Moroccan Voices Speaking out against Extremists

Social media counterpoint to abuse of Islam by radicals

It is not uncommon to hear pundits complain that the Muslim-in-the-souk is not sufficiently concerned with what is being done by extremists in the name of Islam, their religion. While President Obama and other leaders in the US and abroad make efforts to distinguish between Islam the religion and those who distort Islamic principles to justify their heinous acts, most Americans remain woefully uninformed and misinformed about how Muslims feel about those who claim that their political agenda represents Islam.

There are three great offenders distorting Islam – media, politicians, and extremists. In the media and for a number of political voices, there are those who distort Islam for political point-making, to reinforce longstanding negative stereotypes and judgments that ignore the diversity and intelligence of the global Muslim community. Bill Maher’s tirade against Islam is the most obvious recent example on the left, along with Pamela Geller’s long-standing diatribes from the right.

The battle for hearts and minds is a community effort

The battle for hearts and minds is a community effort

While it is not necessary to enumerate elected representatives on the local, state, and national level who seem to be preoccupied with linking Islam to most of the world’s ills, including the Ebola virus, the challenge is that their negative perceptions are deep-rooted and visceral, and they seem to have little interest in dialogue. It is this lack of public interest in greater understanding and awareness that feeds into the game of the extremists and radicals who want nothing less than separation between their distorted version of Islam and the rest of the civilized world. Their choice of dramatic and hateful crimes against innocent civilians is clearly meant to demonstrate that their fanaticism has no limits and is immune to humanitarian appeals.

Moroccan Muslims Mobilize to Speak Out Against Extremism

Today, there is a counterforce growing in Muslim communities worldwide to speak out against the extremists who are hijacking Islam and furthering negative views of Muslim peoples. And it is being led by young people. Starting in the UK and now in more than 44 countries, Not in My Name (NIMN) is rapidly becoming the platform of choice for speaking out against the hate being spread by ISIL and others. This was the focus of a recent article in Magharebia that noted, “In a public statement, those who started the appeal on September 26th stressed that it was a call against all acts of barbarism perpetrated by bloodthirsty fanatics who consider themselves to be Muslims.”

In that article, Magharebia looked at the people behind the campaign in Morocco. One was Ahmed Ghayet who said that “Our

Young people leading the way against extremism on social media

Young people leading the way against extremism on social media

’Machi Bessmity’ [Arabic for Not in My Name] initiative has been met with huge success, with 4,000 members in 48 hours and hundreds of young people publishing ‘Machi Bessmity’ photos on Facebook.” You can find Not in My Name bumper stickers on taxis in the major cities of Morocco, videos posted to YouTube, and logos being distributed at conferences and meetings.

No one can point to a single event that mobilized the grassroots campaign, but it seems that the beheadings carried out by the so-called Islamic State and its adherents as the proverbial straw. The NIMN is organizing itself organically, via social media of all kinds. It gives people the opportunity to express their opposition against those who are bringing shame on Islam by violating the principles of the religion they claim to represent.

Already, documentary films are in circulation spreading the message, with a potential impact far beyond the Muslim community. Muslim leaders, scholars, and religious figures from Brooklyn to Bangladesh have begun aggressive social media campaigns to challenge the religious claims made by the extremists. As Naima Mellanoui, a Moroccan working at a public relations agency remarked, “It’s important for us as citizens to have our voices heard form Morocco, to say simply that we, the young Muslims of this country, are against terrorism.” Her sentiments were echoed by high school student Kamal Alfatih, “I’m a Muslim and I’m proud of that. That’s why I can’t accept that fanatics should commit atrocities in the name of my religion, and kill in my name…I’ll never accept that.”

Morocco’s government has been quite active on its own in countering violent extremism. From de-radicalization programs and training prayer leaders (imams) from more than 10 countries, to promoting greater understanding of the values of moderation and collaboration in the Maliki school of Islam, to recognizing the vital role of families and women counselors in positively affecting youth, Morocco has demonstrated its commitment to restrict the public space available to extremists to speak in the name of Islam.

Redefining Global Partnerships at the Atlantic Dialogues

Beginning Friday, October 24, The Atlantic Dialogues will bring together more than 350 leaders from the public and private sectors in Marrakesh for three intense days of informal, open discussions on issues affecting countries that border the Atlantic Ocean – Europe, North and South America, the Caribbean, and Africa. The event is jointly hosted by the German Marshall Fund (GMF) of the United States and the OCP Policy Center, a think tank supported by the OCP Foundation.

Atlantic Dialogues - an international partnership for excellence

Atlantic Dialogues – an international partnership for excellence

It is modeled after GMF’s Brussels Forum, and participants include senior leadership from government, business, NGOs, media,influential personalities, and others who collaborate through interactive panels and focused smaller sessions on topics addressing “some of the region’s current challenges through both traditional and non-traditional partnerships.” Among the confirmed speakers are public and private sector delegates from Holland, the UN, World Bank/IMF, Togo, the European Commission, Costa Rica, the European Parliament, Science-Po University, Colombia, USAID, and Senegal.

The agenda for the meeting is deliberately structured to ensure the maximum opportunity for dialogue and exploration of perceptions and perspectives among the participants/ The goal is to encourage constructive deliberations on how challenges throughout the region can be addressed collectively by innovative initiatives and partnerships. According to the program’s planning document, “Specifically, Atlantic Dialogues will examine how the nations of the Atlantic Basin can work jointly to realize shared objectives, such as accelerating growth and enhancing living standards, using technology and innovation to bridge development, while addressing current and emerging threats and issues relating to immigration, security, health, trade, energy, governance, and climate, among others.”

Blog_Altantic Dialogues 1

To drive these discussions toward concrete proposals, Atlantic Dialogues has enlisted global partners from outside the region to discuss their shared interests and identify potential for collaboration utilizing a broad range of partnerships, including international organizations, NGOs, businesses and industries, think tanks and universities, and other groups.

A significant portion of the program will feature participants from The Emerging Leaders Program, which affords rising leaders the opportunity for advanced training in leadership skills followed by participation in the Atlantic Dialogues. This is a clear priority for the OCP Policy Center which, through its Young Leaders Program and other training/mentoring programs, contributes to the development of the next generation of Moroccan and African leaders in the public, corporate, and civil society sectors.

Looking for Global Solutions through Innovative Partnerships

Held in a discussion format, with featured speakers as well as discussants, the event’s breadth and scope is illustrated by the program topics. From its initial session on “The New Atlantic Equation: Convergence, Cooperation, and Partnerships,” to current challenges such as “Confronting Zones of Chaos,” “Governing the Atlantic,” and “New and Old Challenges in Health Security,” participants will discuss both issues and possible remedies. Technology, agriculture, e-government, development financing, sustainable cities, gender concerns, and new energies are some of the other major topics to be reviewed.

This is the third annual meeting, and it is an indicator of Morocco’s maturing intellectual environment that the Atlantic Dialogues has already become an important forum for regional and international exchanges. As the program notes, “The third edition of The Atlantic Dialogues will build and draw on the discussions and networks established in the previous two years and will provide an opportunity for policymakers to debate the changing dynamics across the wider basin and develop concrete solutions to specific regional policy.”

While many of the Atlantic basin countries struggle to build sustainable, inclusive, national development strategies, GMF and Morocco are providing a top tier forum for moving beyond crisis to concrete policies for achieving equitable growth.

What Makes Business Better in Morocco?

Changing Business Perceptions One Company at a Time

I recently attended a rather thoughtful business conference on US-Arab Business, aptly titled the “C3 US-Arab Business Summit 2014.” C3 stands for collaboration, community, and commerce, and its founder, Ransel Potter, has developed the summits for the “sharing of best practices in an effort to advance ‘commercial diplomacy’ between the two regions.”

The sessions moved beyond the usual “how-to” guides and success stories to focus on issues such as the impact of water, advocacy, and cultural ethnicities on regional relationships; the importance of intellectual property protection; opportunities in infrastructure development; and the insights into how women can become more integrated into a country’s economy, ably presented by spokespersons who have practical experience in promoting women in the workforce.

Gulf Cooperation Council: Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia, UAE

Gulf Cooperation Council: Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia, UAE

This year, several topics highlighted issues that continue to challenge governments as well as private sectors: for example, why corporations should consider local human capital development in their strategic planning, the importance of knowledge transfer in the health and sciences sectors, and how to communicate with Gen Y.

For me, there is great sensibility in this type of program approach that explains business opportunities within the larger context of the regional and cultural environment. Yet I found that, true to the line in the movie Jerry Maguire, “Show me the money” was also a driving force, as the great majority of presentations dealt with the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries whose enormous energy-export driven sovereign wealth funds and pool of experienced local companies overwhelm market opportunities in non-energy exporting countries.

Business Sense

Addressing the market prospects in a smaller economy like Morocco’s is a challenge I often face in these kinds of forums. And I was quite alone. The only other country from the Maghreb was Tunisia, whose representatives focused on social, educational, and cultural issues. So where does one start? The first step is to move beyond the “Casablanca” effect and Rick’s Café and describe the wholesale changes that Morocco has made in its business environment in the last 15 years. Companies are surprised to learn that more than 100 US firms are active in Morocco, and some of the giants of the industry, like Cargill, Boeing, and GE, have a significant presence there.

Morocco is rapidly expanding its industrial base

Morocco is rapidly expanding its industrial base

More importantly, Morocco is not just a market of some 32 million people but actually serves as an effective and efficient platform for driving business into west, central, and Atlantic Africa stretching to Nigeria. With its infrastructure, networks, cultural understanding, and long historical ties, Morocco is well positioned to enable US firms to navigate three challenges in opening new markets: finding the right partners, dealing with local governments and regulations, and minimizing risk by making informed choices.

I have worked in the GCC so I can understand and appreciate the attraction of the glitter, but doing business there is not for the faint of heart. As Danny Sebright, President of the US-UAE Business Council remarked, for small firms, one trip to the Gulf may consume their entire year’s market research budget. When one considers that the GCC itself is heavily invested in Morocco, then the benefits of investing in a smaller, regionally focused market become clear. Gulf countries appreciate Morocco’s stability, keen appreciation for business partnerships, and recognition that it can only thrive through global commerce – these are at the center of the country’s commercial ethos. So if one is intent on following the money, then it makes sense to look at opportunities in Morocco across a broad range of sectors, in the country and throughout the region.

What is driving the remake of how Morocco does business?

Its recipe for growth is changing the country’s economic profile

Recent reports on growth trends in Morocco focused on the seismic shifts in the make up of its economy. Now less reliant on the

A leading business review cites Morocco's progress

A leading business review cites Morocco’s progress

export of agricultural commodities, growth is spread across many sectors, reflecting both the goals of raising job quality and promoting valued-added and downstream products in existing sectors.

For example, Zawya e-News identified how manufacturing in the automotive and aeronautics sectors have become engines for moving Morocco’s new economy forward. Building on its latest industrial development plan, the country has seen automotive

exports jump 37.2 percent year-on-year, electronic exports up 25.2 percent, and aeronautical exports up 14.1 percent. Exports rose more than five percent during the period despite a drop of 13.3 percent in phosphates exports and little expansion in agricultural exports.

According to the Financial Times, there are multiple benefits to the growth of automotive manufacturing. “The country’s auto sector will help push GDP growth up 4.5 to 5 per cent in 2015-2016, from 2.5 per cent in 2014, predicted Capital Economics in a note, making Morocco ‘North Africa’s best performing economy over the coming years’.” Despite this trend, agriculture still has a significant impact on the economy, providing 15-20 percent of GDP, depending on rainfall and market conditions. So the government continues to push ahead with agricultural reforms as well, promoting better water and crop use, accommodating changes in water supplies, and improving access to regional and international markets.

Growth continues across multiple sectors

Minister Lahcen Haddad

Minister Lahcen Haddad

At a recent tourism conference in Rabat, Minister of Tourism Lahcen Haddad gauged the progress made from 2010 to 2013. Revenues grew more than 78 percent, to $1.3 billion. Flight capacity increased by 10 percent and some 50,000 jobs were created. While the rest of the region was experiencing turmoil, Morocco’s tourist arrivals increased by eight percent and bed capacity grew by 30,000 units. The national tourism master plan is being reset to diversify both the types and locations of tourist destinations in order to spread the impact of the sector to benefit other regions.

According to World Bank data, just under 30 percent of the 2013 GDP was generated by manufacturing, which underscores the importance of Morocco’s continuing progress in economic reforms and incentivizing foreign direct investment. This is reflected in the government’s industrial investment strategy, wherein 34 percent of the funds are directed towards training Moroccans in market-focused skills and 24 percent is allocated to the incentives programs. Additionally, the central bank announced a new policy easing financing access for small and medium-sized firms engaged in industrial sectors or exports.

The IMF commented that “The newly developed industries will play even bigger roles in years to come and will further improve the resilience of the economy to external shocks.” Traditional industries are also re-tooling their market strategies. OCP, the country’s largest company and global phosphate leader, has signed multiple agreements to extend its production and distribution facilities in Africa and elsewhere, creating products that focus on the continent’s specific needs from cocoa to undernourished soils.

Morocco’s economic growth strategy is strongly supported by multilateral institutions such as the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, various Gulf sovereign wealth funds, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, and others. The African Development Bank, for example, recently approved a $125 million loan to support an ongoing program to upgrade Morocco’s financial sector – a key component in building a vibrant private sector. Beginning in December, the program will build on previous efforts in 2009 and 2011 that “focus on creating requisite conditions for inclusive economic growth.” In practical terms this includes: improving access to financial services by individuals and small and medium-sized firms; deepening capital markets by enabling the creation or broadening of financial instruments to raise capital and support loans; and strengthen governance in the financial sector through efficient regulations that enhance business development. According to the Bank, “The program is expected to benefit all Moroccans by improving conditions for sustainable and inclusive economic growth that would positively impact their living conditions.”

From the largest manufacturing facilities to the grassroots entrepreneurs, Morocco is undertaking a significant transition to a modern, diverse economy that will have a beneficial impact across all regions of the country, provide much-needed jobs, and reduce the country’s reliance on foreign assistance and energy imports. At the same time, Morocco is using this growing capacity to build and expand its footprint in Africa and elsewhere, through a balanced and inclusive economic growth strategy.

Another Nail in the Coffin of the “Washington Consensus”

Moroccan King calls for respecting each country’s challenges

At the annual session of the General Assembly of the United Nations (UNGA), countries seek to project their vision for the world, appeals are made, agendas offered, and then the work begins. The UN itself is an extra-ordinary organization composed of multiple departments and agencies with missions to achieve and defend important causes and hopefully bring about a more stable, inclusive global community. In the span of a month, delegates grapple with macro-concerns such as climate change, security issues including terrorism, and basic concerns with gender, youth, and equality of opportunity.

Africa reaching for global partnerships

Africa reaching for global partnerships

In the US, these proceedings attract little attention outside of those constituencies that see the UN as a type of platform for highlighting their issues and promoting solutions. It is somewhat of a coincidence that PBS has just shown “The Roosevelts,” which surveyed both the death of the League of Nations and the instrumental role of Eleanor Roosevelt in shaping some of the earliest efforts to promote human rights and dignity. And yet, I don’t think those viewers then turned on their televisions to find out what the UN was doing, even as President Obama was making his address and the US assumed the chair of the Security Council.

Why such limited interest in the UN? Well, one reason is that Americans believe that we are more effective and efficient in carrying out policy. Another is the disrepute the UN earned in the 70s and 80s for mismanagement and contentiousness, which cast a lingering pall on the organization’s image. Lately, when Americans tune into the UN, it seems that its primary role is assembling coalitions to do battle against forces that would undermine stability and security in some part of the world, or to engage in debates on global issues that have little success for resolution (think environmental standards).

King Mohammed VI calls for long term partnerships to promote African development

King Mohammed VI calls for long term partnerships to promote African development

Yet, from time to time, the UN’s routine agenda is interrupted by an insightful and challenging message that is both thoughtful and a call to action. When King Mohammed VI sent Morocco’s Head of Government, Abdelilah Benkirane, to deliver the King’s message, most pundits anticipated a focus on the current crises in the region. So there was some surprise when King Mohammed took on the issue of the treatment of developing countries by the West, and then offered viable options for building partnerships for sustainable economic growth.

Challenges “Patronizing” Views of Developing Countries

Sustainable development is the central theme of this year’s 69th UNGA. While there have been many attempts at defining it conceptually and practically, the King’s remarks reflect Morocco’s experiences and continued challenges. More importantly, his speech was built not on a wishful foundation but on the hard-earned lessons that the Kingdom incorporates into its policy deliberations.

I was intrigued that King Mohammed put Morocco’s development strategy within the larger context of the world’s current turmoil and instability at the end of the speech. His words indicated quite clearly that his concern for equitable treatment within the global community preceded much of today’s conflicts.

“The world stands at a crossroads today. Either the international community supports developing countries to help them achieve progress and ensure security and stability, or we shall all face the consequences of more conflicts and greater fanaticism, violence and terrorism – all of which feed on feelings of injustice and exclusion – and no part of the world shall be safe.”

New technologies rapidly adopted and developed in Africa

New technologies rapidly adopted and developed in Africa

“As the world grows more acutely aware of the cross-border threats posed by the lack of sustainable and human development, and as we realize that ours is ultimately a common destiny, I am sure there will be a global awakening regarding the need to work for a more secure, more equitable and more humane world.”

In this framework, he noted that “Achieving sustainable development is one of the pressing challenges facing mankind. It is particularly important, in this respect, to strike a balance between the requirements for economic and social progress and the protection of the environment, on the one hand, and the safeguard of the rights of future generations, on the other.”

Sounding as progressive as any Western monarch, King Mohammed VI made his case for treating each country based on its particular profile rather than a one-size fits all prescription. “Aware of these critical challenges, I have sought to set up a distinctive development model rooted in the culture and in the specific national values of the Moroccan people – a model which also takes into account the need for positive interaction with international principles and objectives in this area.”

In his remarks, the King focused on the need for a healthier relationship, actually partnership, between developing countries and those who had colonized Africa and Asia; a partnership that recognizes that each country has its own path to follow “…having taken into consideration its historical development, cultural heritage, human and natural resources, specific political circumstances, as well as Its economic choices and the obstacles and challenges facing it.”

Just as he has done on his tours to multiple African countries, he called for respect for each country’s road to development promoting economic and political progress within the context of a country’s defining values and principles. The King singled out the injustice of asking former colonies to adopt Western models in short periods of time and with conditions imposed externally.

Yet King Mohammed did not overlook the responsibility of developing countries to step up to the challenges of authentic, inclusive, equitable development incorporating over time a balanced approach to sustainable growth. Reflecting on the work being done on intangible capital – “factors related to the living conditions of the population, such as security, stability, human resources, institutional development and the quality of life and of the environment…,” the King noted that “the right conditions need to be created, in theory and in practice, to move on to the next stage with regard to promoting both democracy and development, without interference in the internal affairs of states. In return, the latter should commit to good governance.”

Open for sustainable growth and development

Open for sustainable growth and development

King Mohammed challenges both developed and developing countries to redefine their relationships as partnerships reflecting shared interests that will lead to progress in economic and political policies. It is clear that the King believes shortcuts or facile solutions are not sustainable, and he emphasizes approaches rooted in the soil of the countries working to advance. It cannot be said that this King avoids controversy. Whether in dealing with Islamic extremists, the Assad regime, Jerusalem, or North-South relations, Morocco stands clearly in the camp of those who promote coordination, collaboration, and constructive engagement as an instrumental strategy for growth.

It is this visionary stance that enables Morocco to “punch above its weight.”