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Morocco suspends participation in Saudi-led war in Yemen

February 8, 2019 at 2:07 pm

Moroccan soldiers in Bobo Dioulasso on 11 December 2010 [AHMED OUOBA/AFP/Getty Images]

Morocco has recalled its ambassador to Saudi Arabia and withdrawn its military from the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen, government officials confirmed last night.

Speaking to pro-establishment news website Le360, Ambassador Mustapha Mansouri said that whilst Morocco and Saudi Arabia are bound by strong and longstanding ties, they are currently undergoing a “transient crisis”. He cited the recent airing by Saudi TV channel Al-Arabiya of a documentary that diverged from the Moroccan position on the Western Sahara issue.

Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries have traditionally supported Morocco’s sovereignty over the Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony that is also claimed by the Algerian-backed Polisario Front. However the latest documentary supported claims that Morocco invaded it after Spanish colonisers left in 1975, prompting Rabat to recall its ambassador for consultations.

The Al-Arabiya report comes just weeks after Qatar-owned Al Jazeera aired an interview with Moroccan Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita, where he expressed concern over the humanitarian crisis in Yemen, and revealed that Morocco no longer participates in military operations or ministerial meetings on the conflict.

Morocco has “changed the form and content of its participation in the Arab coalition after an assessment of developments on the ground”, Bourita said.

A Saudi-led coalition, which included Morocco, has been participating in a campaign in Yemen since 2015 after the Houthis overran much of the country and took over the capital, Sanaa. With US support, the coalition launched a devastating air campaign aimed at rolling back Houthi gains.

READ: Sahrawis protest against Algeria over civilian kidnapping

The violence has devastated Yemen’s infrastructure, including its health and sanitation systems. Fighting has killed thousands of civilians, bringing some 85,000 children to the brink of starvation, prompting the UN to describe the situation as one of the worst humanitarian disasters of modern times.

Public pressure for Saudi Arabia and its allies to halt the campaign has also strengthened calls which Morocco seems to have heeded.

Tensions in Moroccan-Saudi relations have been silently brewing since the rise to power of Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, political analysts in Morocco say.

Saudi Arabia, along with the UAE, did not vote for Morocco’s 2026 World Cup bid after the North African kingdom took a neutral stand in the blockade of Qatar by a number of Gulf states in 2017.

The Saudi crown prince was also not received in Morocco late last year while on a North African tour, with Bourita stating that the visit did not take place due to a time conflict.

Morocco also notably failed to voice support for Saudi Arabia in the wake of the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi agents at the consulate in Istanbul last year, an incident that damaged Riyadh’s reputation internationally.

READ: Saudi-led coalition attacks drone storage site east of Sanaa