Just as the bilateral mood between Rabat and Riyadh starting showing signs of cooling down, the Morocco-Saudi Arabia relations are again back in hot water.
Rabat – Tensions are again running high between Morocco and its Emirati and Saudi allies following geopolitical moves that have concerned Moroccan diplomatic circles.
According to widely circulating news in both Moroccan and Mauritania media circles, Riyadh has recently decided to bolster diplomatic ties with Mauritania.
Citing “well connected” diplomatic sources, news articles in recent days talked of how Riyadh and Abu Dhabi are increasingly turning their gaze to Nouakchott to sabotage Moroccan interests.
“Despite remaining a committed ally, Rabat is deeply attached to its independence,” a Moroccan diplomatic source told Maghreb Intelligence.
The paper, which days earlier had reported that the UAE and Saudi Arabia were investing in economic and military cooperation with Mauritania, was now announcing a Saudi and Emirati-sponsored “media conspiracy” to tarnish Morocco’s reputation internationally.
In most cases, the reports were vague and tentative.
Based on the timeline provided, however, one perceived mark of simmering tensions may have been Morocco’s Nasser Bourita’s first muscular public statement on lack of reciprocity from Saudis and Emiratis in their relations with Morocco.
Speaking on the issue at a press conference on March 28 for the first time since reports of friction between Morocco and its Saudi and Emirati allies, Bourita appeared to rebuke the two Gulf countries’ perceived refusal to uphold principles which Morocco considers the basis of a working relationship.
Bourita spoke of “constants” and “reciprocal loyalty,” suggesting that Rabat could not indefinitely provide its diplomatic good-will to allies that did not respect their alliance.
Alliances, Bourita suggested, work best when partners takes each other’s principles seriously. Successful partnerships take into accounts all aspects of the relationship, instead of cooperating just when it feels convenient.
“It may happen that we do not agree on certain issues. Foreign policy is a matter of sovereignty, and in Morocco, it is also based on principles and constants,” the Moroccan minister said.
He added the most critical part of his statement by explaining that “cooperation must include all important matters of the MENA region” and that preserving diplomatic ties should “be a concern on both sides.” If not, Bourita warned, “It would be normal for all alternatives to be examined.”
Nouakchott as alternative to Rabat
Whether Mauritania is the “alternative” to Morocco for Riyadh and Abu Dhabi is yet to be established.
For now, though, Rabat’s usage of strong language suggests that the many “diplomatic sources” quoted in Moroccan media may have put their fingers on an actual rise of diplomatic temperatures between Rabat and its two Gulf allies.
According to one such source quoted in various outlets, Bourita’s “sudden anger” on March 28 stemmed from Riyadh’s and Abu Dhabi’s increase investments in port and military facilities in Mauritania. The two countries, the source explained, want “greater cooperation” with Nouakchott, “at the expense of Morocco.”
Included in the coordination are projects of Saudi military bases and a UAE-funded project to enhance port facilities in Nouadhibou, considered a major and growing Mauritanian business hub, according to Maghreb Intelligence.
While there are no details available about the projects, the newspaper explained that realization would be a major blow to Morocco’s regional and continental aspirations.
Reconstruction work at Nouadhibou is an insult to Morocco’s ultramodern Atlantic Dakhla and Tangier Med projects, two initiatives Morocco counts on to cement its rising reputation as the future African leader for port transactions.
None of the countries mentioned in the reports have issued a statement to refute or confirm the news.
However, judging by the recent tumultuous relations between Rabat and its Gulf allies, and their decision to remain silent in the first days of reports of gradual friction, it is hard to sideline current reports as baseless rumors.