Washington - Morocco’s decision to send planes loaded with food to Qatar came under fire this past week as people criticized the move in light of Morocco’s current problems with protests in Al Hoceima and other regions of the country. Such a critique, however, is superficial and fails to recognize Morocco’s historical context.
Washington – Morocco’s decision to send planes loaded with food to Qatar came under fire this past week as people criticized the move in light of Morocco’s current problems with protests in Al Hoceima and other regions of the country. Such a critique, however, is superficial and fails to recognize Morocco’s historical context.
Certainly, there are serious and fundamental problems in several regions of the country that the government must address efficiently without further delay. Whether Morocco has the resources to launch such large-scale investment projects that are called for in all the areas of the country is another question.
Clearly the Moroccan government must respond positively to the needs that are precipitating the protests occurring in Al Hoceima and elsewhere, and acknowledge the need to listen to the oppressed and work seriously to improve their living conditions. A weak response to the demands of the people will surely precipitate additional problems.
However, the state’s commitment to address internal problems cannot come at the expense of its foreign policy interests. Domestic and foreign policy are closely linked. Emotion and hasty judgement aside, the decision to send food supplies to Qatar is a decision of which Moroccans should be proud – a symbolic and humanitarian decision demonstrating Morocco’s political savoir faire not to take part in an unwise dispute among the Gulf countries.
Instead, Morocco has confronted the crisis with a well-reasoned and balanced approach calculated to reflect its leadership on the world stage. Morocco leads through its neutrality and decision not to follow other countries’ in blockading Qatar, thereby preserving a balanced relationship of King Mohammed VI with the kings and princes of the Gulf.
In so doing, the country preserves the independence of it foreign policy decisions, and proves that it is not based on the agendas and stratagems of other countries, but in accordance with Morocco’s interests. The king’s decision is courageous. It distinguishes Morocco’s foreign policy from Saudi Arabia’s.
Morocco’s decision to send food aid to Qatar, coming after the king’s offer to mediate between the parties, demonstrates that country has learned its lesson from its hasty 2009 decision to sever relations with Iran because of that country’s differences with Bahrain.
Not only was Morocco’s decision to aid the people of Qatar politically wise, but it will likely be beneficial to Morocco, in the short, medium and long terms. Morocco is in urgent need of foreign investments to provide the infrastructure necessary in Morocco. Qatar and its people will never forget Morocco’s symbolic and courageous humanitarian gesture as their country suffers from an unprecedented and debilitating diplomatic blockade.
Morocco’s decision to send food to Qatar is unlikely to harm its relations with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Relations between Morocco’s king and leaders of these two countries are currently too strong to be adversely impacted by this decision.
Algeria is also a factor. Although Algeria has tried for more than four decades to destabilize Morocco and establish an independent state in the south, King Mohammed VI has not asked the Gulf countries, particularly Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, to sever ties with Algeria. In fact, KSA and UAE have continued to strengthen their relations with Algeria, especially economic relations. The UAE is among the largest foreign investors in Algeria, with investments of about USD 5 billion.
The second factor is that Morocco restored its diplomatic relations with Iran last October, after more than six years of severed relations due to Iran’s conflict with Bahrain. This decision came at the height of tensions in relations between Saudi Arabia and the UAE on the one hand and Iran on the other, because of Iranian nuclear developments and the war in Syria. Despite this, the restoration of diplomatic relations with Iran has not affected relations between Morocco and its Gulf allies.
Similarly, Morocco did not recognize the regime of Egyptian president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi immediately, although the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which were behind his inauguration, did so immediately after the coup against former President Mohamed Morsi.
Since Sisi seized power, relations between Morocco and Egypt have not returned to the same level as before 2011, but periodically have remained tense. Yet, while relations between the two countries have not improved, this has not affected relations between Morocco and its Gulf allies.
One hypothesis for why Morocco did not adopt a hostile position toward Qatar is that Morocco is aware that the steps taken by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain were in retaliation to Qatar’s position on Sisi’s regime, in addition to the role that Al Jazeera played in reporting on the reality of the Egyptians under the rule of the Sisi.
King Mohamed VI’s cancellation of his trip to the summit of Riyadh and his visit to Egypt at the last moment were not arbitrary or coincidental. It is far more likely that Morocco received intelligence that the outcome of the conference would not serve its interests. Therefore, this cancellation was a proactive step to avoid being trapped in regional calculations of the Gulf States.
Morocco’s decision to aid Qatar can also be understood as an attempt to prevent other neighboring countries from benefiting from the current rift within the GCC. Since the beginning of the crisis, Iran has tried to get closer to Qatar by extending its hand to it in this diplomatic blockade. Morocco clearly seeks to prevent Iran from benefiting from this diplomatic crisis and bringing Qatar more within Iran’s orbit.
Morocco’s decision to play the card of neutrality in the current Gulf crisis is strategic and may be the beginning of a greater involvement in the crisis including acting as a mediator to resolve the conflict.
A shorter version of this article was originally published on Al Jazeera