Hassan Hami
15 March 2024

In Geopolitics: The Use of Pretexts as a State Doctrine Destroys the State (Part II)

King Mohammed VI, President of France Emmanuel Macron, and Algeria President Abdelmadjid Tebboune
King Mohammed VI, President of France Emmanuel Macron, and Algeria President Abdelmadjid Tebboune

While France continues to sit on the fence between Algeria and Morocco, Rabat has made it clear that it will no longer accept any ambiguity from its partners or allies on the critical issue of Western Sahara.

Rabat – In order to understand why France is still using ambiguous language on the Western Sahara issue, it is worth recalling a bit of historical background. First of all, the ploy of concluding two separate agreements with Morocco on the eve of its independence did not work as expected. The first one was held at La Celle Saint-Cloud in November 1955. The second one was in Aix-les-Bains in March 1956.

Historians have work to do in order to uncover facts that may not please everyone involved in the political history of Morocco. Secondly, one has to take into account France’s vengeful spirit towards Morocco and Tunisia for supporting Algeria’s independence. This was particularly evident in France’s attitude on the eve of the 1962 referendum on self-determination, which led to Algeria’s conditional independence.

The spirit of revenge has been that of supporting from a distance the consensual principle of the inviolability of borders inherited from colonization, which allowed Algeria and other French colonies in Africa to inherit territories that did not belong to them before colonization. 

Since France could not afford to lose its interests and influence in these countries, it made sure to have custody of them by virtue of the division of labor agreed between the superpowers and intermediate European powers at the beginning and throughout the second half of the twentieth century.

The French perception of this specific matter has not changed. Although there is no evidence that, on the eve of the signing of the Madrid Agreement in 1975, France openly supported Spain’s position on the so-called Spanish Sahara, as it had done in 1958, this does not rule out the possibility of considering the SAD (Sahara Demain) plan as a position contrary to Morocco’s national interest.

The goat and the cabbage in the face of geopolitical warming

Indeed, according to the SAD plan, two entities not concerned with the history of the region would be allocated parcels of territory: Algeria and the Polisario. Worse still, Polisario was to benefit from the status of “National Liberation Movement,” while local organizations in French overseas territories were denied this status.

France has always claimed its need to maintain a reasonable balance of power between Morocco and Algeria. In reality, France was making sure that its control over Algeria, under the Evian Agreement signed in March 1962, was not relinquished. Paris adopted the same attitude after the American recognition of Morocco’s sovereignty over its southern Moroccan provinces (an expression coined by President Jacques Chirac in 2001).

This attitude has increased in recent months as important members of the EU, including Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands, have come out in support of Morocco’s autonomy plan for the Sahara. In total, fourteen of the twenty-seven member countries of the EU have expressed their support for the autonomy plan. And none of them seems to swallow the Algerian narrative, despite the blunder committed by the Republic of Ireland two weeks ago.

After closely watching some of the recent developments, especially the French Foreign Ministry’s recent trip to Morocco, one cannot help but wonder: Now, what’s new after the signs of relative normalization witnessed over the past two months? Would there be a change in France’s stance of neutrality in favor of the status quo desired by Algeria?

Indeed, the visit of the top French diplomat to Rabat has received interpretations that are as relevant as they are ridiculous. In a hasty reading, “leaving time to time” seems to have been the only plausible observation. The French minister’s comments in Rabat, although slightly different from previous statements in recent months, left everyone wanting more.

But the reality remains that only romantics or neophytes in politics and geopolitics could have expected a dramatic turnaround in the French position on the Sahara. In fact, in the current state of affairs, some decision-making centers in France still have difficulty digesting the American recognition of Morocco’s sovereignty over its southern provinces.

When French officials say that, since 2007, France has been the first European country to support the Moroccan autonomy proposal, they refrain from saying “within the framework of Moroccan sovereignty.” They do not dare to go further. They are not psychologically ready.

Morocco should not be the Turkey of the Maghreb and sub-Saharan Africa

If France is resorting to taking a timid step forward, it is because it is desperately watching its influence shrink around the world, especially in Africa, the Middle East, and even Europe. France has also been unable to recover from the devastating blow it received from Australia, which in 2021 renounced the 34 billion euro contract for the acquisition of French submarines in favor of the United States and the United Kingdom as part of the Trilateral Security Partnership for the Indo-Pacific region.

Faced with such unfriendly geopolitical winds, France is nonchalantly trying to get on the bandwagon. As it notes that countries that have fully recognized or adopted a position in favor of Morocco’s sovereignty over its southern provinces are reaping the dividends, Paris appears to take one step forward and two steps back while considering a potential shift to embrace Morocco’s Autonomy Plan.

However, some observers are tempted to find provisional arguments to assess French diplomatic stands on the Sahara issue. Paris might need more time to make a clear decision. It wouldn’t be sound to expect those who had been the linchpin against Morocco’s interests in Europe, especially in the European Parliament, to act as if nothing had happened.

Moreover, daring to break the balance of power in the Maghreb in favor of Morocco to the detriment of other countries, especially Algeria and Tunisia, would be a risky bet. Morocco should not be the Turkey of the Maghreb and sub-Saharan Africa. This is precisely the discourse that prevailed in Germany and Spain from 2017 to 2021 before these two countries realized that they had to get out of their comfort zones regarding the Sahara.

In this regard, some decision-making circles in France have always used the Algerian card as a business for domestic political purposes. It is in this spirit that one must perceive the calls for the repeal of the 1968 law on the privileges granted to Algerians living in France and those urging the French government to once and for all bury the question of the “rente mémorielle,” a reference to Algeria’s political instrumentalization of its painful history of colonization. indefinitely.

French decision-making circles are aware of Algeria’s capacity to cause harm, as it has important relays in France. To make an unfavorable radical change in the current state of affairs with respect to the Sahara issue would be suicidal as the country is going through a harsh political, economic, and social situation.

Morocco is not waiting for others to move forward

In short, French decision-making circles seem to be asking Morocco to wait a little while France prepares the ground for “an advanced step” on the issue of the regional conflict over the Sahara. But this is a request that Morocco is bound to reject because, since the 1970s, it has been the victim of unprecedented harassment at the hands of the Algerian diplomatic-military establishment. To this can be added “with the complicity or blessing” of certain French (and European) circles that are not in the odor of sanctity with Moroccan institutions.

Morocco has made so many concessions that it can no longer stand the very notion of concession-making. It certainly has the wind in its sails. Yet while it has won the diplomatic war over the Western Saharan region, Morocco continues to reach out to all those who have understood that the days during which they used to give it a hard time are now over.

In such a context, France should understand that: One, Morocco is serious about the conditionality of its partnership with its friends and adversaries, assessing its relationship with them through their position with respect to its southern provinces.

Two: France is urged to explain to the Algerian leaders that their actions, under the conditionality sealed by the Evian Accords, must stop. They must also understand that harming Morocco is now against France’s interests in the Maghreb and sub-Saharan Africa.

Third: Morocco does not intend to replace France with any other country, even if it is no longer a power as important as the United States, China or Russia. Morocco is interested in maintaining healthy relations with all countries, provided they understand the existential nature of the Sahara issue for all Moroccans. Fortunately, the United States and Spain have understood this. They have certainly understood that Morocco has never had belligerent intentions against its neighbors.

In fact, Morocco has always made time management its priority. Since 1958, it has used this maxim to regain, one by one, the parts of its territory still under colonial rule. Above all, it has managed to preserve the monarchical form of its institutions, despite the constraints imposed by the Algeciras Treaty of 1906 and the Protectorate Treaty of 1912.

Historians could always argue about the degree of sovereignty left to Morocco until its independence in 1956. They may as well look into the archives in order to understand the genuine meaning of the capitulation system. However, one thing is certain: the Moroccan state, which dates back fourteen centuries, has not disappeared.

Historians, especially those enamored of colonial ethnology, are silent on (or careless of) the fact that Morocco’s contemporary history has witnessed periods of time when a culture of conspiracy ran through European salons with complicity inside the country aimed at harming its unity and political cohesion.

The 1960s were a time of state-building in the face of adversity that forces anxious, according to dichotomous perceptions, fueled to win the internal political battle with foreign support in the West and in the East.

The 1970s were the years of the discovery that Morocco could not win the battle of reconstruction without the joining of efforts and the federation of all on the institutional political form the country had to sustain and strengthen. This had frightened some circles benefiting from the political incoherence that had prevailed from 1959 to 1970.

The 1980s and 1990s were years of confirmation of the sustainability of the political institutions and the failure of troublemakers to further cultivate the perception of the country’s so-called inability to highly run its own business.

The 2000s were and remain marked by Morocco’s awareness and confidence in its values and means available to emerge and continue to build itself accordingly. To that end, the country has continued to invest heavily in its public diplomacy, making sure to reach out and forge constructive partnerships with as many allies as possible. 

First, despite Algeria’s about-face on the border agreement signed in 1972, Morocco has constantly sought to maintain brotherly ties with the country. First, the North African kingdom has maintained and in some instances solidified its ties to Moroccan Sahrawis, most of whom have either returned to Morocco or taken up residence in Mauritania or Europe.

Experts in North-African affairs certainly remember the audience King Hassan II granted to a Polisario delegation in January 1989 to listen to their grievances and glimpse a solution that would allow them to defend their thesis within the framework of Moroccan sovereignty.

The meeting was quickly cut short when the head of interests at the Algerian Embassy in Rabat summoned the Polisario delegation to immediately leave Morocco. The meeting took place on the eve of the Maghreb Summit, which led to the creation of the Arab Maghreb Union in Marrakech in February 1989.

During the 2000s, Algeria ignored Morocco’s steps to further improve relations between the two countries. Morocco expected that when Abdelaziz Bouteflika came to power in 1999, he would, as a fine connoisseur of the vicissitudes of the Sahara affair, help turn the page on Algeria’s sterile hostilities and take steps, in good faith, in the path of reaching a realistic solution to the Sahara issue.

Not only did Morocco’s hopes underestimate the veto of the Algerian military establishment, but it was surely astonished that President Bouteflika could find nothing better than promoting the idea of splitting the territory, which Algeria, in the same way as Morocco and the Polisario, had rejected in 1979.

As a result, while continuing to reach out, Morocco decided to take the lead. It now proposes an autonomy plan and forces Algeria, as it did in 1981 in Nairobi, to contradict itself. Since Morocco presented its Autonomy Plan in 2007, the country has forcefully debunked Algeria’s supposedly commitment to “sacred principles” of self-determination and the defense of people’s rights to self-determination. Meanwhile, the country has also shown to the world the depth of its historical claims to the Sahara. Compared to Algeria, which never existed as an independent entity before 1962, Morocco has been a functional and unified kingdom for several centuries.  

Since 2007, the situation has become crystal clear, as experts familiar with the geopolitical realities of the Maghreb know who is threatening regional and international security. The “referendum” option was finally buried long before then, after the failure of the Baker I and II plans proposed in 2000-2003, which were abandoned without ever going further.

In addition, the Algerian maneuvers came to a halt after the outbreak of the so-called “Arab Spring.” Countries fell into instability and leaders were swept away by the whirlwind of laborious political transitions. Algeria was fortunate to escape the maelstrom.

Morocco has taken a further step in the consolidation of the democratic process, the most eloquent demonstration of which is the Constitution adopted in 2011. It pulls the rug out from under its critics who had turned human rights into a business and those who had used them to blackmail it. They all failed to break the country’s bones.

Morocco’s growing advances in Africa

Since 2014–2015, the card of human rights and the exploitation of the Sahara’s wealth no longer bring anything to those who hold it. Morocco’s return to the African Union in 2017 was the final blow to its adversaries on the African continent, where the balance of power or influence is increasingly changing

Morocco is reaping the benefits of some fifty royal visits to more than twenty-five African countries over a period of twenty years. The doubles standard game that its rivals had been casting over thirty years or so is no longer working.

Above all, Morocco is regaining credibility. Africans realize that for at least two decades, Morocco has been adopting an African policy based on co-development, a win-win approach, and non-interference in their internal affairs. By the same token, Morocco has played its good office in many conflicts with remarkable discretion and good results.

In doing so, Morocco is now accepted as a partner in the broadest sense of the word. Moroccan investments in Africa are estimated at several million dollars, and Moroccan companies are present in several sectors, including infrastructure, agriculture, mining, banking, insurance, etc.

This dynamic is disturbing Morocco’s opponents. So much so that some countries in the Maghreb and Europe have made common cause to thwart Morocco’s advance in Africa. They failed. This brings us back to the series of questions we asked above. One of the questions that deserves to be asked once again pertains to the record of countries that have had the courage and intelligence to recognize Morocco’s sovereignty over the Sahara.

These countries believe in Morocco’s potential and are embarking on the path of consolidating their partnership with it. The first country to do so was the US, but this is not surprising; Morocco has always been a reliable and fair partner for Washington. Germany, the Netherlands, and especially Spain have followed suit, and they are gaining in the exchange.

Other observations and comments are necessary to make the picture crystal clear. First, those who believe that serious countries such as the United States or Spain will one day revoke their recognition of Morocco’s sovereignty over its southern provinces, regardless of the formula by which they have expressed themselves, are either short-sighted or damned fools.

Secondly, those who think that the ambiguous position of France, which was reiterated during the visit of the Foreign Minister, Stéphane Séjourné, could be clarified – and could even go further if an official visit of the French head of state to Morocco were planned – do not understand the complexity of the decision-making system in France. The practice of patronage and control of the so-called “deep state” is still in force when it comes to managing the complex relations between Morocco and Algeria.

Third: All those who despair of seeing France reconcile with the spirit of the Enlightenment and be at the rendezvous of history to do justice to Morocco, lose nothing by waiting. Because France understands more than ever that procrastination is no longer an option. It must decide, even if it means alienating or comforting one of the protagonists, Morocco or Algeria. A decision will be made sooner than even the most pessimistic of pessimists would have us believe.

Four: Anyone who thinks that Morocco perceives its foreign policy in terms of a hierarchy of actors when its vital interests are at stake has no idea of the mindset of its decision-makers or the political culture of Moroccans.

I didn’t dedicate any space in this article to the Polisario. This is because the only actor fighting everywhere to promote the thesis of separatism is Algeria. Apart from a few obsolete outings by some of its leaders, the movement is conspicuous by its absence. Most of its members are now convinced that the dream of an “independent entity in the Sahara” has never been so far away.

Proof of this is that the day after the visit of the head of French diplomacy to Rabat, the Secretary General of the Quai d’Orsay was received in Algiers in the framework of the regular political consultations between Algeria and France. Some commentators have perceived a desire on the part of France to clarify its position of support for the Moroccan Autonomy Plan, including the expression “the existential nature” of the Sahara issue for Morocco or that “it is time to move forward.”

Others saw it as an attempt to prepare for President Abdelmajid Tebboune’s twice-postponed visit to Paris. The Algerian leader needs Paris’ blessing to outwit those within the military establishment who might seek not to validate his aspiration for a second term.

A third, smaller category believes that France would have informed Algerian officials of its future decision on the Moroccan Sahara. This interpretation is less plausible as a decision of this magnitude is usually communicated through other channels related to the political and security decision-making systems.

However, on the occasion of the secretary general’s visit to the Quai d’Orsay, her Algerian interlocutors admitted that the Sahara issue is an equally “existential” issue for Algeria. They advised France not to adopt a position similar to Spain. Advice in the form of threats, as only Algerian decision-makers are masters—and above all, blackmailers. They’re stirring up the wind. And what about the Polisario? Sail the galley.

Source : https://www.moroccoworldnews.com

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