July 25, 2007
Islamist Election & Moving MENA Forward: Stability and Investment
Some time back a good friend of mine in the Maghrebine banking community asked me my thoughts on what would happen if The Parti la Justice et le Développement (Justice & Development Party), the moderate Islamist party in Morocco won the upcoming elections - as they would clearly do in any free election, from an investment flow point of view. Or more succinctly - would people like me take money out of the market, re-balance to Tunisia, etc.
My answer was "depends" - although Moroccan politics is not something I follow terribly closely, PJD actually in the economic sphere has always struck me as being fairly economically liberal (given the francophone and Arab world benchmarks that is) - and I opined that us Anglo Saxon investors would actually like to see a government with better roots and thus probably better ability to move economic liberalisation forward. I was worried, though, that this answer might be too me. I submit, then, the results of the Turkish elections and London's reactioin as partial indication my gut read is on target.
(See also Abu Aardvark's thoughts on Arab world reaction to the elections and in particular re the pseudo-secularist "Moderates")
Now, before anyone gets more tedious than necessary, of course there are vast differences.
However, the core issue is ability and street cred to engage economic liberalisation. Islamist parties come in many flavours - in the Arab world sadly many are infected with not only authoritarianism, but converted Arab Socialist leftists who've imported not only bad Left authoritarian politics, but bad Left dirigiste economics. Pity, really, as a socially conservative, but non-authoritarian political movement is just what is needed really to see economic reforms through in such cases. Social credibility, combined with hard thinking. Of course, the social illiberalism is regrettable, but real social liberalism only comes from countries with solid, stable middle classes (that are not rentier dependents...)
A few quotes from the FT article:
Since the AKP was first elected in late-2002, at a time when Turkey was suffering the effects of a devastating financial crisis, there has been a gradual meeting of minds between its more reform-minded ministers and the foreign investment community. There was a period of initial wariness when the AKP’s limited knowledge of the markets was obvious.
Since then, however, the foreign investment community appears to have bought totally into the AKP reform agenda. This is in part because of a relentless wooing of the financial markets in the past four years by some of the government’s most talented ministers.
Foreign bankers in Istanbul say the government has been very open to sending ministers on investment roadshows to Europe and the US. The government has constantly reaffirmed its commitment to a broad macroeconomic reform programme.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the prime minister, has pledged to continue the reform drive and to try to reinvigorate Turkey’s faltering attempt to join the European Union.
Investors are also looking for a greater focus in the next few years on microeconomic reforms, including an overhaul of the labour market, privatisation and restructuring of the energy sector, and a final push to get legislation reforming the social security system on to the statute books after a failed attempt last year.
“These are the absolute pillars of structural reform and must be achieved to improve the investment environment in Turkey,” says Mehmet Sami, an investment banker in Istanbul. There is also a need to encourage higher inflows of foreign investment.
.... A stable political and favourable external environment, a growing economy and a central bank hiking interest rates in the past year to fight inflation have offered investors all the ingredients needed to borrow cheaply in low-yielding currencies and to buy the lira, which is at a two-year high against the dollar.
An Istanbul global markets chief says: “You can’t find another high-yield country that is so stable and pays such high returns.”
There is also the prospect – distant but still real – that Turkey’s sovereign credit rating will be lifted a notch closer to investment grade.
The key ideas here are having the cred to liberalise the markets - and that generally comes from having an appearance of honesty, from the population feeling that the government doing so "shares its values" and thus is trustworthy, and of course a degree of competence as well in the end.
The pseudo-secular regimes of the old Middle East certainly lack any of those qualities - to an extent the Moroccan royal regime has them, excluding perhaps the appearance of honesty.... Tunisia had many of these qualities although Ben Ali's waning years look to be spent squandering his initial good work, in a typical dictator fashion, thus progressively losing its image of competence and degree of appearance of honesty. Algeria... well that's the bloody poster child for photo-negative of what a good regime's qualities should be. The Gulf of course generally lacks basic honesty as such.
Is there a point to this observation?
Merely echoing my argument made now and again that Western governments would be best served in jettisoning their Islamophobia and love affair with faux-secularism, and welcoming AKP type parties or those evolving towards that status. Incentives - people respond to real incentives and if there are real incentives to AKPist politics (again the stress on real as in tangible incentives). And on the payback side, money talks - play a good game, you get FDI.
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I agree with your argument, generally, but would like to add another question.
As I understand the situation in Turkey, the AKP has been so successful not simply because of the milder political climate in Turkey, compared to most Arab countries, but also because of its own political maturity. They differ in this from most Arab Islamist movements, who still seem to be more or less single-issue movements working on a program of getting rid of the government and 'applying Islam' -- and that's it. Even if this may be combined with a smattering of semi-liberal economic & constitutional reform propositions, they're still very undeveloped in most cases.
The Muslim Brotherhood is, I think most of us agree, far from the Qaidaesque caricature it is being painted as in much of the western media -- but even so, I'm not sure a Brotherhood-led transition can come about easily, given their political inexperience, radical posturing, and the scant energy they've put into things other than anti-regime, anti-secularist and anti-Western rah rah. Even if some elite circles in the MB are probably quite advanced in their economic/political thinking, I doubt that this translates into an agreed-upon country-wide reform program anywhere. (But I would be very happy to be told I'm wrong.)
The AKP, remember, stepped into a long-established tradition of political pluralism -- manipulated and corrupt political pluralism, yes, and certainly no full democracy, but still vastly better organized and more (politically) liberal than any Arab state. In this environment, it was able to campaign effectively on a serious platform for political and economic reform -- not only on religion and anti-gov sentiment. I don't see that any Arab Islamist movement has that capacity, or opportunity, yet. (Also, there's the EU membership factor in Turkey, which sort of messes up the comparison with Arab countries.)
So, nevermind if the regimes are open for this sort of transition. What about the opposition? How long will they take to evolve towards AKP-ist maturity and efficiency, and can the situation stay calm for that long?
- - -
And, completely unrelated, but I feel the need to share this oddity with someone, and the New Month thread is buried. (Quick summary: Berber beer bunkers vs. al-Qaida.)
Posted by: alle at July 26, 2007 04:02 PM
Uh, is it just me, or is everything in Italics?
Posted by: alle at July 26, 2007 04:05 PM
real social liberalism only comes from countries with solid, stable middle classes
Though I completely back the observation, I can't help wondering why this is the case. The process of thought - or lack thereof - that makes someone reject social freedoms for conservative rigidities escapes me completely.
Tunisia had many of these qualities although Ben Ali's waning years look to be spent squandering his initial good work
Frankly, I believe that the first few years of General Ben Ali's rule were positive thanks to a broad pre-existing entrepreneurial class, built under Bourguiba, pushing the economy forward, with the semi-illiterate bully not having enough grip on power to meddle with it yet. A positive inertia which lasted until he could start methodologically plundering the economy with impunity, after he eliminated virtually any kind of civil society and opposition (92-94). I've seen nascent industrial cities vanish - litterally tens of profitable companies closed every month in single areas - and their entrepreneurs packed up and left as a result, with only the very cyclical and MENA-politically sensitive tourism industry left to significantly carry the economic burden.
I sincerely doubt the 90s' rosy numbers, and it's not surprising that foreign and local media who ran stories about this were banned. Today the climate is a little more sane for businesses starting up, and many of the young graduates who don't leave the country are creating. Maybe the mediocre ex-corporal and his gloomy mob of family louts actually took the trouble to finish high school after all. But beware if a company grows beyond being a very small business, they'd start attracting the insatiable attention of the ruling locust.
Don't misunderstand, I'm not an idealist, I take it for granted that people in power can steal, even more egregiously so in countries that haven't fully developed yet. But there's reasonable stealing, which makes you rich beyond your wildest dreams and allows you to keep stealing without fearing of being beaten to death if you were left alone in the streets for ten seconds. And there's the looting of the starved hooligans which provides you with a nice free lunch on the spot but kills the goose that lay the golden eggs.
Shaheen, do you have difficulty understanding why some muslims, no matter how tolerant they are, would prefer a few mullahs around, women covering themselves, and no nightclubs and porn-selling videoshops - instead of having the Islamabad that you wrote about before, with a nightclub on the Parliament grounds, government members executing each other for eyeing each others' girlfriends, and the chaos and murder of the last few weeks?
I agree, the Lal mosque folk and al-Q weren't it, but I have friends who've lived in the Islamic conservative Kayseri, where the current Turkish Foreign Minister (and presidential candidate) Abdullah Gul comes from - and I've worked with Islamists from other countries, including Sudan and Syria and Egypt - and I'll tell you, I've seen much more serious thought about social problems, practical solutions to such, and socio-economic thinking then I have in years of similar discussions with left-liberal folk in Toronto... and I (mis)spent my youth in raves and parties of the sort you described.
There's something about a bracing climate of hard work and little wordly temptation that focuses the mind - think John Calvin's Geneva, which sociologists are comparing Kayseri to, with an "Islamic 'Calvinist' work ethic" - and I find it difficult to understand what you find difficult to understand about that, if you'll pardon the terse phrasing.
As far as "reasonable stealing," I'm sure you're aware that in Pakistan, the elite class has gone far beyond that. As I'm told, the rentier class in the 'military-industrial' complex has cooked the golden goose, eaten her young, and ran the electric cables off the street to hold their festival - but God (Allah) help the poor Pakistani who decides that what's good for the goose is good for the gander, and runs a few watts to power his air conditioner or fridge, he'll have the full force of the law fall on him for 'stealing.'
Under those circumstances, do you begrudge those who would like to see some "rough Shar'iah" applied 'liberally,' so to speak, to both the powerful and the elite, and not just run roughshod over the poor and powerless?
Posted by: dawud at July 27, 2007 04:55 AM
I have no problem understanding anything of what you've mentionned. I am not a secularist. I don't have the slightest problem with parties like the AKP, or more generally, Islam in politics when it's brought by rational democratic folks.
What I have trouble understanding is not the preference of a conservative party over a corrupt dictatorship giving an appearance of liberalism that only Westerners and some superficial middle-class locals buy. It's the preference of conservative social policies over real liberal ones. Why would you want a government that limits your individual freedoms? *That* escapes me totally.
Why would you want a government that limits your individual freedoms?
ah, but by removing the ban against hijabs in government institutions, AKP would actually increase individual freedoms. That is a quite unique position to be in in a Muslim country. Tunesia excepted.
Is this usual, when someone mentions liberalism, to have someone (like Dawud) respond with "so you're in favor of murder then aren't you"?
It seemed quite clear that you weren't saying you preferred a corrupted gov't/gov't where people murder each other for petty reasons over a socially conservative one, but that you preferred a socially liberal one to a socially conservative one. Yet Dawud tried to associate people murdering each other because for eyeing each others' girlfriends* with liberalism. Do most people in MENA think in those terms?
Now if we take away Dawud's association, perhaps you can answer the question. Do you have difficulty understanding why some Muslims, no matter how tolerant they are, would prefer A)a few mullahs around, laws that force women to cover themselves and a ban nightclubs and porn-selling videoshops to B)no mullahs around, women not having to cover themselves, nightclubs and porn-selling videoshops not being banned?
Why did I add "force" and "ban"? Because this is what the Islamist parties want to do. If there were "a few mullahs around", they wouldn't rely solely on persuasion to ensure women cover themselves and that there are no nightclubs and pornshops. They would use the law.
You also say:
"I don't have the slightest problem with [...]Islam in politics when it's brought by rational democratic folks."
What do you mean by "rational"?
Also, you add later that: " It's the preference of conservative social policies over real liberal ones. *That* escapes me totally."
You don't have a problem with Islam in politics but you have a problem with conservative social policies. So, you don't think more Islam in politics would result in more conservative social policies?
*I think I read a paragraph in JS Mill's On Liberty where he says "A central part of liberalism is murdering the guy who eyes up your girlfriend". That's a verbatim quote. Look it up, it's at the beginning of Chapter 6.
Posted by: Baal Shem Ra at July 28, 2007 10:27 PM
What do you mean by "rational"?
One that uses reason, as per the definition, rather than illiterate ideology.
So, you don't think more Islam in politics would result in more conservative social policies?
Indeed, I don't think there's a necessary causality. Granted, the traditional orthodox forms tend to be more conservative. But Islam can come all over the political spectrum, so I'd judge on a case by case basis. OBL is not Izetbegovic or Erdogan.
Can you give me examples of Islamist parties (or parties that want considerably more Islam in politics) that have proposed platforms that were rational and socially liberal?
Surely there are some, you know the region much better than I do so I figured you might know.
How prevalent is it that phenomenon?
Posted by: Baal Shem Ra at July 29, 2007 12:32 AM
The AKP is an excellent case in point. Ironically, as Klaus pointed out, they're a lot more liberal than the secularo-fascist main alternatives. It goes beyond a libertarian view where the pious orthodox would have more freedoms. As an illustration, the Diyanet's president, appointed by the AKP, has decided to clean the hadiths from misogynist statements, a heresy by traditional Sunni standards.
I guess the real question is what is meant by Islam in politics. Independently of whether one rejects it or support it, if one thinks the only "true Islam" is the traditionalist one or the radical one we most vocally hear about - heck, how many have heard of the reform above? - then the examples above would be dismissed as invalid examples. I guess I don't stick by that definition.
Granted, parties like that are not prevalent. But there has been a move towards less conservatism compared to the 80s and early 90s, at least in rhetoric (no test of power yet), from many of those who have been persecuted, like all over the Maghreb. Those who have adopted a comparatively less conservative approach did so out of pragmatism, either by understanding that a scary retrograde rhetoric would give enough support to the state to crack down on them over and over again, or by understanding that such rhetoric is unlikely to yield political support beyond a fringe market.
Those are theoretically more liberal on civil rights and democracy (they learnt the hard way) than the rulers, less on social mores (not Talibanesque or Saudiesque though). If they ever gain power, which is very possible if MENA was a little bit more democratic, it is likely that they would have to continue evolving on social mores as well if they are to remain politically competitive, as better economies would certainly create a demand for more social liberalism (worse economies would discredit them anyway).
So short answer is, they exist, not prevalent, but many evolve.
Umm, BS.Ra - this was being referenced: http://www.aqoul.com/archives/2007/04/pakistan_booze.php
where Shaheen quoted this from a friend about parties of kids of government ministers in Pakistan: “There are always people who try to create problems or who want to go into those parties, but you can’t let anyone in. Despite that, sometimes it can get really ugly, one guy brings his six body guards, the other one brings eight of them, one touches the girlfriend of the other, and it starts shooting. At this point, you’d better leave the party, it’s easy to get a stray bullet. And since they’re all sons of ministers and everything, if you’re dead, you’re lost, what can the police do? You just disappear, no investigation, nothing, they dump your body and that’s it.”
but you want to make this about nothing, sure...
I'm in favour of being choosing their own communities and nations - and if they want Shariah law, they should implement that - without compelling those who don't want to live under Shariah to live there - as well as Denmark, if they want to legislate all women have to wear bikinis and men have to walk around naked, that's their (legislative branch and sovereign) right to choose that legislation - France has recently decreed that men can't wear bathing clothes for men that are bigger than speedos if they want to swim in public pools, apparently on hygienic grounds - and if Iran and Saudi want oppositional laws, or Turkey wants to have some beaches for the bikini-wearing singles and others for the `burkini`-wearing families - why, in the name of democracy and the free market, do they not have the right to choose that for themselves?
Posted by: dawud at July 29, 2007 03:35 PM
Even if that was a reference to what she had said, you tried to make it appear that the liberal alternative conservative Islam is corruption and violence over petty matters (banning of pornshops or people killing each other over looking at someone's girdfriend).
"why, in the name of democracy and the free market, do they not have the right to choose that for themselves?"
The inclusion of "in the name of democracy" makes me think you didn't mean that question tongue in cheek. The inclusion of "and the free market" makes me think you did. Which is it?
The market has nothing to do with this.
As for democracy, people usually mean a liberal democracy, not a Roussean one.
If you think that groups should have that much power over individuals and should be ablee to compel them in the way you describe, you've never complained about Turkey banning headscarves?
Should Saudi Arabia be free to kill gays? It's part of their interpretation of Sharia law and they're no forcing people to live in Saudia Arabia.
There are two main conceptions of liberty, the one that positively restricts collectives so that they not restrict individuals and the one that does not restrict collectives in how they restrict individuals. You seem to be in favour of the former, which should allow Saudi Arabia to stone adulterous women. Are you?
Posted by: Baal Shem Ra at July 29, 2007 04:53 PM
oh, wtf, former=latter. The collective liberty rather than the individual one.
Posted by: Baal Shem Ra at July 30, 2007 05:17 AM
Dawud, mate, Neo-Mamloukism isn't liberalism, it's the very opposite. Secularism, yes, a strange play at secularism - although in my mind not really secularism, but just old fashioned The Sultan and His Mamlouks Play as they wish, a disease far older than Western influence on the region, as a slight acquaintance with old poetry underlines.
BTW, your comment re France, perhaps you can direct me to something because (i) I have heard nothing of the sort, and (ii) having just been in France, I saw no sign of such things being the case (and we can thank God for that...).
Perhaps the only advantage of Neo-Mamloukism is simply it is so obviously corrupt and hasn't religious clothes to wear (unlike say Iran) to distract the pious from the truth of its corruption, eh?
Posted by: The Lounsbury at July 30, 2007 07:58 AM
I used to be a fervent defender (to jihadi interlocutors) of constitutional democracy (Noah Feldman, `After Jihad`) and American-style secularism (no state creed, freedom of conscience) - but I must say that America has made it really difficult to support such a position by abandoning those principles itself - Egypt and Saudi Arabia would seem to be prime places for America to emphasize their love of democracy, but such is not the case...
as for the thing about Speedos, apparently it's a regional thing, and there apparently is some (racist) reasoning behind it: ``The reason instead is that during our stay in Toulouse in 1997 we discovered that public swimming pools require men to wear Speedos rather than the "shorts" style more common in the U.S. The official explanation from the pool was that Speedos are more sanitary. The unofficial explanation from friends was that this policy discouraged "youth from the banlieues (suburbs)" from visiting the pool.`` http://jeffreyalanmiron.typepad.com/jeffrey_alan_miron/2006/07/bathing_suits.html
Posted by: dawud at July 31, 2007 08:15 AM
America should not make it hard to defend democracy. Beni Adam ma zal Beni Adam; ain't no perfect human system - and all systems mean humans applying laws..... whatever the inspiration of said laws (or interpretation).
It is (the US now) a good case that no democracy (or party or gouv.) should ever think of itself as perfect... hubris, etc.
Eh, well, one or more municipal pools might have had, ten years ago, a policy intended to discourage undesirables.... (although a visit to Maghrebine beaches leads me to state that if this was ever the case, the logic was faulty)....
Mate, that's just sad as a basis not only for your original claim, but as an argument.
Mind you, my experience with Maghrebine descended youth of the troublesome kind, speedos are not something they are shy of at all.
Posted by: The Lounsbury at July 31, 2007 03:11 PM
lounsb - Mind you, my experience with Maghrebine descended youth of the troublesome kind, speedos are not something they are shy of at all.
You really should tell us more about this some time.
Posted by: alle at July 31, 2007 06:47 PM