By Ambassador Edward M. Gabriel*
Last week, Morocco’s King Mohammed VI visited Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Jordan, Kuwait, and the UAE as part of long-term efforts and planning to boost political and economic cooperation among nations that share centuries-old cultural, religious, and linguistic ties. While the King certainly carried goodwill, he also had in tow an ample supply of Morocco’s most valued national resource: vision.
For nearly two years, Morocco’s neighborhood has seen protests for reforms, some violent, others resulting in regime change and all with varying measures of success. Following these Arab uprisings, the region, including Morocco, faces significant challenges. The King seeks to share with his country’s regional partners Morocco’s experience of achieving meaningful reform peacefully, through consultation, collaboration, and consensus – while maintaining security and stability.
Socioeconomic demands were at the root of the Arab uprisings which means that regional economic cooperation is an indispensable component of any successful plan to provide and sustain broad economic development and empowerment for nearly a half billion people. Morocco has long understood this and has pursued multi-sector initiatives and partnerships as part of a larger strategic vision to bolster economic cooperation among its neighbors. One such initiative, the Agadir Agreement, signed in 2006, established a free trade zone among Morocco, Jordan, Tunisia, Egypt, and Palestine and trade has increased more than 45% among those countries. Trade between Morocco and Saudi Arabia went from $1 billion in 2000 to $20 billion in 2011 and the investment of GCC countries for development projects in Morocco, high on the King’s tour agenda, are expected to be $1 billion per year in 2012-2016.
In addition to promoting economic cooperation, Morocco, a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council in 2012-13, has played a critical role alongside the United States and other international partners in addressing the crisis in Syria and will host the upcoming Friends of Syria meeting. While in Jordan, King Mohammed VI became the first head of state to visit the Zaatari refugee camp, which houses upwards of 200,000 displaced Syrians who depend on donated medical and humanitarian aid and services from the international community, including a clinic provided by Morocco.
The King also carried the message that interfaith dialogue and religious tolerance are hallmarks of the Moroccan approach to peaceful cohabitation. As Chairman of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation’s Al-Quds Committee, King Mohammed VI continues Morocco’s historic role as a key interlocutor for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and reviving the peace process is an area of cooperation the King emphasized with his counterparts.
Morocco’s vision for progress and initiatives with its Gulf neighbors have implications for US foreign policy interests. In order to promote stability by protecting security in the region, the US must have a partner who shares its values and principles. Morocco, which maintains the longest unbroken treaty relationship with the US, is that trusted, reliable ally. Just a few weeks ago, Morocco and the US launched their Strategic Dialogue, one of fewer than two dozen such agreements in existence and the first in North Africa. The Strategic Dialogue builds upon more than a decade of focused, comprehensive leadership and cooperation by King Mohammed VI with three US Administrations and allows the two countries to work towards progress and prosperity for the Middle East and North Africa.
Recently, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said that Morocco, under the King’s leadership, is answering the “call” for democratic reforms, is elevating its role as an international partner and that the US “looks to Morocco to be a leader and a model.” King Mohamed’s regional tour demonstrates that Morocco takes that call seriously and hopes its neighbors can benefit from its experience and vision.
Amb. Gabriel has an extensive background in international affairs, having convened multilateral policy forums involving national security, environmental, trade, and energy issues. He has been involved in matters of Russian and European nuclear non-proliferation and safety, and he has been active in advising the US Government on Mideast policy matters. From November, 1997-March 2001, he was the US Ambassador to the Kingdom of Morocco during which time a new US-Morocco strategic relationship was launched on political, military, and economic levels.
Ambassador Gabriel is also active with non-profit organizations. He is a Visiting Fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a member of the Global Advisory Board of George Washington University, a founding member and Vice Chairman of the American Task Force for Lebanon, a member of the boards of Amid East, the Keystone Center, the Tangier American Legation Museum, the Casablanca American School, and the American School of Tangier. He holds a B.S. degree (business) from Gannon University.