Morocco’s first free-market activist calls for pushback against radical Islam

RABAT, Morocco — Nouh El-Harmouzi never thought of himself as a revolutionary. But there he was, standing on a raised platform in Tahrir Square last year, getting ready to preach economic freedom to throngs of Muslim revelers in Egypt.

El-Harmouzi is Morocco’s first bona fide free-market activist. He took a deep breath and laid his cards on the table.

The Arab Spring had just claimed its biggest scalp: Hosni Mubarek, Egypt’s president, stepped down from power in the face of hundreds of thousands of protesters. El-Harmouzi — his name “Nouh” is pronounced “Noah,” like the Hebrew Bible’s boat-building patriarch — was in Cairo teaching young people how to build a civil society in a post-revolutionary country.

“I went to Tahrir Square,” he told The Daily Caller Wednesday at a hotel in Morocco’s capital city, “and I told them: ‘Be aware: Civil society, civil states — not military states. You have an opportunity after 50 years of absolute misery.’”

In his flip flops and casual shirt, El-Harmouzi doesn’t look like a Middle Eastern political evangelist. But on a breezy, starlit night above the din of a jazz pianist, the young economics professor from Ibn Tofail University explained what it was like to step up to the microphone in a chaotic Cairo — and why Moroccans are handling the Arab Spring in a dramatically different fashion.

“They had a big stand where people were talking,” he recalled. “There were Islamists saying ‘Death to USA,’ and communists saying ‘We want to build big factories for the workers.’ But no one like me.”

Nancy Ibrahim, a BBC Radio reporter based in Cairo, was with him. “I tell her, ‘this is crazy.’” El-Harmouzi said. Ibrahim offered to try to get him a few minutes in front of the crowd, using her press credentials. But amid a sea of adrenaline and more than a few Muslim Brotherhood higher-ups, he wasn’t optimistic.

Ibrahim, he told TheDC, “is 1 meter and something tall.” Striking a bodybuilder pose and puffing his cheeks out, he added, “Everyone else there is like this.”

Tom Palmer, a vice president at the Washington-based Atlas Economic Research Foundation, was with him as well. He dove into the crowd with a video camera and maneuvered to the front, near the makeshift stage.

“There were people in beards all around, and I thought ‘they are going to kidnap him,’” El-Harmouzi said in hushed tones. “But he was there at the right moment when they gave me the microphone.”

He didn’t let his precious minutes go to waste. The Egyptians got an earful.

“I told them we believed in freedom of speech and liberty,” he recalled. “‘You spent a lot of time winning it. Now try to build a civil state, not the Sudanese model or the Iranian model. Don’t come back to this.’”

And afterward? “I was extremely happy to be alive and to make it to the airport.”