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French-Moroccan relations exemplify Islamists’ success

March 18, 2015 at 9:46 am

When Laurent Fabius, French minister of foreign affairs and international development, arrived in Morocco last week, he knew that his visit was part of efforts to clear up a year-long dispute between the two countries. Though the row seems to be thawing increasingly, regaining full trust and security cooperation would require more re-assuring signs and time.

The rupture between Morocco and France erupted when the French police issued a warrant against the head of the Moroccan domestic intelligence services, Abdellatif Hammouchi. The act occurred following a lawsuit that ACAT, a Paris-based human rights group, launched accusing Hammouchi of torture. Security and judicial cooperation between the two nations consequently stopped.

The economic and cultural sides were not as affected, France kept its position as the first economic partner and second trade partner for Morocco, after Spain. Fabius was expected to launch the “France Morocco 2015” cultural season, “with more than 300 events scheduled to take place in the 12 Instituts Français in Morocco”. The 12 institutes did not stop work during the rift and they were present at the Casablanca International Book Fair in 2014 and 2015.

To “apologise”, France engaged in a hectic programme of visits, one by Bernard Cazeneuve, the interior minister, who revealed that Hammouchi would receive an officer degree of the Legion of Honour. The most important was the two-day meeting between the two ministers of justice, Mustapha Ramid and Christiane Taubira. The outcome was amending bilateral security agreements to guarantee mutual respect.

For the Islamist-led government, to put Morocco in an unprecedented confrontation with a key political ally, economic main partner and supporter in the Sahara affair for a whole year was a courageous, though uneasy, decision. At times, developments seemed to lack clear prospective leeway. With diplomatic disquiet growing, France was pushed to understand the strategic changes the Moroccan political scape is undergoing.

Also, the regaining of relations today is an added asset to the success of the Islamists in the struggle for stability-and-reform-based legitimacy in Moroccan politics. All parties, including the monarchy, backed up the government’s decision to cut security and judicial exchange of information with France.

The liberal Minister of Foreign Affairs, Salaheddine Mezouar, expressed dissatisfaction with the French intervention in Moroccan politics twice. In the first he said: “France no longer monitors Morocco” with reference to her ample interventionism since colonial times. His reaction may also be understood within the context of the personal humiliation he underwent at the Charles de Gaulle International Airport in March 2014 when was asked to hand in his shoes and belt, notwithstanding his diplomatic passport.

In the second, he refrained from joining the Paris march against the attacks on Charlie Hebdo, when panels carrying slogans against Prophet Mohammed (pbuh) were raised. France reacted by revealing that its intelligence agencies had neglected warnings by their Algerian counterparts.

Mentioning the Algerians sent messages in different directions. The first was lack of trust in Algerian intelligence. The second was remorse over the absence of Moroccan information and expertise in pre-empting terrorist attacks. The third was the possibility of substituting Moroccan with Algerian intelligence cooperation, with potential repercussions for Moroccan-French and Moroccan-Algerian relations.

Also, the ex-communist Party for Progress and Socialism (PPS), which participates in the government, refrained from condemning the cutting of relations with France. Conversely, in 2012 they expressed unhappiness when media reforms removed news broadcasts in French from prime time.

The weak opposition in Morocco paved the way for the Islamist-led government to work at ease. Mustapha Ramid in particular could demonstrate the Islamists’ abilities to bridge Islam with democratic practices, the rule of law and international respect. As a result, he was chosen for Man of the Year by the Moroccan magazine Maroc Hebdo, Man of the Weak by the Moroccan news website, after receiving a royal medal for the reform he has been leading in Moroccan jurisdiction.

The way the quarrel has been solved puts the current government in a better position to finish its five-year term. Unlike other experiences in the region, the Moroccan Islamist-led government will very probably stand the test of regression and counter-revolutions. Even Dahi Khalfan apologised, after his notorious tweets against Islamists in Morocco. Rumours have even spread that he may settle in Morocco.

True, the way the government dealt with Moroccan-French relations was not meant to mitigate the omnipresence of the Francophonie in Morocco. Yet, at least three aims were achieved.

First, in his visit, Fabius reiterated France’s support for the Moroccan plan for autonomy in the Sahara and described it as “a serious and credible basis for a negotiated solution”. Stressing the traditional opinion in this time of the year secures French backing in the forthcoming renewal of the MINURSO mandate at the UN.

Second, in a time of economic crises, Morocco recognises that about 80,000 French nationals live in the country while more than 1.3 million Moroccans reside in France. With recovering economic bonds, more joint investments may reach Moroccan as well as the African markets and workforce.

Finally, France is pushed to accept a win-win result in the end, and seek Moroccan intelligence cooperation, especially since approximately 1,500 Moroccan-French citizens have allegedly joined ISIS.

This atmosphere of self-confidence has encouraged the Moroccan government to appeal to the opposition plea to delay local elections until September instead of June 2015.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.