By Morocco News Agency Staff
Rabat, Morocco — 30 January 2012 … Shortly after his new government won the vote of confidence in Parliament, Abdelilah Benkirane left Morocco for the Economic Summit in Davos – his first and most challenging international test.
On February 27, he shared the podium with Tunisia’s PM Hamadi Jebali and two Egyptian presidential candidates, Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh and Amre Moussa, for a discussion of the future of governance in North Africa.
Both Benkirane and Jebali focused on the economic challenges of the consolidation of democratic governments in their respective countries and the region as a whole.
Jebali opened the session with a passionate appeal to the West. He argued that it is in the overall interest of the affluent West to ensure that the democratic process succeeds in Tunisia. Therefore, it is incumbent on the West, irrespective of the current economic crisis, to subsidize Tunisia and other nascent democracies.
“I appeal here in Davos to those who are listening. We are asking for your support as we do not have sufficient means to stand on our own,” Jebali said. “We are counting on the support of our friends in Europe and the United States. Tunisia is a country which is open to all our neighbors, in particular the Europeans.” Jebali further argued that the ongoing failing of Tunisian economy must not be a consideration for Western help given the magnitude of the endeavor to build a new regime. “It is the first time that we have been able to build a democratic state, with the first step a constitution that will establish our democracy,” he concluded.
In sharp contrast, the new Prime Minister of Morocco Abdelilah Benkirane stressed the commonality of economic interests between Morocco and the West, and particularly Europe. He urged his audience to increase and expedite investments in Morocco to the economic benefits of both sides.
“We are very open. We can now guarantee your interests and investments much more than in the past. What more do you want? Our interests complement each other. We need these investments. Morocco is looking to you.”
Benkirane emphasized that Western investors from the US, Canada, Mexico, Brazil, UK, France, Spain, Germany, Norway and the rest of Europe need not fear the Islamist party in Morocco.
“Whether these governments are Islamic or not, who cares? What is important is that they are democratic.”
He further stressed the all-Moroccan quintessence of the government’s economic programs and plans.
“They, the government’s economic plans, represent the people and are open. Actively fighting against corruption, they can even further ensure your interests and investments than previous governments,” Benkirane said.
He recognized that Western support of the new plans was conditional on Morocco’s respect for human rights and women equality and stressed Morocco’s exemplary record in these fields.
In his presentation, Benkirane also sought to distance Morocco from the “Arab spring” chaos in Tunisia and Egypt. He noted that Morocco had “a different trajectory” than the other countries of North Africa.
In Tunisia and Egypt, he pointed out, “the explosion was inevitable” because both countries had been dominated by corrupt elites with “an iron fist”. The situation in Morocco is completely different.
“In Morocco, the reforms began twenty years ago,” he noted. For the last two decades, Morocco has been experiencing “change in progress” aimed to “carry out reforms for the poor and needy.” Therefore, Morocco remains extremely stable and business friendly – exactly what Western investors are looking for.
During the Q and A part, Benkirane was asked to address the issue of “extremists” in contemporary Islamist governance. Benkirane explained that the genuine democratic process in Morocco has been essential to the moderation of Islamist politicians. “It, the democratic process, takes them – the Islamists – out of the woods to participate in political life and to be moderate,” he argued.
Benkirane pointed out to his own personal evolution in the context of his political ascent in Morocco.
“When we were young, we were also extremists in our ideas. Then we became realistic, and we moderated our views,” Benkirane acknowledged. At the same time, he complained, the West fails to distinguish between a person’s observance and that person’s political stand.
“When I ask you not to serve me alcohol, I’m considered extremist,” he noted.
While in Davos, Benkirane met Klaus Schwab, the president of the Global Economic Forum, and both agreed to strengthen the partnership with Davos. Benkirane also met with Angel Gurria, the Secretary General of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Gurria praised the economic plans of the Moroccan government and congratulated Benkirane for his political courage and determination in the spheres of economic and social development. He agreed to strengthen the OECD’s collaboration with Morocco on various topics of common interest.