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Arab World Churning: India must smartly build a strategic partnership with Morocco

King Mohammed VI and Saudi King

New Delhi – The unveiling of Saudi Arabia’s ambitious plan, christened Saudi Vision 2030 – to wean the Islamic Kingdom away from oil, needs to be seen in the right perspective. On the economic front, three things have forced Riyadh to take this bold step – the prolonged period of cheap oil, advances in shale oil and gas technology, and growing concerns about global warming. These factors have convinced the Saudi royal family that the days of crude are numbered. Hence, the massive effort to restructure the Saudi economy and boost non-oil sources of revenue.

According to the stated plan, Saudi Arabia will end its dependence on oil by 2020, sell up to 5% of shares in state oil giant Aramco, create the world’s largest sovereign wealth fund, cut back on profligate spending, and invest heavily in new technologies and innovation to drive growth and create jobs for its young population. It also plans to create a tourism sector.

While the proposed reforms are indeed bold for the conservative Kingdom, let’s also recognise the geopolitical factors driving this transition. There was a latent message in Riyadh’s recent simultaneous hosting of two Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) summits – one with the US and the other with Morocco. Attending the respective events, Morocco’s King Mohammed VI and US President Barack Obama were practically accorded equal status. This could be read as the Saudis’ frustration with Washington over the latter’s approach to the Middle East in recent years.

After all, the Saudis have made plain their dissatisfaction over the US-Iran nuclear deal which they see as emboldening Tehran to expand the so-called Shia crescent across the Middle East. With the US reducing its strategic presence in the region, Riyadh believes it has no other option but to take matters into its own hands. The announced grand Islamic military alliance against terrorism is a step in this direction. As is the Kingdom’s boosted outreach to Morocco. The latter has emerged as an island of stability in the Arab world. It has been championing South-South cooperation to ensure economic security, fighting radicalism through a multi-dimensional programme of promoting moderate Islam, keeping alive the cause of Palestinian statehood, and rallying the international community to do more on climate change.

On the last score, Morocco will host the next UN climate summit – COP 22 – in November in the city of Marrakech. Add to this the fact that Morocco sits on the crossroads of Africa, Middle East and Europe – and has been strengthening its diplomatic engagements with diverse countries such as Russia, the Netherlands and China – and it’s easy to see why Saudi Arabia and the GCC covet Morocco as an important ally in their strategic rebalancing of the Middle East.

There’s no denying the fact that a critical reordering of the Middle East is currently underway. Equations are being reworked, territories are being adjusted and new alliances are being forged. Against this backdrop, Morocco is emerging as a key ballast of the Arab world. And this is precisely why India should not waste any time in boosting ties with this vital North African nation. In fact, King Mohammed VI in his speech to the GCC mentioned that Morocco was keen on upgrading ties with India. New Delhi should jump at this opportunity. And Vice-President Hamid Ansari’s slated trip to Morocco next month and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s attendance at the UN climate summit in Marrakech later this year present the perfect platforms for Indian-Moroccan synergy.

And such synergy could provide India a special position in relation to the Arab world as the latter looks to reorient its strategic and economic outlook.  Hence, New Delhi and Rabat should work towards consolidating their bilateral ties within the framework of South-South cooperation and build a strategic partnership.

This article was first published on Times of India

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Morocco World News’ editorial policy

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