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North Africa: Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia

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The new Islamic political actors in North Africa, along with international Islamic financial institutions, are participating from today in Barcelona in the conference “Economic Agendas of Islamic Actors”, organised by the IEMed. The objective of the conference is to explore the policies with which to guarantee a successful economic transition in the countries of the Arab Spring, the priorities of the new governments, how they want to promote growth, trade and investment, how far they will endeavour to integrate economically with their Arab neighbours and with the EU and if they will use the Turkish model of growth, among other issues.

The Government of Catalonia’s Secretary for Economy and Finance, Albert Carreras, made it clear in the opening of the seminar that the move towards representative democracies is a critical change that demands good economic conditions. In this respect, he defended the complementarity between the economies of the northern and southern Mediterranean and put forward the Catalan economy, and its plurality of sectors within the context of an advanced economy in terms of cohesion and the welfare system, as an example that could be of interest to the economic transitions in the south of the region.

In the first debate of the conference, moderated by Andreu Bassols, Director of the IEMed, Abdeslam Ballaji, Moroccan MP for the Justice and Development Party and President of the Moroccan Association of Islamic Economic Studies, explained the political evolution of Morocco in recent years and the principles of the political economic reforms that the government led by his party wishes to carry out.
Ridha Chkoundali, Economic Advisor of Enhadha in Tunisia, explained the tools used by the Tunisian coalition government to redress the economic situation, from exporting to other countries beyond the EU, supporting local cooperatives and associations to drive a growth which involves development for broad layers of society, to seeking foreign investment for economic sectors with added value and the diversification of funding sources, including the participation of Islamic banks.

In the case of Egypt, Abdalhafez Elsawy, Economic Advisor to President Mohamed Mursi’s Freedom and Justice Party, explained that since the 25th January Revolution in 2011, unemployment has risen, inflation has increased and tourism has declined, a key sector for the Egyptian economy. The fight against corruption and support for the private sector are among the measures Mursi’s government intends to implement, and with which in the new democratic era it hopes to achieve growth comparable to Turkey’s, a Mediterranean country with a similar demography and representative democratic system, and four times the GDP.

The following debate began with the initial commentaries of Albert Alsina (Fons Mediterrània Capital, Grupo Financiero Riva y García), Anwar Zibaoui (General Coordinator of ASCAME) and Anthony Terence O’Sullivan (OECD Development Division), who noted the need for the governments of the three Arab countries to specify their economic policies and apply them as soon as possible as the poverty and unemployment situation of their peoples obliges them to obtain some first results in the short term.

The principles of Islamic finances and their relation with the application of Islamic law were set out in the next session with the participation of three experts: Abderrahman El Glaoui, Director for the Maghreb of the Islamic Development Bank; Wadï Mzid, Agency Director of Zitouna Bank (Tunisia) and member of the Tunisian Association of Islamic Economics (ASTECIS); and Adil Alaoui, Director of Morocco’s Dar Essaffa association.
In the last session, proposals to strengthen Euro-Mediterranean cooperation and cooperation between Arab countries and Islamic actors were analysed. Participants were Brahim Allali, Advisor to the Islamic Centre for Trade and Development; Hassan Malek, President of the Egyptian Business Development Association; and Mehmet Yalcintas, member of the Board of Directors and Chairman of the Research and Publication Commission of the Association of Turkish Industrialists and Entrepreneurs (MÜSIAD). Among other issues, they defended the complementarity that, especially with the current situation of economic crisis, exists between the southern and eastern Mediterranean and the European countries, the need to progress in training and in technological sectors and added value in Mediterranean countries and promote South-South trade and small and medium-sized enterprises.The three speakers explained the foundations and key concepts of the Islamic bank (the prohibition against obtaining interest, speculating or investing in areas not permitted by the Koran, among others), along with their historical development from the early seventies in Egypt to the rapid expansion in recent years resulting in more than three hundred branches in 75 countries. All noted the potential for growth of Islamic finances given a population of 1.5 billion potential Muslim clients, as well as the attraction of their socially responsible products compared to a classic bank damaged by the shadow of the economic and financial crisis.

Videos and pictures available:
www.iemed.org/economicagendas