Morocco spent $1.38 million on lobbying in 2018, according to the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) operated under the US Department of Justice.
Washington D.C. – According to the same source, in addition to money spent to lobby both branches of the US government (the Executive and both Houses of Congress), the Moroccan government signed a contract of $480,000 per year with ThirdCircle to promote Morocco as a film destination as well as “world-class golf destination.”
JPC has subcontracted three other lobbying firms: Iron Bridge Strategies, the Glover Park Group and SGR Government Relations & Lobbying. They aim to promote Morocco-US relations, defend Morocco’s strategic interests, educate US officials and lawmakers about the depth of the strategic alliance between the two countries and promote American investments in Morocco.
Though it is not included specifically in their lobbying contract, the Western Sahara is at the heart of these firms’ advocacy work in favor of Morocco.
For decades, Algeria has claimed that it has no vested interests in the Western Sahara conflict and only seeks to help the Saharawis to exercise their right to self-determination. Despite their claims, $480,000 was spent in 2018 to block Morocco’s attempts to achieve any breakthrough in the conflict.
For the past two decades, Foley Hoag has been Algeria’s main lobbying firm in Washington. The Washington-based firm has a $420,000 per year contract to Algeria.
The registration form that Foley Hoag submitted to FARA shows that the lobbying firm has received $210,000 between October 1, 2018 and March 31, 2019.
Foley Hoag held more than 40 meetings and exchanges with members of Congress, the State Department, as well as the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, a bipartisan caucus of the House of Representatives that includes 37 US representatives. The main topic of those meetings was “the promotion of Algeria-US relations and respect for human rights, including the rights to self-determination.”
Foley Hoag executives had three exchanges with Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) and Patrick Lehay (D-VT), the most vocal supporters of the Polisario in the US Senate, as well as Senator Mark Warner (D-VA), one of the top rated US lawmakers in the defense of human rights.
In a new push to prevent Morocco from swaying US officials and lawmakers into supporting its position on the conflict, Algeria signed a $360,000 per year contract with the Keene Consulting Services as of November 1, 2018.
Keene Consulting Services is owned by David Keene, a former head of the National Rifle Association (NRA) and a close friend of the US National Security Advisor John Bolton.
According to the contract, Keene’s lobbying tasks included: mobilizing media and public support for Algeria, promoting Algeria’s peacemaking role in regional and global affairs, advancing Algeria’s trade and business interests with the US government, and enhancing Algeria’s image in the American public discourse. The overarching goal was to work with several branches of US policymaking to “facilitate a greater understanding of Algeria’s concerns and positions on various issues.”
Keene’s statements suggest that the contract included aggressive anti-Moroccan public relations efforts on the Western Sahara issue. In opinion articles and other public statements, Keene repeatedly referenced Morocco’s “occupation” and “colonization” of Western Sahara.
One notable example is a December 2010 op-ed from the Hill in which Keene accused “Moroccan forces” of disregarding the UN-imposed status quo in Western Sahara by resorting to police violence to threaten “our friends in the desert.” Keene claimed that Morocco twisted historical facts to convince the US and the international community of its “little more than fiction[al]” claims over Western Sahara.
Based on the latest developments in the Western Sahara, it appears that Algeria has failed in creating a setback for Morocco’s diplomatic efforts to garner wider international support to its position on the Western Sahara.
While there is no way to measure whether Morocco’s lobbying firms have fulfilled their mandate to the fullest, the fact remains that Morocco’s diplomatic efforts have demonstrated to be successful. Morocco has succeeded in preventing any negative development that would have otherwise negatively impacted Morocco’s stance on the Western Sahara issue.
Morocco succeeded in maintaining its diplomatic achievements in recent years, despite Algeria’s counter-attempts to promote its position in the Trump administration through Bolton. Morocco succeeded in swinging the momentum in its favor in the second half of 2018 through increases of lobbying budgets and relentless efforts in the realm of public relations.
The success of Morocco’s response to Algerian lobbying is most visible in the UN Security Council’s latest resolutions, which upheld Morocco’s frequent requests to regard Algeria as a party in the Western Sahara conflict.
In Resolution 2440 of October 2018, the UN referred to Algeria 3 times, suggesting a gradual shift to considering Algiers as a full-fledged party in the Western Sahara conflict, rather than a neighbor or observer state as it has claimed to be in the past.
Resolution 2468, the latest UN resolution on Western Sahara, is perhaps the most Morocco-friendly UN document in decades.
In addition to further acknowledging Algeria’s primary role in the conflict and the settlement process, Resolution 2468 adopted almost the same language as Moroccan diplomacy, pointing out that pragmatism, realism, and compromise are the only way to achieve a long, lasting, and mutually acceptable political solution to the conflict.
Because it emphasizes a compromise-based solution, many analysts have suggested, Resolution 2468 is also a validation—albeit diplomatically articulated—of Morocco’s Autonomy Plan.
For all the pro-Morocco discussion currently surrounding the Western Sahara dossier, it remains to be seen whether Algeria, which Morocco reportedly outworked due to a raging domestic crisis, will easily surrender to the current momentum in the UN-led process.