New York – Morocco will hold elections for Parliament this coming Friday, October 7, only the second of their kind since the adoption of Morocco’s new Constitution in 2011.
The new Constitution established a new phase of democratization and rule of law in Morocco. It has also afforded political parties room for maneuver to play an important role in the country’s economic, political, and social development, both from within the government or from the opposition.
From the outside, this election occurs as the world is facing many challenges. It is imperative for Morocco to immunize itself from the inside and mobilize all its forces to better face these challenges. Morocco’s parliamentary election comes in a year when many countries with which Morocco’s has strong relationships will hold decisive elections, especially the United States and France. Spain as well is expected to hold legislative elections for the third time in less than a year in the event that its political parties fail to form a new government.
The question that observers are asking is whether Moroccan political parties have any plans or vision to complement the groundwork carried out by Morocco’s diplomacy and help in defending the fundamental issues of Morocco’s foreign policy agenda, especially the Sahara.
For instance, what plans have Morocco’s political parties devised to deal with the Spanish radical party, Podemos, known for its hostility towards Morocco sympathy and with the Polisario. What strategy will the parties adopt to defend Morocco’s interests in the event Podemos participates in the upcoming Spanish government? On the other hand, what is their strategy in the event Donald Trump wins the US Presidential election? And what is their vision to establish channels of communication with the representatives of the two major US parties to make them aware of the leading role Morocco plays in the fight against terrorism and the dissemination of the values of tolerance, as well as Morocco’s position on the Sahara and the arguments that underpin it?
Lack of vision for mobilizing parliamentary diplomacy
It seems that the time and energy Moroccan parties spend in weakening one another through the exploitation of scandals leave no room for them to develop genuine and well-thought-out strategies on how they intend to improve the performance of Morocco’s diplomacy and complement its work over the next five years. This total absence of real programs to promote influential parliamentary players in Morocco’s foreign policy is nothing new. It is in line with the empty chair policy they have adopted over the past decade and their failure to play any role in defending Morocco’s foreign policy interests.
What is striking when one analyzes the way in which Morocco has handled the issue of the Western Sahara in the past several years, is the absence of parliamentary or partisan diplomacy in defending the Moroccan position or in raising awareness about the Moroccan autonomy plan as a political solution to this conflict. The latest examples that translate this absence and the failure of Morocco’s political parties to play a role is the decision of the Chilean parliament in May to urge the country’s President to recognize the so-called Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) and defend the Sahrawi’s right to self-determination.
This adds to the likelihood that Ecuador may restore its recognition of the SADR. During a visit of Ecuador’s Foreign Minister, Guillaume Long, to Algeria on September 29, he hinted at the existence of “relations of fraternity” between Ecuador and the “Sahrawi people.” This statement may signal Ecuador’s intention to reconsider its decision to suspend its recognition of the so-called SADR and bring its relations with the Polsario back to where they were before June 2014.
The same trend has been developing in other major Latin American countries in recent years. In September 2014, Brazil’s House of Representatives called on the then-Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff to take a “clear stance” on the Western Sahara and to recognize the so-called SADR. And there is a great chance that the Brazilian parliament will keep putting pressure on the government to take this step. While this serious and worrying development is taking place, Moroccan political parties are off the radar.
Parties can do more than merely praising the King’s initiatives
Some might argue that foreign policy is the heart of the king’s prerogatives. The king sets the course of Morocco’s foreign policy. Therefore, political parties do not have room to maneuver and play a prominent a role in defending Morocco’s most pressing foreign policy issues. However, while foreign policy is the prerogative of the King in his capacity as head of state, political parties can take initiative, provide advice, and serve an important role in parallel diplomatic relations, rather than merely playing the role of a spectator who waits for the King’s initiatives and then praises them.
Providing advice and taking initiative were exactly the roles that Moroccan political parties played after Morocco’s independence until the beginning of the 21st century. Political leaders such as Allal Fassi, Mohammed Boucetta, Abderrahim Bouabid, and Abderrahman Youssoufi left an indelible mark on Morocco’s collective memory with their initiatives to preserve the country’s territorial integrity and their calls on the government to adopt positions that serve Morocco’s foreign policy interests.
Following Morocco’s independence in 1956, it was at the insistence of Morocco’s political parties, such as Istiqlal and the Socialist Union of Popular Forces (USFP), that both the late King Mohammed V and King Hassan II adopted an aggressive foreign policy from the late 1950s to the 1970s to end the Spanish occupation of Moroccan territories, such Tarfaya, Sidi Ifni, and the Western Sahara.
Moroccan political leaders should be inspired by the tremendous work carried out in 2000 when Morocco succeeded in convincing India to withdraw its recognition of the so-called SADR. This outcome was achieved thanks to the leadership role played by former Prime Minister Abderrahman Youssoufi. During an official visit to India in February 2000, he was accompanied by a parliamentary delegation, which played an important role in convincing India to sever its ties with the so-called SADR.
What Morocco needs now more than ever is not political leaders whose only concern is to make visits for the sake of show, taking pictures, and promoting themselves in the media and giving the impression that they are playing the role of partisan diplomacy. What Morocco needs is the presence of clear-sighted political leaders who are keen fully to play their role in defending Morocco’s foreign policy interests rather than leaders whose main concern is to keep their comfortable positions to the detriment of the aspirations of the Moroccan people.
A sober analysis of Morocco’s politics and its leaders clearly shows that Morocco does not have a political elite that is capable of working hand in hand with the king or proposing foreign policy orientations that can help the country prepare its course of action for the next five or ten years. Moroccans need to wait for the emergence of a new political elite and hope that it will have the leadership skills and charisma that will enable its representatives fully to participate in devising Morocco’s foreign policy.
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