Put together a brief piece for Jadaliyya on the politics behind Erdogan’s reception in Morocco and how it fits into makhzen’s political landscape.
A widely mediatized and well-timed state visit can double up both as a political opportunity and as a convenient distraction. Such was the case, or as it seems, for Erdogan’s tour in the Maghreb, starting with a first stop in Morocco, followed by Algeria, and ending with Tunisia. Despite attempts at public relations spinning, the violent repression of protests in Turkey has overshadowed international media coverage of Erdogan’s state visits. In Morocco, however, domestic media is more focused on another element of Erdogan’s recent visit: the lack of a royal welcome. While Erdogan’s visit was announced weeks ahead, King Mohammed VI remained in France, where he has been on vacation since May. Instead, a powerless and increasingly isolated “Head of Government” Abdelilah Benkirane was left with the uneasy task of welcoming Erdogan during a time of heightened political intensity in both Morocco and Turkey. It was only a week before Erdogan’s visit that Moroccan police violently dispersed a peaceful protest in Rabat where members of the 20 February Movement demanded the release of political prisoners. Beyond the uncomfortably staged photo-ops and dry press releases, Erdogan’s visit to Morocco reveals the nuanced nature of state visits and their political uses.
It is useful to rewind back to the first week of April 2013. For days, both French and Moroccan media were abuzz with François Hollande’s first official visit to Morocco. Moroccan human rights activists used it as an opportunity to push for Hollande to place public pressure on the Moroccan regime to address ongoing human rights abuses, despite the passing of what was hailed as a “landmark” constitution in 2011. Instead, what unfolded was a gaudy display of the formerly colonized laying down the red carpet for the former colonizer in such a way that only reinforced the imperial hierarchy. Quite literally, red carpets were placed on every major road and roundabout Hollande was intended to visit. With Mohammed VI by his side, and the young heir prince, Hassan, tagging along as state media cameras followed and officials lined up to bow and greet, royal protocol and post-colonial subservience was on full display. While the Moroccan regime milked the visit, Hollande’s first major scandal in office dampened any hope of positive coverage abroad in France. Hollande’s former budget minister, Jerome Cahuzac, was engulfed in a tax fraud scandal that took center front stage in French media. And while Hollande’s prime minister was left with the task of addressing the scandal, Hollande was fluffing the feathers of the Moroccan regime in multiple appearances on state media—including a toast during dinner with the royal family and Benkirane, a speech in parliament, and a press conference in Casablanca’s Lycée Lyautey.