THE BLOG

On Morocco, Its Western Allies, and Africa Policy

Amid upheaval in Africa and the Middle East, the Kingdom of Morocco remains stable -- largely due to its ongoing commitment to reform, from minority rights to transitional justice. The latter, in particular, has been widely discussed in countries Moroccan monarch Mohamed VI has recently visited, as part of his effort to strength his country's ties throughout the African continent. Most recently, he was warmly welcomed by the Tunisian parliament, dominated by Islamists. They touted the Moroccan experience in transitional justice as both inspiring and worthy of emulation.

In his Tunisian speech, the king shared three principles of reform which he described as informing his policies in recent years. First, amid Arab publics' fiercely expressed desire to end absolutism throughout the region, the king said that he always chose his peoples' side. Secondly, he emphasized the importance of national development -- and finally, regional integration, in his view not an option but an economic necessity.

These principles sum up more than ten years of policies, all in all a sound strategy, based on promoting and supporting transitions toward reform and democracy throughout the area. Morocco has also made the strategic choice of "south-south cooperation," recognizing the enormous potential of African states to become some of the highest-growth economies in the world.

In Morocco's struggle against terrorism, moreover, the country fuses hard-nosed security measures with an aid and development packages, focused on economic growth, social reform, and the promotion of a moderate and tolerant form of Islam.

The king's progressive outlook with regard to Africa is not shared by Paris, which appears still to be pursuing outdated, post-colonial policies toward the continent. In some of the more important gatherings of African leaders, French elites are either not present or weakly represented. Witness the "New York Forum," held in the Gabon capital Libreville two weeks ago: Chinese, Turkish, and South American participation was high, while barely any French people attended. France needs to join such gatherings, which are oriented toward forging Africa's economic independence. As the Moroccan king stated in his recent speech in the Ivory Coast capital Abidjan, "There are no more hunting grounds" -- meaning, Western powers should no longer look upon the continent as an area to be exploited.

Despite the limits of its economy, Morocco has managed to create and develop a substantial business within Africa -- and the Islamic fiber of sub-Saharan Africa remains deeply tied to the Morocco's centuries old Sufi traditions. There is a different in character and tone between Morocco's approach to its southern neighbors and that of France: Whereas the latter still continues to regard itself as a "teacher" and Africans the "students," Moroccans treat Africans as peers.

In visiting Tunisia, the king made his first trip to a country that had gone through an "Arab spring" revolution. In doing so, he signaled his choice to ally with countries that are pursuing a model of democratic transition -- as opposed to those enduring military republics, notably Algeria, where populations despair of prospects for reform. Paris, as well as Washington, have much to gain by working with Morocco to establish a stronger and more constructive presence in Africa. These great powers should not allow China, Turkey, and other countries to be the only outside powers to advance their political and economic models on the continent.