While official statements continue to deny “serious tensions,” never before have relations between Saudi Arabia and Morocco been as cold as they currently are.
“The preliminary results of the investigations indicate a ‘brutal and premeditated murder’, planned and carried out by Saudi authorities,” the tweet captioned. It quoted the UN’s coverage of Agnes Callamard’s recent trip to Istanbul to launch an investigation in the Khashoggi affair. Callamard is the UN’s special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary executions.
The tweet came amid growing tensions between the two countries, despite the official Moroccan line continually denying the “seriousness” of the Rabat-Riyadh spat.
News reports last week indicated that Morocco had recalled its ambassadors to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The move, the Associated Press reported on February 7, meant that Morocco, whose involvement in the Yemen war had gradually “changed,” was now poised to definitely “freeze involvement in the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen.”
In the Moroccan media and public, meanwhile, the reported move was welcomed. But the emphasis was placed on Saudi Arabia repeatedly undermining Morocco’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
Giving the example of a Polisario-friendly documentary by Saudi television outlet Al-Arabiya, Moroccan media noted in chorus that beyond mere symbolism, recalling ambassadors was overdue in the increasingly frosty relations.
They pointed to Riyadh’s recent history of Morocco-hostile moves, including the Morocco 2026 fiasco. The Saudi kingdom, reports overwhelmingly suggested, is still intent on “punishing” its Moroccan ally for not siding with its blockade over Qatar in the ongoing Gulf crisis.
On Saturday, however, new reports cast serious doubts on earlier stories of Morocco’s rift with both Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
Russian outlet Sputnik quoted Moroccan foreign minister Nasser Bourita as saying, “The news is not correct, unfounded, and was not issued by an official.”
Bourita added, according to Sputnik, “The history of Moroccan diplomacy confirms that it expresses its position through its own channels and not an American news agency.”
Opacity, hesitation, and proxy war of words
Saudi media quickly picked up Bourita’s denial.
“Recent reports in the media have been rife about diplomatic relations between Saudi Arabia and Morocco being on a downward slide,” Al Arabiya English wrote on February 9.
The point, the Saudi outlet seemed to suggest, is that things are not as serious and dramatic as reported in news stories. But even then, the Saudi newspaper gave hints of Saudi displeasure at a number of supposed Moroccan moves.
Not only did Al Arabiya fail to mention its controversial documentary on Western Sahara, but it suggested that rather than being neutral in the Gulf crisis, Morocco is siding with Qatar.
“It was recently noted that Moroccan-Qatari co-ordination has crossed the border beyond the region. Morocco was mentioned in a case involving allegations of a hacking operation that was carried out by Qatar within the United States,” wrote Al Arabiya.
Of Morocco’s official reaction after its failed bid to win the hosting right of the 2026 World Cup, the paper said: “Twenty-four hours after the vote, King Mohammed VI chose Qatar alone from the countries that voted for his country to thank for its support.”
(King Mohammed VI had thanked all African and Arab “brother countries” that voted for Morocco 2026, but he did relatively single out Qatar. He especially thanked the Qatari emir for his readiness to “financially and morally” support Morocco’s plan to host the 2030 World Cup.)
While officials in Rabat and Riyadh remain apparently unconcerned by mounting evidence of the deteriorating relations between the two countries, the Al-Arabiya report and the 2M TV tweet tell a different story.
Saudi-Moroccan disagreements on regional dynamics
In addition to the proxy war of words, one critical point for regional politics that Moroccan analysts have recently raised is the Trump administration’s “deal of the century” to resolve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) is believed to be one of the foremost champions of the deal.
The plan proposes substantial compromises on Palestine’s part, including the recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. “Now it’s off the table. There is nothing to negotiate,” President Trump dismissively said in late 2018 when questioned about Palestinians’ stance that East Jerusalem should be an independent Palestine’s capital.
Meanwhile, Morocco, which does not support the deal, believes that Riyadh wants to impose its own agenda on other Arab countries, according to reports. Morocco’s King Mohammed VI is the current chair of the Al Quds Committee, the branch of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation tasked with “implementing all Islamic Conference resolutions on the Arab-Israeli conflict.”
As far as Morocco is concerned, Palestinians’ “right to return,” which Trump’s deal has repeatedly sidelined, should be a founding element of any resolution of the Israel-Palestine conflict. No resolution without considerable territorial compromise in favor of Palestinians, Morocco and the majority of Arab countries have maintained.
In addition, when Saudi Arabia’s MBS proclaimed himself the region’s focal point for resolving the conflict, it did not sit well with Moroccan policy quarters. As the current chair of the Al Quds Committee, King Mohammed VI, not MBS, should have been the region’s focal point, they have suggested.
Are Riyadh and Rabat resorting to venting their frustration through news agencies instead of overtly hurting each other?
Moroccan Arabic newspaper Al Ahdath Maghribia thinks so. In its February 11 edition, the Casablanca-based paper called on Bourita to end “the diplomatic opacity he has been knowingly championing for days.”
According to the paper, while the Saudi Arabia-Morocco diplomatic spat is real and unmistakable, both parties are mobilizing a “diplomatic technique.” The technique is to “protest officiously” through proxies and news reports, while keeping the official tone of a “strong” and “historical alliance.”
The point of the strategy is to explore one’s options and discover how far the other party is ready to go in crossing sensitive and unforgivable boundaries.
Moroccan outlet Akhbar Al Yaoum agrees with the assessment. However, the paper noted, there are “obvious cracks” in Rabat-Riyadh relations, and Riyadh “has already crossed a red line.”
One unmissable suggestion is that, judging by Saudi and Moroccan media reports on each other’s positions on an array of regional affairs, there are underlying disagreements between Morocco and Saudi Arabia about some basic aspects of their bilateral ties.