Rabat - On Wednesday, French president Emmanuel Macron came to Morocco in his first visit to a North African country since his election in May. His trip drew a lot of attention in France, Morocco, and elsewhere in the region.
Rabat – On Wednesday, French president Emmanuel Macron came to Morocco in his first visit to a North African country since his election in May. His trip drew a lot of attention in France, Morocco, and elsewhere in the region.
Mustapha Tossa is a Moroccan journalist and political analyst living in France. A specialist of French politics, Morocco World News talks with him to discuss the French President’s visit to Morocco, why it was important, and why it made Algeria unhappy, as well as the future of Morocco-France relations under Macron.
MWN: The French President Emmanuel Macron left Morocco on Thursday. It was reported that he came “to get to know” King Mohammed VI, since they had not met before. How would you characterize his visit to the Kingdom?
Mustapha Tossa: This visit was successful on all levels. Its timing, as well as the context in which it took place, proves that French officials wanted to strengthen the relationship between King Mohammed VI and President Emmanuel Macron. They wanted also to kick off a strategic dialogue between Rabat and Paris on regional crises, such as that of Libya and Qatar, whose implications are hugely dangerous.
Libya has become a security nightmare for North Africa and Europe. This country is turning into a central stronghold of the Islamic State (ISIS). European security services have drawn attention to a new fact that remains potentially deadly: the last terrorist attacks that struck Europe in France, Belgium, Germany and the United Kingdom were planned in and directed from Libya.
There is also the crisis in Qatar which is threatening to blow up the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).
France and Morocco found themselves in the same boat. Both countries entertain economic and military relations with the Gulf, so they have a vital interest in making sure the tension in the region decreases and does not escalate to a confrontation between Gulf states, or at least to a paralyzing cold war between them.
MWN: With his visit to Morocco, Macron broke with a tradition that made Algeria the first North African destination for a newly-elected French president. An Algerian website interpreted Macron’s choice as an indication of the end of a “forced friendship” between France and Algeria. What’s the significance of Macron’s choice of Morocco?
MT: By visiting Morocco first, Emmanuel Macron wanted to send a clear political message regarding the importance and preeminence of the Paris-Rabat axis. This is not the kind of situation that would please Algerian authorities, who have always eyed a monopoly of friendly relationships with France without ever achieving it.
But in the current context, Algeria cannot have the luxury to complain for two main reasons: The first is that Algeria is currently undergoing a period of uncertainty over the succession of President [Abdelaziz] Bouteflika, for a long time sick and paralyzed.
The second reason is that when Emmanuel Macron called some of the actions perpetuated by [French] colonization [of Algeria] “crimes against humanity,” which was the first time a high French politician has held such a discourse, he showed that he has courage and free will which makes it unwise and unfruitful for Algeria to try to go against him.
Still, Algeria’s strategy remains faithful to its objective of trying to sow discord in French-Moroccan relationships. These attempts had failed with Macron’s predecessors, Nicolas Sarkozy and Francois Hollande.
There is no indication they will succeed with Macron either. The new French president, who has a great sense of realism, seems immune from being influenced by these machinations.
MWN: Algerians showed a lot of enthusiasm for Macron during his presidential campaign. Former Algerian Minister of Foreign Affairs Ramtane Lamamra described him as “a friend of Algeria.” But, after the announcement of his visit to Morocco, some Algerian news outlets harshly criticized their officials for “lacking realism.” Do you think that Algerian leaders were expecting that Macron would favor better relationships with their country over Morocco?
MT: When Macron went to Algeria as a presidential candidate and made his famous statement on “colonization and its crimes against humanity,” a wind of enthusiasm blew over the country which led some of the country’s officials to describe him as “a friend of Algeria.”
We should say that back then that the [now] French president hit two birds with one stone: He put an end to a French taboo that had been used by the Algerian state as a source of legitimacy in its strained relations with the former colonizer.
Algerian officials have been dreaming of a French government that would entertain tense relations with the Kingdom of Morocco. They put all their strategic efforts to see this dream come true.
Macron’s visit to Morocco and the strong relationships he has established with the King, as well as the strategic alliance between the two countries, something which he intends to consolidate, all make the Algerian obsession an unrealizable wish.
MWN: Through his success and that of his party La République en Marche, President Macron has changed the face and rapports de forces in French politics. Morocco has had strong ties with the French right and managed to establish good relations with the left in recent years. Now, with the emergence of Macron’s party as major political force, how will Kingdom adapt to this new reality?
MT: It is true that the achievement Emmanuel Macron has made is inspiring young Moroccans who have [a political] vocation to run for political office. As for the relations with France, Morocco has always had privileged ties with the French right but it also had the political intelligence to disarm the hostile left.
Today this problematic does not really arise. Emmanuel Macron has revolutionized the French political field. The gap between the right and left is closing. This will certainly have an impact on diplomacy and relations with foreign partners. [There is a shift towards] more realism and less ideology.
Morocco has all the assets to adapt with this reality and thus preserve France as both a precious ally and untiring “lawyer” in international forums.