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The Politics of Islamic Finance$
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Clement Henry and Rodney Wilson

Print publication date: 2004

Print ISBN-13: 9780748618361

Published to Edinburgh Scholarship Online: March 2012

DOI: 10.3366/edinburgh/9780748618361.001.0001

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Aiyyu Bank Islami? The Marginalization of Tunisia's BEST Bank

Aiyyu Bank Islami? The Marginalization of Tunisia's BEST Bank

(p.240) 11 Aiyyu Bank Islami? The Marginalization of Tunisia's BEST Bank
The Politics of Islamic Finance

Robert P. Parks

Edinburgh University Press

Since its inception in 1983, Tunisia's sole Islamic financial institution, Beit Ettamwil Saoudi Tounsi (BEST Bank), has managed to attract only a fraction more than half a per cent of all commercial banking deposits. In comparison with the development of Islamic banks in a variety of other states during the late 1970s and early 1980s, Tunisia's experience appears to be a stillborn venture fated to languish in the financial periphery. Assuming a perfectly functioning market, BEST Bank's inability to capture a robust market share is counter-intuitive, given its nineteen-year operation and Tunisia's heritage as a host to what was formerly the Arab World's most moderate, organised and vocal Islamist movement. This chapter aims to clarify the political barriers to the growth of Islamic banking in the Tunisian financial sector. Two factors are of particular importance: the threat posed by the continued resonance of political Islam in les couches populaires, and that generated by the spectre of an autonomous private banking sector. While it is unclear which of the two is perceived as the most immediate threat, both propose alternative economic and political systems that might undermine the authority and strength of the current regime. By focusing on patterns by which the incumbent political elite has maintained its grip over the banking sector and its Islamic opposition, and the correlate effect this has had on BEST Bank, the political conditions which seem to play an important role in the success or failure of Islamic banking in the Muslim World are highlighted and accentuated.

Keywords:   Tunisia, BEST Bank, political barriers, Tunisian financial sector, political Islam, private banking sector

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