Morocco is entering a period of unprecedented democratisation, and Moroccan women couldn’t pick a more interesting role model to watch than Meriem Bensalah Chaqroun, President of the General Confederation of Enterprises of Morocco (CGEM). David Martosko, writing for the Daily Caller, has this profile of the first woman to preside over the Moroccan employers.
|Meriem Bensalah Chaqroun - Photo A / Alaoui|
Meriem Bensalah Chaqroun leads Morocco’s General Confederation of Moroccan Enterprises (CGEM), a giant trade association roughly analogous to the U.S. chamber of Commerce. Bensalah is also a licensed pilot, a Harley-Davidson rider, a race car driver, a competitive golfer — and a 49-year-old mother of three.
Already the CEO of Morocco’s largest bottled water and soft drink company for 23 years, Bensalah has never been a lightweight. She leads the company’s holding corporation, which also includes insurance, real estate, grain trading and tourism subsidiaries.
Her unanimous election by CGEM’s board earlier this year to be its first female president made her the first of her kind in the Arab world, and it was no fluke: Every other candidate withdrew after she announced her candidacy.
Doing business in the new Muslim world
She’s bullish on her nation’s people, even to the point of thoughtful patience with the Islamist Justice and Development Party (known by its French acronym “PJD”) that voters elected last November to lead the parliament for five years.
The PJD made waves after its ascent to power for quickly discarding its promises about economic prosperity in favor of a series of hard-line ideological reforms. First came a proposed — and failed — ban on live-TV broadcasts of poker and other gambling activity in favor of broadcasts of the Muslim call to prayer, five times a day. Then the PJD moved to ban alcohol advertising. Businesses that depended on tourism dollars to survive pushed back.
“In a democracy, you see, everyone has a useful role,” Bensalah explained. “Our role is to make sure that the economy stays at the center of the government. If I have to lobby, I lobby. But always for something, never against them.”
The fragile PJD-led ruling coalition has a lot on its plate, she said, and is by no means out of the woods. “If they don’t work properly among themselves, you know … It’s a very bizarre coalition. It’s the PJD with communists. The communists are revolutionary. They have no — shouldn’t be with each other. So it’s very specific to Morocco. … We had never seen a coalition like that in any country. So it’s one of a kind. We are very curious to see how they’re going to mesh.”
And the ruling Islamists’ growing pains, she suggested, were both predictable and forgivable. “Their profile — their educational profile — they are more [rooted] in theory. … They are not managers. We managers have to adapt. We are quick.”
Bensalah is conscious of the warp-speed with which Morocco’s King Mohammed VI has moved his country into the post-Arab-Spring 21st century. “We are a young country,” she assured TheDC. “And when you’re young you’re positive.”
Morocco’s geographic isolation in a distant corner of Northern Africa makes it different from the rest of the Arab world – something the United States has known for centuries. Its transatlantic handshake has sustained America’s longest continuous treaty, and Morocco was the first sovereign nation to recognize America colonists independence from Great Britain in the late 18th century. “We have an Islamic state that is modern,” she explained. “By definition, Muslims are [classically] liberal like traders.” And while the PJD’s hard-liners “don’t have the big picture,” she cautioned, “they have a picture of liberalism in terms of commerce. They buy. They sell. But … we want them to have an entrepreneurial spirit.”
Bensalah, entrepreneurial herself, started as an assistant manager at a family-controlled bank and worked her way up the ladder, later diversifying her family businesses and earning millions. And at a time when American businesses are clamouring for a predictable tax and health care environment before they commit to expanding and hiring, Bensalah manages to articulate the needs of her industry stakeholders in a way many American leaders would instantly recognise. “What we’re saying to the government is, ‘Let us be competitive,’” she said. “We want flat, clear, sustainable conditions … and a clear vision of what our fiscal goal is. We can be competitive if we have predictable conditions.”
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