Thursday, January 19, 2006

A modern Islamic democracy ....

... in Morocco. At least if King Mohammed IV has his way.

Morocco's 42-year-old King Mohammed VI has discovered religion as a means of modernizing his society -- and progress through piety seems to be the order of the day. By granting new rights to women and strengthening civil liberties, the ruler of this country of 30 million on Africa's northern edge, which is 99 percent Muslim, plans to democratize Morocco through a tolerant interpretation of the Koran.

Morocco's 350-year-old dynasty, the world's oldest next to the Japanese imperial dynasty, claims to be directly descended from the prophet Mohammed. And as "Amir al-Muminin," or leader of the faithful, the country's ruler enjoys absolute authority.

The Conseil Supérieur des Oulémas, or council of religious scholars, which the king installed a year and a half ago, has been issuing fatwas on the most pressing questions of the 21st century -- and, surprisingly, they've been well-received by both young people and hardened Islamists. If the king's reform plan succeeds, Morocco could become a model of democratic Islam.

So, the democratic process in Iraq installs an Islamist Shi'ite government, and a begnign dictatorship at the other end of the Islamic world moves towards democracy. Hmm.

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