It’s good to be back from vacation. Thanks to everyone who kept reading in my absence.
Picking up roughly where I left off, the week before last I wrote on conservative Muslims’ objections to the new family code in Mali. The new law expands women’s marital and property rights, and has become a rallying cry for conservative religious politics. Muslim pressure groups are communicating their displeasure to politicians, hoping to weaken or prevent the enforcement of provisions that passed in parliament earlier this month.
Conservative Muslim leaders have mobilized a large consituency to protest the family code. On Saturday, tens of thousands gathered in Bamako for an anti-family code rally, representing various religious associations, including the National Union of Muslim Women’s Associations.
The conservatives are practicing sophisticated politics. Leaders from the state-supervised High Islamic Council openly urge President Amadou Toumani Toure not to sign the bill into law, and some Muslim groups are threatening to continue conducting some types of marriage in defiance of the law as a form of civil disobedience. The seriousness of these threats – and the large numbers of Malians who appear ready to carry them out – likely have some politicians considering the impact that conservative Muslim discontent could have on their careers.
At the same time – though I’m leery of overstating this point – it seems to me that the conservatives are able to use interactions with western journalists to frame the issue to their advantage. The articles I am reading on the controversy (here’s another example) typically alternate quotes from conservatives with quotes from secular NGOs and civil society groups, while noting the conservatives’ numbers. The effect, I think, is to imply that popular opinion sympathizes more with the conservatives, while the secular civil society groups represent a small elite. But it would be going too far to presume that western journalistic coverage influences the domestic debate. Still, if this type of coverage reflects the atmosphere inside Mali – in other words, if conservatives are able to convince politicians that they represent a majority of the people, a “backlash” of sorts – then Toure and others are in a complicated spot.