Will be considered by most Arabs a landmark year in Arab history and will be remembered by generations to come.
New York- 2011 In less than two months, two dictatorial regimes fell in Tunisia and Egypt to the surprise of many Western experts of the Arab world, who did not foresee such groundbreaking changes. While the Tunisian and Egyptian rulers chose to leave power without causing any bloodshed; Qaddafi dug in his heels and resolved to fight fiercely to the finish.
Almost five weeks elapsed since the start of the Libyan uprising and the supreme “leader” is still holding on to power. Many wonder if Qaddafi will be forced out or even brought to trial for the crimes he has committed against his people. Others think that his days are numbered, mostly after the adoption of United Nations Security Council resolution 1973, which imposes a no-fly zone and allows the international community to take all necessary actions to protect civilians and to prevent Qaddafi from slaughtering his opponents.
We can arguably state that Qaddafi has lost legitimacy in the eyes of the public opinion and the broader international community. In fact, many sympathize with the Libyan people in their fight for democracy and freedom and their attempt to terminate the rule of the “King of the Kings of Africa”. Yet on the political realm, this sympathy has not translated into a worldwide recognition of the National Transitional Council of Libya as the sole legitimate representative of the Libyan people.
Amidst the confusion and uncertainty prevailing with regard to the future of Libya, what step can Morocco take to show its position regarding the Libyan crisis? Should Morocco take the lead in recognizing the National Transitional Council? What political or economic gains will it achieve in case it recognizes the Council as the rightful representative of the Libyan people?
Before answering these questions, it is important to give a short overview of the harm that Qaddafi has done to Morocco since the mid 1970’s, chiefly with regard to the preservation of Moroccan sovereignty over the Sahara. Since the beginning of the Sahara conflict, Qaddafi has always backed the Polisario Front. He first helped the separatist movement to create fully-fledged armed forces. During the war that pitted the latter against Morocco between 1979 and 1991, Qaddafi generously provided funds and training to the Polisario Front.
Hence the main reason that prompted late King Hassan II to sign the Treaty of the short-lived Union between Morocco and Libya on 13 August 1984 was to neutralize Qaddafi and deprive the Polisario Front of one of its main supporters. It is true that Qaddafi pledged to withdraw its support to the Polisario after the signing of this Treaty. That being said, based on his lunatic and unpredictable nature and his ideological leaning, one can assume that he kept lending a helping hand to the Polisario thereafter knowing that he had never been supportive of Morocco on the issue of the Sahara.
In an interview with TV channel France 24 in July 2010, he stated “there is no alternative to the referendum in Western Sahara and those who oppose it will pay the price”. Moreover, on the occasion of the Arab League Summit held in Seirt, Libya, in March 2010, Qaddafi received lavishly the leader of the Polisario. This diplomatic move angered Morocco and raised question about the real intentions of the Libyan “leader”.
Since its inception, shortly after the uprising, the Transitional Council has received little support from the international community. For political and economic reasons, many countries have been reluctant to grant international recognition and support to this Council. The only country that has stood out of the crowd so far is France, whose president did not hesitate to recognize the Transitional Council as soon as it held its first meeting. Thus, France has achieved three goals. First, it has made up for the blunder of its Former Minister of Foreign Affairs Michelle Aliout Marie. The latter offered to help the Tunisian regime to quell the protests that broke out in Sidi Bouzid on December 17th, 2010. Second, by siding with the freedom-fighters in Libya, France has also proved to the international public opinion that it is still a country that stands for the defense of democracy and fundamental freedoms. Third, in the process, if its bet on the success of the revolution in Libya proves correct, it will certainly be one of the main allies of Libya in the future, which can bring with it considerable economic gains for France.
On the other hand, other countries including Russia and China have decided to stand by Qaddafi and still consider him as the “legitimate” representative of Libya. This is the reason that prompted them to abstain from voting Security Council Resolution 1973. Oil and gas are certainly behind the diplomatic move of both countries. We can conceivably assume that these two countries are hopeful that Qaddafi will still hold to his power, which will open up the door for oil and gas prospection for Russian and Chinese companies.
The participation of Morocco in the Paris meeting on Libya in the wake of the adoption of Security Council Resolution 1973 was the right decision made by Morocco toward asserting itself as one of the countries that spare no effort towards preserving international peace and security, particularly in the Maghreb. This participation has won Morocco the praise of its leading Western allies. In her press conference on March 23rd, after meeting with the Moroccan Minister of Foreign Affairs, US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, commended the efforts made by Morocco in the Libyan crisis and praised the role being played by the latter in promoting stability in the Maghreb, particularly its role in the Arab League’s decision to call for the protection of Libyan civilians. Also, she mentioned the comprehensive constitutional reform announced by King Mohamed VI on March 9th, stressing that its meets the aspirations of his people, the political parties and different stakeholders. In the same vein, she alluded to the Autonomy Plan for the Sahara, emphasizing that this plan is “serious, realistic and credible, potential approach to satisfy the aspirations of the people in the western Sahara to run their own affairs in peace and dignity”.
In light of what I mentioned earlier, I am of those who believe that Morocco should go one step further and recognize the National Transitional Council of Libya. This move will not only enhance its international standing as an open and democratic country, it will also result in political gains for Morocco, mostly with regard to the Sahara.*
By officially recognizing the National Transitional Council of Libya, Morocco would be the first Arab and African country to take this step. This would send a clear signal to the international community, chiefly those who support the Polisario, that Morocco sides with the democratic claims of the Libyan people and supports its fight for freedom and the end of dictatorship, while news reports and declaration by Libyan diplomats in New York, point to the collusion of Algeria with Qaddafi.
Moreover, Morocco would regain leadership in Africa as a country that defends the rights of the oppressed people and will, thus, be perceived as a role model in the continent, in terms of laying the foundations of a smooth transition from an autocracy to a democratic regime. This might counterbalance the weight and aura that Algeria has been enjoying in Africa in the past as leader of the non aligned countries. In turn, many African countries may withdraw their recognition of the so-called “RASD” which, consequently, would further weaken the position of the Polisario Front internationally.
In the likely scenario that the rebellion succeeds in removing Qaddafi from power and in establishing a democratic regime in Libya, the Libyan people would certainly not forget the moral and political support provided to them by Morocco during their plight, while other countries were afraid to take a clear stand on the Libyan crisis. While Qaddafi’s Libya and Algeria were forming an alliance aimed at preventing Morocco from achieving its territorial integrity, the demise of the Qaddafi regime would result in Algeria losing its main regional ally in the Maghreb. As many news reports point to the direct implication of Algeria in helping Qaddafi quash the uprising, it is most likely that the Algerian regime would be shunned by the new government that will emerge in Libya.
Furthermore, a democratic regime in Libya would be a strategic ally to Morocco in the Maghreb and could play a leading real in supporting the latter’s approach on the Sahara, while denouncing the fallacies of the Polisario claims and the shallowness of its questionable democratic leanings.
Even in the unlikely scenario that Qaddafi remains in power, Morocco would not have much to lose diplomatically as the Qaddafi regime would be ostracized once again. Even if Qaddafi lent Libya’s financial and diplomatic support to the Polisario, this would play against the latter and damage its supposed reputation as a progressive and democracy-prone movement. In the process, the credibility of Morocco as a democratic country would be strengthened. This could help Morocco’s diplomatic campaign geared towards drawing more support from the international community to the Moroccan approach on the Sahara. As a result, the seriousness of Morocco in implementing the Autonomy Plan, in conformity with international standards on matters of autonomy, will gain more credibility.
As the region of the Maghreb is in a watershed, I think that the Moroccan government should seize the opportunity brought about by the political uprising unfolding in this region in order to make a stride in its efforts towards depriving the Polisario from the moral and political backing it receives at the international level. Some analysts believe, as some major news networks possess compelling evidences to that effect, that the Polisario militias are accomplices, with Algeria’s blessing, in the crimes being perpetrated against the Libyan people. Based on these assumptions, Morocco has to exert every effort to push those media networks to publish this information and, thus, unveil before the international community and the world public opinion the true nature of the Polisario Front.
In addition to the political gains that Morocco can achieve from recognizing the National Transitional Council, Morocco could also reap economic benefits over the short and long term. There is no doubt that the establishment of an alliance between Morocco and Libya will result in the enhancement of their economic and commercial ties. This may result in more Libyan investments in the Moroccan economy, which could create a considerable amount of jobs and ease pressure on the labour market in Morocco. Moroccan tourism can also benefit from the establishment of a real economic cooperation between the two countries. In this likely scenario, we can witness an upsurge of Libyan tourists going to Morocco, which would also leave a positive impact on the Moroccan economy. In addition, Morocco could also be granted a preferential treatment by the new Libyan government with regards to the importation of gas and crude oil.
In light of the foregoing, I want to stress one point: even if Morocco goes down the path of recognizing the National Transitional Council of Libya, the improvement of its image around the world would not happen overnight and does not have to be taken for granted, in the absence of a sustained public relations campaign aimed at hammering the message that Morocco is a leader in Africa and the Arab world in terms of democracy and the defense of the right of the oppressed people.
It is true that reforms announced by King Mohamed VI left a positive echo around the world. However, in the midst of the unrest in Libya and Yemen, in addition to the earthquake in Japan, Morocco is not getting much attention from the world media. Neither in countries where Morocco has a deficit in terms of image as opposed to the Polisario Front, particularly in Spain, as well as in many Latin American and in Scandinavian countries.
As expected, Spanish media outlets have not reserved much coverage to the reforms announced in Morocco, nor did the Spanish media mention the implication of the Polisario in the crimes committed by Qaddafi against the Libyan people. Hence the need that Moroccan diplomacy strives towards promoting the image of Morocco, particularly before the public opinion of Spain, and demonstrate that this country does not fear a change or evolution toward a political system that will result in improving the daily lives of the Moroccan people and guarantee their fundamental freedoms.
In order for Morocco to win the battle of the media, it has to win the heart of the world public opinion. Therefore, Moroccan diplomacy and media ought to adopt a new strategy, which should consist of targeting the countries where Morocco suffer from a deficit of reputation in order to counterbalance the aura that the Polisario and its main backer, Algeria, still enjoy.
Only by adopting a clear stance in regard to the Libyan crisis and initiating a new and aggressive media-oriented strategy, Morocco will enhance its eminence in the world arena and, thus, further weaken the adversaries of its territorial integrity and its political model.