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Economic Growth Not a Religious Discourse

Original Title: Moroccans Would Like to See Economic Growth Not a Religious Discourse

Written by Said Temsamani*

“Islamism is a term that has been used to describe two very different trends,” wrote Maha Azzam, an associate fellow at Chatham House, in a recent paper on the implications of the Arab spring for British foreign policy earlier this year.

“First, [it describes] the non-violent quest for an Islamic-friendly society based on the ‘principles of Islam’, which can involve a more liberal application of Islamic teachings and tradition or a more strict interpretation. Second, Islamism is also associated with violent extremism, most notably that of al-Qaida in the promotion of terrorism.”

For about two centuries now, Moroccans, like the vast majority of Arabs and Muslims, have been searching for a magical formula that would allow them to stay true to their traditions and faith and, at the same time, catch up to the scientific, commercial, and political prowess of Europe and the West.   Delegations were sent to France to check out the wonders of modern French civilization; individuals travelled and lived in European and American capitals; Western products fill the shelves of every Arab and Muslim supermarket, from Dubai to Casablanca; we get dressed in Western-style military uniforms and carry Western weapons; we proudly fly Western-style flags and recite national anthems at sports events; we use the Internet, cell phones, and every Western-made gadget to show that we are as capable as anyone else to live in the modern world; we travel the world in Western-made planes, fuelled by Western-extracted and processed technologies; we seek—no, demand—Western-style democracy and a long list of social and human rights, while condemning the West for its arrogance and gross materialistic culture.

Abdellah Laroui, the great Moroccan historian, noted a long time ago that we are alienated (note that the word in Arabic, taghrib, is, etymologically, tied to the West, as if to be alienated is to be Westernized) between modernity and tradition. It is a fairly safe bet to expect that most of my fellow Moroccans reading this article are major consumers of Western products, but they most probably find refuge in an imagined past of upright ancestors, hazily pictured as ideal and wholesome, thanks to the sermons (khutab) that inundate our streets and souks, and stream through radio waves and the Internet. No Western-made medium exemplifies this schizophrenic state better than Al Jazeera television.  A slick Western-style production, financed by a state that is deeply embedded in the global financial system, is keeping hundreds of millions of Arabs and Muslims stultified in front of their TV sets—raging at the West, but incapable of finding their way out to the freedom they have long sought.

As much as anything else, what we need in Morocco right now is to be what we choose.  All Moroccans should have the right to live as they please and question and write about any subject that interests them. Moroccan artists and scientists should have absolute license to create and invent; men and women should pursue their dreams and desires however they imagine them; and businesspeople should have ironclad guarantees that their investments are protected by strong laws.  If our model of freedom is France, Britain, or Canada, then we have no option but to enshrine these freedoms, which include the right to any opinion, however offensive it may be to tradition, without being harassed by self-appointed guardians of ancestral ways.

The new mudawwana (family law) and women’s right to share their Moroccan nationality with their children are gifts of secular policies, not religious ones.  But now, we are back to the Middle Ages, when religion ruled supreme in both Europe and the world of Islam. For one of the fundamental tenets of modern political systems is the separation of religion from politics. Technically, as the founders of democracy in ancient Greece knew, gods may be worshipped privately at home or in temples, but they have no place in a political, citizen-based system. Democracy, properly understood, and theology, do not mix well.

We may move, however slowly and frustratingly, toward more political accountability, but we will not make much progress if we don’t open our own selves to inquiry.  Each of us, I am afraid, hosts a little tyrant inside.  We have a hard time accepting differences in our midst. We want our friends and neighbors to share our beliefs; if they don’t, we hammer them with advice and what we call maw`idha. Few Muslim Moroccans have Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, or atheist Moroccan friends. We wake up and go to sleep in a vast ocean of sameness. We like the West for the liberties it offers, but we don’t do much to have them at home. This is why political revolutions are far easier to implement than cultural ones. Yet, without a solid cultural foundation that emancipates people from the fear of ghosts and spirits, we will remain mugharrabun, alienated between a future we desire and a past that pulls hard at our coattails and jellabas.

We may need another protest movement after the one known as “February 20th” does its work and recedes into the margins of Morocco’s new future. The democracies that are emerging now of the debris of war and turmoil—Iraq, Tunisia, Egypt, Libya—and regimes that seem to be on the verge of collapse— Syria—are lessons for Moroccans to ponder. The non-Muslim people who have lived in Iraq since ancient times—including Jews and Christians—have either left the country for good or are in the process of doing so. Christian Arabs are threatened in most Muslim-majority nations.  If we stay on this path, Arab states will more likely resemble the Iran of the ayatollahs than Spain or Switzerland. Is that what we want for our country?

A society, or nation, reaches its maximum potential when it allows its members to create and prosper without fear from cops or imams. If our political, social, and economic systems were to be well regulated—as the new constitution calls for—Moroccans could potentially unleash their intellectual and economic powers to create and share, invent and sell.  The state could then collect more taxes to finance education, medical care, and major national projects.  Poverty will diminish, prosperity could become more widespread, faith will be genuine, and more people will experience life at its fullest.

This is what freedom is all about.  To me, it is less about what political parties do or don’t do, and more about maximizing the enrichment of human experience on earth. It is about equal opportunity and fulfilling work, whether one is white or black, Muslim or Christian, young or old, man or woman. We could still seek salvation through religion, but that won’t stop our society from developing and join more scientifically advanced nations. Let’s hope we get a taste of this new social order soon.  Moroccans all lucky to have a legitimate religious institution (Commander of the Faithful) that guarantees freedom of worship to all faiths (Muslims, Jews and Christians) with no restriction.   Moroccans would like to see powerful political parties with clear platforms that answer their immediate needs and expectations for a real economic growth and not a religious discourse that unfortunately sometimes becomes extremist.

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Said Temsamani

Said Temsamani

 Said Temsamani is a Moroccan Political analyst and consultant who follows events in his country and across North Africa. He is a former Senior Political Advisor at the US Embassy in Rabat.

More Than Just a Goodwill Tour: The King of Morocco Takes His Vision on the Road

By Ambassador Edward M. Gabriel*

Last week, Morocco’s King Mohammed VI visited Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Jordan, Kuwait, and the UAE as part of long-term efforts and planning to boost political and economic cooperation among nations that share centuries-old cultural, religious, and linguistic ties.  While the King certainly carried goodwill, he also had in tow an ample supply of Morocco’s most valued national resource: vision.

For nearly two years, Morocco’s neighborhood has seen protests for reforms, some violent, others resulting in regime change and all with varying measures of success.  Following these Arab uprisings, the region, including Morocco, faces significant challenges. The King seeks to share with his country’s regional partners Morocco’s experience of achieving meaningful reform peacefully, through consultation, collaboration, and consensus – while maintaining security and stability.

King Mohamed of Morocco and Kuwait's Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmad Al Jaber Al Sabah

King Mohamed of Morocco and Kuwait's Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmad Al Jaber Al Sabah

Socioeconomic demands were at the root of the Arab uprisings which means that regional economic cooperation is an indispensable component of any successful plan to provide and sustain broad economic development and empowerment for nearly a half billion people.  Morocco has long understood this and has pursued multi-sector initiatives and partnerships as part of a larger strategic vision to bolster economic cooperation among its neighbors. One such initiative, the Agadir Agreement, signed in 2006, established a free trade zone among Morocco, Jordan, Tunisia, Egypt, and Palestine and trade has increased more than 45% among those countries. Trade between Morocco and Saudi Arabia went from $1 billion in 2000 to $20 billion in 2011 and the investment of GCC countries for development projects in Morocco, high on the King’s tour agenda, are expected to be $1 billion per year in 2012-2016.

In addition to promoting economic cooperation, Morocco, a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council in 2012-13, has played a critical role alongside the United States and other international partners in addressing the crisis in Syria and will host the upcoming Friends of Syria meeting.  While in Jordan, King Mohammed VI became the first head of state to visit the Zaatari refugee camp, which houses upwards of 200,000 displaced Syrians who depend on donated medical and humanitarian aid and services from the international community, including a clinic provided by Morocco.

The King also carried the message that interfaith dialogue and religious tolerance are hallmarks of the Moroccan approach to peaceful cohabitation.  As Chairman of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation’s Al-Quds Committee, King Mohammed VI continues Morocco’s historic role as a key interlocutor for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and reviving the peace process is an area of cooperation the King emphasized with his counterparts.

Morocco’s vision for progress and initiatives with its Gulf neighbors have implications for US foreign policy interests.  In order to promote stability by protecting security in the region, the US must have a partner who shares its values and principles.  Morocco, which maintains the longest unbroken treaty relationship with the US, is that trusted, reliable ally. Just a few weeks ago, Morocco and the US launched their Strategic Dialogue, one of fewer than two dozen such agreements in existence and the first in North Africa.  The Strategic Dialogue builds upon more than a decade of focused, comprehensive leadership and cooperation by King Mohammed VI with three US Administrations and allows the two countries to work towards progress and prosperity for the Middle East and North Africa. 

Recently, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said that Morocco, under the King’s leadership, is answering the “call” for democratic reforms, is elevating its role as an international partner and that the US “looks to Morocco to be a leader and a model.”  King Mohamed’s regional tour demonstrates that Morocco takes that call seriously and hopes its neighbors can benefit from its experience and vision.

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Ambassador Edward Gabriel

Ambassador Edward Gabriel

 

* Edward M. Gabriel is former US Ambassador to Morocco, and current advisor to the Kingdom of Morocco.

Amb. Gabriel has an extensive background in international affairs, having convened multilateral policy forums involving national security, environmental, trade, and energy issues. He has been involved in matters of Russian and European nuclear non-proliferation and safety, and he has been active in advising the US Government on Mideast policy matters. From November, 1997-March 2001, he was the US Ambassador to the Kingdom of Morocco during which time a new US-Morocco strategic relationship was launched on political, military, and economic levels.
Ambassador Gabriel is also active with non-profit organizations. He is a Visiting Fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a member of the Global Advisory Board of George Washington University, a founding member and Vice Chairman of the American Task Force for Lebanon, a member of the boards of Amid East, the Keystone Center, the Tangier American Legation Museum, the Casablanca American School, and the American School of Tangier. He holds a B.S. degree (business) from Gannon University.

Book: The Arab Uprisings: the people want the fall of the regime

By Karen Dabrowska:

Jeremy Bowen focused on his experiences in Libya when he discussed his latest book:  The Arab Uprisings: the people want the fall of the regime,  during a lecture at  the London School of Economics.

Bowen,  who was an undergraduate at the LSE during the late 70s, said that one of the privileges of being a news reporter for the BBC is that at times you find yourself in a place in the world where everybody wants to know what is happening that day.

“I was very conscious of that in February last year when I was in the Rixos Hotel in Tripoli, the five star golden cage where the Gaddafi regime had installed journalists they had let in. Saif Al Islam thought he could manipulate the media. He turned up in fine knit wear and said ‘while you are here you may hear bangs and crashes in the night but let me assure you they are fireworks as people will be celebrating the triumph of my father and his regime. What we have is a local difficulty’.”

Jeremy Bowen's Book The Arab Uprisings: the people want the fall of the regime

Jeremy Bowen's Book The Arab Uprisings: the people want the fall of the regime

Bowen admitted that as a journalist you give up a certain amount of autonomy and freedom for the chance to pull back the curtain and peak inside the dark kingdom. In Libya that involved  quite a bit of sneaking around.  To get up and about in Libya required a rat like cunning to get to places like Tajoura the satellite town of Tripoli, a hot bed of revolutionary activity.

He described his interview with Colonel Gaddafi – like so many things in Gaddafi’s Libya it happened at the last minute. The interview was secured by the son of Libya’s head of intelligence Abdullah Al  Senussi dressed as a designer urban guerrilla.

“One of the strange things about the inside of the Gaddafi regime was that they were very star-conscious. He had on a green combat style designer jacket of beautiful fabric and a black Kashmir hat.”

Bowen recalled wanting to change into a suit but Senussi told him he looked fine.  Surprisingly the interview was held in a  very trendy glass and steel Italian restaurant overlooking Tripoli docks. Gaddafi conformed to  his image  and was dressed in beautiful robes. That was before the call by the Arab League for a no-fly zone and the vote in the United Nations for all necessary measures to be taken against Gaddafi’s Libya to protect civilians.  That phrase is what NATO interpreted as a  charter for regime change.

“At the time the international constellation of forces had not coalesced against Gaddafi and he was self confident. Gaddafi was where he wanted to be – taking on the world. A few years later I was at the UN General Assembly where Gaddafi gave an extraordinary rambling speech, complete with the yellow pad which he held up. During the interview he was very willing to talk. I managed to irritate him enough to switch into English. He said :”My people love me, they will die for me.”  For the Libyans seeing the brother Leader being asked direct questions was a totally new experience. I didn’t think Gaddafi was mad. He was bad. He lived in quite a bubble. He was surrounded by cheering crowds wherever he went. He had spilt a lot of blood, he felt his power was pretty secure. He quite liked being what Ronald Reagan described as the ‘mad dog’ of the Middle East, feeling it is me against the world.”

Bowen also described Mousa Ibrahim, Gaddafi’s spokesman who was humble at first but later became more confident as he got closer to the regime. He asked Bowen to get him on the BBC Hard Talk programme. “I think he was someone who thought he was living the dream.  He said:’ it is incredible, a year ago I was a student in London now I am on hard talk’.”

The BBC correspondent admitted that he was taken by surprise by the Arab  uprisings – but so were Messrs Gaddafi, Assad, Mubarak and Ben Ali. He was in Cairo at the beginning of the protests and believed he would be home for the weekend. There were many fires smouldering . The organiser of one of the protests in Cairo admitted that he was surprised as well.  There was a proud history of protests in Cairo but the protesters chanted and were then in the back of police vans getting a kicking.

“I saw old men, some of them practically dressed in rags throwing themselves against the police. I thought to myself Mubarak has got a big problem. This thing could get a critical mass. I was in Iran after the Green Movement protested about the outcome of the elections but after a week the protesters were down to the people from North Tehran and  students. Against  the thugs the regimes put against them they did not have a chance.”

Bowen pointed out that the aging leaders were grooming their sons to succeed them. That was one of the factors that pushed people towards the edge and made them take the risks that they took. Simple statistics show that 60 percent of the population across the region is under 30. The new generation is one of the strong factors driving the uprising. For their parents generation the share of the cake was enough to have a bit of a social contract. Politics and opposing the regime was not allowed but they had jobs. Now they were struggling to get jobs and get married. Once the Ben Ali regime fell the Egyptians were confident they could rid of Mubarak.

Bowen believes that the social media was an effective organising tool but it was satellite tv that spread the word.  Al Jazeera became a  chief cheer leader for the rebellion. He agrees with an Israeli journalist who accused the Western media of focusing too much on the Arab-Israeli conflict and ignoring Arab politics.

“If this is a five act play we are at the end of the second act. There is a lot more to come. In the beginning a lot of people outside the region thought it would be like 1989 in Europe  - a domino effect. There was a counter revolution. Gaddafi and Assad concluded that it was not an inevitable process but Mubarak and Ben Ali made the mistake of not using enough force. The army in Egypt and Tunisia was prepared to park itself between the regime and the people.

“If you want to track the ways things will go in the next few years it is quite a good idea to track the Sunni Shia divide. The fault line that runs across the region is becoming sharper. This is a force which can be used to manipulate and motivate people. The rebellion in Bahrain has become more sectarian.”

Bowen concluded there is now an engrained habit of protest. People took to the streets to get rid of their leaders and if there are attempts to postpone the elections they will go out onto the streets again. The experience of holding office will certainly change the complexion of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. Egyptians feel they need an economy that works rather than religious ideology.

“Voting does not bring democracy but it does bring change and I think that change will  continue.”

Jeremy Bowen has been the BBC’s Middle East correspondent for twelve years and has been on the ground for them as the recent revolutions  swept through the region.  His latest book looks at the world the demonstrators rejected and its Arab dictators. The author examines  brutal police states, tribal loyalty and foreign help. The West’s response and Israel’s  forms part of the narrative. This is an authoritative account of the seismic political changes rocking the Middle East, from one of the foremost reporters of our time.

Egypt under Morsi

Egypt—a transcontinental country, having African-Middle Eastern border, and a deep geo-strategic significance in the Middle East, Africa, Mediterranean Basin and the Muslim world suffered 60 years of dictatorship until an Arab Spring starting in 2011 led to an overthrow of Hosni Mubarak’s regime. Muhammed Morsi became Egyptian President defeating his rival, ex-Mubarak premier Ahmed Shafiq with 51.7% of votes. The trailblazing elections brought sweet delight and a first of many things for Egypt-he is the first democratically elected President, the first Islamist to rule the nation and the first President who is not from the military.

Although Morsi, member of the once scrutinized Muslim Brotherhood affiliated Freedom and Justice party, was sworn in as Egypt’s first civil President, his victory was anything but a sweeping win and  the revolutionary battle is far from over, as among the earlier challenges that Morsi has to coup up with included, national reconciliation and engagement with liberal opposition, to deal with the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) in context to the dissolution of parliament and the SCAF’s constitutional declaration that limited much of his powers, had undercut state budget and granted the military power to arrest protestors and civilians, then drafting a new constitution and election of a new Parliament,the rehabilitation of state economy and defunct security apparatus.

While on the external front, to review Cairo’s relations with Turkey, US, Saudi Arabia and Iran, must convince and reasssure the paranoid Western world, terrfied of an Islamist government and the Shariah Rule that this loyal old Western ally would remain an open and tolerant society, and this new regime does not mark ‘ the beginning of Islamization’ in Egypt. Howere the real concern here was the  impact of the 180 degree change in goverence on the Arab-Isreal issue but the fiercely pro-Palestinian leader has pledged to honour Egypt’s international treaties, which include a 1979 peace treaty with Israel and take control of Sinai after recent attacks at Israeli border. He also paid an official visit to Saudi Arabia, met Hamas leader, khaled Meeshal, and attended African Union Summit to improve his diplomatic relations with foreign countries.

Under the recent developments in Egypt, Morsi not only ordered to reconvene the Parliament, announced the release of political war detainees, many of which are from Islamist groups, and the appointment of a woman and a Christian to a vice president positions in the government but also appointed Hesham Kandil, a religious Muslim- a technocrat rather than a hardliner and not member of Muslim brotherhood as his Prime Minister. His newly elected cabinet comprises figures of the Egyptian financial elite with representatives from the Egyptian military, the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood (MB), former ministers of the interim government of Prime Minister Kamal Ganzouri, and various technocrats.  He made no move to antagonize Egypt’s military and the Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, kept his post.Two of the 35 ministers are women, and only one is a Coptic Christian. All this has raised skepticism about Morsi’s administration which has shown little luck in placating secular and other liberal opponents but the Egypt’s current leader understands well that his country not only needs a political reform but a practical socio-economic uplifting as the future of the democracy and stability in the region depends on what would happen in Egypt. Mr. Morsi put it himself ‘“The revolution goes on, carries on until all the objectives of the revolution are achieved and together we will complete this march.”

With such drastic and unprecedented change in the leadership of Egypt, the world is watching, fingers are crossed that would this middle-eastern power under Morsi actually succeed in achieving the democratic freedom for which it has fought for nearly 17 months, for which it sacrificed nearly 850 lives or would this country relapse and slip back into the hands of the more experienced and established military autocracy?

 The writer, Aymen Ijaz works for the Islamabad Policy Research Institute.