A scene of defiant grandstanding and fierce opposition to a Saudi proposal shows just how badly the kingdom’s regional leadership has been affected by recent developments.
Speaking to Moroccan outlet le 360, the ruling Justice and Development Party MP Abdellatif Benyacoub said that the fierce dialogue started because of his vehement objection to the introduction by the Saudi MP of four proposals in the final communiqué without consulting other MPs.
According to Benyacoub, Mishaal ben Fahm al Salami, the Saudi MP who is the current chair of the Arab parliament, condemned the French government’s handling of the Yellow Vests protests in one of his proposals. The clause pointed to France’s “state violence” and “human rights abuse.”
While angered by the fact that the Saudi MP made the additions without asking for other MPs’ opinions, Benyacoub told le 360 he could not stand the “vindictive” language Al-Salami used in condemning France. He suggested he felt that the condemnation was biased, uncalled for, and politically motivated.
“I expressed to the Saudi president of the Arab parliament my reservations about the resolutions and requested the clause that condemned France be cancelled,” the Moroccan MP said.
“I told him that his denunciation of France was unfounded and inappropriate.”
But why would a Moroccan MP mount a fierce objection to draft proposals made in the Arab parliament to condemn a European country?
Apparently aware that his statements are bound to be interpreted as a pro-France stance, Benyacoub said that he simply felt that the Cairo gathering had no legal right to interfere in political developments in France.
Not only was the Arab parliament interfering in France’s internal affairs, but democracy and human rights in France are more “robustly respected than they are in many Arab countries.”
“I said that France’s democracy is solid and exemplary… unlike many Arab countries where human rights are not respected.”
To the Moroccan’s pile of reservations and objections, however, the Saudi MP is believed to have answered that “the Arab parliament has the right to have opinions on any matter.”
Was it all a pretext?
But what if MPs’ disagreements on France’s handling of the Yellow Vests hide something much deeper? Did the strained bilateral ties between Morocco and Saudi Arabia play a role in the two MPS’ war of words?
Morocco may have brought the point of order to the floor, but the North African country’s delegation was not alone is its opposition to the Saudi’s proposals.
MPs representing Iraq and Qatar were among Morocco’s main supporters.
Delegates who shared the Moroccan MP’s position are said to have pointed out that the “vindictive” Saudi MP had no genuine interest in France’s police’s handling of the Yellow Vests protests. Instead, they argued, Al-Salami wanted to “use the platform of the Arab parliament to denounce Paris in revenge for France’s condemnation of the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.”
At the G20 summit earlier this month, France’s Emmanuel Macron was seen telling Saudi Arabia’s MBS off for supposedly “not listening” to the French president. “You never listen,” Macron told the Saudi prince, according a widely circulated footage of the pair’s brief conversation.
However, a more important factor of the MPs’ swiping at each other may be the increasingly cold relations between Rabat and Riyadh.
This month alone, a number of developments have brought to light the possibility of an impending rift in what used to be a “strategic,” “natural,” and “important” alliance.
King Mohammed VI snubbed MBS’s request for an audience, eliciting rapturous comments from Moroccans who thanked the King en masse for his move.
Most recently, the website of the Saudi football federation featured Morocco’s map without Western Sahara, sparking rage and resentment in Morocco. That was months after Saudi Arabia lobbied against Morocco’s bid to host the 2026 World Cup.
Whether these series of head-on collisions between Saudi and Moroccan positions are deliberate and connected is debatable.
What seems certain, though, is that a lot of what has been happening of late between Rabat and Riyadh suggest that the rift between the two allies may take time to come about, but it will come—at least if Rabat reaches a point where it can’t stand Riyadh’s continued provocations.