CASABLANCA—For almost a year, diplomats, experts and journalists have been telling investors not to worry about the new Islamist governments emerging in the wake of the Arab Spring. They are wrong.
The optimist argument was simple: “democratic realities will force Islamists to maintain economic growth in order to win the next elections.” Arab spring will not immediately shift to winter; responsibility makes politicians responsible and so on.
Certainly, the Islamists talked a good game. Morocco’s Islamists, in their party platform and in their speeches, stressed that a freer economy would attract foreign investors and boost jobs. They said that reducing youth unemployment was their No. 1 issue. They said that they wanted to return annual GDP growth to 7% per year—making Morocco into an “Asian tiger.” They said they wanted free-trade agreements with their neighbors. (The kingdom already has free-trade deals with the United States and the European Union). They said they favored deregulation and privatization and even proposed a modest tax cut. So things looked good.
And the fear of fickle voters was supposed to discipline the Islamists. When the Islamist parties won this past November, they even carried Morocco’s commercial center of Casablanca. They persuaded small-business owners and professionals to shift their allegiance from the liberal and socialist parties, which had commanded their votes in 2007, to the Islamists, in November 2011. These swing voters expected economic reforms and modest social changes—not the reverse. If the Islamists don’t deliver on the economy, they will be out.