The time may be quickly arriving when government offices in Tunisia participate in the issuance of Islamic bonds in regional or even global financial markets.
A recent article in the Oxford Business Group notes that although the Tunisian parliament approved the national issuance of “sukuk” or Islamic bonds in 2013, no such bond activity has yet emerged.
Now, with an enormous fiscal deficit, Tunisia may be poised to develop these sorts of very different bond opportunities.
However, this new type of Islamic finance won't come without some form of backlash in many Islamic communities.
“In general, it is not permissible for any Muslim to be party to an interest-bearing transaction,” Mahfuz Meherzad told the Maghreb News Wire July 27. Meherzad is a professor of government and political affairs teaching in Philadelphia, PA.
Observant Muslims, he said, generally don't take on conventional mortgages or utilize savings accounts, since interest is involved.
That makes it hard to survive in a world where so many kinds of deals involve lending.
New Islamic forms of financing provide an alternative, but, Meherzad said, many Muslims view them as compromises dressed up in a different sort of package.
“They're basically ways of trying to get you the same benefit,” Meherzad said, calling many Islamic finance tools “loopholes” to get around problems with how lending is done in the West. “Most Muslims look at them kind of skeptically.”
Meherzad said a move toward Islamic bonds may be an indicator that the Tunisian government is embracing more elements of Islamic culture than it has in the past. Reports looking at Tunisian government decisions cite a new government change in August of 2016.
“It shows that the Tunisian government is not backing away from acquiring an Islamic character,” Meherzad said of recent developments, adding that past administrations would not have been as enthusiastic about the new proposed bond program.
With enormous deficits comprising a significant part of the country's GDP, Meherzad said, Tunisia is also under economic pressure.
“They're kind of running out of options,” he said.
In the end, he said, although sovereign bonds of this sort might start to move Tunisia out of economic trouble, the effort also looks like a “nod” to Muslim political parties in the country.
Experts are also talking about the potential for corporate Islamic bonds also approved under the 2013 legislation.
Whether Tunisia eventually does move into Islamic bonds and different types of more conventional financial activity will show the outcomes of a struggle between a historic culture and tradition, and the modern pressures of a globalized financial world.