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More Than Just a Goodwill Tour: The King of Morocco Takes His Vision on the Road

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.

King Mohamed of Morocco and Kuwait's Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmad Al Jaber Al Sabah

King Mohamed of Morocco and Kuwait's Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmad Al Jaber Al Sabah

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.

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Ambassador Edward Gabriel

Ambassador Edward Gabriel

 

* Edward M. Gabriel is former US Ambassador to Morocco, and current advisor to the Kingdom of Morocco.

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.

Salaries in the Maghreb: The Land of Equality?

While no one expects their government leaders to earn the same wage as the average guy, North Africa governments tend to pay generous salaries to ministers and the likes. However, compared to corporate executive jobs, or even mid-level managers in the West, the salaries in question are not that great. They generally do not exceed the $150,000 ceiling, but that does not inlcude the perks and bonuses that most of these officials benefit from. That includes allowances for housing, travel, cars, gasoline, etc. If you include all of that and more, government people in North Africa are rich.

In the region, the most humble officials are those of Tunisia. The Prime Minister there does not get more than $48,000 per year, when his Algerian and Moroccan colleagues get almost triple that amount. Interestingly, in the spirit of good governance, the Interim President of Tunisia, who was entitled to a wage equivalent of $240,000 per year, has downgraded his pay to a symbolic $20,000 per year instead. We salute Mr. Marzouki for doing so as the Tunisian people continue to struggle with their evolving Jasmine Revolution.

What do the others make compared to minimum or median wages? Judge by yourself.

Top Algerian Leaders' Salaries

Top Algerian Leaders' Salaries

 

Moroccan Ministers' Wages

Moroccan Ministers' Wages

 

Wages in Tunisia

Wages in Tunisia

Unable to Control the Economic Problems, the Conservatives in Morocco Focus on Cultural Warfare

The Moroccan Islamists in power are facing a difficult economic environment. Because their programs fail to address the fundamental issues crippling the economy, such as corruption and industries heavily controlled by a few untouchables, the Islamists headed by Prime Minister Benkirane are turning their attention to the mundane in an effort to maintain their image among a substantial portion of the population. This includes policies aimed at favoring Arabic and reducing the impact of French and the Tamazight languages, in a trend that could constitute a setback to civil and cultural rights for the Amazigh people.

The first targeted by the conservative ideologues is naturally the media and in this case it is about more religious and Arabic-language programs in the two state-controlled TV channels, Channel 1 and 2M, as well as in radion stations. These two channels have been ordered by the minister of communications and government spokesman Mustapha El Khalfi, a prominent member of the Islamist PJD party to up Arabic-language programming or else! The move came in form of a government reform of the media landscape initiated by the winning PJD party, which won the argument before the nation’s media watchdogs, the Conseil Supérieur de la Communication Audiovisuelle and the Haute Autorité de la Communication Audiovisuelle (HACA), without any public debate. Both have essentially endorsed the wishes of the pro-Arabic language conservatives.

How do these reforms translate in reality? In the case of Channel 1, management is now required to broadcast three news hours exclusively in Arabic and only one bulletin in Amazigh. Even more ironic, the Amazigh bulletin will have to be subtitled in Arabic too. According to Moroccan media watchers and those working at Channel 1, Arabic programs will now account for 80% of programming, while Amazigh will be relegated to a 20% quota. That is ironic in a nation that has a substantial Amazigh population. The same thing applies to 2M, in addition to pushing non-Arabic programs and news late into the evening or early in the morning.

The conservative offensive on culture in Morocco, but also in Tunisia and even in Algeria is deep, widespread and highly alarming. This offensive takes the form of an ideological battle that is not only destructive to the cultural capabilities of the people of the region, but also destructive to the economy, a killer of jobs. Consider the fact that the Islamists in power in Morocco see the advertisement for the Moroccan lottery on TV as a sin and have decided to withdraw the MAD 26 million paid to 2M as part of its lotto program. By withdrawing such support, you can be assured 2M will have to reduce its staff.

And so go the Islamists of North Africa. Unable to think outside of the box, they will neither solve the economies of their nations, nor will they create an environment to stimulate job growth. Instead, they will continue to focus on the wrong things: vilifying anyone who does not think like them and force many more liberal and skilled North Africans to find refuge abroad.

Finally, let me recognize the fact that not all members of this conservative government are the same. It turns out the only woman in the cabinet, Women and Families Minister Bassima Hakkaoui is doing the right thing by endorsing calls to discuss reforming the nation’s laws related to families. These laws written by conservative men have essentially turned women into second-class sub-servant citizens.  The call was sparked by the suicide of a 16 year-old girl who was forced to marry her rapist, an outcome that can be granted by a judge as a way to solve family disputes. So rather than getting the criminal rapist locked up in jail, the justice system in Morocco gives a way out by forcing the victim to remain a victim all their life.

While Bassima Hakkaoui did not make a definite call to abolish the law that allows such a loophole, she stood up somewhat against it, proving that some in the conservative movement, albeit cautious, are capable of rational thinking. And that we salute.

Algeria vs. Morocco: And the Tit-for-Tat Goes On

Moroccans and Algerians love to hate each other. I am not talking about the people, who are exactly the same in identity, ethnicity, religion and customs and have only respect for one another, but about their governments and leaders, who continue to feud and refuse to face up to the geo-strategic realities of the region today. Together, these two nations could perform more good than individually, yet they continue to deny their people the right for common security and shared prosperity. Together, they have the ability to secure the region in more effective ways. And if integrated, their economies could be a real regional powerhouse, serving a population of some 70 million. Instead, they are feuding non-stop over who is the most influential in the region, preventing the rise of a real economic nation.

This month provided yet another opportunity for the two to show how irrational they are when it comes to dealing with one another. The Western Sahara and the fate of its people remain a thorny issue and the Algerians use every occasion to blame the Moroccans of obstructionism.  Last week, the Algerian pro-government media reminded its readers that while the European Parliament gave its support to the Sahraoui people for their “right to exercise self-governance,” Russia’s foreign minister has apparently reminded his Moroccan counterpart, Rabat Saâd Dine El Othmani, in a visit to Moscow of the same. El-Othmani was in Russia to pressure the Kremlin on the Syrian crisis. This sort of media position is a constant fixture in many Algerian newspapers, even the privately-owned ones.

The Moroccans too are over thinking it and acting irrational when Algeria deals with Morocco’s arch-enemies of the Polisario Front. And sometimes, their irrational behavior gets difficult to explain. During the burial of the Algerian first President Ahmed Ben Bella last week, the Moroccan delegation found it important to leave the ceremonies abruptly because there was a Polisario delegation in the event. The event was about the burial of a political figure; instead the very “religious”-leaning Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane ordered his delegation back while the burial ceremony was taking place in the Al-Alia cemetery. The reason, you may ask? The very presence of the Polisario’s Mohamed Abdelaziz annoyed the Moroccans.  Although it is unlikely that the decision was made by Benkirane given that the gesture may contradict some of the very religious teachings he comes to endorse, it is clear that the order came directly from King Mohammed VI. Eager to score a point, the Moroccan pro-government press likes to repeat over and over that “Algeria is sacrificing its relations with Morocco to benefit the Polisario.”

The two countries have not yet resorted to any action that could be seen by the other as confrontational and of a military nature. Such confrontation is not likely to happen, but the two continue to use sneaky ways to undermine each others. Diplomacy is one of them but as we reported in issue 228, they have been on each other’s case using the Internet to damage the other’s Web presence [Read: Algerians and Moroccans Use Cyber Attacks to Settle their Political Scores]. Thank goodness none of them has critical banking, defense or industrial systems modern enough to rely on Internet infrastructure. That would be a disaster if it were the case.

And so goes the Shakespearean drama involving the two enemy-brothers Algeria and Morocco.  When dangers continue to loom high in their own neighborhood, when Europe is looking to reduce its foreign population, mostly North Africans, when both countries have industries that can be complementary to the other, the two spend their times arguing like cats and dogs over secondary issues…and that is to show who the biggest boy in the neighborhood is.  Where is true leadership?