February 21, 2012

MODERATE IS AS MODERATE DOES:

The Maghreb's modern Islamists must look West (Moha Ennaji, 2/21/12, The Daily Star)

So far, both Ennahda and the PJD have taken a pragmatic stance. They recognize that, while their supporters may be devout Muslims, they also need to earn a living; empty hotels and beaches would be economically disastrous. Thus, tourism professionals in both countries have received strong government assurances that business will continue as usual.

Islamist parties will now have enormous influence on economic policy, after decades of official separation of mosque and state. Islamic banking, for example, may soon be introduced, though some local and foreign investors argue that Shariah regulations could drive away much-needed foreign investment. There are also concerns about inexperienced Islamist officials' ability to run finance ministries.

But the region's Islamist parties appear to be conscious of these risks, and determined to mitigate them. They know that they need economic growth to curb unemployment and pay for social services, so they are working to bolster the private sector. In many cases, they are even advocating the kind of free-market policies that their secular predecessors favored.

Those policies should include trade liberalization. Until now, less than 2 percent of the Maghreb countries' foreign trade has remained within the region. If the region's new leaders can integrate their economies, a market of more than 75 million consumers would attract more foreign investment and trade with the rest of the world.

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Posted by at February 21, 2012 5:30 PM
  

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