New York - For several weeks, Moroccans have been awaiting the changes in ambassadors announced by the Foreign Ministry a couple of months ago. Few Moroccans could have anticipated the significance of the new appointments.
New York – For several weeks, Moroccans have been awaiting the changes in ambassadors announced by the Foreign Ministry a couple of months ago. Few Moroccans could have anticipated the significance of the new appointments.
For the first time in Morocco’s diplomatic history, King Mohammed VI appointed 78 ambassadors. While some have been appointed for the first time, others were simply transferred from one capital to another. Such is the case of Lalla Joumala Alaoui, who was appointed Morocco’s Ambassador to Washington after having spent seven years at the helm of the Moroccan embassy in London, and of Rachad Bouhlal, who has now been appointed Morocco’s Ambassador to Tokyo after spending four years as Ambassador to the United States.
Besides the significant number of appointments, what’s more significant is the location where the Moroccan monarch chaired the Council of Ministers during which the appointments were approved. By holding the Council meeting in Laayoune, Morocco seeks to convey an unequivocal message to the international community that, while it has failed to deliver a long-lasting political solution to the Western Sahara conflict, Morocco is determined to implement the autonomy proposal it presented to the Security Council in 2007.
The warm welcome given by the Saharawi population to King Mohammed VI both in Laayoune and Dakhla demonstrates the Saharawi people’s attachment to Morocco’s sovereignty over the Western Sahara and comes as a rebuttal to the unsubstantiated claim that the Polisario is the sole representative of the Saharawis.
On the other hand, extremely significant is the caliber of the ambassadors who have been appointed in several key capitals, especially in Washington, London, Tokyo, Stockholm, Copenhagen, and Brussels. That Morocco appointed a number of renowned women to key diplomatic positions shows that the country is determined to implement its gender equality policies and to ensure that women play a central role in shaping Morocco’s new foreign policy orientations.
Along with the appointment of career and seasoned diplomat Nasser Bourita as Minister Delegate to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, these appointments manifest a new vision of Moroccan diplomacy, in line with the speech delivered by King Mohammed VI in Laayoune last November. During that speech, the King called for a “radical break” from the way in which the Moroccan government had been handling the Sahara issue both at the domestic and international levels.
“Today, 40 years after the Green March, and regardless of the advantages and the downsides, we want to make a radical break with the manner in which Sahara issues have been dealt with so far: a break with the rentier economy and privileges, a break with poor private sector involvement and a break with the mentality of centralized administration.”
Centrality of the Western Sahara in Morocco’s foreign policy agenda
An analysis of the background of those appointed in the key capitals cited above shows that Morocco seeks to usher in a new era in its handling of the Western Sahara conflict, marked by proactivity, away from the policy of reaction that marked the Moroccan diplomacy in the past.
The profile of these people shows also that Morocco has come to the conclusion that it should reinforce its position on all fronts, especially in countries where Morocco has suffered a deficit of image and of public opinion, particularly in Scandinavian countries.
One of the biggest shortcomings of Morocco’s diplomacy in the past was its quasi-absence from countries known for their support for the Polisario. This empty chair policy was detrimental to Morocco’s interests and allowed the Polisario and Algeria to garner support for their position on the conflict. This policy has been in display in recent months during the diplomatic raw between Morocco and Sweden over the alleged intention of the Swedish government to recognize the Self-proclaimed Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR). To their utter dismay, Moroccans discovered that since 2012, their country has not had an ambassador in Sweden, the most important of Scandinavian countries, and where the Polisario have a fertile ground for spreading its claims against Morocco in terms of human rights and the alleged exploitation of natural resources.
The battle of human rights in Scandinavian countries and the United Kingdom
It seems that Morocco has learned from past experiences, especially from the Swedish diplomatic crisis and is now determined to neutralize Polisario’s maneuvers in these countries.
By appointing Amina Bouayach, former Secretary General of the Moroccan Organization of Human Rights (OMDH) and current General Secretary of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), as new Ambassador to Sweden, and Khadija Rouissi, a seasoned human rights activist, as Ambassador to Denmark, Rabat has finally gotten the message. In fact, the best way to deal with Scandinavian countries is by having interlocutors who speak their language in terms of human rights, and have the ability and credibility to counterbalance the rhetoric developed by the Polisario. With long careers in human rights advocacy at the domestic and international level under their belt, these two human rights advocates will reinforce the work done by Souad El Alaoui, Morocco’s Ambassador in Norway, who has striven, in recent years, to defend Morocco’s position on the Sahara in Scandinavian counties.
The same applies to London where Morocco has appointed Abdeslam Aboudrar, someone who has a long-standing career in the defense of human rights and in the fight against corruption. Aboudrar, who has been hitherto President of Central Authority for the Prevention of Corruption, will build on the work carried out by his predecessor, Lalla Joumala Alaoui. Through his appointment, Morocco seeks to place a personality whose track record in human rights advocacy will help him have credibility in dealing with British politicians, the medias and civil society stakeholders, and in counterbalancing the claims spread by the Polisario and its supporters in the United Kingdom.
In addition, his status as co-founder of Transparency Maroc, makes him the best interlocutor likely to establish channels of dialogue between human rights watch-dogs, such as the London-based Amnesty International and the Moroccan government. In recent years, the Moroccan government described Amnesty International’s reports on Morocco as “biased and not reflecting the reality on the ground,” especially in the Western Sahara. The appointment of Aboudrar may help redress the situation between the two parties and reestablish trust between them.
The European Union and the battle of the exploitation of natural resources in the Sahara
Of no less importance is the appointment of Ahmed Reda Chami, as Morocco’s Ambassador to the European Union in Brussels. Known for his eloquence and negotiation skills, this former Minister of Industry will have the responsibility to repair the strained relations between Morocco and the EU. The relations between both parties are going through one of their worst periods over the past two decades after the European Court of Justice (ECJ) issued a ruling last December to annul the European Union -Morocco agricultural agreement signed in 2012.
The decision was based on the claim that the agreement includes products from the Western Sahara. Despite the EU’s decision to appeal the ruling, the relations between both parties have been at a standstill. It will incumbent on the new ambassador to mount an aggressive strategy to defend Morocco’s position on the Western Sahara and to refute the claim that Morocco is exploiting the natural resources of the region. The new mega-projects launched by King Mohammed last November and this week come as a testimony that Morocco is determined to turn the territory into an economic development hub and a link between Morocco and Sub-Saharan Africa.
The new ambassador will also strive to convince the EU that the time has come to review its policy with regards to the Polisario, especially in light of the EU’s report that revealed the Polisario and Algeria’s direct involvement in the embezzlement of humanitarian aid destined for the Saharawi population in the Tindouf camps, in southwestern Algeria.
Giving a new face to Morocco’s presence in the United States
Perhaps the most significant appointment of all is Lalla Joumala Alaoui, Morocco’s new Ambassador to the United States. The Moroccan diaspora in the United States cheered at the appointment of Lalla Joumala, not because her predecessor had done a poor job, but because of the significant legacy she has left in the United Kingdom. During her tenure as Morocco’s envoy in London, Lalla Joumala succeeded in neutralizing the influence of the Polisario and preventing the separatist movement from making major strides in garnering the support of the British government.
Through this new appointment in the US, the Moroccan monarch seeks both to give new impetus to the relationship between Rabat and Washington and reinforce the channels of dialogue between both countries with regards to the question of Western Sahara. In preparation for the new American President who will be elected next November, he also seeks to breathe new life into the strategic relations between the two countries in light of the developments on the ground in recent years in the MENA region and the pivotal role Morocco has come to play in stabilizing the region and in the fight against terrorism.
That the king has appointed someone of the caliber and experience of Lalla Joumala, shows that he is personally taking charge of the issue of Western Sahara and that he is determined to avoid a repeat of the 2013 scenario, when the American Ambassador to the United Nations, submitted to the Security Council a draft resolution calling for the establishment of a human rights monitoring mechanism in the Western Sahara and the Tindouf camps.
King Mohammed VI is keenly aware that any solution to the conflict should be initiated by the United States, the pen-holder of the draft resolutions on the Sahara in the Security Council. Therefore, it is of utmost importance to adopt a new strategy that will convince the new American administration that takes power next year that is time to move beyond positive neutrality on the subject to clearly supporting the Moroccan Autonomy Plan as the only viable solution likely to put an end to the Western Sahara conflict.
While the new wave of appointments is a move on the right path, it is still early to predict the impact it will have on the performance of Morocco’s diplomacy and to what extent it will help the Moroccan government ward off all the attempts that Algeria and its allies will make to deviate the UN political process from its track and keep the status quo. The coming months and the way in which Moroccan diplomats will deal with the new developments of the issue and the crises that might arise will help us gauge the efficiency of the work that will be done by Moroccan diplomats. However, one thing is certain: with Morocco’s new standing as a pivotal country in the fight against terrorism and a main player in Africa in terms of sustainable development and south-south cooperation, the country seems to be more confident and on the verge of breaking away from its past practices and adopting an aggressive and proactive diplomacy that will help eventually pave the way towards putting an end to the Western Sahara conflict.
Samir Bennis is the co-founder of and editor-in-chief of Morocco World News. You can follow him on Twitter @Samir Bennis
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