Sahara: What if Morocco used the solidarity of Gulf countries?

Samir Bennis
Samir Bennis is a political analyst. He received a Ph.D. in international relations from the University of Provence in France. He also holds a Master’s degree in political science from the University of Toulouse I, a Master’s degree in Iberian studies ...
Sahara: What if Morocco used the solidarity of Gulf countries?

New York- Moroccans have been puzzled and taken aback by the unprecedented decision made by the US administration to present a draft resolution to the UN Security Council to push for the inclusion of a human rights monitoring system in the Sahara. Following this announcement, laymen, experts and analysts in Morocco and elsewhere started wondering what are the weapons that Morocco can use in order to thwart this proposal and counterbalance the lobbying of Algeria among a number of US congressmen.

Many argue that what matters for the US is not its long-standing friendship with Morocco or its alignment with its policies since the early 1960’s. What matters more for the US are its interests, especially when what is at stake is oil and gas.

Based on this analysis, they reach the conclusion that Morocco has no leverage to use with the United States and that the only means at its disposal to abort the US draft resolution is to convince France, its main backer in the Security Council and strategic ally, to lobby for watering down the language of the draft resolution that keeps the spirit of consensus that has marked the issue in the Council over the past 15 years.

A factor that many analysts have missed, and which could play in favor of Morocco is the solidarity of the Gulf countries, which are major oil-exporting countries. While it is true that Algeria is a gas and oil-exporting country, its importance on the world oil map does not even match that of the State of Qatar, considered a minor oil-producing country, let alone that of the other Gulf countries.

A quick review of the importance of these countries in the world oil map and their importance for the stability of oil prices can give us an idea of their importance for the United States and why they could be a factor in favor of Morocco, if it uses its excellent long-standing relations with them in order to influence the American administration.

It is no secret that one of the tenets of the US administration has been to secure places of production and routes of transportation of oil and gas. That explains why the US has a heavy presence in the major transshipment canals: the Strait of Hormoz, the Strait of Bab El Mandeb, the Strait of Malacca and others. Since the end of World War II, the main concern of the US has been to maintain a smooth and secure flow of oil in a way that would not disturb the world economy. In this regard, the Gulf States, especially Saudi Arabia have always played a key role in US foreign policy.

Some can argue that since 9/11 the US has lowered its reliance on Saudi oil and is looking for more reliable suppliers. While this is true, what is also true and more important for US policy-makers is that Saudi Arabia plays a key and indispensable role in the stability of oil prices. U.S. leaders are well aware that the world oil market cannot do without the oil of the region.

Any reduction of oil production in this country or other Gulf countries can have destabilizing effects on the world economy, as we would witness a rise of prices. For long, the US has resorted to and pressured Saudi leaders to increase their oil production every time there was a sharp increase in prices.

The prominent place occupied by this country on the world oil map stems from the fact that it is the only world producer that has a large production capacity in reserve, allowing it to increase its exports in the event of a crisis. It is thanks to this reserve capacity that during the Gulf War of 1991, Saudi Arabia was able to compensate for the absence of the Iraqi and Kuwaiti oil on the world market and thus avoid for the global economy an oil shock comparable to those of 1973-1974 and 1979-1980.

While Saudi Arabia plays a pivotal role in the oil equation, Algeria is considered a minor supplier. In this regard, it should be noted that while Saudi Arabia’s proven oil reserves are 265 billion barrels, Algeria’s reserves don’t exceed 12.2 billion, according to the United States Energy Information Administration.

Based on the foregoing, and taking into account the role that oil plays in US policies, Morocco could well benefit from the influence of Saudi Arabia dissuading the US administration from going forward with a draft resolution that does not only go against Morocco’s interest in this conflict, but could also jeopardize its stability and that of the whole Maghreb and Sahel regions.

The possibility of seeing Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Qatar interfering in favor of Morocco, is all the more likely especially if we take into account the long-standing relations of brotherhood and friendship between the Moroccan ruling family and the heads of states of these Gulf countries.

In international relations, human relations are of paramount importance and can play a prominent role in influencing the choices of decision-makers. It is this factor that pushed the Doha-based Al Jazeera to start using a map where Morocco appears with the entirety of its territory, including the Sahara.

Bearing in mind the excellent relations that Morocco’s King Mohammed VI enjoys with the King of Saudi Arabia, the Emir of the State of Qatar, the Emir of Kuwait and the Emir of the United Arab Emirates, there is a high chance that they would be willing to play an important role in convincing the United States to water down its draft resolution in a way that would not harm Morocco’s interests in preserving its sovereignty over the Sahara.

Moreover, it is not only in the interest of Morocco that its Gulf allies interfere in its favor. It is also in their favor, for the US shift regarding the Sahara signals that Washington can at any moment sacrifice one of its allies. A US administration that turns its back to Morocco, might just as likely retract its support towards one of the Gulf countries tomorrow.

In this hypothesis, Bahrain can be one of the new victims of the US shifting policies in light of the alleged human rights abuses purportedly committed against the Shia’a majority. Therefore, the Gulf countries should reunite their efforts, leverage their weight on the world oil market and signal to the Washington that it has to respect the strategic interests of its allies and steer away from any politicization of human rights no matter how heavy the pressure is put on it by human rights watchdogs.

The importance of Saudi Arabia and its neighboring countries in the world oil market allows them to have even more leverage with China, another Security Council veto-wielding country and the second largest consumer of oil. Because of its soaring demand of oil and its reliance of imports, China can also be pressured by these countries to use its influence in the Security Council and oppose the tabling of the current draft resolution.

This latest twist regarding the Sahara must be a warning for the Moroccan authorities that the time of rhetoric and dreams of a united Maghreb are no longer valid with the existence of an Algerian leadership that is bent on promoting instability in the region and dreams of being its major player.

Morocco must benefit from the excellent relations it enjoys with the Gulf countries and create an axis that will be likely to counterbalance that of Algeria-South Africa-Nigeria-Venezuela-Cuba, which has long been lobbying on behalf of the Polisario and doing much harm to Morocco’s position on the Sahara conflict.

Samir Bennis is a political analyst. He received a Ph.D. in international relations from the University of Provence in France. His areas of academic interest include, relations between Morocco and Spain and between the Muslim world and the West, as well as the global politics of oil. He has published over a 150 articles in Arabic, French, English and Spanish, and authored Les Relations Politiques, Economiques et Culturelles Entre le Maroc et l’Espagne: 1956-2005, which was published in French in 2008. He is the co-founder and editor-in-chief of Morocco World News. You can follow him on Twitter @SamirBennis

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  • Nora

    Thanks for shinning the light on this subject. I am sure many of us Americans have no idea the history of our relationship with Morocco nor of this recent decision made by the US administration to present a draft resolution to the UN Security Council to push for the inclusion of a human rights monitoring system in the Sahara. As a human rights activist I am in favor of the UN Peace Keepers in monitoring the human rights territory in the Western Sahara. Thank you for this article

  • ZionistSlayer

    You mean the Gulf countries that prohibit ALL Moroccan Women between the ages of 16 and 45 from getting tourist visas as a blanket rule? You mean the Gulf countries that don’t even give visas to women traveling with their husbands because they assume that their husbands are their pimps and their wives are prostitutes?

    You mean the ones that don’t even allow Moroccan women transit visas because they assume all Moroccan women are prostitutes?

    If Morocco had any self respect or pride, it would cut all relations with the Gulf countries who call all Moroccan women prostitutes, but then again, Moroccan integrity and pride are obviously for sale to the highest bidder, so much for government caring about protecting the honor of Moroccans!

    • Sara keen

      No it makes no sense! We cannot cut ties with them because we are all muslims. And it’s not all gulf countries- only Saudi Arabia for Umra restrictions and emirates for transit visas. I’m no fan of the Saudi government but what else could they do? Should they just allow these women to abuse privileges given to them? The emirates of course, should apply their restrictions to all nationalities to, not just to morocco. But Moroccans have a big blame in this. If the parents had done their duties and taught their children religion and morals maybe their would not be this problem. Moroccans should stop looking for someone else to blame.

      • ZionistSlayer

        Sara, I am not saying that you have to cut ties, I am simply saying that you exercise what is known as diplomatic reciprocity. We just treat them the same way they treat us, no better no worse. The Amra and Haaj visas are completely different than the tourist and transit visas. My position is that we erect the same polices with regards to their nationals seeking to visit Morocco as tourists as they do towards Moroccan women.

        There are many Moroccan women in Europe, North America and the Middle east that are prostitutes. This is a reality. I understand that. However, a majority of Moroccan women in these countries are NOT prostitutes. More importantly, the visa restriction is not just limited to single women, it also includes the wives of men who are from Morocco. Essentially, if you want to travel to UAE, Egypt, Lebanon, or almost ANY other Middle eastern country with your husband, they assume he is your pimp. That is simply not acceptable.

        • Sara keen

          Off course this is unacceptable. And it’s quite shocking. But to enforce the same rules on others would be impractical and not solve the problem of prostitutes. But they should place some restrictions and laws for those entering into the country – for all nationalities, without exception so as to curb prostitution. One example is a ban on any individual from obtaining any visa into the country for those caught visiting brothels. Also placing restrictions on women from leaving the country. Such as verifying their reason for travel, ensuring they have their guardian permission. Also place a travel ban on those who are found to have engaged in such behavior. There should be stronger laws against prostitution in the country and severe punishments for those who act as pimps. May they could criminalize visiting a brothel if it is not all ready so. Unfortunately I don’t think this will happen. Because the Jews and the secularists want to ruin the morals of the people.

          • ZionistSlayer

            I dont have a problem with Prostitution. I personally think it should be legalized. Then again, I think Alcohol and Hashish should be legalized as well. I want the state to make money on sin taxes, and thus benefit from it, as it stands, only the underworld benefits from it. Prostitution and drugs are NOT going away, so maybe it is time to deal with them maturely.

            You will never get very far prosecuting people who visit brothels in the Arab world because it is the richest of the rich who are frequenting these whore houses, and we all know that the law does not dare touch the richest leaders of Saudia Arabia and the other colonies of Apartheid Israel.

            I am very much against Prostitution morally, but I am old enough to realize it is NEVER going away. Lets have the state make money on it, it is not like we are living in a Muslim country or something…

          • Brian028

            If “The State” profits from sin they will promote it. There are many examples of this throughout the world. However I do agree that they should be legalized. It is up to the individual to lead a moral life. Not for the rest of society to dictate that. An individual really has one ultimate authority to answer to and it is not the government.

    • Rimlab

      How little you know my dear about the subject, the visa restriction in terms of age was not GCC governments’ decision, it was taken by the king of morocco himself, we’ve drafted it ourselves:-)

  • Adil Bentahar

    Thanks Samir for highlighting the issue. Initiatives of the sort help dismantle the misconceptions and biased reports on our dear country, Morocco. We don’t need to beautify Morocco’s image, though, but at least publish and share what we think is teh right version, this timein English. I guess Morocco needs to focus more attention to the international readership/audience by supporting initiatives that address the international community at large, not only in Arabic, but notably in English.
    Thanks.

    Adil

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