Since 1950, Morocco has received more U.S. aid than any other Arab or African country, except for Egypt. Indeed, since the beginning of the war over Western Sahara, Morocco has received more than one-fifth of all U.S. aid to the continent, totalling more than $1 billion in military assistance and $1.3 billion in economic aid ( Zunes). This aid is more relevant if one takes into account the remarkable diplomatic support given by United States, in the Sahara issue, in opposition to the International Right.
For other hand, the European Union has always followed Moroccan policy, both as an Union, but also the different countries which belong to it ( especially France). This is witnessed through special status of privilege, and in different trade agreements, which some analyst have described as a “disguised subsidy” in retribution for prickly issues as immigration or terrorism ( El Mundo)
Moreover the Alawite Monarchy has been helped in last years by important funds from Saudi regime, which were mainly, destined to finance and spread the Wahabi interpretation of Islam ( Traub, 2003)
This asymmetry of actors and allies in order to get funds may be strange, in the first place due to ideological reasons ( related with the latter it is curious that Morocco was the first trade partner of the Soviet Union, at the same time than United States ( Pazzanita) which would be very easy to explain in the case than the regime had a geostrategic importance of first rate.
Few regions have such geostrategic relevance as the Middle East, however Morocco, in opposition to their neighbours, is one of the countries with the least natural resources (Calatrava García). It has no oil or gas, and its situation is relatively peripheral in relation to the rest of the Arab World, especially in the relation with the “hottest region”: Palestine. As Frisch (2011) affirms, Moroccan regime survival is probably the hardest to explain; it is the most populous monarchy with a population of over 30 million, has no oil, a low GNP per capita by the standards of most of the states in the Middle East and North Africa, and one of the most unequal distributions of income.
The own Moroccan sources recognized that if we try to understand this fact according to the realist theory, which considers that the power of the states is directly linked with the addition of economic and military capacity, Morocco would not have a important role at all in the international affairs ( El Houdaigui ).
However, as we said above, the fact that Morocco was the second most important receiver of American aid, before Egypt, and one of the preferential partners of the European Union is not casual, and obey to a set of motivations and interests of the western powers. Morocco has known “how to play” its geostrategic assets better than anyone, getting important benefits from that
Nevertheless, in December, 2011, two news broke out in this cordial atmosphere. For one side, the Congress of the United States temporarily cut off the economic aid, putting as a condition for the resumption a real improvement in the conditions of life for the native people in Western Sahara. For another, the European Union in the same week, decided not to renew the Fishing Agreement, and one of the main reasons, according to the official answer to this decision was the juridical problems which exist related to the situation of the Western Sahara ( El Mundo).
If it is true, that it seems difficult a meaningful change in its positions, these two actions supposed a “touch of attention” for the Alawi Monarchy, implying in some way a change in the extremely cordial relation between these actors.
This paper is divided in two parts. In the first part I will expose the reasons that the Kingdom of Morocco could loose its international past relevance as a main actor in Middle East, both for United States and the European Union, using a comparative perspective with the Cold War period, with different actors. In the second part of the paper I will expose what is the position of Morocco to the new international challenges as terrorism or the question of democracy. This general comparative study will explain why a policy of economic and military support as in the past can be counterproductive, not just for moral or ideological reasons, but also geostrategic, fostering anti democratic and authoritarian structures in the region, becoming a threat rather than a factor of stability in the region.
Why Morocco has been a preferential ally?
As I commented above, the fact of being the second largest receiver of the American aid, and one of the preferential partners of the European Union is not random. This relation is due to the significant geostrategic importance of Morocco in the last years. This importance was given by some “geostrategic actives” used by Morocco,s Kingdom. Inside these “geostrategic factors” is convenient to highlight the paper against Communism in Africa in the context of the Cold War, the important negotiator role in the Palestinian conflict, and, in relation with the European Union, the importance of the trade agreements and emigration. However, as I am going to present a big part of the importance of these factors has been reduce over time.
The American Ally. The Bulwark against communism
It stands to reason one of the most important reasons why Morocco has played a meaningful role in the International Relations field during the 60s and 70s has been due to the strong support given by the Kingdom to the Western Block, setting up as the “bulwark of the West” in the Muslim world ( Bontems, 1984 ). The active participation of Morocco in the affairs of the Cold War was extremely active in comparison with most of the countries in the Arab World.
Between 1977 and 1978 Morocco fought against the katangaise rebellion in Zaire, along with United Kingdom and United States. Moreover in 1976 made an agreement with the rebel anti Marxist group UNITA in Angola. Furthermore it also participated in peace keeping missions in Somalia ( 1993) and even, in Kosovo ( 1995), despite not being member of the NATO, which set Morocco as one of the most enthusiastic ally for the West in the Arab World ( El Houdaigui, 2003)
However, due to the new context of globalization, and the fall of Communism, the paper of Morocco as a Western bulwark has been considerably reduced. It is noteworthy that most of the countries which were in the Soviet area of influence are now supporters of the US, as the case of Algeria or even, the Polisario Front, which have abandoned its Marxist ideology.
During the Cold War the opposition between Morocco and its neighbours as Algeria or Libya was clearly “decompensate at ideological level” for the West for Morocco, in a context in which the main aim was try to disestablish the Soviet Union for all the possible means.
On the opposite side, in the current context the USA and the EU have necessarily to take into account the relevance and importance of countries as Algeria, which foreign policy was change completely with the fall of Communism. Moreover, both Algeria and Libya have lived a “period of transition” to this new alignments. In the case of Algeria, due to a situation of internal turmoil, and Civil War, and the Khadaffi,s Libya did not change its position until last decade.
This notable change meant a remarkable alteration of factors. American policy is not, or should not just focus in the achievement of a strong ally in the North of Africa, but also it is interested in a effective regional integration, in which, as we will see after the aspirations of the monarchy may be a problem.
The European Ally. Trade Agreements and Immigration
Regarding the European Union, Morocco was an important ally for its position close to Europe, especially for the sub-Saharan uncontrolled immigration, but also for its trade agreements which pretended create a common trade space in the Mediterranean.
The immigration was a first rate problem, especially in the last years of the past decade, reaching a special degree of tension with Spain. The arrival of illegal immigrants through Gibraltar Straits and Canary Island was one of the most important concerns of the European Union and Spain, in which, during some months was one of the most important issues in the action of the Spanish Government, called for the media as the “Cayucos crisis” (Hughes, 2002)
In order to counteract these problems the collaboration with Morocco was necessary. If it is true it was criticized as “inefficient” or “incomplete” by the Spanish Government and media, it was necessary and based on a policy of “covered grants” in exchange for a stricter control of the maritime borders ( El Mundo)
In other field, the European Union has developed a set of Agreements, in which it is important to highlight the initiative of the Barcelona Agreements in 1995, where the main aims were basically a close relation between the countries in the Mediterranean.
The fishing Agreement reached between the European Union and Morocco was meaningful. This agreement also cover the territories of Western Sahara. This agreement, apart of the economical interest, has a considerable weight for Morocco, due to this recognition means also the indirect recognition of the Moroccan suzerainty over Sahara, due to the European Union is negotiating with its water.
But, these issues, which some years ago were a remarkable importance, have gone to a second place, due to the recent economic European crisis right now. In 2009 the journal Le Monde Diplomatique pointed out the massive immigration through Spain was over due to the notable Spanish economic crisis, with a rate of unemployment of 21 per cent ( El Houssine, 2009 ). Therefore the illegal immigration was not anymore a relevant issue, if it can be some punctual episodes.
- ISBN (Buch)
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- Institution / Hochschule
- Syddansk Universitet (University of Southern Denmark) – Middle East Studies Center
- politics middle east western sahara morocco international politics authoritarism