New York - Perhaps what is most striking in the analysis of Morocco’s efforts in recent years to defend its position on the Western Sahara at the global level is the quasi-absence of parliamentary and partisan diplomacy in defending and promoting the Moroccan autonomy plan as a solution to the conflict. An example of the failure of Moroccan parliamentary diplomacy is the recent recognition of Chilean parliament of the so-called Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR).
New York – Perhaps what is most striking in the analysis of Morocco’s efforts in recent years to defend its position on the Western Sahara at the global level is the quasi-absence of parliamentary and partisan diplomacy in defending and promoting the Moroccan autonomy plan as a solution to the conflict. An example of the failure of Moroccan parliamentary diplomacy is the recent recognition of Chilean parliament of the so-called Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR).
While Moroccan diplomacy has fervently defended its national position on all fronts, whether at the multilateral or bilateral levels, most Moroccan political parties are still in deep hibernation on the subject, with a few exceptions. This happens at a time when Moroccan political parties, especially leftist parties, know very well that the majority of governments that support the Polisario are of leftist and radical backgrounds.
Moroccans had to wait for the speech delivered by King Mohammed VI at the opening of the autumn session of parliament in October 2014 to see some parties- some from the opposition and others not represented in the parliament- to take initiatives to play their role in partisan diplomacy.
It would be delusional to think Morocco would be in a position to win all the diplomatic battles it engages in without the active participation of civil society and political parties. If Morocco had political parties with a clear vision and strategy to open dialogue with the leftist political parties of countries that sympathize with the Polisario, it would have succeeded in convincing some of them, especially in Latin America, to reconsider their stances on the conflict, or at least in preventing the Polisario from making new breakthroughs.
In light of the recent developments in the conflict, and the determination of Algeria and the Polisario to mobilize support in Latin America, it is now incumbent upon Moroccan political parties to let go of their empty slogans and hollow language and unleash all of their potential to approach their Latin American counterparts- which traditionally oppose Morocco’s position on the Sahara- in order to convince them to reconsider their positions.
However, this objective cannot be achieved through sporadic visits to Latin America, but rather through the creation of permanent and active channels of communication, the intensification of exchange visits, the organization of seminars and lectures in the parliaments and universities of these countries, and a presence in their media.
The best and only way to make these efforts successful and meaningful is to utilize the right people; those who truly know the multiple facets of the conflict, including its legal, historical, political, and economic aspects. These people should also have a great command of Spanish and be familiar with the cultures, histories, and political systems of Latin American countries.
What Morocco truly needs today more than ever is not political parties or personalities whose concern is to make short visits, visits that often have little or no impact on the position of the countries they visit. Morocco needs political parties and leaders who have clear-cut goals and well-thought-out work plans and who work to achieve them through initiatives that promote Morocco’s positions and the efforts it has been making to put an end to the conflict.
Lessons Learned from Morocco-Sweden Friction
The tension between Morocco and Sweden last autumn, as a result of Stockholm’s intention to recognize the so-called SADR, has proved beyond any doubt the pivotal role partisan diplomacy can play. During the short-lived friction, Moroccans witnessed how Nabila Mounib, the Secretary-General of the Unified Socialist Party, succeeded in easing the conflict between Morocco and the leftist Swedish government and building bridges of mutual trust between the two parties. Mounib’s diplomatic move eventually resulted in Stockholm’s decision to put such recognition on the back burner.
While it is not possible to determine whether Nabila Mounib’s talks with Swedish officials were directly behind the Swedish government’s decision, one can argue that Mounib played an important role in convincing the Swedish government to listen to Morocco’s concerns and to take them into consideration, which ultimately spared the two countries a diplomatic crisis.
Need to Build Communication Channel with Spain’s Podemos
Morocco should build on this experience and draw lessons from it on how to deal with countries where the Polisario enjoys support, such as in Spain. In recent years, Podemos has emerged as a strong radical leftist party whose leaders have expressed direct support for the Polisario on many occasions. The high status that this party now enjoys on the Spanish political scene highlights the urgent need for Moroccan leftist parties to approach it and attempt to open communication channels with it.
Podemos’s presence in the Spanish parliament as its third largest political party will enable it to put pressure on the future Spanish government by systematically bringing up the conflict over the Sahara and overtly adopting the Polisario’s stance. It is very likely that Podemos will make impassioned calls on the Spanish government to recognize the so-called SADR. Despite the fact that these maneuvers will not yield the expected results, they could, however, strain relations between Rabat and Madrid and provide moral support to the separatists. Additionally, Podemos may also launch political and media campaigns to challenge the agreements between Morocco and the European Union, especially with regard to fishing and Morocco’s eligibility to grant Europe licenses to fish in the territorial waters under its sovereignty in the Western Sahara.
At a time when the Moroccan government is striving to strengthenits relation with Spain, it should also strengthen its presence in Spanish media and academia to educate the Spanish public about Rabat’s position and the merits of its autonomy plan, in order to counterbalance the efforts made by the Polisario to demonize Morocco.
Such efforts, however, will not succeed unless Moroccan political parties, especially the leftist parties, assume their full role. Moroccan leftist parties should adapt to the new political reality in Spain. Instead of the empty chair policy they have adopted thus far, they should try to build channels of permanent communication with the Spanish leftist parties, especially with Podemos. These moves could ultimately soften this party’s positions towards Morocco and avoid that it become the ‘spokesperson’ of the Polisario in Spain.
Moroccan political parties should draw lessons from the experience of Nabila Mounib, which showed the complementary role political parties could play to back up Rabat’s official diplomacy and build bridges between governments led by leftist parties and Morocco.
Yet this partisan diplomacy should not be occasional. Instead, it should be implemented throughout the year based on a clear strategy. Morocco’s opponents are working tirelessly to mobilize support for their position the world over. Therefore, Moroccan political parties should remain constantly vigilant to help their country win the diplomatic battles it will fight in the future. The road toward winning the media and diplomatic war Algeria and the Polisario are waging against Morocco is still strenuous. Therefore, the mobilization should be global with the involvement of all stakeholders who can help promote and strengthen the Moroccan position and pave the way towards achieving a mutually agreed political solution to the Western Sahara conflict.
An earlier version of this article was published on the New Arab
Samir Bennis is the co-founder of and editor-in-chief of Morocco World News. You can follow him on Twitter @SamirBennis