Rabat – Some observers find it very surprising that Germany believes Morocco’s decision to recall its ambassador for consultations is “astonishing” and “unusual.”
Morocco’s government has taken several similar decisions for decades in response to moves undermining the country’s strategic interests, especially its sovereignty over its southern provinces in Western Sahara.
One of the recent pieces of evidence has been Morocco’s firm position against Spain’s decision to admit Polisario leader Brahim Ghali for medical treatment under false identity without informing Morocco.
Spain is Morocco’s primary partner ahead of France and it is one of the largest importers of Moroccan goods. Germany is Morocco’s seventh largest trade partner.
Germany provided Morocco with €1.3 billion in loans and financial aid in 2020.
Observers were eager for answers when Morocco decided to suspend contact with Germany’s embassy in Rabat.
On March 1st, Morocco made the move without providing sufficient details, leaving analysts scrambling for potential answers.
While some said the move was due to Germany’s hostile position on the Western Sahara conflict, others attributed its silence about Mohamed Hajib, a former terror suspect living in the European country.
It was not until May 6th, that Morocco gave detailed information about its decision to suspend contacts with the German embassy in Rabat.
Western Sahara: Morocco’s Redline
On May 6, Morocco announced that it had recalled its ambassador from Berlin for consultations.
Morocco found Germany’s hostile approach towards its diplomatic gains the country scored in the international community “unexplained.”
It criticized Germany’s response to Trump’s Western Sahara proclamation, saying that Berlin had not “distanced itself from its destructive attitude” on the Sahara conflict.
Morocco also accused Germany of promoting “antagonistic” activism following the US’ recognition of Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara.
Germany was the only major European power that criticized Trump’s move. As if that was not enough, it convened a Security Council meeting on the conflict, calling on Washington to act within the framework of international law.
Previously, Morocco has had no issue with the “neutral” stance many of its European partners claim to adopt. Partners that advocate for neutrality in the conflict in the international community — although some of them lean toward Morocco’s position, including France.
However in recent months, particularly after the US’ decision to recognize Morocco’s position of sovereignty over Western Sahara, Rabat had been keen for more unambiguous support from partners with whom it enjoys a “long-standing” strategic relationship .
In March, Bloomberg published an opinion from its columnist Bobby Ghosh who said that Morocco’s dissatisfaction with Germany “exposes Europe’s hypocrisy.”
Although European countries continue to tout and invoke international law to defend Polisario’s long disqualified self-determination narrative, they “disregard their own laws to expand economic ties with Morocco.”
The US-based platform also cited Germany’s “hypocrisy,” saying that the European country “thought it could get away with some cheap virtue-signaling in response to the Trump decision, while a unit of Siemens AG could celebrate a large order of wind turbines” in southern Morocco.
Morocco’s response to European hypocrisy surprised some countries. Transpiring from this attitude is that many thought the North African country would continue to tolerate their dubious neutrality stances for several more decades while maintaining billion-dollar projects and trade partnerships.
Following the US’ proclamation, Morocco’s government addressed a clear message to Europe, calling for more clarity regarding its stance in the conflict.
In February, Morocco’s Foreign Affairs Minister Nasser Bourita urged the EU to adopt the “international trend” with regards to the Western Sahara.
He also called on the EU to get out of its comfort zone and support the positive dynamics underway in Morocco’s southern provinces.
“Today, the train will leave. Is Europe going to remain passive or contribute to this dynamic?” Bourita asked.
For some observers, Germany’s recent position is due to Berlin’s inability to secure enough partnership contracts with Morocco, unlike countries such as France.
Morocco possesses an array of resources, including fisheries, phosphates, and renewable energy sources, attracting several foreign investors
Germany is one of many partners that have notable trading figures with Morocco, but the country lags behind the likes of France, Spain, and the US.
Germany’s recent stance regarding Morocco’s priority interests led some observers to argue that the country seeks more presence in Morocco. The idea is that, as it looked to cement its presence in Morocco, Germany turned to “pressuring methods,” including increasing hostile advocacy against Morocco’s sovereignty over Western Sahara.
The situation requires flagging up a series of recent developments that Morocco has experienced recently.
In 2019, Morocco approved two then-draft laws on the delimitation of its maritime border with Spain.
Law 37-17 delimits Morocco’s territorial sea, extending over 12 nautical miles from Moroccan coasts. In accordance with international law, Morocco has complete sovereignty over its territorial sea and the airspace above it.
In its territorial sea, Morocco has the right to build and protect pipelines, cables, and navigation equipment. The North African country also has the right to enforce its fiscal, medical, and immigration laws in the territorial sea.
As for the second legal text, Law 38-17, it covers the delimitation of Morocco’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). It extends the area by over 200 nautical miles from the Moroccan coast, along with the limits of its continental shelf, 350 nautical miles away from its coast.
Through EEZ, Morocco has the right to establish artificial islands, equipment and exploit them. The law also ensures the right of scientific research and laying submerged pipelines and cables.
The delimitation of maritime borders with Spain angered Madrid, which has for years attempted to secure the natural resources located in the Tropic seamount, located 250 miles or 453 kilometers in the southwest of the Canary Islands.
The region is rich in minerals including rare materials used in solar fields, including tellurium. The region is also rich in cobalt, a resource used in the manufacturing of electrical cars.
Unsurprisingly, Morocco’s decision did not sit well with Spain. Immediately after the Moroccan government announced its plans to delimit the country’s maritime borders, Spain protested against what it perceived as a unilateral move. Rabat’s reaction to the spanish response was a sharp combination of diplomacy and intransigence. Rabat offered to amicably discuss with Madrid while making it clear that it would not relent on its “sovereign interests.”
Germany’s equally challenging stance on a number of highly important questions for Morocco has been interpreted as a kind of blackmail diplomacy. As a leading nation in the automotive industry, a booming sector in Morocco, Germany’s current attitude is believed to stem from its quest to secure for German businesses a sizable share of the abundant resources and investment opportunities in Morocco’s southern region.
Underestimating Morocco’s foreign influence
Beyond apparent disagreements on the economic sphere, the growing Morocco-Germany rift can also be attributed to a few divergences on the diplomatic scene.
Germany’s surprising exclusion of Morocco from the Berlin Conference on Libya readily comes to mind. But just as striking was Morocco’s trenchant, scathing response to what it interpreted as an unacceptable diplomatic afront.
Not only was Rabat’s anger on full display in its official response to Germany, the statement clearly suggested that excluding the country from a regional issue is the kind of hostile attitude that it could not tolerate.
When Morocco recently announced its decision to recall its ambassador from Germany, it made sure to recall the Berlin conference episode. In recent years, it argued, a number of Germany’s actions have been “countering Morocco’s regional influence, particularly on the Libyan issue.”
Making the German decision more incomprehensible and diplomatically untenable was that Morocco has long been the regional country with a track record of actively facilitating a political solution to the Libyan crisis.
That Germany snubbed Morocco despite Rabat’s key role in contributing to the UN-led political process suggested there was something more profound at play, observers have suggested.
The Berlin meeting took place on January 19, 2020, with the presence of Algeria and a host of other countries.
Morocco’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs released a statement to express its “deep astonishment” at its exclusion from the Berlin conference.
Morocco argued that it has always been at the “forefront of international efforts to resolve the Libyan crisis.”
Morocco hosted several roundtables on Libya, convening rival Libyan factions in several meetings in Bouznika and Tangier.
The series of roundtables have been credited for facilitating the agreements that have considerably contributed to the UN-led political process and the appointment of an interim government.
Refusing separatism only outside Europe
One situation that leads to many questions is the different approaches Germany is taking on separatism in Spain and Morocco.
A few years ago, when Spain was facing waves of protests from Catalans, the German Minister of State for Europe Michael Roth argued that “separatism doesn’t solve problems.”
Some observers believe Germany’s stance on the Catalan dossier exposes Europe’s hypocrisy, hiding behind “caution and realism” when tackling some conflicts but turning to “moral standards” when addressing similar cases in so-called third world or developing countries.
Violating intelligence rules
But Germany’s position on Western Sahara is the tip of a much larger iceberg when it comes to declining relations with Morocco. As well as appearing to challenge Morocco’s sovereignty over its southern territories, Germany is believed to have disclosed sensitive content from Morocco’s intelligence services about the case of former convicted terrorist Mohamed Hajib.
The alleged breach of confidence angered Rabat and laid the ground for the latest developments in the Morocco-Germany relationship, according to converging reports. Morocco arrested Hajib in 2010, sentencing him to seven years for terrorism charges and training with terrorist groups.
After leaving prison and moving to Germany, Hajib started uploading videos to YouTube, accusing Moroccan security services of “torture.”
Morocco shared intelligence with Germany on Hajib, demanding his extradition. Not only did Berlin turn down Rabat’s request, it has reportedly shared sensitive information with the former terrorist convict who doubled down on his online vitriol against Morocco.
In its latest statement on the episode, Morocco accused German authorities of acting “inappropriately” in the Hajib case. The statement notably took issue with Berlin for disclosing sensitive information “communicated by the Moroccan security services to their German counterparts.”
The North African country also condemned Germany’s “complexity” in tackling the dossier.
FindLaw said in March 2019 that leaking or disclosing classified intelligence to the general public or to a foreign entity is “a serious matter of national security.”
Disclosing information is a crime in most countries. In the US, unauthorized disclosure of information is punishable and a crime under the “Espionage Act of 1917,” FindLaw added.
By communicating sensitive intelligence to a former convicted terrorist who continues to harbor hostility towards Moroccan institutions, has deepened the gap of mistrust that separates the two countries.
Hajib often appears in videos to repeat his Morocco-bashing narrative — accusing Morocco of human rights breaches, including torture in prisons. Although his claims have been consistently debunked by former extremist comrades and cellmates, Hajib continues to stand by his narrative.
Germany recently passed a legislation seeking to expand surveillance powers across the world, reports find.
“Without convincing evidence, the German government wants to expand surveillance powers for the intelligence services,” About Intel reported in October 2020.
DW reported also that Germany’s Federal Intelligence Service (BND) has used a Swiss company to spy on world leaders for many years.
The German news outlet said that both the BND and US foreign intelligence services worked together to operate the Swiss company Crypto AG.
Germany’s BND is also linked to espionage not only on its own citizens but also on journalists and human rights activists.
Last year, Germany’s highest court ruled that the law allowing the BND to spy on foreigners telecommunications outside of Germany is against fundamental rights, BBC reported.
The ruling said the BND does not have any right to monitor foreigners’ data abroad without a valid reason.
The ongoing Morocco-Germany spat may cause the European country to lose the trust and good faith of a partner that has a proven track record in steadfast collaboration and information-sharing with the world’s leading intelligence services.
Whether it is with Spain, France or the United States, Morocco has provided critical intelligence that has helped those countries thwart deadly terrorist attacks on their soils.