By Ghassan Essalehi
By Ghassan Essalehi
Morocco world News
Ifrane, Morocco, January 24, 2012
Identity is an important element which influences the construction of a state’s foreign policy. In this sense, US relations with North African countries have been influenced by different sets of interests and identity traits which, consequently, shaped its priorities and the nature of their relations. Also, in this sense, US foreign policy priorities differ from one state to another. Yet, there are some trends that are present in regards to all North African states, since these trends constitute the basic elements in the US foreign policy identity. Before elaborating on these trends, it is important to mention that the US views the region of North Africa as being of geostrategic importance to its security. Therefore, the US provides military training to Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia in order to enable them to develop their capacities as participants in its fight on terrorism. The Saharan region and the Sahel are reported to be an insecure area where kidnapping takes place and regular violent attacks occur. Usually, Al Qaeda’s organization in the Islamic Maghreb declares its responsibility.
Major trends that are present in the US foreign policy towards all of the North African states deal with the need (and demands) to liberalize market economies, to open up the political scene for pluralism, and to advocate for human and civil rights. For example, the US has sometimes provided incentives and publicly invited North African countries to adopt an open and liberal policy in terms of their economic development and trade affairs. Also, the US was always present to directly and indirectly imply to North African countries that they needed to provide their political scenes with the rights to be plural and open to the voices of opposition. Of course, these needs of the region were a way for the US to project its identity as an open and democratic country in which political difference is regarded as an asset and thus should be promoted. Most of these concerns were directed towards Algeria and Libya where the leadership was concentrated in the hands of a few or a limited number of senior military officials.
As for Morocco and Tunisia, their economies were perceived as relatively “well-off” compared to neighboring countries which shared (more or less) the same conditions. This acceptable performance of the economy and its liberal markets could spare these states (i.e. Morocco and Tunisia) the massive critics that they otherwise would have received in the absence of such conditions. These examples prove that US interests are highly dependent on a country’s political scene (i.e. whether it is open to diversity and pluralism or not), and its economy (i.e. whether it is liberal and is an open market or more of a state controlled and dominated economy). As for human and civil rights, one could arguably claim that North African states all share a lack of application and protection of these rights. However, the US has made it clear that North African countries should comply fully in the application of international conventions that deal with these issues, especially since many of these have been signed (and, sometimes) ratified by some or most of the North African states. (It is mainly Morocco and Tunisia that has failed to abide by their commitments).
The US expects the Maghreb to serve as model pro-Western states in the following sense: Maghrebian states should be open to political diversity, open to other faiths, accept other states’ existence (namely the right for Israel to exist and survive in the middle of Arab/Muslim states), liberalize their economies, and emancipate women (to be reflected by significant political participation of women and their involvement in economic affairs).
For these US expectations comes the Maghrebian states’ demands for foreign aid and incentives. In this sense, the North African states find it necessary to develop ties with US state agencies, such as the USAID and MEPI, as well as other non-governmental organizations that can offer a lot for them to develop. To explain, Morocco and Tunisia, for example, receive foreign aid in the form of material, goods, and seminar workshops. The beneficiaries include political and human rights’ activists, bloggers, teachers, members of parliaments, and many other segments of society that then adapt best practices (in their field of expertise) in order to spread them around their communities or, for that matter, make the best use out of them in order to develop their countries in the direction the US sees fit and convenient for the country. This direction would then be aligned with the interests and expectations of US foreign policy in the region. As far as Algeria and Libya are concerned, they are more important for the US to attract and co-opt to their line of ideology since they have long been viewed and treated as allies of the “Eastern Camp”. Tunisia and Morocco, then, serve as models for these countries to emulate and adopt the same trends in order to lift up their situation in various fields.
Along with the new regimes in Tunisia and Libya, in addition to the recent winning of the often described moderate Islamist PJD party in Morocco, a major part of the Maghrebian leadership(s) has changed and gained access to power. In light of these changes, the US must decide how much influence it wants to actually have, and whether it can strike the necessary balance between those friendships it has with North African countries and its historical unpopularity in the eyes of the populations. If Washington gains a good understanding of these developments and the new expectations of the region’s population from its leadership, it can manage to better plan its future relations and weigh its influence over this part of the Arab speaking world.
Photo by Reuters/Bernadett Szabo
Edited by Benjamin Villanti
Ghassan Essalehi was born in 1988 in Rabat, Morocco. He holds a BA in International Studies & Communication and now is completing an MA in Diplomacy at Al Akhawayn University in Ifrane, Morocco. Ghassan has experience as the Editor in Chief of the University English newspaper and focuses on community welfare. Ghassan is also a member of his university Student Government Association and Mimouna Club which aims at promoting Moroccan Judaism.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Morocco World News’ editorial policy
© Morocco World News