Western sahara Major events
US President Barack Obama (R) shakes hands with King Mohammed VI of Morocco in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, Nov. 22, 2013. (photo by REUTERS/Jason Reed)
With a new administration in the White House, Morocco’s need for foreign political and economic support could lead it to turn away from its long and friendly relationship with the United States and look more toward China and Russia to safeguard its interests.
Morocco is a traditional ally to the United States. The kingdom was brought up multiple times during the 2016 US presidential campaign — but not for praise. At times, Morocco became the center of Donald Trump’s efforts to discredit Hillary Clinton, as he described her relations with Morocco as a “pay-for-play” policy.
The uproar resurfaced when the Trump camp used footage of immigrants crossing from Morocco into Spain in a political ad about the wall Trump intends to build on the US-Mexico border. The business mogul and former reality TV star responded with a controversial comment, dismissing Moroccan concerns by saying, “It was just footage.”
Morocco is one of the leading promoters of the United Nations’ environmental agendas, and recently hosted the Conference of the Parties to fight climate change — which President Trump has repeatedly called a “hoax.”
Other indications of deteriorating relations between Morocco and the United States emerged in April 2016, when the State Department issued its annual human rights report, which found that “systematic and pervasive corruption undermined law enforcement and the effectiveness of [Morocco’s] judicial system,” adding that “impunity was pervasive.”
Moroccan officials criticized the report, calling it “truly scandalous,” as reported by Morocco’s official news agency, Maghreb Arabe Presse.
However, military, economic and security cooperation has been the barometer of Moroccan-US relations, and each subsequent US administration has recognized the necessity of continuing to develop such an alliance, even to this date.
Samia Errazzouki, a Moroccan-American writer and co-editor of the online magazine Jadaliyya, believes the US-Moroccan connection is too important to be dismantled by the Trump administration.
“I think US-Moroccan relations are bigger than the Trump administration,” she told Al-Monitor.
“Morocco has cooperated with international intelligence agencies for the past few years when it comes to monitoring [the Islamic State], and I don’t believe the US is in a position to give that up.”
Since 2014, the United States has increased its counter terrorism military assistance to North Africa by 93%. The United States is the world’s top military arms exporter, and Morocco has been on the receiving end of numerous grants and contracts with various American companies.
In December 2016, the State Department agreed to sell Morocco $108 million worth of anti-tank missiles and related support.
“This proposed sale will contribute to the foreign policy and national security of the United States by helping to improve the security of a major non-NATO ally that continues to be an important force for the political stability and economic progress in North Africa,” the Defense Security Cooperation Agency said in a news release. “This proposed sale directly supports Morocco and serves the interests of the Moroccan people and the United States.”
The United States also agreed to grant $7 million worth of military aid to the Moroccan Royal Army in 2016.
Morocco has international allies, including the United States, because of its strategic geographic locations, as it borders Europe. But Trump’s attitude differs significantly from that of his predecessor. Trump has explicitly expressed his determination to make foreign countries pay their “fair share” for security costs. Morocco could be included in the club that might suffer from these cuts.
During the past week, the new American administration has already shown an interest in disengaging from global trade treaties and withdrawing from the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement.
Morocco, however, seems to have found new heavyweight partners such as China, which has been competing with the United States to be Morocco’s third-largest external supplier. In May 2016, Morocco’s king visited Beijing to meet with President Xi Jinping and sign a strategic partnership to develop bilateral ties.
“Morocco has already begun courting China, with talks of a Chinese-built industrial city in Morocco and greater trade connections between the countries. Morocco’s foreign policy is being guided by the vision that all options must remain open, and if that means courting China, it will do so,” Errazzouki said.
Spain remains Morocco’s largest trade partner, followed by France. Both European countries have supported Morocco’s controversial claim on the Western Sahara in the UN Security Council for more than 40 years.
Morocco has also sought closer relations with Russia. Moroccan King Mohammed VI paid a state visit to Moscow in March 2016 to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin.
In December 2016, the king went to Nigeria to discuss developing a gas pipeline that would cross through Morocco to Europe. This effort also seems to be drawing the interest of Russian officials.
“So far, it seems that Trump is in support of greater American isolationism, and that could mean giving way for greater Russian influence in Morocco. We somewhat already see that happening with King Mohammed VI’s visit to Russia last year and high-level Russian officials visiting Morocco as well,” Errazzouki told Al-Monitor.
On the other hand, the Western Sahara question has also shaped Moroccan foreign policy, as Morocco seeks to maintain its control over the disputed region. On Jan. 30, Morocco was readmitted to the African Union after a divorce related to the disputed area that lasted more than 32 years.
Now one of Morocco’s priorities is to secure powerful allies on the UN Security Council to back its claims over the territory. Trump’s approach has already revealed his nationally based interests, which have caused chaos all around the world. Other factors such as the continuous rise of alt-right movements in Europe — in France in particular — could also increase the possibility of a stronger Russian-Moroccan alliance.
“With the far right on the rise in France, Morocco has to ensure support from a country with vetoing powers on the UN Security Council,” Errazzouki said. “If that means giving up on the United States and France in favor of Russia and/or China, Morocco will do whatever is necessary to ensure the support of a powerful country to maintain the status quo when it comes to the Western Sahara.”
Amid this fierce competitiveness and shifting geopolitical dynamics, Morocco could also use its tourism strength to get Trump’s attention. Morocco is relatively secure amid the instability in the region, especially compared with Tunisia, its main touristic rival. In 2014, Morocco welcomed more than 10 million tourists.
“Morocco is a major tourist hub in North Africa,” Errazzouki said. “With resorts and golf courses on the rise in Morocco, it could be an attractive site for Trump investments — but such a decision would be under heavy scrutiny both in the US and Morocco.”
Morocco has always enjoyed a special relationship with the United States and was the first country to recognize US sovereignty and its independence from England. European and American interests often intersect in Morocco. But as the United States pulls back, China and Russia stand to gain significant economic and political influence in the region.
Morocco will contribute 5.1 million dollars towards the construction of a 10-billion-dollar new capital for war-torn South Sudan, the two countries announced during a visit by Moroccan King Mohammed VI to the current capital Juba.
Located more centrally than the southern Juba, Ramciel has been planned as a new capital since South Sudan became independent from Sudan in 2011.
The city will be modernized and expanded starting this year, officials said after Morocco agreed to contribute to the project late Wednesday.
The expansion, which is due to be finished in 2022, is estimated to cost 10 billion dollars – a huge sum for South Sudan, where a military conflict between President Salva Kiir and his former deputy Riek Machar has ravaged the oil-based economy since December 2013, analysts said.
Morocco will contribute 5.1 million dollars towards feasibility studies evaluating the possibilities of expansion, Moroccan Interior Minister Mohamed Hassad said.
Morocco and South Sudan also signed other cooperation agreements in sectors including agriculture, industry, mining and vocational training.
Mohammed VI was visiting South Sudan a few days after the African Union decided to readmit Morocco as a member following a 33-year absence over the organization’s recognition of the independence of Moroccan-occupied Western Sahara.
Morocco reportedly wanted to rejoin the body in the hope of promoting its economic interests and diplomatic influence in sub-Saharan Africa, where it intends to lobby against Western Sahara’s membership in the AU.
We speak to oil and gas expert Malcom Graham Wood about Sound Energy PLC after the explorer estimated the potential for up to 31 trillion cubic feet of gas in Western Morocco.
The analyst discusses this week’s resource estimates, Sound Energy’s success to date in Morocco, and the exciting, upcoming TE-8 well.
by Aziz El Yaakoubi
Morocco is considering tapping international debt markets in 2017 through around $1 billion of bond issues, a senior official in the finance ministry said.
The North African kingdom needs around $3 billion in financing this year to plug a budget deficit expected to reach 3 percent of gross domestic product. It plans its first ever Islamic bond in the domestic market in the first half of 2017.
The official, who declined to be named because he was not authorised to speak to the press, said the government sees favourable market conditions this year with attractive rates.
(Reporting by Aziz El Yaakoubi; editing by Patrick Markey and John Stonestreet)
Morocco on Tuesday hailed its return to the African Union (AU) after a 33-year absence from the pan-African organization.
“It is so good to be back home, after having been away for too long!” Moroccan King Mohammed VI said in a speech at the 28th AU summit in Addis Ababa.
Rabat’s return bid won support from 39 of the 54 leaders attending a closed-door meeting of AU heads of state and government on Monday, Moroccan media reported.
Local media outlets hailed the readmission of Morocco to the AU as a “victory” for the country and a “demonstration of the overwhelming support the country enjoys on the (African) continent.”
Morocco left the Organization of African Unity (OAU), the predecessor of the AU, in 1984.
“The massive, outspoken support Morocco has received is proof of the solid bonds that unite us,” the Moroccan king said.
Last September, the North African country made an official request to rejoin the organization, and the Moroccan king toured many African countries to seek support.
During its absence from the AU, Morocco maintained strong ties with many countries in the continent, particularly in French-speaking states in west and central Africa.
Morocco is the top investor in west Africa and the second largest African investor in the continent.
In addition, Moroccan firms have a strong presence in many African markets, especially in banking, insurance, air transport, telecommunications, and housing sectors.
The Moroccan king, in his speech, said since 2000, Morocco has signed nearly a thousand agreements with African countries on cooperation in various fields.
In addition to economic ties, Morocco has also maintained strong cooperation with many African countries, particularly in the fields of security, peacekeeping, and managing religious affairs.
After its return to the AU as the 55th member, the king said, Morocco looks to expand its influence in the continent and join hands with other member states to meet the countless challenges facing the continent.
Morocco is committed to building a “safe, solidarity-based future,” the king said. “We, peoples of Africa, have the means and the genius; together, we can fulfill the aspirations of our peoples.”
World Bulletin / News Desk
Morocco was readmitted into pan-African body this week following absence of more than three decades.
Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) Secretary-General Yusuf Bin Ahmed al-Othaimeen hailed Morocco’s return to the African Union (AU) following a 33-year absence, according to a Tuesday statement.
Al-Othaimeen expressed hope that the move would enhance the AU’s weight on the international level, thereby making it easier to find solutions to the continent’s myriad challenges.
The OIC chief also congratulated Chadian Foreign Minister Moussa Faki Mahmat for his election as new AU Commission chairman.
At the AU’s 28th Summit in Addis Ababa on Monday, Mahamat was elected to replace Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, who stepped down after four years at the helm of the AU Commission.
Al-Othaimeen also commended the close ties between the OIC and AU, saying he was “looking forward to working with the new chairman with a view to cooperating in areas of mutual concern”.
Morocco was readmitted into the AU on Monday following an absence of more than three decades.
In 1984, Morocco left the Organization of African Unity — the predecessor of the AU — after the union formally recognized the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic in the Western Sahara region, which Rabat considers Moroccan territory.