chapter  25
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A post-colonial approach to sport policy: case study of the Maghreb region in North Africa

In this chapter I seek to develop an explanation of postcolonial approaches to sports policy by focusing in particular on the range of experiences in the Maghreb region of North Africa. A postcolonial approach to sport policy should take into account the colonial history and particularly the legacy of colonialism with regard to the diffusion of modern sport and subsequently the adoption of sport as a form of resistance against colonial hegemony; as a means also, as in the case for instance of the Front Libération Nationale (FLN) football team in Algeria, for the internationalisation of nationalist movements’ struggle for independence (Amara and Henry, 2004).1 In the post-independence stage, sport as other domains in postcolonial societies was shaped by nationalist ideologies, which in the case of North Africa were defined by the centralised state apparatus, represented by the Party states (the case of FLN in Algeria and the Doustourian Socialist Party in Tunisia) and the Monarchic-state (the case of Morocco) founded around historical legitimacy (resistance against French colonialism) and a sense of belonging to Arab-Islamic values. Their ideologies were also influenced by the bipolar world system that characterised international relations in the 1960s and 1980s. Algeria chose to take a socialist and Third Worldist (anti-imperialist) trajectory based on heavy industrialisation, whereas Morocco and Tunisia chose a more liberal economy open to foreign investments, particularly from western Europe. The three countries adopted more or less a secular stance not necessarily in the sense of divides between religious and political spheres but based on the institutionalisation of Islam, which is put in the service of Socialism in Algeria, the political legitimacy of Al-Mekhzen, or the royal institution, in Morocco, and Bourguibism in Tunisia, in reference to Habib Bourguiba’s modernisation project which was inspired by that of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk (Kemalism) in Turkey. It is a secular position to statehood based, according to Lamchichi, on ‘social transformations from the top which control or even monopolize the religious discourse which stop any political contestation that is theologically formed’ (Lamchichi, 1993: 34). One can argue that the secular ideology of the three states partially explains the more active participation of their female athletes in national and international competitions in comparison to other Arab nations (Henry et al., 2003). This is sometimes used by regimes as an argument against Islamist movements that oppose their policies.