Open-source cryptocurrency Bitcoin reached an all-time high on February 16, marking the first time a cryptocurrency has exceeded $50,000 (446,000 MAD).
At 7:30am EST (1:30pm GMT+1), Bitcoin’s market value rose 3% to $50,487 (450,373 MAD). The price later fell 2%, where it continues to fluctuate around the $49,000 (437,000 MAD) mark.
Bitcoin, along with other cryptocurrencies, has been banned in Morocco since 2017 amid concerns about the security risks of using “hidden” payment systems.
The Moroccan Foreign Exchange Office maintains that “financial transactions with foreign countries must be carried out through authorized intermediaries and with foreign currencies listed by Bank Al-Maghrib.” Trading cryptocurrency in Morocco is punishable by fine.
Despite the ban, Morocco is among the four African countries where Bitcoin is traded the most, trailing only Nigeria, South Africa, and Kenya. The dara ranks Morocco 36th in the world by Bitcoin trading activity and the top trader in North Africa.
The rise of interest in Bitcoin comes at a time when many high-profile global investors are starting to take interest in the technology. Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk made waves last week when he announced a $1.5 billion (13.4 billion MAD) investment in the currency and that Tesla will soon begin to accept Bitcoin as payment for its products.
Due to the volatile nature of the currency and religious stipulations against gambling, many Muslims are concerned that trading Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies is haram (forbidden) under Islamic law.
While there is still contention among Islamic scholars, many Shariah experts are coming forward to declare crypto-trading halal (permissible). Jakarta-based Shariah law advisor Mufti Muhammad Abu-Bakr published a 2019 report defending the Islamic permissibility of Bitcoin.
Because all currencies are to some degree speculative, if fiat currencies — currencies unbacked by material goods, like the US dollar and the Moroccan dirham — are permissible, so too should be Bitcoin, Abu-Bakr argued.
Despite initial hesitation to embrace the cryptocurrency, the Arab world is slowly beginning to hop on the Bitcoin trend.
The United Arab Emirates is among the top 20 traders of Bitcoin worldwide, having moved $34 million (303 million MAD) worth in 2018. Dubai, the country’s most populous Emirate, is host to over 20 crypto companies and has become “one of the world’s fastest growing international hubs” for the trading of cryptocurrency.
Earlier this year, Ain Shams University in Egypt began offering graduate-level computer engineering courses in blockchain and crypto due to overwhelming student interest.
Even Saudi Arabia, historically opposed to the adoption of cryptocurrency, has taken a growing interest in the technology in recent years. Riyadh hosted the World Blockchain Summit in 2018, a symposium for the “world’s brightest minds” in blockchain, cryptocurrency, and the digitized economy.
Despite the growing crypto wave in the Middle East and North Africa, many Arab countries still aren’t sold on Bitcoin.
Much like Morocco, both Algeria and Egypt have complete cryptocurrency bans. Even in countries like Saudi Arabia and Jordan, where Bitcoin is technically legal, financial institutions are forbidden from dealing in Bitcoin or other digital currencies.
However, Bitcoin traders and advocates are hopeful Morocco’s crypto policy may be on the verge of changing.