In Barack Obama's speech to the Muslim world in Egypt, he spoke at great length about the importance of America's role in reaching peace in the Middle East between the Israelis and the Palestinians. The sentiment is no doubt genuine, but it's unclear to many Americans and Muslims alike just how he plans to get there. Whatever road his administration plans to take, it should go through Morocco.
While Obama was in Saudi Arabia and Egypt, I was traveling in Casablanca, Marrakech, Rabat and the Western Sahara with the Institute on Religion and Public Policy, meeting with Muslim and Moroccan religious and political leaders, and speaking with average citizens about their expectations of Obama in easing tensions between the West and Muslims abroad. While it was clear Muslims there have a great respect for Obama, and look to him to advance a foreign policy that benefits the Muslim world, they were also skeptical of his rhetoric, which many considered to be lacking in detail.
Dr. Ahmed Abaddi, the Secretary General of the Oulema council and head of the government commission of Islamic scholars for the Rabat region, admitted the issues facing Muslims everywhere are complex and serious. Offering "respect," he said, was symbolic. The time has come for real leadership and action.
Morocco can play a significant role in brokering peace between the Israelis and Palestinians, if Obama is willing to give it a microphone. A progressive Muslim country with both African and European influences, it is strategically located to be a centerpiece of Western-Muslim dialogue.
King Mohammed VI, at only 46, represents the kind of moderate and progressive world views on which Obama and the Western world should capitalize and promote as a formidable and open-minded new brand of Islam. Under Mohammed VI, Morocco has become increasingly more democratic. It is a safe haven for religious freedom, the likes of which most Arab countries have never seen. In 2000 he was awarded an honorary degree by George Washington University for his promotion of democracy in Morocco.
The King has significantly advanced the causes of women's rights, freedom of the press and the rule of law. In Morocco, women can vote, drive, obtain a divorce, and hold positions of authority, thanks largely to a new family code, the Mudawana, which was initiated by the King. The Mourchidat at the Dar al-Hadith al-Hassania in Rabat are the Islamic world's only female clerics, a program started by the King in 2004 that its director Muhammad Mahfudh calls a "rare experiment in the Muslim world."