Based on recent political developments, I predict Morocco will become one of the top 10 players in the world geopolitical arena in 2022. US recognition of Western Sahara as an integral part of Morocco is a turning point not only for the course of the fabricated conflict in the Sahara but also for the new world order.
Morocco and the USA will be the winners of the new broad strategic partnership between both countries. In order to counteract China’s growing influence in Africa and the Middle East, the US needs the support of a key player in the region: Morocco. It would be naive to think the USA made this move only to return a historic favor dating back to 1777 when Morocco became the first country to recognize the independence of the USA.
If that were the case, why hadn’t the USA done that long ago? Why now? In international relations and world politics, there is no such thing as a “gift”; the move boils down to interests! The USA needs something that Morocco has and can deliver on: An unshakable strategic leader and partner in Africa and the Middle East to carry out a new geopolitical strategy.
In the latter, Morocco will play a crucial role in integrating the African and Middle East region in a more multipolar world where major powers fiercely compete in economic, political, and military arenas. The US decision is not an isolated incident or an act of impulse.
The decision is rather a well-thought-out and carefully crafted strategy designed to reshape the world order. For the US, it is a make-or-break opportunity to stay ahead of the (Chinese) competition! For Morocco, this enlightened ‘’self’’-interest is a win-win partnership.
My guess is that France and the UK, as world powers, will follow in the footsteps of the US. Traditionally, France does not go against Morocco’s interests as it has more to lose in the case of a weaker Morocco.
Given that France has had failures in Mali, Libya, and in the tug of war with Turkey, it will likely be a secondary player in Africa when compared to Morocco. Deep down, France will not accept this “demotion,” especially seeing a former colony outperforming it in Africa. Nonetheless, France will have no other option but to side with Morocco in order to get a piece of the pie. In this context, historical ties with Morocco will serve as the face-saving banner for France.
The UK had already implicitly recognized Moroccan sovereignty over the Sahara back in October 2019 when the European country signed a bilateral trade agreement with Morocco to import goods and products made in the southern regions of the kingdom. Meanwhile, the Gulf Council countries will continue to back Morocco and provide financial support, mostly in the form of foreign direct investment.
Mauritania will enthusiastically embark on a strong partnership with Morocco because it will be able to fully benefit from the new economic hub around Dakhla. The hub consists of Dakhla Port, Amhiriz Port, and an industrial cluster in Bir Gandouz, 65 kilometers from Morocco’s border with Mauritania. These megaprojects and their related infrastructures will strengthen economic ties between Morocco and Mauritania, making the region more attractive economically, politically, and socially. Politically, the recent developments in the region will help free Mauritania from Algerian pressure and make Mauritania more inclined to play a proactive role in the region rather than continue its negative neutrality approach on the Sahara issue.
Libya will experience increased stability as Morocco begins to play a proactive role in countering extremist groups in Mali and the Sahel region, decreasing the possibility of these groups to thrive in a war-torn Libya. It is noteworthy that Morocco has already positioned itself as a reliable, effective, and credible mediator in the Libyan conflict, hosting unity talks among Libyan political rivals.
Spain’s equivocal position will no longer be an option. Spain has begun to understand that it will be “forced” to follow the world’s most powerful countries and exhibit a more decisive stance in the region because its ambivalence will no longer be acceptable in the new political order. With the new dynamics, Spain may look into ways to proactively advance the Tangier-Tarifa tunnel project, which has been set to connect the African and European continents via trains under the Gibraltar Strait, turning the Western Mediterranean into an attractive hub for Europe and Africa.
The Algeria-backed Polisario militia and the Algerian regime will emerge as losers in the battle. The latter has started paying the price for violating international law when it outsourced the management of the Tindouf refugee camps to a defunct Polisario over the last four decades. Algeria seems to be adopting the “war of attrition” strategy by sticking persistently to its incompatible position towards Morocco while expecting the latter to fold.
However, the Algerian regime is increasingly facing international isolation; the first indicator dates back to December 2019 when Algeria was the only country, out of 193 UN members, to react negatively to the growing number of countries that decided to open consulates in Dakhla and Laayoune during UN meetings.
Second, the latest showdown in Guerguerat demonstrated to the world the moral underpinnings of the Moroccan position and the ill-intended role of Algeria. In fact, Algeria-backed Polisario militias blockaded the only border crossing between Morocco and Mauritania.
For Morocco, these diplomatic dynamics constitute a strong indication that the southern region will become an important economic hub for both Africa and the world. My prediction is that a very large portion of the Polisario backers from the Moroccan southern provinces will see the relevance, value, and credibility of Morocco’s suggested Autonomy Plan and return home to be part of a flourishing Sahara under Morocco’s leadership and sovereignty.
For the Algerian regime, the stakes are enormous and the costs astronomical. Algeria’s payment of 30,000 euros monthly to an American lobbyist, as recently reported by Jeune Afrique, did not prevent President Trump from making a historic move in favor of Morocco.
Further, the daily anti-establishment protests and the growing anger of the masses in Algeria due to a fabricated conflict that has wasted a large portion of the country’s wealth prevents the Algerian regime to act on its covert threats to Morocco. The best way for Algeria to move forward is by collaborating with Morocco and allowing the Maghreb Union to take shape.
Although “the party with the most to lose typically gets the worst deal,’’ Algeria has more to gain from cooperating with Morocco than under any other scenario. Conversely, the Algerian regime will cave in if it decides not to collaborate. The political implications have already been worsening. Algeria has a perilous deadline and it is quickly approaching!
South Africa and other African countries such as Nigeria, Zimbabwe, and Angola will return to reality. Recently, both the South African President and the President of the African Union disavowed the Polisario militia by highlighting the exclusivity of the United Nations as a framework for finding a solution to the Sahara issue. My prediction is that, very soon, no single African nation will buy into the nonsense of the Algeria-backed Polisario militia and the Algerian regime.
This recent victory is no surprise as Morocco has demonstrated patience, consistency, and strategic focus while its opponents appeared juvenile, impulsive, and muddled. Morocco handled the latest Guerguerat showdown in a wise and clever way.
The kingdom’s reaction to intimidating tactics was efficient and prudent, making Morocco stronger and more responsible in the eyes of the international community.
Morocco’s game theory-inspired strategy should continue highlighting the cost of division that Algeria’s reneging of Morocco’s territorial unity has created in the Maghreb region. Clearly, the Algerian regime needs ample time to digest and make sense of the new international developments… and Morocco will ultimately show them how it is done!
Abderrahman Hassi (Ph.D.) is a Professor of Management at Al Akhawayn University in Ifrane. He previously served as a professor in Canada, a visiting professor in Germany, and a visiting researcher in Spain.