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Polisario: Morocco Must Accept Western Sahara Independence

Tue, 02/14/2017 - 12:44

News from The Associated Press
by Edith M. Lederer

The Polisario Front said Tuesday that since Morocco has rejoined the African Union and accepted the group’s principles, it must recognize Western Sahara’s independence – or it could face possible sanctions or even requests to leave the regional organization.

Ahmed Boukhari, the Polisario Front’s U.N. representative, said at a news conference that the independence movement will be watching what Morocco does between now and the next AU summit in July, which should give the bloc’s members an indication of its intentions.

“If they are going to play games, it’s not against the Western Sahara Republic, it’s against the African Union and they have a right to ask Morocco: Are you a member of our family or not?,” Boukhari said. “If not, there is a possibility of sanctions or even requests to Morocco to get out again.”

Morocco annexed Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony, in 1975 and fought the Polisario Front. The U.N. brokered a cease-fire in 1991 and established a peacekeeping mission to monitor it and help prepare a referendum on the territory’s future, which has never taken place.

Morocco’s deputy foreign minister, Nasser Bourita, told the website Le Desk on Feb. 5 that the kingdom would “never recognize” Western Sahara’s independence.

“Not only does Morocco not recognize – and will never recognize – this so-called entity, it will redouble its efforts so the small minority of countries, particularly African, which recognize it, change their positions,” Bourita said.

African leaders admitted Morocco as the AU’s 55th member at a summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on Jan. 31. Morocco left the AU’s predecessor, the Organization of African Unity, in 1984 to protest Western Sahara’s admission as a full member – the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic.

Boukhari cited the African Union’s charter, which Morocco is now required to support. It states that “the AU shall function in accordance with the following principles: (a) sovereign equality and interdependence among member states of the union; (b) respect of borders existing on achievement of independence.”

Morocco, which gained independence from France in 1956, considers the mineral-rich Western Sahara its “southern provinces” and has proposed wide-ranging autonomy. The Polisario Front insists on self-determination through a referendum for the local population, which Boukhari estimated at between 350,000 and 500,000.

The Polisario representative said that so far he is “frustrated” at what Morocco is doing and its statements.

“I hope that it will be just an accident,” Boukhari said. “I hope … they will really engage in a very serious negotiation.”

He said the Polisario Front also hopes that Morocco joining the AU “can give the African Union and the United Nations a new motivation to increase their cooperation to resolve the conflict of Western Sahara.”

Royal Air Maroc Launches Direct Flights To Casablanca From Manchester Airport

Wed, 02/08/2017 - 15:30

Travel Daily News
Theodore Koumelis

From Tuesday 28 March, the Moroccan flag-carrier will begin operating direct non-stop flights three times per week from Manchester Airport to Mohammed V International Airport. The service will operate on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.

MANCHESTER, UK – Royal Air Maroc announced the launch of a new route between Manchester and Casablanca.

This exciting launch sees Manchester Airport become only the third UK airport to operate flights to Casablanca with Royal Air Maroc, with the airline also currently running services from London Gatwick and London Heathrow.

The new service will use Boeing 737-800 aircraft, with both business and economy class seating available. The scheduled flight time is approximately three hours and twenty minutes.

As well as offering direct flights from Manchester to Casablanca, Royal Air Maroc’s new service opens the door for connections to 33 African destinations. Key connections through Casablanca, the second-largest hub to Africa, include Lagos, Accra, Nairobi and Banjul. There is also an opportunity for flight connections to Brazil, as well as daily connecting flights to popular tourist destinations such as Marrakech and Agadir.

Royal Air Maroc serves over 90 destinations in four continents, bringing Africa closer to the rest of the world. The airline’s UK & Ireland General Manager, Achraf El Hassani, said:

“Royal Air Maroc is delighted to launch the only non-stop service from the North of England direct to Casablanca, with thrice-weekly flights between Manchester Airport and Mohammed V International Airport. We are thrilled to be providing yet another invaluable link from the UK to Africa and look forward to welcoming passengers on board our service from 28 March.”

Manchester Airport is the UK’s third largest with more than 25.6m annual passengers. It has more than 210 routes served by 70 plus airlines. On the announcement of the Royal Air Maroc service, Stephen Turner, Commercial Director at Manchester Airport, said: “We are pleased to see Royal Air Maroc launch services from Manchester Airport. Being the only airport outside of London with this carrier firmly reinforces our position as the UK’s Global Gateway for the North.

“I am sure the 22m people in our catchment area, which spans as far north as Scotland, south to the Midlands, east across Yorkshire and west to Wales and Merseyside, will welcome the route should they wish to access Casablanca for business or leisure.”

Moroccan Mobile Internet Users Increase By 18.6% In 2016

Wed, 02/08/2017 - 15:22


Mobile internet connections in Morocco reached 15.82 million at end-December 2016, growing at an annual rate of 18.6 percent according to the latest quarterly statistics from national regulator ANRT.

In the same period, the fixed broadband market saw an 8.6 percent increase in ADSL subscriptions, bringing the total to 1.23 million.

Looking at the overall LTE customer base, the country closed 2016 with 2.8 million connections, following the launch of the first LTE commercial offers in June 2015.

Monthly ARPU for mobile internet users (including data-only and data & voice) increased by 12 percent year-on-year to MAD 19 (excl. VAT) in December 2016, while ADSL ARPU was up by 3 percent to MAD 97 (excl. VAT).

As for the total mobile customer base, Maroc Telecom increased its market share since September 2016, holding 44.2 percent of the country’s 41.51 million connections (+1.3 percentage points in the quarter) and widening the gap with Orange Morocco (formerly Meditel) and Wana, with 32.8 and 23.0 percent share respectively. Mobile penetration reached 122.6 percent in the fourth quarter of 2016, compared to 127.3 percent a year earlier. This annual change is partly the result of the stricter measures adopted by the regulator to track the number of subscriptions.

Morocco Has 41.5 Million Mobile Users

Wed, 02/08/2017 - 15:04


The number of mobile subscribers in Morocco reached 41.5 million at the end of 2016, an increase of 3.6 per cent over 2015, according to the country’s national telecom regulator ANRT.

The penetration rate reached 122.6 per cent, the Rabat-based agency said in a report, adding that growth in post-paid customers increased by 11.8 per cent to reach 2.98 million subscribers.

The number of pre-paid subscribers reached 38.53 million. The landline users declined by 6.8 year-over-year to stand at 2.07 million users with a penetration rate of 6.12 per cent.

EU, Morocco To Push Ahead With Farm Trade Accord

Wed, 02/08/2017 - 01:34

World Bulletin / News Desk

On Monday, Morocco’s agriculture and fisheries ministry said failure to reinstate the accord would put thousands of jobs at risk, both in Morocco and in Europe.

The EU and Morocco agreed Tuesday to push ahead with an agriculture trade accord, a day after Rabat warned Brussels that failure to do so would damage ties.

“Ours is a model partnership, rich and multi-dimensional. The EU and Morocco are determined to preserve and develop it,” EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini said in a joint statement with Nasser Bourita, a senior Moroccan diplomat, after talks in Brussels.

“Talks between the EU and Morocco will continue in an atmosphere of serenity and mutual confidence,” they said.

Morocco suspended ties with Brussels last year after an EU court annulled the trade deal on the grounds it illegally applied to the Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony controlled by Rabat where the Polisario Front, backed by Algeria, is fighting for independence.

The EU’s top court reversed the ruling in December, arguing that the accord did not apply to the Western Sahara because the 28-nation bloc did not recognise it as part of Morocco.

Additionally, it could spur new migrant flows to Europe just as the bloc is trying to cope with an influx of refugees crossing the Mediterranean.

The ministry also warned that if the deal is not implemented, Morocco “would have no other choice but to turn to other countries”, including Russia, China, India and Japan as well as African and Arab Gulf nations.

Mogherini has pushed hard for trade deals with countries such as Morocco to help them develop their economies, which could curb the number of migrants leaving for Europe.

“Recalling the strategic importance of their links, the two sides expressed their wish to get down to work and build cooperation in all areas of shared interest,” the joint statement said.

EU To Uphold Morocco Farm Accord Despite Western Sahara Ruling

Tue, 02/07/2017 - 22:09

by Robin Emmott

The European Union promised on Tuesday to maintain a farm deal with Morocco, seeking to reassure Rabat that the accord was not endangered by an EU court ruling that the country’s trade accords do not apply to the disputed Western Sahara region.

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini made their pledge to Morocco’s Deputy Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita in Brussels, a day after Rabat threatened to end economic ties with the bloc if there was any change to the accord.

“Appropriate measures would be taken where necessary to secure the implementation of the free-trade agreement for processed agricultural products and fishery products between the European Union and Morocco,” the EU said in a statement.

An EU official said the bloc had not changed its position, despite the European Court of Justice ruling in December that deals involving trade of agricultural products and fisheries between the EU and Morocco did not apply to Western Sahara.

Western Sahara, which has significant phosphate reserves and offshore fishing, has been contested since 1975 when Spain, the former colonial power, withdrew. Morocco fought a 16-year war with the Polisario group, which established a self-declared republic there.

The European Union is seeking a political solution acceptable to Western Sahara and to Morocco, while respecting United Nations principles, the EU official said.

(Reporting by Robin Emmott; editing by John Stonestreet)

Qatar Petroleum Seeks International Projects In Cyprus, Morocco: CEO

Mon, 02/06/2017 - 17:12

by Tom Finn and Rania El Gamal

State-owned energy giant Qatar Petroleum (QP) is exploring oil and gas in Morocco and Cyprus as it aims to expand its liquefied natural gas (LNG) assets abroad while trimming costs at home, chief executive Saad al-Kaabi said on Monday.

“You will see us going internationally with some of the partners we have in Qatar, this year and next year… We are in growth mode,” Kaabi told reporters at the company’s headquarters in Doha.

QP, the world’s largest LNG producer, has been pursuing deals in Cyprus where it “won a bid for 40 percent of a plot for exploration” and recently “went into Morocco for exploration”, Kaabi said.

QP is merging two liquefied natural gas divisions, Qatargas and RasGas Co Ltd, to save hundreds of millions of dollars following a more-than-two-year slump in oil prices that has forced Gulf countries to reduce state spending.

The economy of the tiny Gulf monarchy, which has a population of 2.6 million, has been strained by the oil slump and QP has fired thousands of staff and earmarked a number of assets for divestment.

To maintain dominance over key competitors the United States and Australia, QP is reducing costs at its domestic operations and looking to expand overseas through joint ventures with international oil companies, Kaabi said.

He added that supplies of LNG from the United States were not a threat to business.

“I’m not worried at all about a gas glut. Gas is going to be needed for a very long time,” Kaabi said.

Qatar, a member of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), shipped 76.4 million tonnes of LNG in 2014, or 32 percent of global supply, according to the International Group of Liquefied Natural Gas Importers.

A moratorium on new Qatari gas production since 2005 has hobbled domestic expansion opportunities as domestic crude output declines.

In November, QP received U.S. regulatory approval to build a $10 billion LNG plant with partner Exxon Mobil.

The company is also interested in the Mozambique gas business of Italian energy group Eni and could opt to join Exxon in buying a multibillion-dollar stake, Reuters reported in September.

(Reporting by Tom Finn and Rania El Gamal; Editing by Pritha Sarkar)

Morocco’s Official Jobless Rate Falls To 9.4 Percent

Mon, 02/06/2017 - 13:59


Growth in service and construction industries lowered Morocco’s official unemployment rate to 9.4 percent last year from 9.7 percent in 2015, the country’s planning agency said on Monday.

Services and construction created 38,000 and 36,000 jobs respectively, according to Monday’s report. Manufacturing created 8,000 jobs.

The government has been developing manufacturing in areas such as car, aerospace and electronic components, in an effort to reduce reliance on agriculture and create more jobs in its crowded big cities.

Agriculture, which accounts for some 15 percent of Morocco’s gross domestic product and employs more than half its workforce, lost around 32,000 jobs last year. Along with the rest of North Africa, the country suffered its worst drought in 30 years, and its cereal harvest declined by more than 70 percent.

The Finance Ministry has forecast the economy will grow by 4.5 percent this year, up from 1.6 percent in 2016, as agriculture recovers from the drought

Morocco Threatens To Cut EU Ties If Farm Deal Flounders

Mon, 02/06/2017 - 08:37

by Aziz El Yaakoubi

Morocco’s government said on Monday it would end economic cooperation with the European Union if the bloc does not honour a farming deal, weeks after an EU court ruled that trade accords do not apply to the disputed Western Sahara region.

In a statement to MAP state news agency, the agriculture ministry said the EU should resist any attempts to block Moroccan products entering into the European market but did not explain why the pact might be at risk.

“In the absence of a frank commitment from the European Union, Morocco will have to make a decisive choice whether to continue with EU trade or to undo it without looking back, and focus on building new trade routes,” the ministry said.

The European Court of Justice ruled in December that deals involving trade of agricultural products, processed agricultural products and fisheries between the EU and Morocco did not apply to Western Sahara.

The ruling was claimed as a victory by the Polisario group seeking independence for Western Sahara, which Morocco calls its own. Last month, Polisario sought to have the EU apply the ruling to block a shipment of fish oil to a French port from the territory.

Rabat had said the European court ruling would not impact current trade deals in any way. The agriculture ministry said on Monday that current agreements with EU ensured thousands of jobs and could trigger migrant flows if their implementation fails.

An EU diplomatic source told Reuters the ministry’s statement came after Energy Commissioner Miguel Arias Canete referred in a written reply to a question in the EU parliament to the “separate and distinct” status of Western Sahara.

Moroccan agriculture minister Aziz Akhannouch said Monday’s statement was not a response to Canete’s remarks, but that his comments reflected an attitude seen within EU institutions.

“It is about what the European court decision means,” the minister told Reuters by telephone. “For Morocco it means the deals should be implemented like they have been since their signature.”

Akhannouch said European officials have not yet started official talks on the meaning of the ruling but that Morocco has been preparing for its potential effects.

“We are reasonable people, we know that we need Europe and Europe needs us. But we want them to see all the efforts Morocco does to make the partnership work,” he said.

Without going into details of the trade deals, the court had signalled some EU fisheries in disputed coastal waters would be in violation of the ruling. It said agreements signed with Morocco could not include Western Saharan resources because the region’s inhabitants had not agreed to that.

Western Sahara, which has significant phosphate reserves and offshore fishing, has been contested since 1975 when Spain, the former colonial power, withdrew. Morocco fought a 16-year war with Polisario, which established a self-declared Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic.

A 1991 ceasefire was meant to be followed by a U.N.-backed referendum on self-determination including the question of independence. The vote has never happened mainly because of disagreements on who could take part and Morocco since 2006 has promoted its own autonomy proposal.

The two sides often engage in diplomatic sparring but tensions on the ground have also increased since August last year, when UN peacekeepers were forced to deploy after Morocco forces and a Polisario unit faced off in a buffer zone between Morocco-controlled area and territory held by Polisario.

Last month, Morocco rejoined the African Union, having left decades ago because it had allowed Polisario recognition. Analysts expect Morocco to try use its position inside the AU to promote its own autonomy plan for Western Sahara against Polisario.

(Reporting by Aziz El Yaakoubi; Writing by Patrick Markey; Editing by Catherine Evans)

Morocco Will Never Recognise W Sahara: Deputy FM

Mon, 02/06/2017 - 00:56

Al Jazeera

Nasser Bourita says Rabat will never change stance that Western Sahara is an integral part of its territory.

Last Monday, AU members at a summit in Ethiopia decided to allow Morocco back into the group [EPA].

Morocco will “never recognise” Western Sahara’s independence despite rejoining the African Union after a decades-long dispute over the territory, Deputy Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita said.

Last Monday, the AU approved Morocco’s re-entry into the bloc which it quit in 1984 in protest at the admission of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) declared by the Polisario Front at the height of a war for the territory.

“Not only does Morocco not recognise – and will never recognise – this so-called entity,” Bourita told website Le Desk in an interview on Sunday.

“It will (also) redouble its efforts so the small minority of countries, particularly African, which recognise it, change their positions.”

AU membership would not change Morocco’s stance that the Western Sahara is an integral part of its territory, he said.

READ MORE: Moroccans have lost trust in their politicians

Monday’s summit in Addis Ababa followed an intense diplomatic battle with the Polisario’s backers, led by Algeria and South Africa, which opposed Morocco rejoining the AU.

Meanwhile, the head of Western Sahara’s Polisario Front has said “all options are open” in its independence struggle from Morocco, but called for talks after the kingdom rejoined the African Union.

Polisario head and SADR president Brahim Ghali told AFP in an interview on Sunday that the move did not fundamentally change the situation.

“We always look for the peaceful way” to resolve the conflict, Ghali told AFP at a Sahrawi refugee camp in Tindouf, southwestern Algeria.

“But all options remain open,” he said, hinting that a return to armed struggle was possible.

READ MORE: Making sense of the recent tension in Western Sahara

Thousands of Sahrawis are settled in five camps around Tindouf, where they receive aid from UN agencies and international NGOs.

Efforts to reach a negotiated solution for the territory have borne little fruit.

Ghali, who took over as leader of the Algeria-backed Polisario on the death of his predecessor Mohamed Abdelaziz in May 2016, said he hoped new UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres will push for a return to talks.

“We hope that he will have the necessary support of the Security Council to lead the negotiations that will enable the self-determination of our people,” Ghali said.

A UN peacekeeping force, MINURSO (United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara), was set up in 1991 to monitor the ceasefire and organise a poll on the future of the territory.

The SADR, which remains a member of the AU, demands independence and a UN-supervised referendum to resolve the conflict.

Morocco, which controls 90 percent of the territory including its three main towns, insists it is an integral part of the kingdom and that only autonomy is on the table.

The Consequences Of Morocco’s Readmission

Sat, 02/04/2017 - 00:30

Terence McNamee, Greg Mills and J Peter Pham
Features, Opinion & Analysis

The continued denial of “self-determination” for the Sahrawis is a central argument of the 15-member states who voted against Morocco’s readmission to the African Union.

If Morocco eventually gets its way, “defeat into victory” — a phrase popularised by famed Word War ll Field Marshal William Slim — might prove an apt description of its new approach towards the African Union (AU).

By joining the AU without the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) exiting the organisation, Rabat appears to have accepted defeat in one key political battle.

But victory in the war is now within reach.

Following a vote this week by 39 (out of 54) African states in favour of its readmission to the AU after a 33-year absence, King Mohammed VI, addressed the 28th AU Summit.

He gushed that Morocco, a founding member of the AU’s predecessor, the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), was coming “back home, after having been away for too long”.

The North African country left the OAU in 1984 after SADR was controversially invited in despite fierce opposition from Morocco and nearly 20 other members.

SADR claims sovereignty over the Western Sahara territory, which Morocco claims as its own.

Until recently Moroccan officials averred that the kingdom could not (re)join unless SADR’s seat at the AU was withdrawn on the grounds that co-membership would be tantamount to recognition.

For decades, the struggle to preserve sovereignty over this disputed territory has come to be viewed as something of a sacred obligation within Morocco.

Until recently it was virtually taboo, something that was never spoken about in terms other than the official narrative — ie the Western Sahara is an ineluctable part of Morocco and always has been, end of story.

For all King Muhammed VI’s genuine popularity and importance to national identity, the existence of the monarchy in its present form was widely seen to be dependent on the outcome in the Western Sahara, since its cause had become a national rallying point almost as important as the royal house’s descent from the prophet Mohammed and the sovereign’s role as “commander of the faithful”.

Perhaps it remains so. But Morocco has opted to change tactics and play the long game.

Retaking a seat in Addis Ababa alongside SADR suggests that Morocco’s leadership is not only assiduous but also increasingly willing to permit civil society, intellectuals and others to contribute to the debate.

It also reckons that African opinion has irreversibly shifted its way.

Support for the Polisario Front — the liberation movement that proclaimed SADR and fought (and largely lost) a war against Morocco until a UN-brokered ceasefire in 1991 (which left the kingdom in possession of virtually the entirety of the territory, including all of its coastline) — is slumping under the relentless weight of Rabat’s nimble diplomacy and economic heft.

The message has finally got through: Morocco is a country of serious political and economic clout, integral to the continent’s development and prepared to play a leading role in its future.

And Morocco comes without preconditions.

But make no mistake: an emboldened Morocco inside the AU may be better placed to effect a final blow to the Polisario’s dreams of real statehood than it ever was outside the continental body.

If that is indeed the thinking, how that process might unfold bears careful consideration.

Consequences for the AU, for regional security and prosperity, and, above all, for the Sahrawi people are sure to be significant.

In human welfare terms, the Sahrawis have most to lose by maintenance of the status quo.

The historically nomadic Sahrawi tribes have long been pawns in regional power plays — most recently involving rivals Morocco and Algeria since Spain withdrew from what was then known as Spanish Sahara in 1976.

The Western Sahara is one of several intractable conflicts that has defied African and wider international efforts to facilitate its “solution” for decades.

At its heart, not unlike Cyprus or Israel/Palestine, lay sharply contrasting interpretations of key historical events, which shape the opposing communities’ identities as well as their sense of justice and what is rightfully theirs.

In general, the international community has been equivocal in the face of each side’s competing claims, encouraging dialogue and emphasising the need for a peaceful resolution.

Only about a quarter of UN member states currently recognise SADR (although, in a number of cases, the ‘recognition’ came in the form of a declaration years ago and the jus legationis has never been exercised) and over the years several have de-recognised it.

Until yesterday’s vote, the AU Commission had, by its own admission, more or less buried its head in the sand. Since 2002, the body did little more than continually reiterate its support of the on-going efforts by the UN to find a solution to the conflict consistent with relevant Security Council and General Assembly resolutions that will provide for the self-determination of the people of Western Sahara.

The continued denial of “self determination” for the Sahrawis is a central argument of the 15 member states who voted against Morocco’s readmission.

In a brief article published in these pages last month, South Africa’s Minister of International Relations and Co-operation used the term no less than eight times in support of SADR’s claim to independence.

It was foreign policy reduced to cookie-cutter platitudes: no acknowledgement that the concept of ‘self determination’ is highly contested terrain not just in Africa but across all continents.

In international law the principle often collides with “territorial integrity”, with no clear track to reconcile the two. Moving negotiations over the Western Sahara to the corridors of the AU will matter not if leading members like South Africa continue to frame “self-determination” exclusively by decolonisation and “all-or-nothing” proposals.

In its crude, Manichean world defined by liberation struggles and race, Pretoria continues to see Morocco as a colonial power.

Unsurprisingly the African National Congress (ANC) has responded negatively to Morocco’s readmission, describing the decision as “regrettable” and “a significant setback to the cause of the Sahrawi people and their quest for self-determination and independence in the Western Sahara”.

Self-determination is not, however, simply a moment of liberation.

Questions of viability — the ability to control, defend and administer a defined territory and population — should be of primary concern.

Africa’s most recent experience of new statehood affords a harrowing reminder.

South Sudan garnered near unanimous support from its own people and overwhelming backing from the international community for its newfound independence in 2011.

Even Khartoum eventually came around to endorsing the breakaway of the south and was the first state to recognise it.

Yet chaos and mass violence in South Sudan has expanded nearly year on year since independence. Worldwide, only Syria is worse.

None of this is to gainsay the strength of nationalist sentiment in Western Sahara. For all Morocco’s investment in the territory and concerted efforts to bring a Sahrawi elite into the establishment, there is no avoiding the continuing perception of an occupation, complete with checkpoints, allegations of mistreatment by security forces and the like. That does not make independence any more of a panacea, but it does illustrate that despite growing acceptance of the Moroccan position within the AU it still has much work to do to counter the almost irresistible lure of “independence” among some Sahrawi communities.

With Morocco inside the AU it seems more likely that attention will focus more and more on the role of Algeria, which is essential to any deal on the Western Sahara. Morocco has always maintained that Polisario is not only backed and funded by Algeria, but in fact has no sovereign decision-making power; its leaders take direct orders from Algiers, which is less committed to the Sahrawi people than it is to anything that might unsettle Morocco. Algeria has used the Western Sahara as a political football in its fight for regional supremacy and a means to consolidate domestic support in a country still struggling with the consequences of its brutal, murky civil war and the myriad sources of potential instability within its borders. But so, to a more limited extent, has Morocco.

Will The Next Arab Revolt Be In Algeria?

Fri, 02/03/2017 - 10:00

National Review
Benjamin Weinthal

Religion, economics, and demographics are a potentially explosive mix.

A remarkable series of barely noticed counter terrorism operations, labor strikes, and social protests in Algeria in January showed that the North African country may be facing a year of upheaval. Six years after leaders in the fellow North African states of Tunisia and Egypt were ousted, simmering instability in Algeria could lead to the ouster of its longtime president as well.

The consequences for the U.S. of a failed Algerian state must not be minimized. The U.S. State Department considers Algeria to be an important counterterrorism partner.

First, the military junta imposed a state of emergency on Algeria’s border with Tunisia upon the return of 800 Tunisian jihadists who had been fighting for jihadi groups abroad, including the Islamic State.

Second, cities in northwest Algeria and the coastal province of Bejaia experienced several days of labor unrest and riots. It began at the start of 2017, when the regime of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who is nearly 80 years old and has been largely incapacitated by a stroke, implemented a robust austerity plan, cutting spending by 14 percent and increasing taxes on consumer products. In response to the protests, Algeria’s security forces arrested about 100 people, half of whom were under 25.

The political and labor disorder has led the regime to call on religious leaders to quell the dissent. The Ministry of Religious Affairs has issued directives to imams to promote in their Friday sermons the maintenance of national stability as a religious duty. Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal warned that the regime will block any attempt aimed at “destabilizing” the country and asserted that the protests “are not related to the Arab Spring.”

Social unrest has also hit Algeria’s southern Saharan region because of a significant spike in electricity prices. In the February 1, 2016, issue of The Weekly Standard, John Schindler and I noted:

Together with the struggling Algerian economy, the fight to succeed Bou­teflika may very well produce a series of increasingly public con­vul­sions within Algeria’s formidable security and intelligence establishments, who are the country’s real rulers.

Our analysis has not changed. Indeed, the case is even stronger now, as the price of natural-gas and oil exports — the foundations of the nation’s economy — have not recovered enough to satisfy the demands of Algeria’s 40 million people.

To make matters worse, Algeria continues to squander significant resources on the so-called “Bouteflika mosque.” The $1.4 billion price tag on the mosque, with a capacity for 250,000 worshippers and the world’s tallest minaret, has diverted funds away from health care and social services. One purported rationale for building the Bouteflika mosque (or the Djamaa El Djazair mosque, as it is more properly known) is that it will serve to contain radical Islam. But that argument does not hold water in a country with 30,000 mosques.

The $1.4 billion price tag on the ‘Bouteflika mosque,’ with a capacity for 250,000 worshippers and the world’s tallest minaret, has diverted funds away from health care and social services.
Despite all its troubles, Algeria remains a key oil supplier to Europe and could help save energy-starved European countries from dependency on Putin’s Russia, not to mention the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism, the Islamic Republic of Iran. Hence the U.S. has an important interest in maintaining a stable Algeria. Moreover, American oil and agricultural companies have recently secured deals with Algeria, and there is plenty of room for growth for U.S. companies in Algeria’s energy sector.

But the dangers of Algerian jihadism are alive and kicking. Mokhtar Belmokhtar — dubbed the “one-eyed sheik” after his injury in a botched explosion — is believed to still be active in Algeria. The U.S. has sought multiple times to liquidate him, but Belmokhtar — also known as “the Uncatchable” — has evaded all assassination attempts.

Belmokhtar, who named his son after Osama bin Laden, allegedly engineered the attack on the Tigantourine gas plant in eastern Algeria in January 2013. The terrorist assault resulted in the deaths of 40 oil workers, including three Americans.

Algeria’s formidable security apparatus has extensive institutional memory and experience in counterinsurgency warfare against jihadis. Between 1991 and 2002, at least 150,000 Algerians died in a civil war between Islamists and the military state. Most people who lived through the atrocities of this war have little appetite for another such conflict.

Youth employment hovers around 32 percent, and the younger generation’s readiness to effect change in stagnant Algeria could lead to a new revolt. The December 2016 U.N. Arab Human Development report examined Algeria and the age category 15 to 29. The Economist wrote in connection with this document: “Arabs make up just 5% of the world’s population, but they account for about half the world’s terrorism and refugees.”

Dire warnings have been issued about a pending implosion in Algeria and a flood of migrants to Europe. At least one prominent Algerian expert views this prediction as off the mark. Nonetheless, the dangerous mix of radical Islamism, economic instability, and growing youth unrest could be the recipe for a new Arab revolt in North Africa.

— Benjamin Weinthal is a research fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Follow him on Twitter @BenWeinthal

What The US Stands To Lose By Alienating Morocco

Fri, 02/03/2017 - 00:38

Al Monitor

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.

EBL News Morocco To Help Finance New Capital For War-Torn South Sudan

Thu, 02/02/2017 - 19:34

EBL News

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.

Malcolm Graham Talks Sound Energy’s “Mind Blowing” Upside In Morocco

Thu, 02/02/2017 - 18:18


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.

Morocco Sees Potential $1 Bln Of International Bond Issues In 2017: Finance Ministry Source

Wed, 02/01/2017 - 10:32

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 Hails Return To African Union After 33-Year Absence

Wed, 02/01/2017 - 03:50

Xinhuanet China

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.”

OIC Hails Morocco’s Return To African Union

Wed, 02/01/2017 - 03:30

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.

Morocco’s King Attends AU Summit After 33 Years

Tue, 01/31/2017 - 08:52

Arab News

Morocco took a seat at the African Union (AU) headquarters after the AU formally admitted the North African Kingdom as a member on Tuesday, 33 years after Rabat withdrew from the predecessor organization.

King Mohammed VI, who had been campaigning since last year to join, waved to applauding heads of state and delegates at the end of an annual summit in the AU headquarters in Ethiopia’s capital.

“It is a beautiful day when one returns home after too long an absence. Africa is my continent and my home. I am finally home and I am happy to see you. I missed you all,” the monarch told the closing ceremony.

The Kingdom’s return to the fold comes a day after 39 of the AU’s 54 member states agreed to allow Morocco back in the fold, despite stiff resistance from countries such as South Africa and Algeria over the status of Western Sahara.

Morocco quit the then Organization of African Unity (OAU) in 1984 after the bloc admitted the Western Sahara as a separate member.

Morocco maintains that the former Spanish colony under its control is an integral part of the Kingdom, while the Polisario Front, which campaigns for the territory’s independence, demands a referendum on self-determination.

Some had feared Morocco would demand the expulsion of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) as a precondition for its own return to the AU, however the country agreed to return without conditions.

“From the moment that Morocco did not impose conditions … we take their word for it and accept that Morocco be admitted to the African Union,” said Mohamed Salem Ould Salek, foreign minister of the SADR, which claims sovereignty over the entire territory of Western Sahara.

Salek said that having Morocco in the same room would allow the SADR to pressure them into fulfilling their obligations and allowing a referendum in accordance with a 1975 decision by the International Court of Justice.

“Now (if) Morocco is blocking (it) will be questioned by the head of states: Why are you afraid of a referendum? Why don’t you allow the Sahrawi to choose their future freely?”

In Tilt From Europe, Morocco Rejoins African Union

Tue, 01/31/2017 - 08:07

By Ed Cropley

Morocco rejoined the club of African states on Tuesday, 33 years after quitting over recognition of Western Sahara, bringing one of Africa’s largest economies into the fold and raising hopes of a softening of one of its thorniest territorial disputes.

Capping a year-long charm offensive that mirrored a broader investment push into Africa, Morocco’s King Mohammed VI was cheered as he took his seat for the first time in the Addis Ababa headquarters of the 55-nation African Union (AU), one of the few international fora to recognise rival Western Sahara.

Rabat left the AU’s predecessor, the Organisation of African Unity, in 1984 in anger at its acceptance of the phosphate-rich territory on Africa’s north Atlantic coast as a full-blown member.

However, African support for Western Sahara – which the United Nations defines as a non-self-governing territory – has ebbed as the importance of Morocco’s $110 billion economy, Africa’s fifth largest, as a trade and investment partner has grown.

At an AU summit this week, Morocco was re-admitted to the fold, with 39 countries expressing support and only 10, believed to be led by Algeria and South Africa, expressing reservations.

“Africa is my home and I am coming back home,” King Mohammed said, to applause from other heads of state. “I have missed you all.”

For Morocco, a relatively liberalised economy and firm Western ally, readmission to the AU should smooth its entry into fast-growing African economies to the south and help reduce its reliance on stagnant European markets to the north.

In the last few years, Moroccan firms have made significant investments across Africa in everything from financial services to housing projects to fertilizer plants. King Mohammed made clear this was just the beginning.

“Africa is indispensable to Morocco and Morocco is indispensable to Africa,” he said.


During his 20-minute speech, King Mohammed gave a nod to the tensions over Western Sahara, which has been contested since Spanish colonial powers left in 1975, but made clear he was not interested in making them worse.

“We don’t want to divide the continent,” he said.

Morocco claimed the territory after Spain’s exit and fought a 16-year war with the Polisario independence movement, that established the self-declared Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic with support initially from Algeria and then from across Africa.

Since a 1991 ceasefire, Western Sahara has been split by a earthen berm, with U.N. peacekeepers monitoring the Moroccan forces in what Rabat calls its southern provinces and guerrillas in the Polisario-controlled area bordering Algeria.

U.N.-backed attempts to hold a referendum on self-determination have been deadlocked since 1991 and Rabat has presented its own autonomy plan.

Sahrawi foreign minister Salem Ould Salek described the AU’s admission of Morocco as a ‘major step’ towards full international recognition since it would now be in the same room, on equal terms, with its rival.

“It’s a positive step for the people of Western Sahara,” he told Reuters. “After 33 years, Morocco has realised that it has to sit with the Sahrawi Republic. We hope that Morocco will have the goodwill to resolve this conflict and withdraw its troops.”

The return to the AU comes at a sensitive time.

Last year, Morocco expelled some U.N. staff from Western Sahara after then-U.N. chief Ban Ki-Moon visited Sahrawi refugee camps in southern Algeria.

In August, U.N. peacekeepers intervened when Moroccan forces crossed into a U.N.-mandated buffer zone and Polisario forces dispatched troops in kind to the remote area near Mauritania.

(Additional reporting by Aaron Maasho; Editing by Andrew Heavens and Tom Heneghan)