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Morocco Foreign Relations

The status of the Western Sahara dominates Morocco's foreign policy to the exclusion of almost everything else. Even ties with Western Europe and the U.S. are built upon countries' support for Morocco's autonomy proposal. Until 2009, the U.S. vocally supported this proposal, which had been carefully negotiated with the Bush Administration. Morocco has invested tremendous resources in the territory, and some observers estimate that it spends USD 2.7 billion per year on the Western Sahara and its 385,000 residents. The level of development and social services clearly exceeds the level in Morocco proper. The principal goal of most Sahrawis is self-government rather than self-determination; a desire for protection and identity instead of independence.

As a result of Algeria's continued support for the Polisario Front in the dispute over Western Sahara, relations between Morocco and Algeria have remained strained over the past several decades, although they have full diplomatic relations and there is periodic high-level contact between the two countries.

Historically, Morocco traces its lineage from the Almoravid and Almohad Berber empires, which, in the 11th century, began a process that led to an empire stretching from southern Spain to Senegal. Thus, Morocco has irredentist claims to a vast territory that includes, besides Western Sahara, all of Mauritania and parts of Algeria and Mali - the so-called Greater Morocco.

In 1955 began the negotiations on Moroccan independence, and one of the main issues was, of course, the question of the borders of the future state. France, departing Indochina after the defeat at Dien Bien Phu, also faced the beginnings of the war in Algeria. The Faure government had no choice but to settle the Moroccan question.

Allal El Fassi, one of the two main national movement figures, was in exile in Cairo. On 28 March 1956, he denounced all new borders that "... cover a fifth of Morocco in its historical borders". Grand Morocco, he claimed, encompassed much of the Algerian Sahara, and a good piece of Mali, in addition to all the north western Mauritania. The El Fassi argument of course is history: it is based on the past millennium of Morocco, which saw seven dynasties succeed in turning towards Africa territory. Some separatists demanding a symbiotic unity of the Maghreb (Abd el-Krim), others favored a Maghreb nations (Mohammed V, Mehdi Ben Barka). Allal al-Fassi only found a middle way between these two currents. Allal al-Fassi returned to Morocco a few months later, in August 1956, and became head of the Istiqlal.

A few months after the accession of Algeria to independence, Hassan II adopted towards its eastern neighbor a more diplomatic policy. By renouncing extending the Moroccan border to the east, Hassan II at the same time abandoned the myth of Greater Morocco: what better token of goodwill? Six years later, Morocco formally recognized Mauritania. Grand Morocco was finally buried and the Moroccan expansionist ambitions scaled down. In its place was a new national cause, the Moroccan Sahara, which the kingdom could not resolve to abandon without losing face.

Morocco is a moderate Arab state which maintains close relations with Europe and the United States. It is a member of the UN and belongs to the Arab League, Arab Maghreb Union (UMA), Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), the Non-Aligned Movement, and the Community of Sahel-Saharan States (CEN-SAD). King Mohammed VI is the chairman of the OIC's Al-Quds (Jerusalem) Committee. Although not a member of the African Union (formerly the Organization of African Unity--OAU), Morocco remains involved in African diplomacy. It contributes consistently to UN peacekeeping efforts on the continent.

Morocco is active in Maghreb, Arab, and African affairs. It supports the search for peace and moderation in the Middle East. In 1986, then-King Hassan II took the daring step of inviting then-Israeli Prime Minister Peres for talks, becoming only the second Arab leader to host an Israeli leader. Following the September 1993 signing of the Israeli-Palestinian Declaration of Principles, Morocco accelerated its economic ties and political contacts with Israel. In September 1994, Morocco and Israel announced the opening of bilateral liaison offices. These offices were closed in 2000 following sustained Israeli-Palestinian violence, but Moroccan-Israeli diplomatic contacts continue.

Morocco was the first Arab state to condemn Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in 1990, and sent troops to help defend Saudi Arabia. Morocco maintains close relations with Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf states, which have provided Morocco with substantial amounts of financial assistance. Morocco has supported efforts to stabilize Iraq following the downfall of Saddam Hussein.

Morocco was among the first Arab and Islamic states to denounce the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States and declare solidarity with the American people in fighting terrorism. Morocco has seen its own terrorism at home as well. On May 16, 2003, Moroccan suicide bombers simultaneously attacked five sites in Casablanca, killing more than 40 people and wounding over 100. More than a million people subsequently demonstrated to condemn the attacks. In April 2007, a series of suicide bomb attacks occurred in central Casablanca, one taking place near the U.S. Consulate General and one near the American Language Center. The bombings demonstrated Morocco's vulnerability to extremists who capitalize on widespread poverty and social exclusion. In February 2008, Moroccan authorities arrested nearly 40 members of an alleged terrorist network, led by Abdelkader Belliraj, confiscating weapons found in members' possession.

Along with Algeria and Libya, Spain also figured prominently in Moroccan security calculations because of its territorial possessions in North Africa. Morocco and Spain have been closely linked since they were both conquered and converted by Islamic armies in the eighth century AD. In the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, Spain, by then Roman Catholic, established several enclaves along the coast, and in the early twentieth century it took possession of a western section of the Sahara and established a protectorate over part of northern Morocco. When the protectorate was ended, the Moroccan government immediately laid claim to the territories considered to be its own by historical right.

At independence Spain's North African possessions — all claimed by Morocco — included the enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla on the Mediterranean coast, the enclave of Ifni on the Atlantic, and the territories of Tarfaya, Saguia el Hamra, and Rio de Oro, which together composed the Spanish Sahara. Regaining North African territory held by the non-Muslim European power became one of the Moroccan government's earliest and most important priorities, and over time the Moroccans have been largely successful in their efforts. In the early 1980s, after all of Spain's North African territories except for the Mediterranean enclaves had been incorporated by Morocco, relations between the two countries appeared to improve dramatically.

The unprecedented latent tension between Morocco and Mauritania caught the attention of observers in recent years amid the almost total absence of channels of dialogue at the highest level. One sign of this discord emerged when Mauritania raised its flag in Lagouira in December 2015. Because Lagouira is regarded as a symbol of Morocco's full territorial integrity, this action marked an increase in tension between the two countries.

Fearing that the Polisario would exploit this incident and gain a foothold in the region, Morocco dispatched a high-level delegation to Nouakchott on December 12, 2015, which requested an explanation of the decision to raise the Mauritanian flag in Lagouira. Morocco's decision to send security forces to the Guerguerat area at the border between Morocco and Mauritania to fight illegal trade in the region on August 14, 2016, also stressed poor relations between the two countries.

Mauritania worked for several decades to maintain balanced relations with both Morocco and Algeria. But President Aziz began to move away from this approach, showing a clear sympathy with the Polisario and more openness towards Algeria. The Mauritanian president's insistence on keeping his country's relations with Morocco in limbo and the new orientation of his foreign policy suggests that he does not wish to see an end to Morocco's Sahara conflict. Rather, Aziz seems to prefer the establishment of a weak state on its northern border. In this scenario, Mauritania would avoid being encircled by Senegal, a country with which it also has strained relations in the south, and Morocco, a strong state, in the north.

Morocco had not included Mauritania in the strategy King Mohammed VI adopted in the past 10 years to promote Morocco's economic presence in sub-Saharan Africa. While the Moroccan monarch visited Senegal, Gabon, Ivory Coast and other African countries more than once, he had not visited Mauritania in the past decade. Regardless of the perception the lack of any visit by King Mohammed VI to Mauritania has caused, it appeared that the Mauritanian president had political convictions and orientations that did not include Morocco as a prominent strategic ally.

Morocco left the African Union's predecessor, the Organization for African Unity [OAU] in 1984 because of its move to recognize the disputed territory of Western Sahara as independent. It also was protesting the OAU’s decision to admit the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic as a member.

On 30 January 2017, African leaders decided to admit Morocco to the union. The decision came as part of the leaders' meeting in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Thirty-nine of 54 AU countries voted to support Moroccan membership with the group. The King of Morocco, Mohammad VI, praised the decision. "It is a beautiful day when one returns home after too long of an absence,” he said. “Africa is my continent and my home."

Morocco has maintained a historically strategic alliance with the US and the Gulf monarchies, dominantly Saudi Arabia, especially after the Arab Spring. Saudi Arabia has strong relations with Morocco in the field of economy and military. Riyadh, in early 2016, pledged $22 billion to Rabat in military assistance and support for intelligence. Riyadh's actions were believed to be motivated by seeking an increase in power in the North African region and adding another Arab country under its influence.

In 2017, Rabat and Riyadh relations were strained due to Morocco's reluctance to involve itself in the Qatar blockade by Saudi-led the Gulf states. King Mohammed VI's decision to provide a food supply to Qatar also had negative effects on relations with other Saudi-aligned Arab states.

All that seemed to have changed after a meeting held in Paris between Lebanon's Prime Minister Saad Hariri, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman and Morocco's King Mohamad VI in April 2018.

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Page last modified: 12-12-2020 10:44:52 ZULU