Morocco And The West

April 6, 2008

“Morocco resemble to a tree whose roots are deeply immersed in the African land, and which breath thanks to its foliage shift following the winds of Europe[translation mine]” (Hassan II, 1976, p. 189). This statement by king Hassan illustrates how the Moroccan kingdom in constantly turned to the west for historical, political, economical as well as military reasons. This attachment to the west is synonymous for Morocco to a range of strong ties with its major western partners: Spain, France and USA. Spain shares many centuries of common history with Morocco, when the Cherifian kingdom ruled Andalusia. But Spain is also is the country that colonized Morocco for the longest amount of time till 1975 and is still present on the Moroccan soil through Ceuta & Mellilia. France from its part, has vary particular relations with its past colony, since Moroccans fought on the French side during war and inherited many juridical administrative and economical cultural aspects of France. Moroccan American relations go back to 1777 when Morocco was one of the first states to recognize the United States as an independent country. Furthermore, the 1787 Treaty of Peace and Friendship between the two countries remains the longest unbroken US treaty. This relations with all of Spain, France and the US are translated into a political, economical and military cooperation which has gone throughout periods of total accord of interests and some phases of discord. In this article I will try to analyze Morocco’s relations with Spain, France and the US, and I’ll try to highlight the different interests that regulate this relations following the particularity of each of these countries and of the historical moment and the national interests which dictate this relations since 1956.

Morocco and Spain live in a geographical “face to face”, which implies relations that none of the two countries can never avoid. Morocco’s political priority after independence was to recuperate the rest of the land still occupied by the Spanish, so it got back gradually Tarfaya in 1958, then Ifny in 1969 and the Western Sahara after the Green March and the Madrid treaty in 1975. Yet, the two cities of Ceuta and Mellilia are still a sensitive political issue between the two neighbors “The presence of two small Spanish cities on the coast of North Africa remains an underlying source of friction between Morocco and Spain, despite the long-standing nature of the Iberian presence. Ceuta ,at the entrance to the striates opposite the rock of Gibraltar, was taken by Portugal in 1415, was affected by the Portuguese-Spanish union of 1580-1640 and was ceded subsequently to Spain in 1668 ” (Richard Gillespie 2000, 66). Spain argues that Ceuta and Mellilia were Spanish before the establishment of the nowadays modern Morocco, whereas Morocco compare the case of the two cities to Gibraltar, the British rock, claimed by Spain as being part of its territory. But Morocco’s politic towards the two cities is very much varied, first because Morocco is military weaker than its northern neighbor and because Morocco is engaged in the Western Sahara affair and can’t open two political fronts at once, moreover, even the citizens of Ceuta and Mellilia enjoy more living under the flag of the Spanish 6 th world power than joining the still struggling for development Morocco. However the two cities are seen by the Moroccan foreign politicians as a political pressure card, which can serve the Moroccan interests in certain conflicts that could oppose the two countries such as the Sahara conflict. Which leads us to the Spanish position on the Sahara issue, as the colonizer of that north African territory since The Protectorate Treaty of March 1912, dividing Morocco into French, Spanish and international zones. The Spanish called for a referendum on 1974 about the Western Sahara, that was “terra nullus” according to them, since then continued to support the cause of the SADR directly or indirectly maintaining its position about a “fair referendum” for the Sahraoui people. Spain also helped in the international recognition of the conflict from the Polisario’s point of view by its medias and strong NGOs. To understand the Spanish position we should consider three factors, the first is to keep Morocco busy with the Sahara so it won’t be able to officially claim Ceuta and Mellilia, the second is about a certain historical/psychological fear of a united strong Morocco, which may invade Andalusia one day, the last is about making pressure on Morocco as to get better advantages on the fishing treaty which millions of Spanish fishers depend on. The Fishing treaty is one of the main lines of the Spanish Moroccan economical relations. According to Hernando De Laramandy “One of the favors Morocco gave to Spain within the Madrid treaty was fishing rights between 15 and 20 years, to 800 Spanish ship in all of Mediterranean, Atlantic and Saharian waters” (De Laramandy 2005, 326), this great favor was in exchange of the ending of the Spanish colonial era in Morocco and was followed by two other treaties in 1975, 1977 and 1983. Yet in 1986 Spain joined the European Union, so it’s agricultural exportations towards the other EU countries shadowed the Moroccan ones, which pushed Morocco to renegotiate the fishing treaty, but this time directly with the EU in February 1988, before the shift of the late 90s when Morocco refused to renew the treaty. As a result, this led to an important political crisis, illustrated by the Spanish support to the SADR and the crisis of the little rock called Leila . In fact, Spain joining the EU was of direct impact on Moroccan economy as all the country’s main exportations started passing through the Spanish state, which has quite the same kind of agricultural and manufactured production, this pushed the Spanish government to impose more restrictions on the Moroccan exportation, which generated the famous Tomato Crisis because the Spanish customs officers let the Moroccan products pending until it was spoiled.
Despite this economical interest conflicts, Spain remains Morocco’s second economical partner and importer and th fourth foreign investor in Morocco as well as one of the most important loan donor (De Laramandy 2005, 350-354). In addition to that, the clandestine trade between the two countries generates millions of dollars annually. At the militarily level , Moroccan Spanish relations are the perfect form of cooperation, thus Spain gave Morocco different loans to equip and supply its military segment. Gillespie said “During the Gonzalez period, there were strong ethical objections to the use of development aid (FAD) credits to finance Moroccan military purchases from Spain. Between 1977 and 1994, Morocco was the third largest recipient of these credits, after China and Mexico, and one quarter of the sum conceded to Rabat was used to purchase Spanish military equipment” (Gillespie 2000, 57). Also king Hassan’s visit to Spain in 1989 opened the opportunity of a bilateral defense agreement as Gillespie explains “From 1984, there were joint military exercises, at first involving the air forces, then the navies and finally the armies of the two countries. During King Hassan’s visit to Spain in 1989, this activity was consolidated by a bilateral defense agreement which also provided for annual meetings, exchange visits, training corporation, joined production of military materiel and common programs to develop arming systems” (Gillespie 2000, 55). However, the Moroccan Spanish relations remain very fragile because of political conflict of interests as we’ve seen, and the best example to illustrate that is the Leila island’s crisis.

France and Morocco seem to be doomed for good collaboration and strong never-ending alliance. Morocco is very much related to France, culturally because most of its elites studied in France. Linguistically, as Morocco belongs to the francophone family. Economically since the Moroccan economical structure depends on the French one. And most of all, historically because of the colonial era, which was characterized by the special treatment of the French to the Moroccan case during colonization. We notice that, while France was exerting direct ruling over Algeria and Tunisia, it has maintained the Moroccan Monarchy even after 1912 treaty. Also, Morocco fought on the French side during the World War by serving as a land of meeting for the Allies during the Anfa Summit, and sending Moroccan soldiers to fight with the colonizer (Berramdane 1987, 20). Politically, Morocco counts on the French perpetual support to defend the Cherifian Kingdom at the European Union and the United Nations to take its territorial aspirations to a international level, in spite of the mild crisis that divided the two countries during the mandate of De Gaulle of after the assassination of Mehdi Ben Barka. Even if France remains silent about the Western Sahara issue, it is obvious that France stands as a major Moroccan ally, by providing Morocco with financial, logistical and military aids. Here we should ask what does France gets in exchange of this services? Fist of all, France enjoys the prestige of being a sort of “God father” to its ex-colonies especially Morocco, and an active actor in the third world development. But France’s interest in Morocco is mainly economical, as it stands as the privileged economical partner with more than 40% of Morocco’s exportations going to France and its investments being on the top of Moroccan foreign investors lists. We can explain this strong economical partnership, not only by the strong political will, but more by the heritage of the 40 years of the French colonial existence in morocco, that made the Moroccan economy very much dependent on the French’s one. Moreover, Morocco is one of the most important workers’ provider to the aging France of the post war era and even now. In exchange, Morocco benefits from the foreign currency the Moroccan immigrants send regularly to their mother land. Yet, France fears the flourishing of the American interests over Morocco after the free trade convention, which menaces the French domination of the Moroccan economy. Military, France provided Morocco with military assistance to face the Polisario and Algerian threat, as Morocco associated these two entities with the U.R.S.S during the cold war as to get western support and to maintain the balance of power inside the region during the Cold War. To illustrate the French helps Damis says that “The total value of French arms sales to Morocco between 1974 and 1982 is probably in the range of $1, 5-2, 00 billion, not including weapons supply through credits…” (Damis 1985, 148). As a consequence of all these mutual interests, Moroccan French relation are characterized by deep historical roots, translated by good friendship relations and common interests.

Official discourse often relate Moroccan American relations to the 18 th century Moroccan recognition of th USA as an independent state from the British empire. Yet, in our realistic world governed by mutual interests we can interpret the Moroccan American relations according to political, economic and military factors. Politically, Morocco served as an intermediate between the East and the West, as Morocco tried to highlight its quality of being a tolerant country and the fact that the Moroccan king is the Al Quods Committee’s president. However, the Camp David treaties gave to the US a new ally inside the middle east which contributed in the Diplomatic isolation of the Morocco of the 80s. Still, the US is counting today on Morocco as a regional stabilizer in north Africa and a sure soldier in the region on US war against terrorism (Selected Papers 2003). But Morocco is one of the exporters of the extremist terrorists, if we consider the number of Moroccan terrorists involved in the terrorist attempts since 2001, which weakens its position on this subject. In return, Morocco count on the US for supporting it’s territorial issue among the international community. Nowadays, after the collapse of the Berlin Wall, US does not intervene on Morocco’s side on the Sahara conflict directly, because the Algerian oil and gas are more valuable for the American interests, thus US plan through the Marshal Plan to build a peaceful atmosphere in the region for prosperous economical exchange. US has for a long time avoided north Africa as to not interfere in what is considered as a French economical territory, so till the late 90s the trade rates between Morocco and USA remained very low. In 2004, “the Free Trade Treaty which anointed Morocco as a Special Ally outside the NATO, and gave Morocco very comfortable trading terms” (De Laramandy 2005, 402) is a kind of standing point in the relations between Rabat and Washington, even if king Hassan has said before “that US can never replace France” (Hassan II 1993, 53). The free trade came in a historical moment where US needed Morocco as a gate keeper against terrorism, while Morocco was aiming to expend its economical horizons outside the European island after the structural adjustments of the late 80s. The US Moroccan Military cooperation was strengthened by the Carter and Regan government, even if 5 military American bases were in Morocco since the 50s, as the USA provided Morocco with different kinds of armaments and trained the Moroccan army in many occasions, because during the Cold War Morocco was the Western castle in north Africa, whereas all of Algeria, Libya and Egypt were more pro-communists. Parker said about this military aids “that the United States is trying to build up a position of military strength in Morocco” (Parker 1987, 161). Morocco was more than happy with the American gifts, as it served in the long Moroccan Algerian Polisario conflict, in addition to the Saudian funds that served in baying arms from the US. To illustrate the huge amount of loans and aids spent in Morocco by the US Zoubair & Zunes explain that “Morocco has, since independence in 1956, received more US aid than any other Arab country except Egypt. Indeed, since the beginning of the war over Western Sahara in 1975, Morocco has obtained more than one fifth of all US aid to Africa, totaling more than 1$ billion in military assistance alone. The United States played a major role in reversing the war over Western Sahara to Morocco’s favor through large-scale economic and military aid, military advisors, and logistical assistance”(Zoubair & Zunes 1999, 234). US Moroccan relations, as we see ,are purely based on pragmatic mutual interests, which varies following the historical events.

During the reign of Hassan II the branches of the Moroccan tree have reached the heart of the west, as foreign policy was one of the sovereign’s priorities. Consequently, Morocco has built strong ties with all of France, Spain and the U.S for mutual interests. Yet, the Moroccan tree nowadays is more turned to its inner matters to build a better Morocco from the inside, able to stand as a high-ranking negotiator face to the West.


– De Laramandy 2005 / Zoubair & Zunes 1999 /
Parker 1987 / Damis 1985 / Berramdane 1987 /
Gillespie 2000 / Hassan II, 1976 (…)


One comment

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