Date of Award

Spring 2009

Document Type



Political Science & International Relations

First Advisor

Erik Pratt

Second Advisor

Jeanette Fregulia

Third Advisor

Barry Ferst


Since its independence, the Tunisian state has vehemently promoted secularism, even at the cost of contracting the rights of citizens. Certain elements of the Tunisian population resent the strict disallowance of the hijab. Women face persecution for wearing what former President Habib Bourguiba called an “odious rag.” The Tunisian Code of Personal Status promulgated shortly after independence, outlawed polygamy and set the minimum age of marriage at 18. While debate in the country remains over the necessity of secularism, prominent Islamic activists and scholars are notably missing from the debate. The Tunisian state is infamous for cracking down on Islamist dissidents How similar are the cases of ‘ulama repression in Morocco and Tunisia? Is there an ideal method to find the similarities and differences of ‘ulama activism in two separate countries? This research paper will attempt to evaluate the political situation occupied by the ‘ulama in monarchical Morocco and autocratic Tunisia. In so doing, I will attempt to answer several questions: Can ‘ulama groups, heralded for their religious piety, capably amass social movements in response to modernizing Family Law reform? Additionally, is the methodology of political opportunity structure a relevant tool for the comparison of social movements in modernized, yet autocratically ruled Muslim states? To answer these questions, I will examine Family law reform in Morocco and Tunisia—through the 'ulama lens. In discussing this issue I plan to evaluate historical narratives on Morocco and Tunisia—analyzing the traditional conception of the scholarly community. 4