- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 14, 2004

The times in which we live serve to direct the attention of many of the world’s governments and people toward the Middle East. But the intense focus on the Middle East has, unfortunately, often been accompanied by misunderstandingsand prejudicesconcerning Islam. Some even suggest it is inherently at odds with democracy that true self-government simply cannot exist in Muslim societies.

But Morocco is quietly proving otherwise.

In the early 1990s, Morocco set out on a democratic, reform-minded path to which we have remained steadfast. Today our country is creating a free, democratic society on the foundation of self-government and democraticinstitutions. King Mohammed VI and parliament have enacted comprehensive reforms in the economic, social and political spheres reforms that are entirely consistent with the spirit and tradition of Islam. Despite opposition to change within our society and the wider Islamic world, as evidenced by a spate of suicide bombings in May 2003, our resolve remains strong, as does our commitment to an advanced and open society. For example:

m Economic reform: On March 2, Morocco successfully completed negotiations for a free-trade agreement with the United States. This is an excellent agreement for both sides and has earned wide praise from diverse American industries, including entertainment, agriculture and manufacturing. We hope for congressional passage early this summer. There will necessarily be some difficult adjustments for certain segments of the Moroccan economy. But the way ahead is clear, and we look forward to the long-term benefits of trade liberalization from this agreement and from our association agreement with the European Union.

Morocco is an original member of the World Trade Organization, itself founded at an international conference in our historic city of Marrakech. Consistent with its obligations as a responsible member of the world community, Morocco has taken significant steps to guarantee the independence of its central bank and to maintain macroeconomic standards and debt levels that are well within international norms.

We have embarked on a privatization campaign, as well as the harmonization of our banking and investment practices with international standards.

m Gender equality: In January, both houses of parliament unanimously approved legislation that essentially establishes full equality between men and women in Morocco. The new Mudawana (family law), which draws its basic provisions from the Koran andtheHadith(the Prophet’s sayings and practices), was drafted through a long process of careful consultation with prominent Moroccan religious scholars.

The legislation also gained unequivocal support from all political parties, as well as human rights and women’s rights organizations, proving that Islam and modernity can go hand in hand. Under the new laws, obligations once solely enjoyed by the husband will now be shared by the husband and wife, as these new laws set an equal minimum age of marriage, establish equal prerogative to initiate divorce, and, in general, ensure better protection of women’s and children’s rights.

m Elections: Morocco’s recent elections were internationally hailed as free, fair and transparent; they also consolidated the legitimacy of our constitutional system in the eyes of all Moroccans. No law can be adopted without the approval of the majority in parliament, and the government must retain the support of the majority in parliament in order to remain in office.

m Human Rights: In January 2003, King Mohammed VI formally inaugurated the Equity and Reconciliation Commission to ensure the protection of basic human rights for all Moroccans and make amends for past violations. The commission’s mandate institutionalizes a procedure previously led by an independent arbitration authority to provide just compensation to victims of past human-rights violations. This program has already provided tens of millions of dollars in reparations. Led by a former political prisoner, the new commission will make available to the public all government files from the past 40 years.

The process of reform and reconciliation that Morocco has been pursuing for more than a decade has enabled the country to make tangible gains in promoting economic, social and political modernization, facilitating our integration into the global community and building a society of hope and prosperity for our people. These reforms have been undertaken with the explicit purpose of improving the lives of all Moroccans and in a spirit inspired by an interpretation of Islam that combines a proper respect of Muslim traditions with a willing embrace of the opportunities and obligations for development offered by the modern world.

There is nothing in the Islamic faith inconsistent with human rights, democracy and the equality of men and women. Indeed, when King Mohammed VI proposed the new family law in a speech before parliament last autumn, he repeatedly invoked language from the Koran to provide a moral foundation for the reforms.

In Morocco, we are proud of what we have thus far accomplished, mindful of the challenges that face us now and in the future, and confident that the course we have chosen will continue to make a constructive contribution to the peace and well-being of the world as a whole.

Aziz Mekouar is the Moroccan ambassador to the United States.

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