From a theoretical perspective, the Islamic finance industry has a very high potential of growth in the Maghreb region, which is constituted of five Moslem countries with 99% of their population sharing the same faith.
Among the five countries, Tunisia can be considered as the leader of Islamic Finance in North Africa mainly for three reasons:
- The history of Islamic Finance in Tunisia started in the 1980’s before all the other North African countries.
- In terms of Quantitative development, the Tunisian Islamic finance industry is still the most advanced in North Africa.
- Tunisia is preparing a legal framework to be voted in the parliament and which recognizes Islamic Banking.
The History of Islamic Finance in Tunisia
The Banking Sector
The Tunisian Islamic Finance experience started earlier in 1983 with the creation of BEST Bank – Beit Tamouil Saoudi Tounsi– as an Offshore Islamic Bank that was transformed into Al Baraka Bank Tunisia in 2010 and became in 2014 an Onshore Islamic Bank. Nevertheless, Zitouna Bank is the First onshore Islamic Bank in Tunisia that was created in 2009. After the Arab spring revolution, Zitouna Bank has become mainly possessed by the Tunisian Government and the Islamic Development Bank.
In 2015, a local leasing company was licensed by the Central Bank of Tunisia to be converted to an Islamic Bank, which is Al Wifack International Bank.
The three Tunisian main players in the Islamic Banking sector are:
The Islamic Banking sector in Tunisia is based on foreign players such as Al Baraka Banking Group and the Islamic Development Bank Group. The local conventional banks (apart from STB) are still not involved in the Islamic Banking industry.
The Takaful Sector
The first Takaful Company created in Tunisia is Zitouna Takaful in 2011, which is a subsidiary of Zitouna Bank. Later, in 2013 & 2014, two other Takaful companies were created which are Al Amana Takaful & Attakafulia.
The three Tunisian main players in the Takaful sector are:
The Takaful companies in Tunisia are subsidiaries of Islamic Banks or/and local insurance companies. For Islamic Banks, it’s a way to have a comprehensive sharia compliant offer while for local insurance companies, it’s a way to target a new market.
The Quantitative development of Islamic Finance in Tunisia
Compared to Islamic Finance Hub countries such as Malaysia or UAE, Islamic finance in Tunisia is still underdeveloped. Nevertheless, in the Maghreb region, it is one of the leading countries with six Islamic Financial institutions (3 Islamic Banks & 3 Takaful companies), 760 Millions US$ of assets and three Islamic funds.
The Indicators of the quantitative development of Islamic Finance in Tunisia are as follow:
The legal framework for Islamic banking
The project law have come up with new requirements that will enhance the Islamic banking industry in Tunisia such as:
- Reinforcement of the Sharia Governance framework of Islamic Banks
In terms of Sharia governance, the project law defines the Higher Islamic Council of the Tunisian Republic as the Central Sharia Board whose fatwas are binding for the whole Islamic Banking sector.
Moreover, the Higher Islamic Council will rely on International sharia standards like those of the AAOIFI. Every Islamic Bank has to constitute a Sharia Board composed of at least three members appointed by the General Assembly and whose fatwas are binding.
Islamic Banks have to appoint internal Shariah Auditors that will play the role of the sharia board secretary.
- Definition of the contracts governing the products of Islamic Banks
The project law defines the principle contracts that govern the products of Islamic Banks which are Murabaha, Mudharaba, Musharaka, Salam, Istisna’, Ijara. Furthermore, the project law defines the investment accounts as Mudharaba based accounts.
For the development of Islamic finance, the Maghreb region needs a leader or a country that will play the role of Hub. Tunisia seems to have all the necessary attributes to play such a role. However, it needs to develop other advantages such as :
- The creation of an international financial Center
- The involvement of big conventional banks in the industry
- The preparation of a comprehensive regulatory framework for Banking, Takaful & Sukuk.