The difficult position of Morocco in Mali

There is a country concerned by the Mali conflict, which is not often present in global news. Morocco plays an important diplomatic and political part in the conflict. Its historical conflict with Algeria could be an issue.

The Moroccan media doesn’t speak a lot about Morocco’s involvement with the war in Mali. But the country is getting more and more involved  with what happens not far from its borders. At the beginning of the conflict, its position was crystal clear: support the French intervention. Besides its deep financial links with France, Morocco has also cultural and tribal connections with Mali according to JeuneAfrique newspaper. The «Chorfa» (people who claimed to be direct descendants from the prophet) are present in both countries and have had a strong relationship for years. Whereas Egypt has condemned the French intervention and Tunisia has stated, it was against a “foreign” military action, Morocco has been helping France by letting its military planes and bombers fly above the country.

ecreen shot of Mohamed VI's encounter with François Hollande in May 2012

screenshot of Mohamed VI encounter with François Holland in May 2012

In September, Malian Prime Minister Cheikh Modibo Diarra,also asked for Morocco’s help. According to the newspaper JeuneAfrique, Morocco’s support is also determined by its complex relationship with Algeria, the other lead country in the Sahel zone. Algeria plays an important part in the operations especially since In Amenas hostage crisis, but the country also shares with Morocco the control of the Sahel area. But due to complicated relationships between the two countries they don’t have a common strategy for defense and security. One of the issue is over the Western Sahara’s status. This state is bordering Morocco is seen as a part of the country from Moroccan’s point of view but Algeria disagrees. The Sahrawian opposition movement, the Polisario Front has demanded its independence since the 70’s after the state was not under spanish colonization anymore. Since 2007, the United Nations has asked to Alger and Rabat to find common ground about the Western Sahara situation, which is still a moot point.

In an interview on the channel TV5 Monde, Moroccan Prime Minister, Abdellilah Benkirane, explicitly said that Algeria did not want further involvement from Morocco in the Malian conflict according to Yabiladi website.Benkirane sees the French intervention as the only alternative since Algeria and Morocco could not find a solution together.

In response, Amar Bellani, spokesperson for the Algerian foreign ministry said it was a “mis demeanour” for Benkirane to make such a statement and the newspaper l’Expression questions the motives of such a declaration at a time when the two countries are trying to get closer to find a solution. The newspaper raises an interesting point about the different position between Islamist Benkirane and the King Mohamed VI on this matter.While the former has no interest in Algeria and Marocco finding a common solution, the latter may be more diplomatic according to the newspaper. The opinion was shared by El Watan newspaper which did not understand this “double discourse” of Morocco. El Watan points out that at the same time,Nasser Bourita the Moroccan Minister of Foreign Affairs, was assuring Alger of Mohamed VI’s good will to strengthen the relationship between the two countries.

Today, as the conflict sinks into a long war, will the two countries find a strategy together? While a Moroccan military intervention could not be approved by Algeria, both countries seem to have a political interest seeing the jihadist’s threat come to an end. Morocco stated that security was its first priority at the Cedeao summit last week. According to Le Mag website, a solution does exist: Last Friday, Omar Hilale, Moroccan ambassador to the United Nations amicably called  on Algeria in order to find a common political agreement on the Western Sahara issue. It was an answer to the violation of human rights in Western Sahara denounced by Algeria and a first attempt to solve the problem between the two parties. But this may be more like a diplomatic move rather than a political statement. Alger’s response was not very optimistic. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs considered it as a way to “make a durable status quo” on Western Sahara without solving the problem he said to TSA Algérie website.

This conflict between Algeria and Morocco should be watched closely because the strategy of the two countries in West Africa will be important in the future of Mali. With the Malian crisis, Morocco could return to heading up a security policy in West Africa. This policy has been on standby since Morocco cancelled its diplomatic relations with countries, including Algeria, which recognized Western Sahara as an independent territory.

Lilia Blaise

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