Morocco reacts to events in Egypt: Manipulated discord?

Here’s an excerpt from my latest on Jadaliyya, providing a general overview of the recent statements released from the Moroccan regime, spanning from the palace to high-ranking PJD officials, and what it reveals about the nature of power in Morocco:

As the situation continues to unfold in Egypt, the war of words among pundits on what to describe the ongoing events has made its way to the palace and parliament halls in Morocco. With countering press releases from the palace and the Party of Justice and Development (PJD)-led coalition government, the differing views toward the events in Egypt may appear to illustrate two equal opposing forces within the Moroccan regime. While the king’s message to interim president, Adly Mansour, was congratulatory in nature, the PJD condemned what it called a “coup d’état against a legitimate democracy” through a press release from Abdellah Baha, the Minister of State. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, headed by PJD minister Saâdeddine El Othmani but whose former head and current royal adviser, Taib Fassi-Fihri, acts as the king’s interlocutor in high stakes diplomatic affairs, was more nuanced in its reaction. The ministry neither condemned nor applauded the events, but rather stressed the need for Egypt to “preserve its national unity.” A surface reading of these opposing press releases would suggest that the relationship between these institutions is flat rather than hierarchical. However, there is an underlying objective to push forth such an understanding, as it sustains the narrative that the monarchy is a “neutral” actor in Moroccan politics, rather than placing emphasis on the unchecked power it wields.

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Erdogan’s visit in Morocco and the political implications

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.

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Morocco? A Regional Leader? A Source of Stability?

Kal, from the Moor Next Door (which, by the way, is an amazing blog that I highly recommend), tweeted a link to this brief article by Anouar Boukhars. The article is called “Look to the More Stable Neighbors,” referring to Algeria and Morocco. However, it was the conclusion of the article that struck me the most:

If Algeria refuses to engage in the conflict in Mali, then the international community must look for leadership in Morocco, the other North African heavyweight directly affected by the chaos in the Sahel. Morocco has the will, the influence and the capability to contribute to conflict resolution in the region.

Boukhars has been a prominent source for information on the Maghreb, namely Morocco, for many. Yet, the conclusion to this article is so far removed from the actual reality of Morocco’s role in the region. How can Morocco be expected to lead an initiative for conflict resolution in Mali while it is actively involved in the longest running territorial dispute in Africa? Morocco’s ongoing human rights abuses in the Western Sahara and the tumultuous relationship it has with Algeria as a result of the Western Saharan conflict indicate anything but “the will, the influence and the capability to contribute to conflict resolution in the region.” This is a country that initially rejected UN envoy, Christoper Ross, over the fact that he was doing his job in reporting human rights abuses in the Moroccan-controlled Western Saharan territory. The closest the conflict ever came to a resolution was when the 1991 referendum was due to take place, yet it was Morocco who imposed conditions that would have systematically yielded the referendum results in its favor (Morocco stipulated that Moroccan settlers be able to participate in the referendum, while the referendum should have taken place based on the 1973 census).

I don’t want to initiate a game of Oppression Olympics, but while the crisis in Mali is certainly a major source of instability in the Maghreb, despite its technical location in the Sahel, dismissing the situation in the Western Sahara and removing it from an analysis that addresses Moroccan-Algerian ties in the context of leading measures for greater stability paints an incomplete picture. But given his less-than critical position toward the Moroccan regime, I don’t doubt that the exclusion of the Western Saharan conflict was strategic.