Emancipation In Muslim Lands

European influence in the Middle East.

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In Morocco, the situation was even worse. The reigns of Mulay Abd al-Rahman (1822- 1859) and his successors were marked by the pressure of the Christian powers, and by increased Jewish involvement in the economic and diplomatic spheres. As a result, Moroccan hostility toward the Jews increased. During the Spanish-Moroccan War of 1860, anti-Jewish riots took place in several towns. Prohibitive measures even more severe than restrictions of Muslim law were imposed upon the Jewish populace in the interior. Although Mulay Muhammed IV, in response to a plea from Sir Moses Montefiore, promulgated a dahir (royal decree) granting the Jews equal rights in 1864, there was no significant change in their status, which continued to be determined by the Covenant of Omar. The royal decree was ignored by local magistrates and pashas who accused the Jews as being agents of European influence. As the date of the imposition of the French Protectorate approached (1912), attacks on Jewish communities intensified.

The Jews in all Muslim lands, caught in the vicious cycle of pervasive European influence and the rise of hostility against it, had no alternative but to seek the protection of the western powers. Therefore, the emancipation of these communities was entirely different from the process in Europe. Rather than aspire to citizenship and integration with the local society, the "Jews of Islam" measured their social success and emancipation by the distance placed between themselves and the native population.

From this point of view, Algeria constitutes a perfect model. Forty years after the conquest, the Cremieux Decree (1870) granted the Jews of Algeria French citizenship with all its rights and obligations. Thus, with the stroke of a pen, France erased their previous humiliating status as dhimmis, elevating the Jews of Algeria to the status of European colonists, and completely distinguishing them from their Muslim neighbors, who remained simple "subjects."

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Eli Barnavi is the Director of the Morris Curiel Center for International Studies and a Professor of Jewish History at Tel Aviv University