For much of the media, the news read “another Islamist party wins.” Morocco’s PJD is Islamist, but decidedly more akin to Europe’s Christian Democrats.  PJD ran on a platform of economic growth, free trade, jobs, anti-corruption, and continuing social and political reforms. Importantly, it fully accepts the King’s role, enshrined in the Constitution, as Commander of the Faithful with final say over all religious affairs.

PJD leaders say they are a “political party with a religious reference,” and take pride in mentoring Turkey’s moderate Islamic party, which adopted a similar platform and national priorities.

Within days of the election, the King met with PJD leader Abdelilah Benkirane and appointed him Prime Minister, as called for by the new Constitution. Benkirane announced that his job is to find jobs for his people—not provide commentary in the mosque. And he went to work forming a political coalition with a majority in Parliament. 

It looks like a good beginning for Morocco’s new government. But it still faces big challenges—and high expectations. The new Constitution gives Parliament new authority, but it must show it can exercise that power to improve Moroccans lives and meet their desire for change.

In a new report, the IMF calls Morocco a “model of stability and political and economic reform in a region that could use a few role models.” But it warns “there is no room for complacency” and says Morocco must create 300,000 jobs to reduce unemployment and generate new investment.

Morocco is not Egypt, and it is not Tunisia. Every country in the region is different. But success in one country can set a powerful example for others in the region. So can failure. 

This calls for addressing a more fundamental question:  Does America have the will to engage the legitimate desires of the people for change in a part of the world inextricably tied to our economic and security interests?

EU and US officials are increasingly worried that growing AQIM links to other militant groups—Boko Haram in Nigeria, al-Shabaab in Somalia, and most recently Polisario members in Algeria—threaten not just the region, but the US directly. The dramatic rise in kidnappings is just the latest evidence.

Now is the time for the US and international community to step up and support regional reformers to create democratic success stories. The G-8’s Deauville economic partnership with Arab Spring reformers is an important start. The US and others can assist Morocco’s ongoing reforms and regionalization with targeted assistance projects. Given its existing efforts, Morocco is not a heavy lift.

Unfortunately, America’s continuing drawdown from world leadership and financial pressures on both the US and Europe make this in many ways the worst time to be an Arab Spring reformer. Can this trend be reversed?

Two centuries after Morocco was the first nation to recognize the US, it is vital that we recommit to our “oldest friend and ally.” There are no certain outcomes, but there is the reality that we can do more to ensure our economic and security in the region by a dedicated policy of engagement. 

Gabriel was US Ambassador to the Kingdom of Morocco, 1997-2001 and Robert M. Holley, who was the Political Counselor at the US Embassy in Rabat, 1998-2001, advises the Kingdom of Morocco.