into the educational system as “a serious threat to the Persian language and a conspiracy to reduce its significance” during a meeting with the Minister of Education and Science, Ali Asghar Fani. Several Majlis representatives likewise expressed opposition to the initiative.

It is important to remember that the ethnic policies proposed by Rouhani were also put forward by Khatami during his term as president, but resistance from the conservative opposition camp and Khamenei, the country’s supreme religious authority, the “rahbar,” was so strong that Khatami was unable to realize his plans. 

Approaches to the resolution of ethnic religious problems in Iran differ greatly in conservative and reformists camps. Reformers, including Rouhani, believe that in the framework of Iranian realities, ethnic groups must be granted more cultural and economic freedoms. Conservatives, who generally make up the Majlis and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, strongly oppose such measures. But the credibility of conservative policies has been eroded by their failure to bring about much change: the “mix and match” strategy, for example: Kurdish commanders of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps are sent to the regions with Baluch majority, and Baluchs are sent to Kurdish settlements.

Much depends upon the outcome of the confrontation between these two main currents in the contemporary Iranian political spectrum, and of course, on the position of the Rahbar, which in turn will depend on the degree to which Rouhani will be able to influence Rahbar.

The situation of the Kurds in the west of Iran is more vulnerable to ethnic conflict for the following reasons: they live in a very small area; they have a poorly developed economy; and there are few educational and medical institutions. Furthermore, Kurdish nationalists can easily find refuge in mountainous areas of Turkish Kurdistan or the Iraqi territories. Kurds are under political isolation and their presence in the social structure is very limited. They are greatly influenced by the situation of the Kurds in northern Iraq and southern Syria. It should be noted there are very few radical Islamists among the Kurds, as the national agenda for them is of paramount importance. 

And this begs the question that the Iranian political and general community is struggling with — what causes ethnic nationalism? Any attempt at an answer must take into account the structure of the distribution of power (economy, politics and culture), the historical experience of different ethnic groups (whether they have a history of self rule or of being ruled), the attitude of other countries or international forces, the geopolitical conditions of the life of the society and "neighbors" (Kurds in Turkey can influence Kurds in Iran), and the level of development of ethnic consciousness.

Ethnic nationalism is too vital a factor in the life of any country to be considered solely in terms of security; all the more so in Iran, located as it is at the crossroads of civilizations and ethnic groups. While peripheral regions can incite conflict for the sake of acquiring more power and concessions from the central government, and local leaders often exploit ethnic differences for their own political ends; the central government also provokes strife with its actions. If a weak center can lead to disintegration; and overbearing one can lead to rebellion.


[1] One recalls the central role satellite TV plays in the 2004 film “Turtles Can Fly,” set in a Kurdish refugee camp in Iraq and directed by Bahman Ghobadi, an Iranian citizen and ethnic Kurd.


Les destins professionnels des lauréats des écoles supérieures soviétiques

dans les pays du Maghreb[i]

Nikolay Soukhov

La situation socio-politique intérieure et les incitations au départ du Maroc

Après l'accession à l'indépendance, le Maroc - comme d'autres pays africains dans les années 1950-1960 - s'est trouvé face à la tâche de devoir former des jeunes dans les secteurs les plus divers de l'économie nationale. Tâche très difficile dans un pays où il n'y avait pas d'école supérieure nationale (la première université - à Rabat - a été créée en 1957, mais n'a ouvert officiellement qu'en 1959). Parmi les principales raisons qui poussaient les jeunes marocains à partir faire leurs études supérieures en Union soviétique durant les premières années de l'indépendance, figurait l'impossibilité de le faire dans leur pays.[ii]

Pierre Vermeren, chercheur français en histoire contemporaine du Maroc, remarque que, vers le milieu des années 60, les classes moyennes urbaines s'inquiètent face à un enseignement supérieur qu’elles jugent incapable d'assurer une promotion sociale pour tous (Vermeren, 2006 : p. 48). Le Maroc compte à cette période moins d'une dizaine de milliers d'étudiants. L'Union générale des étudiants marocains (d'obédience istiqlâlienne), l'Union nationale des étudiants et le Syndicat indépendant des étudiants (proche de l'UNFP) s'associent pour manifester contre la doctrine Benhima, accusée de briser le processus d'arabisation, et aussi contre la discrimination à leur égard par rapport aux spécialistes formés en France.

Les étudiants protestent aussi contre les conditions matérielles, jugées médiocres, de leurs études. Les grèves des années 70, qui ont démarré en janvier à la faculté de médecine, ont pour mot d'ordre « l'allègement des programmes » et une « révision du système d'attribution des bourses ». Ces grèves sont de plus en plus fréquentes au sein des lycées et des universités du Maroc. Elles fédèrent autour d'elles les organisations syndicales des étudiants et des professeurs, qui se solidarisent avec les étudiants. Les autorités hésitent sur la marche à suivre ; elles démantèlent en octobre 1970 l'ENS de Rabat, haut lieu de la contestation.

Les événements de mai 1968 en France surviennent dans un contexte marocain survolté. Pour les étudiants musulmans s'ajoute la défense du mouvement national palestinien, devenue essentielle après l’humiliante défaite arabe de juin 1967. Le tiers-mondisme et l'anti-impérialisme de Boumediene en Algérie voisine renforcent cet état d’esprit.

La génération estudiantine des années 1967 à 1973 se caractérise par son opposition radicale au pouvoir. Elle se retourne d'abord contre les appareils politiques nationalistes, jugés impuissants face au pouvoir personnel du roi. Plus ouverte socialement que la génération précédente grâce à la politique scolaire mise en place après l’indépendance, cette nouvelle génération a vu émerger en son sein des éléments révolutionnaires. Des factions et différents mouvements ont été fondés ; «23 mai» et «Ilal amam» (en avant), par exemple, formaient le front des étudiants marxistes-léninistes. En 1970 est créé le Mouvement marxiste-léniniste marocain, qui représente l'avant-garde des masses populaires sur la voie de la révolution. La prise de contrôle de l'UNEM est pour eux la première étape. Mais la répression s'abat sur le mouvement étudiant dès juin 1971, provoquant son passage à la clandestinité (Vermeren, 2006 : p. 50).

La situation socio-politique décrite ci-dessus constitue la deuxième raison importante - politique - qui poussait les étudiants marocains à partir faire leurs études dans les écoles supérieures soviétiques. Ainsi la crise de l’enseignement national marocain, d'une part, et la situation politique intérieure de la fin des années 60 et 70 d'autre part, motivaient ce choix.

Pour illustrer ce postulat, il suffit de regarder la liste des organisations marocaines bénéficiaires des bourses accordées par le gouvernement soviétique :

  • La Jeunesse du Parti du Progrès et du Socialisme (P.P.S.), ancien PCM
  • La Jeunesse du Parti de l'Istiqlal (P.I.)
  • La Jeunesse du Parti de l'Union Socialiste des Forces Populaires (U.S.F.P.)
  • L'Union Marocaine du Travail (U.M.T.)
  • L'Union Générale des Travailleurs Marocains (U.G.T.M.).

Lors des entretiens, les lauréats de ces générations ont reconnu qu'ils avaient des problèmes avec la police marocaine, suite à leur participation aux émeutes étudiantes. Le départ vers un pays inaccessible aux services secrets marocains (l'exemple de la disparition de l'opposant Mehdi Ben Barqa en juin 1966 à Paris était dans tous les esprits), équivalait dans certains cas, à de la survie.[iii] Les militants des groupes radicaux d'étudiants, qui réussissent à cette époque-là à partir étudier en l'URSS, s’y sont attardés, en attendant la fin de « l'époque de plomb », pour longtemps, parfois pour toute leur vie.[iv]

Puis, dans les années de relative stabilisation de la situation politique intérieure au Maroc, comme l'état de l'enseignement était resté complexe, le flux régulier d'étudiants vers l'URSS et les autres pays du bloc socialiste s’est prolongé.

* * *

Les étudiants tunisiens partaient pour des études en URSS dans le cadre de la politique de l'État tunisien de formation des cadres nationaux. Ils étaient particulièrement motivés par le problème du développement insuffisant du système national de formation, commun aux pays en voie de développement de l'époque des « réveils de l'Afrique ».

L'absence de motivations sociales et politique - caractéristiques du Maroc - a probablement engendré un plus petit nombre de lauréats des écoles supérieures soviétiques en Tunisie.[v]

La situation était différente en Algérie, où le gouvernement algérien envoyait des étudiants en Union soviétique, en fonction des priorités de sa politique intérieure et étrangère. L'État avait besoin de médecins, d'ingénieurs et de militaires. Cette circonstance a déterminé le taux de spécialistes civils et militaires formés pour l'Algérie pendant la période soviétique : près de 4000 civils et plus que 8000 militaires.

Relations économiques et politiques entre le Maroc et l’URSS.

En même temps, l'Union soviétique était devenue de plus en plus attirante pour les Marocains. C'est au printemps 1958 qu'ont commencé les échanges commerciaux intensifs entre l'URSS et le Maroc. En échange du pétrole soviétique, d'équipement industriel et de bois, le Maroc livrait des oranges, des conserves de poisson, de la laine, de l'écorce de chêne-liège. L'établissement officiel de relations diplomatiques s'est concrétisé par l'échange d'ambassadeurs le 1er octobre 1958. Les visites du Président du Soviet Suprême de l'URSS, Léonid Brejnev (février 1961) et du Premier vice-président du Conseil des ministres de l'URSS, Anastas Mikoyan, (janvier 1962) au Maroc ont favorisé le renforcement des relations entre les deux pays.

Dans le domaine de la politique étrangère, le Maroc a proclamé le principe de « non-alignement vers les blocs ». Les Marocains ont entrepris de lutter pour la liquidation des bases étrangères militaires, soutenues dans l'arène internationale par l'URSS.

Après l'indépendance, le Maroc a commencé - tentant de trouver un équilibre entre l'Ouest et l'Est - à acheter de l'armement aux pays des deux blocs militaires et politiques existant alors. Les dirigeants soviétiques ont tâché d'utiliser cette opportunité pour la promotion de leur armement et pour le renforcement de la coopération bilatérale avec le Maroc. Des chasseurs à réaction soviétiques furent livrés aux forces aériennes du Maroc en février 1961. Mais la coopération militaro-technique se révéla brève. Après la fin de la guerre d'Algérie, il y eut des discussions entre le Maroc et l'Algérie au sujet de la souveraineté sur certains territoires frontaliers. En octobre 1963, « la guerre des sables » débuta. L'URSS prit le parti de l'Algérie dans ce petit conflit qui eut une influence négative sur le développement des relations soviéto-marocaines.

Une nouvelle étape des relations entre l'URSS et le Maroc débuta au milieu des années 60. L'idée du soutien au « triangle » - France, États-Unis, URSS - selon le projet du roi Hassan II, devait garantir au Maroc une bonne place parmi les pays en voie de développement. Assurément, ce « triangle » n'était pas équilatéral, si l'on considère l'attraction du Maroc pour les pays de l'Ouest. Cependant, le roi ne pouvait pas ignorer le rôle croissant de l'Union soviétique dans la politique et l'économie mondiale, il se rendit donc à Moscou en octobre 1966. Les négociations avec les dirigeants de l'État soviétique donnèrent des résultats féconds dans le domaine du commerce, des relations économiques et culturelles, ainsi que dans la coopération scientifique et technique. Les relations commerciales se développent activement, l'URSS construit une importante série de projets énergétiques et industriels au Maroc. En 1970, le volume des échanges de marchandises entre les deux pays a été multiplié par six par rapport à 1960. Le premier ministre du Maroc, Ahmed Osman, visite Moscou en mars 1978 et signe un accord stratégique sur la coopération économique et commerciale.

Dans les années 60-70, l'Union soviétique apporte également l'investissement nécessaire au développement de la production d'énergie et de l'industrie minière du Maroc. La centrale thermique «Jerrada», le complexe hydro-énergétique « El Mansour El Dhahabi », 200 km de lignes à haute tension pour les transmissions électriques, la centrale hydroélectrique «Moulay Youssef» sont construits grâce à l'aide de l'URSS/Russie. Symbole de la féconde coopération bilatérale, l'ensemble hydro-énergétique « El Ouahda » - un des plus grands chantiers du monde arabe et de l'Afrique (30 % de l'énergie électrique produite au Maroc) - est construit par une compagnie soviétique/russe.

Pendant « la guerre pour la libération » et plus tard dans les années 60-70, une image positive de l'Union soviétique se dessine ; pour de nombreux Marocains, l'URSS est associée à la lutte contre le colonialisme et l'impérialisme, au soutien de la lutte du peuple arabe de la Palestine. L'idée de base, enracinée dans la conscience de n'importe quel Marocain indépendamment de sa position sociale, de son niveau de formation et de ses préférences politiques, est la suivante : « la Russie n'était jamais et ne sera pas l'ennemi pour le monde arabe » (Soukhov, 2009).

Grâce à l'aide soviétique au développement et à la suite de la coopération politique, économique et technique avec l'Algérie et, dans une moindre mesure, la Tunisie, l'image positive de l'URSS se renforce dans ces pays et accroît, par conséquent, l'attrait pour les études dans les universités soviétiques.

Le choix de la profession

Le choix de la profession future de l'étudiant maghrébin était défini en premier lieu par les besoins en telle ou telle spécialité de l'économie de son pays natal. Ici, nous observons une situation assez semblable pour les trois pays. Les écoles supérieures médicales, agraires, économiques, philologiques et de génie étaient les plus populaires parmi les étudiants des pays du Maghreb.  Les spécialités les plus populaires sont la médecine, la pharmacie et la stomatologie, et elles sont réclamées traditionnellement par les étudiants maghrébins, particulièrement par les jeunes filles.

Cet état de fait était induit par l'instabilité politique internationale et intérieure, les conditions naturelles de la région qui manquaient de spécialistes en médecine : les conflits locaux et régionaux, les tremblements de terre, les inondations, les épidémies, avec comme corollaire une énorme partie de la population ayant besoin d'assistance médicale. De plus, on constatait un reflux considérable de ces pays - particulièrement touchés par les crises - des médecins-pratiquants, y compris ceux travaillant dans les hôpitaux, les polycliniques et dans d'autres institutions médicales. Jusqu'à aujourd'hui, la gynécologie, l'oncologie et la cardiologie, activement développées à l'ouest et dans le bloc socialiste, ne sont pas encore très avancées dans les pays de la région.

Parmi les spécialités du génie les plus demandées figurent : la géologie et la reconnaissance des gisements des minéraux, la construction des ponts et des chemins de fer, le génie civil et industriel, les industries technologiques, la production d'énergie et aussi l'architecture. Dans les pays arabes, des programmes précisément élaborés de formation des cadres (tellement importants pour le développement économique moderne) manquent dans les années 60 et 70. Mais en Union soviétique les étudiants algériens, par exemple, acquièrent des connaissances théoriques et des habitudes pratiques pour un travail ultérieur dans les secteurs pétrolier et gazier de l'économie nationale.

L'agriculture représente traditionnellement le segment le plus important de l'économie des pays du Maghreb. Une grande partie de la population travaille dans ce secteur, dont les revenus constituent une part considérable du Produit intérieur brut, bien qu'au total la région ne soit pas riche en sols fertiles, ni en ressources d'eau. La demande en spécialistes-agronomes et en vétérinaires dans ces pays était également presque entièrement satisfaite par l'enseignement supérieur soviétique.

On peut aussi mentionner le journalisme et la philologie parmi les spécialités assez demandées. Les médias servent de principal canal de diffusion des connaissances - à l'exclusion de tout autre. D'autre part, dans les pays arabes le taux de médias par rapport à la population – la quantité de journaux, de chaînes de radio et de télévision pour 1000 personnes – était beaucoup plus faible que le taux moyen dans le monde à la période examinée.

La deuxième spécialité la plus populaire était la philologie. Cette profession offrait notamment aux étudiants étrangers la possibilité d’apprendre le russe et la grande littérature russe, et par la suite, de vivre de l'enseignement, du travail de traducteur ou d'une activité de recherche. Cela concerne particulièrement les lauréats-philologues maghrébins des différentes générations, qui sont des membres respectés de la société et enseignent dans les universités de leur pays.[vi]

Les résultats du traitement des données statistiques indiquent que plus de la moitié des étudiants des pays du Maghreb étudiaient en URSS des spécialités techniques (voir fig. 1).[vii]

Il est important de noter qu'un grand nombre de lauréats marocains des écoles supérieures soviétiques choisissaient une profession en fonction de leurs dispositions personnelles et de leurs passions, ce dont témoignent les réponses aux questions correspondantes du questionnaire diffusé parmi eux par l'auteur. 


Le nombre de lauréats marocains des écoles supérieures soviétiques

Pendant toute la période examinée (1960-1990), plus de 800 000 personnes se sont formées dans les écoles supérieures soviétiques civiles et militaires, ainsi que dans les écoles spéciales secondaires, les cours divers de préparation, de formation continue, les stages pratiques, etc. Le pic du nombre des étudiants étrangers est atteint en 1989-1990, lorsqu’environ  180 000 citoyens étrangers se forment en URSS (près de 70 % dans les écoles de Russie) dans les différentes filières de formation.

Durant la période soviétique, la plus grande partie des étudiants étrangers étaient  originaires des pays socialistes de l'Europe de l'Est (avant tout la RDA, la Bulgarie, la Pologne, la Tchécoslovaquie) et d'Asie (principalement le Vietnam, la Mongolie, la Chine et l'Afghanistan) (voir fig. 2). Puisque les pays d'Afrique du Nord dans les statistiques soviétiques et russes se rapportent toujours aux pays arabes et se confondent avec les données sur le Proche-Orient, nous ne pouvons estimer qu'approximativement la part des étudiants africains dans les écoles supérieures soviétiques à environ 18%. 

Malheureusement, il est impossible de faire un compte exact des étudiants des pays du Maghreb ayant reçu un enseignement en Union soviétique, puisque parmi les Algériens, par exemple, prédominaient les cadets militaires et les officiers en formation, dont les données sont tenues secrètes.

Néanmoins, les informations sur les étudiants marocains, puisées dans les informations statistiques du Ministère des Affaires Étrangères et des Ministères de l’enseignement de l'URSS (auquel l'auteur a eu accès dans le cadre de son service), permet d'établir un compte assez exact de leur nombre pour la période de 1956 à 1991. Ainsi, dès l'indépendance du Maroc et jusqu'à la fin de l'existence de l'Union soviétique, plus de 5000 jeunes Marocains ont été formés dans les universités soviétiques.

Ce nombre assez faible de lauréats des écoles supérieures soviétiques - comparé au total des Marocains ayant une instruction supérieure - ne reflète pas le niveau d'importance de ces cadres dans le développement économique du Maroc. Par exemple, au cours d'une conversation avec l'auteur, le gouverneur de la province Rabat-Salé-Zemmour-Zaërs a souligné la haute qualification, la capacité de travail et l'efficacité des lauréats marocains des écoles supérieures soviétiques et russes travaillant dans son administration.[viii]

Les destins professionnels

Pendant plusieurs années l'Union soviétique fut un centre d'attraction pour des millions de gens du monde entier, aspirant à recevoir là-bas une formation, à suivre - comme on disait à l'époque - « l'expérience soviétique avancée » et à l′utiliser pour le bien de leur patrie. En revenant chez eux après leur études à Moscou, Kiev, Minsk, Bakou, Tachkent ou d'autres centres d’enseignement supérieur du pays, les lauréats étrangers ramenaient avec eux plus que la connaissance de la langue et de la culture russes, mais aussi l'amour d'un peuple hospitalier. Bien instruits, ils devenaient des politiques, des hommes d'État, des ingénieurs, des médecins, des acteurs de la science, de la culture et de l'art dans leur pays. De plus, ils gardaient le souvenir de leur jeunesse étudiante, de leurs meilleures années en Union soviétique, et par cela contribuaient au renforcement des liens entre leurs États et le pays qui avait assuré leur formation.

Revenus dans leur pays natal avec un diplôme soviétique, plusieurs lauréats maghrébins ont accédé à des postes de dirigeants haut placés dans les organismes d'État, les ministères, les entreprises publiques et des compagnies privées, ou sont devenus les représentants des États dans d'autres pays, dans des organisations internationales et régionales. Par exemple, l'Association tunisienne des lauréats des universités soviétiques (plus de 450 membres) rassemble des députés, des gouverneurs, des directeurs généraux d'importantes sociétés publiques et privées, des médecins respectés, des collaborateurs de la radio et de la télévision, des professeurs d'université. Plusieurs ingénieurs formés en URSS sont propriétaires de sociétés privées, de bureaux d'études, de construction et d’architecture.

Au Maroc, les lauréats des écoles supérieures soviétiques travaillent principalement dans la fonction publique et dans tous les secteurs de l'économie nationale : l'architecture et la construction, la géodésie et la cartographie, l'agriculture et la pêche, la science et l’enseignement, la santé publique et la production d'énergie. L'auteur connaît également des journalistes, des acteurs culturels, des employés des P.T.T., des pharmaciens et des médecins travaillant dans des sociétés privées.

Malgré l'absence d'obstacles dans le reclassement des lauréats dans la période antérieure à 1992, lorsque l’accord entre l’URSS et le Maroc sur la reconnaissance des diplômes soviétiques de l’enseignement supérieur, signé en 1960, a pris fin en 1992, ces diplômés n'ont pas eu les carrières espérées. À la différence de l'Algérie et de la Tunisie, ils n’ont pas réussi à accéder à des postes élevés.[ix] Cela s'explique par les caractéristiques particulières de la société marocaine, où les principes de solidarité de clan et les clivages sociaux rigides sont forts encore aujourd'hui. On a déjà indiqué plus haut que le contingent des étudiants partis pour des études en Union soviétique grâce aux recommandations de partis «gauches» et d'organisations syndicales, comprenait principalement des représentants des classes pauvres n'appartenant pas aux familles influentes, dont les membres occupent des positions dirigeantes dans le gouvernement et l'économie du Maroc même aujourd'hui.

À notre avis, les destins professionnels des médecins et des pharmaciens ayant étudié en URSS qui travaillent en secteur privé sont les plus gratifiants. Une excellente qualification, l'universalité des connaissances et des pratiques professionnelles les distinguent favorablement des lauréats  des écoles supérieures françaises. Ces qualités leur ont assuré une reconnaissance certaine auprès des clients, avec pour conséquence un revenu régulier au-dessus de la moyenne.

* * *

Le départ des étudiants marocains pour des études en URSS dépendait d'un ensemble de facteurs extérieurs et intérieurs. Premièrement, l'URSS accordait des autorisations pour des études supérieures dans n'importe quelle spécialité. Deuxièmement, dans les pays du Maghreb après l'indépendance, il y avait une crise du secteur de l’enseignement. Les capacités des infrastructures universitaires existant à cette époque ne correspondaient pas à la demande apparue dans les sociétés maghrébines.

Le renforcement de l'opposition socialiste et communiste au Maroc - qui, dans les années 60, est entrée en confrontation ouverte avec le gouvernement représentant les intérêts de la grande bourgeoisie nationale - et les répressions qui ont suivi ont contraint une partie des militants du mouvement étudiant à quitter le pays et à partir faire des études en URSS.

L'augmentation du nombre de bourses accordées par l'Union soviétique a permis aux partis d'opposition et aux syndicats durant les années 70 - 80 d'envoyer la jeunesse des classes pauvres non privilégiées de la société marocaine étudier en URSS. (Rappelons qu’il existait alors un accord entre le Maroc et l'URSS sur la reconnaissance des diplômes des universités soviétiques).

Malgré un excellent niveau de formation et l'existence d'une base juridique pour le libre reclassement lors du rapatriement, les diplômés marocains des écoles supérieures soviétiques  n'ont en majorité pas réussi à accéder à de hautes fonctions dans les administrations publiques et le secteur économique du pays, comme cela a eu lieu dans plusieurs pays d'Afrique subsaharienne. À notre avis, cela tient en premier lieu au fait qu'ils étaient  souvent originaires du milieu des artisans, la classe de la petite bourgeoisie urbaine. D’ailleurs, plusieurs d'entre eux ont indiqué dans les questionnaires des problèmes financiers comme raison du choix des études en URSS.

Et il y avait quand même parmi les lauréats des universités soviétiques des représentants de clans influents, où se recrutent les élites marocaines. Cela est vrai en particulier pour la génération des étudiants partis en Union soviétique dans les années 60. Ils ont occupé des postes de haut niveau dans le cadre de leur activité professionnelle. Mais aujourd'hui cette génération est celle des retraités.


Soukhov, Nikolay, 2009, Note analytique : l'image de la Russie au Maroc, Maroc. Non  publié.

Vermeren, Pierre, 2006, Histoire du Maroc depuis l’indépendance, Paris, La Découverte.

[i] L'étude a été réalisée avec le soutien du RGNF. Projet № 13-21-08001 « Étudiants africains en URSS : la mobilité post-universitaire et le développement de la carrière ».

[ii] Interview d'un lauréat de l'université d'État de Moscou (années d'études : 1969-1976), Enquête de l’auteur, Tanger – Moscou, 2013.

[iii] «Beaucoup de mes camarades ont été arrêtés en 1974, et le fait que j’étais en URSS m’a sauvé la vie». Interview d'un lauréat de l'Université de Moscou, Enquête de l’auteur, Tanger – Moscou, 2013.

[iv] Années de plomb : 1975-1990.

[v] Le nombre de lauréats des écoles supérieures soviétiques en Tunisie est estimé à plus de 2500 personnes.

[vi] Les philologues, lauréats des écoles supérieures soviétiques sont, par exemple, membres de l'Association marocaine des professeurs de russe, coopérant activement avec le Centre Culturel Russe pour la vulgarisation du russe et de la culture russe au Maroc.

[vii] Les résultats des calculs de l'auteur sont basés sur les relevés statistiques du Ministère de l’enseignement de l’URSS.

[viii] De la conversation avec Hassan Amrani, le gouverneur de la province Rabat-Salé-Zemmour-Zaers, Rabat, 2009.

[ix] Selon l'auteur, le poste le plus important auquel a accédé un lauréat de l'enseignement supérieur soviétique au Maroc, est celui de directeur du Théâtre National, mais le poste avec le plus de responsabilités est celui de directeur régional de l’Office National d’Électricité.


According to the data of the Department of Consular Service of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, most women – citizens of the former USSR or the new independent states in the post-Soviet era, who are married to citizens of African countries, are Russian by nationality. As to the places of their settlement on the African continent, Russian women live in 52 states of Africa. About 60 percent of them are the wives of men from North Africa – the main Islamic belt of the African continent.1 This circumstance prompted the author of this article to acquaint the reader with certain specific features of the social and legal practices of the Magrib countries in relation to foreign citizens marrying citizens of North African states.

In this connection we are interested, first and foremost, in the acculturation problem through marriage in modern Islam, particularly, the problem of the adaptation of Russian women in the Islamic world, if not their participation in religious rites then their everyday life in the Moslem medium.

Touching on the socio-cultural aspect of the problem (the legal elements of the Sharia have thoroughly been analyzed by many scholars of the Orient, especially the Arab East2), I shall note that, according to Moslem concepts, woman is not an independent creature, but one living in order to belong to man. Such discrimination (from the European point of view) begins from the very birth of a girl – the fact negative in Islamic perception. Later, it is manifested in a different approach to the upbringing of boys and girls, and also during all periods of woman’s life. The main task of her existence is marriage, the birth and upbringing of children, and her main ideology is unconditional submission to the husband.

In contrast, boys are taught from the very first years to think of and feel their superiority, their future role as masters, continuers of the family, who should not only support women materially, but also act as intermediaries in their relations with the outer world.

One of the most conservative principles of the Moslem social doctrine in its attitude to women is the institution of seclusion. This principle should be strictly observed by the family and the outward attribute of it is the veil, or hidjab. This is a subject of continuing discussions between the supporters of the preservation of traditional Islamic values, on the one hand, and modernists, on the other, as well as between various scholars and public and political figures. The married woman in the Islamic family often becomes a privatized object of private life, deprived of personal contacts with the surrounding world, strictly controlled by man and fully dependent on his will.


Traditional Islamic Model of Marriage and Family Relations

An interesting tendency was observed in Côte d’Ivoire in the mid-1990s, which was manifested in the relations between indigenous black men and young Lebanese women living in the country, which some of the local mass media regarded racist. During the past several decades people from the Middle East have settled in Cote d’Ivoire and neighbouring countries, however, mixed marriages between Lebanese and Africans have been few and far between. And it was not due to racialism. It was because the Oriental traditions were too strong in the consciousness and everyday life of the fathers and brothers of potential brides, who strictly controlled and guarded them, keeping them untouched before marriage. Marriage and sex relations in Cote d’Ivoire, especially in its capital Abidjan, were many and varied. Polygamy, levirate,  premarital relations, etc. were rather widespread, and this was why there were cases of fist fights between relatives and the claimant, as well as direct imprisonment of women within the four walls of their family homes.

The private life of a woman, including sex life, in Moslem interpretation is based on such Koran premises as honour, chastity and modesty, which are a must and form the basis of the strict control of society over its members. Let us turn to an interview given by I. Abramova, which illustrates attempts to violate certain premises of the Koran undertaken by Russian wives.

“Relations in the family went from bad to worse. After all, they were educated girls from Moscow used to a different way of life. But they had to stay at home all day long and do household chores. They had no right to work. That is, they had that right, as far as I know, but they had to have their husbands’ permission, which they, naturally, did not give. Such life was not to their liking. Then quarrels, even scandals began. They tried to defend their rights, but were told that there were no rights for them, and that they had to obey the husband and mother-in-law.”

The system of traditional Moslem education and upbringing demands that woman should observe the rules of social behavior, such as lower her eyelids when meeting a man, hide not only the head and body, but also decorations under garment, move noiselessly, not leave home without permission, perform ritual ablutions, and do many more things, according to the Sura “Women” (IV) of the Koran. As to the intimate relations (no matter how varied customs and habits might be in the different social spheres of the Islamic world), according to the Koran and the official position of most societies of this cultural-religious zone, all questions pertaining to sex can only be resolved in marriage. Naturally, the Koran regulates sex relations and forbids adultery and incest. It is indicative that the culture of hidjab does not pacify men sexually. On the contrary, experts emphasize that deprived of the opportunity to see the faces and bodies of women, Moslem men feel greater tension and are more aggressive sexually than men representing cultures which do not have such strict bans concerning women.3

The Magrib expert A. Buhdiba points out that during the past centuries various social sections have evolved their own specific attitude to the traditional Islamic model of the ethics of relations between men and women. True, any society (and the Islamic world is no exception) has a great variety of sex relations. The Magrib tradition denounces this, society closes its eyes to it, but in actual fact, all these questions are surrounded by the wall of public silence. 4

Finally, it should be admitted that young people in the Islamic regions of Africa (as in other cultural-historical zones of the continent, for that matter) break through the bounds of this single and generally accepted model and more insistently orient themselves to other examples of marriage-sex relations, primarily, European ones.

On the other hand, it is precisely the ideas of chastity and honour based on the Koran that continue to shape and influence the outlook of the new generation of Moslems, form the basic element of their upbringing and education, and realize the intricate mutual connection between the socio-cultural innovations and the value-cultural traditions of definite social groups – ethnoses, classes and generations. Our compatriot (her name is Lyuba) notes:

“One Somali man says that my marriage with Said (the first husband of Lyuba. Now she is married again to a Somali) is unhappy because Christianity and Islam are different cultures and cannot be compatible…However, women’s education raises their status and freedom in Somalia, it seems to me. This is why they forgive me much…”

Let us examine the problem in its civil and legal aspect. As is known, the marriage and family codes in African countries are many and varied. On the one hand, they were formed under the influence of the local historical and cultural tradition and the system of common law connected with it, and on the other, they were (and still are) influenced by the European legal standards, thus presenting an intricate (sometimes conflicting) mixture of the common law, the religious marriage and family system, and the modern state legislation.5 The standards of behaviour and morality of people are often determined by a traditional religious-legal system, which continues to play a major role in marriage and family relations, including those with people of other religions. It is especially well-pronounced in the North African region, in the countries with the firm Islamic tradition, where the views on marriage, the family and family life are strictly regimented by the Moslem dogmas, law and ethics contained in the Koran. Besides, most Russian women marrying men from the African countries of the Islamic belt do not know Africa,6 they are completely ignorant about Moslem legal culture, in general, and about the Sharia as the universal code of behavior, both religious and secular, which is especially strict in the system of marriage and family relations and in the questions of succession. We shall dwell on the problem using the example of the Islamic Republic of Mauritania and the Tunisian Republic.



Mixed Marriages and Traditional Religious-Legal System

Although the Sharia in Mauritania became the basis of its legislation comparatively recently (in the early 1980s), its standards regulate practically all spheres of the public, family and private life of the country’s citizens.7 Along with this, the common law (adat)8 plays an important role in the family relations of people in Mauritania. The wedding ceremony of Mauritanian Moslems is not as solemn as Russian women are used to. This is how it is described by one of our respondents, who lived in the city of Nouakchott:

“The ceremony is very modest. Marriage is registered either at home or in a mosque in the presence of close relatives. The written document is not necessary: suffice it to have two male witnesses, or one male and two female witnesses. Their presence at the ceremony is simply formal when the parents of the groom pay engagement money to the father of the bride, and the priest reads certain Suras of the Koran and repeats the terms of the marriage contract three times…If religious marriage is concluded between a Moslem man and a Christian woman, their marriage contract stipulates the minimal engagement money, or there can be no contract at all. Incidentally, when marriage is concluded between a Moslem man and a Moslem woman, witnesses must be Moslem, too. Jews or Christians can be witnesses in exceptional cases, when a Moslem marries a daughter of a ‘ man of Scripture’, that is, Christian or Jewish.”9

 As to mixed marriages, they occupy a special place in the Islamic legal system. The Koran and other fundamental Islamic documents concretely determine the conditions permitting marriage with members of other religions. Referring to numerous quotations from the Koran devoted to marriage, directly or indirectly, which divide mankind into the believers and the infidels and define the boundaries between the “pure” and the “impure”, separating Moslems from non-Moslems, the well-known French scholar of Islam, M. Arcoun, notes that already in the early epoch of the Koran, people knew that legitimacy of each marriage was connected with the level of religious “purity.”10 It should be noted that the appearance of bans and permissions in the legal system regulating mixed marriages was, as a rule, connected with concrete historical conditions. In some cases Islam categorically forbids marriages between members of other religions, and in other cases, on the contrary, it supports them. Islam is absolutely intolerant toward concluding marriages between Moslems and heathens (2: 220-221).

The Sharia has a different attitude to marriages between Moslems and persons of Christian and Judaic religions. When concluding marriage with women of these religions, the Moslem should observe the same conditions as in the Moslem marriage. At the same time, Moslem marriage with a Christian or Jewish woman is permissible only if the latter are “women of Scripture.” Marriage of a Moslem woman to a Christian or Jew is out of the question. In our case there are no collisions, because most mixed marriages are between African Moslem men and Russian Christian (or atheist) women. If a Moslem woman dares commit such apostate act, she may be put to prison to enable her “to think of her fallacy.” This happens because (as local experts on the Sharia standards assert) man with his unlimited power and undisputed authority in the family will be able to turn his wife to his faith. Such “religious evolution” of the infidel is approved by Moslem morality which gives her absolution. 

For this very reason Islam is absolutely intolerant to marriages between Moslem women and persons of alien faiths. Finally, marriages with atheists are banned altogether. Thus, marriage unions between Mauritanians and Soviet/Russian women concluded in the former USSR or the present Russian Federation have no legal status on the territory of Mauritania (even if they are sealed in full conformity with the Soviet/Russian law), they are not registered officially and are regarded as cohabitation. True, by their national character Mauritanians are distinguished by religious tolerance, this is why public opinion in the country, as a rule, recognizes Russian-Mauritanian mixed marriages de facto.

Quite a few works are devoted to the specific features of Moslem marriage and the family, the history and traditions of the social behaviour of men and women in the world of Islam, the way of life, morality and psychology and the rules of behavior of married woman in Moslem society.11 It should be borne in mind that polygamy in its most widespread form – polygyny – is a most typical feature of Moslem marriage. The Koran allows Moslems to be married to four women (the Koran 4:3). This premise is considered to be the sacred foundation of polygamous Moslem marriage. Although in a modern Mauritanian family (and in a North African family, for that matter) this privilege is not used by all men ( because of the influence of the democratically-minded forces who denounce polygyny among officials , and also due to purely economic reasons, because far from all men can provide the necessary means to several women simultaneously.) At the same time the social doctrine of Islam, which institutionalized the inequality of sexes in Moslem family, laid the foundation for the dependent position of woman with regard to her husband in case of divorce. It is here that male “autocracy” is revealed in its true form.


Divorce “Moslem Style” (Mauritania)

Perhaps, the principal feature of the Sharia divorce is that its initiative comes practically always from the husband. Divorce is considered a unilateral action which is usually started by man. The latter enjoys unrestricted rights in divorce. For instance, he can divorce any of his wives as he pleases at any time without giving any reason. (There have been such cases in the compounds of our compatriots who were married to North African Moslems and lived in African countries permanently.12 The consequences of Moslem divorce for woman are exceptionally hard, both morally and economically. To say nothing of the difficulties she will encounter if she wants to build a new family, especially if she is a foreigner.

The divorce procedure also grants privileges to man. According to a Russian woman who was a party to a divorce, the husband has only to say three times “You’re my wife no more”, and divorce comes into effect. In other words, an oral statement is enough to break up marriage.

There are many nuances in the divorce procedure in the Moslem world, but all of them have a pronounced anti-feminist character. We should also note that Moslem legislation recognizes certain reasons which allow woman to come out with the initiative of divorce. Among them are apostasy, prolonged absence, or certain physical defects concealed before marriage.

In this connection we’d like to turn attention to several interesting aspects which are part of Mauritanian Moslem law and are directly connected with the discussed case of Afro-Russian marriage.

Our compatriots who have registered their marriage with Mauritanians in their native country sometimes use the premise of the Sharia forbidding Moslem to conclude marriage with an atheist in their own interests. In the situation when they themselves wish to divorce the citizen of Mauritania, they declare in court that they concealed their atheistic convictions when concluding marriage, after which the judge immediately pronounces marriage null and void. (But even in this case the children born of this marriage remain with their father and are regarded citizens of Mauritania.) Nevertheless, the Mauritanian still retains a loophole: he may apply to the secular court (Mauritania has double legislation) which may pass a ruling on the basis of the standards of the French secular law.

Property matters in divorce cases of a foreign woman and a Mauritanian citizen are settled on the basis of the Sharia. There are specific features of the status of a Russian woman who concluded marriage with a Mauritanian in her native country, which is legally invalid in Mauritania. She has certain privileges in divorce as compared with a Moslem woman. The point is that in breaking up Moslem (religious) marriage the divorced woman has no right to claim any part of the common property, except her personal savings, incomes and presents from the husband. In case of marriage of a Russian woman to a Mauritanian concluded in Russia, the Moslem court, not recognizing this marriage legal and regarding it as a form of cohabitation by mutual consent (partnership), recognizes the woman’s right to common property. The examination of such a case in the Mauritanian court is considered as the examination of a civil property suit and is not regarded as divorce. If the woman succeeds in proving the fact that she had incomes of her own and gave them over to her companion, or that some property was acquired by her money, the court may rule to give her a part of that property or pay certain compensation. After divorce foreign women may continue to stay in Mauritania for quite a long time using their national passport, which should be registered with the police every year. Foreign women can obtain Mauritanian citizenship after five years of staying in the republic.


The Code of Personal Status and Women’s Rights in Tunisia

The spheres of law regulating marriage and family relations in Tunisia bear a noticeable imprint of traditional Moslem ideas and premises of the Koran, although the problems of the legal position of women, equality of their rights (just as the women’s problem as a whole), in contrast to other Arab countries in North Africa, have developed more favourably there. These specific features should be taken into account when examining the question of the legal position of Russian women married to Tunisians.

The Code of personal status adopted in 195613 laid down the basic principles of the emancipation of Tunisian women at a state level. The personal inviolability and human dignity of women it proclaimed were later bolstered by a whole range of measures, among which were a ban on polygamy (any violation of the ban was punishable by law); the establishment of legal divorce given by husband to wife, and the official right to divorce given to both; permission to the mother to have the right to custody over minor children in an event of the father’s death, etc. The Code of personal status existing for half a century has constantly been revised and amended in accordance with the country’s legislation.

Tunisian legislation, regulating the legal status of women, envisages six civil states of a woman in her life: woman as bride, as wife, as mother, as divorcee, as guardian, and as worker. We shall deal with those of their states which can be applied to a foreigner married to a Tunisian.

Leaving aside the general Tunisian standards of marriage procedure (they are much like those in Mauritania), we shall note that by Moslem law the suitor must make a “marriage settlement (Mehar)” on the bride. This condition is contained in the Code of personal status (Article 12, revised version), although the size of the “settlement” is not agreed upon (it can even be symbolic), but it is always considered the private property of the wife only to be paid to her in case of a divorce (the “private property of the wife”, according to Tunisian law, includes presents and incomes from hired work or business, which remain in her possession in case of divorce.)14

As to the rights and duties of foreign woman, they are determined by Article 23 of the Code of personal status, and practically all its premises have been taken from the Koran. Despite the fact that the new version of that article formally grants the wife equal rights with the husband15 (the previous version of that article (para 3) made it incumbent on the wife to obey her husband in everything), in the event of legal collisions, for instance, a Moslem marrying a non-Moslem woman, or a suit being examined in court, the Sharia plays a considerable role as before.

Brought up and educated in the spirit of the socialist equality of rights of men and women, Russian wives of North African Moslems cannot get used to the legally endorsed supremacy of the husband and submission to him as the head of the family, which inevitably results in family collisions often leading to divorce.16 However, as the practice of Russian consular offices in those countries shows, there is a possibility to adjust and balance such situations. For example, Article 11 of the Code of personal status envisages that marrying persons may conclude, along with marriage settlement, contracts of other types, conditioning certain specific features of the given marriage. Unfortunately, this article is used rather seldom and not always correctly. Although there is a quite reasonable condition (which is essential from the point of view of the legal position of the foreign wife) determining temporary employment, place of residence, joint property, etc. For instance, the Tunisian husband, as the head of the family, has the right to prevent his wife from working. On the basis of the above-mentioned article it could have been possible to fix her “right to work” in marriage settlement or supplements to it. Besides, a step forward has been made by the Tunisian legislation in the sphere of economic and social rights. The Code of duties and contracts broadens the Sharia framework regulating the rights of women and grants them the right to sign contracts and agreements in the sphere of property relations, buy, sell and dispose of their property.

The same can be said about the place of residence which is also chosen by the husband. Then again, a foreign wife, who does not want to follow her husband to Tunisia can state her wish beforehand, or choose the concrete place to live in Tunisia. Thus, there is a possibility to fix legally certain liabilities of the husband with regard to his wife.17

We should also note that on the whole the local legislation, while regulating the legal rights of a divorced woman (incidentally, no distinctions are drawn between a Tunisian woman and a woman-citizen of another country), regards the latter in two positions – the divorcee and the divorcee with the right of guardianship. We’d like to turn attention to several circumstances connected with the fate of the children after divorce in a mixed family.

Prior to 1966 there was the rule according to which priority right with regard to children was given to the mother, irrespective of whether she was Tunisian or foreign. At present local legal practice is based on a rather vague term “the interests of the child.” Thus, in case of divorce, guardianship is given to one of the parents or a third person, with due regard for the interests of the child. But if the mother takes guardianship, she bears full responsibility for the upbringing and education of the child, his or her health, rest and recreation, travel, and financial expenses (this is stated in the new Article 67 of the Code of personal status which now gives the mother some of the rights or the full right of guardianship, depending on the real state of affairs.)18 This is why in a mixed marriage, where the legal and economic status of woman, as a rule, is rather unstable, the question of children staying with one of the parents after divorce is settled in favour of the Tunisian father. The main argument of the latter is the assertion that the mother will take the children back home, depriving him of guardianship, that is, of the parental rights to participate in the upbringing of the children. At the same time, in a number of cases of divorce, there may be a positive decision in favour of mothers-foreigners (Soviet/Russian citizens), who had the Tunisian national passport. Considerable role was played by the personal qualities of the woman, her ability to keep her temper in bounds and act properly, to converse in a foreign language, as well as her profession or trade, her living quarters, etc.

In general, it should be noted that when we talk of easy divorce according to the Sharia law, it does not mean that this can widely be applied to all Moslem countries. There are many reasons for this connected with the specific features of the historical and cultural traditions, and also those of an economic character. Although the Sharia formally places all Moslem men in a similar legal position, divorce is a rare phenomenon among the poor sections of the population, inasmuch as it is rather expensive to turn a legal possibility into reality.

As to the minor children left after the husband’s death, the modern Tunisian legislation envisages that their mother is their guardian with all ensuing rights (Article 154 of the Code of personal status), irrespective of whether she is Tunisian or foreign. This article went into force in 1981. Before that guardianship was given over to the nearest heir-man. According to the modern Tunisian legislation, in 1993 the divorced mother received the right of guardianship of her child. Previously, according to Moslem tradition, this right was granted exclusively to men (Article 5 of the Code of personal status).

Examining the new laws and amendments called upon to strengthen the legal status of woman (including foreign woman) in the system of marriage and family relations, it should be noted that despite the efforts of the government, their implementation is accompanied by great difficulties. In general, the practical solution of all these questions, although they have many specific features and nuances, largely depends, as before, on the position taken by the husband himself, or his relatives.

Finally, it would be expedient to mention changes in the attitude of Moslems themselves toward mixed marriages. In the view of M. Arcoun, mixed marriage leads not only to psychological and cultural perturbations. Based on the family cell alone represented by husband and wife and their children, it destroys the patriarchal family as such, which needs broader framework of social solidarity, which is quite effective and cannot be replaced by any modern institutions of social security (in the West such bodies are often publicly recognized as unfit, useless and even harmful, for instance, in social welfare in old age; old people often find themselves outcast and become marginalized.)

Thus, the modern problems of mixed marriages are based not so much on religious and racial grounds, as on weightier moral, psychological and cultural foundations.



First published in Asia and Africa Today, 2007, No 1, pp. 47-54.



Not claiming the universal character of the maxim “forewarned is forearmed”, we, nevertheless, think that it would be quite useful for the new generations of Russian women who choose husbands from among people in the Islamic world, to acquaint themselves with this information.






1. We emphasize that this concerns only the Islamic belt of the continent. In reality, the total number of Moslems in Africa comprised over 40 percent of the entire population of Africa by the early 1990s. Forty-six percent of them lived in North and Northeast Africa, about 18 percent in East Africa, 32 percent in West Africa, and about three percent in South and Central Africa. The largest Moslem communities are in Egypt (over 90 percent of the entire population of the country), Nigeria (46 percent), Algeria (99.6 percent), Morocco (99 percent), Tunisia (98.7 percent), Sudan (about 73 percent), Ethiopia (no less than 50 percent), Guinea (over 80 percent), Senegal (80 percent), Tanzania (over 25 percent of the entire population), Somalia (almost 100 percent), Libya (about 90 percent). For more details see: Африка. Энциклопедический словарь. Т.1. М., 1986, с. 590-591 (Africa:Encyclopaedic Reference Book.Vol 1, M., 1986, pp. 590-591).

2. See, for example:Гилязутдинова Р.Х. Юридическая природа мусульманского права // Шариат: теория и практика. Материалы Межрегиональной научно-практической конференции. Уфа, 2000; она же: Дискриминация женщин по мусульманскому праву // Актуальные проблемы теории права и государства и экологического права. М., 2000; Сюкияйнен Л.Р. Шариат и мусульманская правовая культура. М., 1997; он же: Найдется ли шариату место в российской правовой системе // Ислам на постсоветском пространстве: взгляд изнутри. М., 2001 (Gilyazutdinova, R.Kh. “Legal Nature of Moslem Law//The Sharia: Theory and Practice. Abstracts of the Interregional Scientific Conference.” Ufa, 2000; The same author: “Discrimination of Women by Moslem Law” // Practical Problems of the Theory of Law and the State and Ecological Law M., 2000; Syukiyainen, L.R. “The Sharia and Moslem Legal Culture.” M., 1997; The same author: “Will the Sharia Find Its Place in the Russian Legal System?” // Islam in the Post-Soviet Era: View from Inside. M., 2001). Accepting the system of definitions of the latter presented by the above-mentioned authors, including the cultural-legal incorrectness of identifying Moslem law with the Sharia, which is, above all, the religious conceptual basis of Moslem law, we shall use the terms currently practiced by consular offices and organizations in charge of our fellow-compatriots permanently living in African countries.

3. Мехти Ниязи. Мусульманская женщина: сложные последствия наложенных ограничений // Gross Vita. Вып. 1 (Mehti Niyazi. “Moslem Woman: Difficult Consequences of Restrictions” // Gross Vita. No 1) – This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

4. Восток (Vostok). 1992, No 1, p. 61.

5. Синицына И.Е. Обычай и обычное право в современной Африке. М., 1978; она же. Человек и семья в Африке (По материалам обычного права). М., 1989; Энтин Л.М. Роль государства в общественном развитии стран Африки. - В: "Общество и государство в Тропической Африке". М., 1980; Иорданский В.Б. Хаос и гармония. М., 1982; Право в развивающихся странах: традиции и заимствования. М., 1985; Сюкияйнен Л.Р.  Мусульманское право. Вопросы теории и практики. М., 1986. (Sinitsyna, I.E. “Habit and Common Law in Modern Africa.” M., 1978; The same author: “Man and the Family in Africa (On Materials of Common Law).” M., 1989; Entin, L.M. “The Role of the State in the Social Development of African Countries” // “Society and the State in Tropical Africa”. M., 1980; Iordansky, V.B. “Chaos and Harmony.” M., 1982; Law in Developing Countries: Traditions and Borrowings. M., 1985; Syukiyainen, L.R. “Moslem Law. Questions of Theory and Practice.” M., 1986). Also: “Le Droit de la famille en Afrique Noire et a Madagascar.” P., 1968.

6. “Marriage as a Way Out” to Other Cultural-Religious Areas Is Not Typical, as a Rule, of Moslem Women.

7. For a number of years there have been attempts in Mauritania to evolve a civil code of marriage and the family, always obstructed by the Moslem clergy. Thus a decision was adopted by the Politburo of the ruling party of the Mauritanian people in the latter half of the 1970s on introducing the Sharia as a code of legislative and ethical principles in the country’s state and public life.

8. There have always been various traditions and customs in the Islamic world. In this connection the question of the correlation of the Sharia and the adat (the term meaning customs, habits and traditions which regulate, along with the Sharia the way of life of the Moslems of one or another region.) has become quite important. However, the Sharia principles and standards are considered mandatory and should be strictly adhered to, and they are above all rules of behavior, including the adat. This plays a major role in the regulation of marriage and family relations with persons of other religions. Moslem legislation allows people to be guided by the adat, provided it does not run counter to the Sharia, however, in the real life of many Moslem nations customs and habits continue to exist, which do not fully coincide with Islamic precepts, and sometimes, even contradict them. Islamic scholars point out that the term adat is used to denote the common law of Islamic people. The system of the rules of behavior, which is a combination of local customs and certain standards of the Sharia, can be termed the adat law, whose certain premises are recognized by courts, and sometimes form the foundation of the marriage and family legislation. (For more details see:Сюкияйнен Л.Р. Мусульманское право. Вопросы теории и практики. М., 1986).Syukiyainen, L.R. “Moslem Law. Questions of Theory and Practice.” M., 1986.) The adat as a system of social standards based on local customs of non-Islamic origin is quite widespread in a number of African regions to this day. Most of these customs and habits took shape back at the time of the existence of tribal family relations and paganism. Even the introduction and establishment of Islam have not led to their complete replacement with the Sharia.

9. From the personal archives of the author. Letter from Mrs. A.M. in Nouakchott, September 20, 1997.

10 Аркун М. Смешанные брачные союзы в мусульманской среде // Восток. (Arcoun, M. “Mixed Marriages in the Moslem Medium” // Vostok). 2001, No 6, pp. 131-132.

11 See, for example:  Сиверцева Т.Ф. Семья в развивающихся странах Востока (социально-демографический анализ). М., 1985; она же: Модернизация и ее влияние на семью на Востоке // Взаимодействие и взаимовлияние цивилизаций и культур на Востоке. М., 1988; она же: Страны Востока: модель рождаемости. М., 1997; Бухдиба А. Магрибинское общество и проблемы секса // Восток, 1992, № 1; Пономаренко Л.В. Ислам в общественно-политической и культурной жизни Франции и государств Северной и Западной Африки // Вопросы истории, 1998, № 9; Аркун М. Смешанные брачные союзы…; (Sivertseva, T.F. “The Family in the Developing Countries of the East (socio-demographic analysis).” M., 1985; by the same author: “Modernization and Its Influence on the Family in the East” // Interaction and Mutual Influence of Civilizations and Cultures in the East. M., 1998; by the same author: “Countries of the East: Model of Birth Rate.” M., 1997; Buhdiba, A. “Magrib Society and Problems of Sex” // Vostok, 1992, No 1; Ponomarenko, L.V. “Islam in the Public, Political and Cultural Life of France and the States of North and West Africa” // Problems of History, 1998, No 9; Arcoun, M. “Mixed Marriages…”); Mernissi, F.“Sexe, Idéologie, Islam.” P., 1982; “Women and Gender in Islam. Historical Roots of a Modern Debate.” Yale Iniv. Press, 1992; Tersigni, S.“Foulard et Frontière: le cas des étudiantes musulmanes à l’Université Paris” // Cahiers de l/URMIS unité de recherché migrations et société. P., 1998, No 4, etc.

12. Information from the Soviet Embassy in Sudan of April 6, 1987, to the head of the Consular Department of the USSR Foreign Ministry; documents from the Soviet Embassy in Tanzania of February 14, 1978 to the head of the Consular Department of the USSR Foreign Ministry, to the Foreign Ministry of Ukraine, to the Personnel Department of the USSR Ministry of Defence, etc.

13. Personal status is a section of Moslem law regulating the major sphere of the legal position of Moslems. It includes marriage, family and hereditary property relations, mutual obligations of relatives, guardianship, and some other problems. Moslems pay much attention to them because most premises on personal status are contained in the Koran and Sunna.

14. The former President of Tunisia Habib Bourgiba tried to include in legislation in 1980 the premise declaring that all property (personal and real) acquired by one of the spouses becomes the common property of the family. However, his attempt ran against the strong opposition of traditionalists. A year later a so-called life-long alimony was introduced to compensate women for moral and material loss in divorce, the size of which was determined on the basis of the “average living standard of the family.” The alimony could be replaced by a lump sum if the divorced woman so wished.

15. The revised Article 23 of the Code of personal status says that both husband and wife should treat each other with love, kindness and respect, avoiding negative impacts on each other. They should perform their marital duties in conformity with traditions and customs. They should run their household and bring up the children properly. The husband as the head of the family should support his wife and children in every way, and the wife should also contribute to the welfare of the family if she has means to do this (Najet Zonaoui Brahmi. Des amendements et des dispositions nouvelles. Une volonte egalitaire, 1997, No 12, pp. 35-36.)

16.Consular data show that most divorces take place in the families in which the wives are Russian (Ukranian and Belorussian); there can practically be no divorces in the families where the wives are of Central Asian or Transcaucasian origin, who are fewer and far between among those living in Tunisia permanently today.

17. Document of the USSR Embassy in Tunisia “On Organizing Registration Office in Tunisia” of March 13, 1990; Document of the USSR Embassy in Tunisia on “Certain Aspects of Legal Position of Foreign Citizens Married to Tunisians” of May 21, 1991.

18. In 1995 the government of Tunisia published the law No 65/93 and set up special Guarantee Fund for paying alimony and bonuses to divorced wives and their children. This Fund is under the National Insurance Fund (CNSS) and draws its means from the state budget, alimonies and pensions on divorce, interest, and fines, incomes from capital invested by the Fund, as well as donations from private individuals.


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