The Moroccan monarchy presents itself as a model of political stability in a region now devastated by civil wars. In doing so, it hopes to increase the benefits of its long-standing cooperation with imperialism – primarily French and American – and Zionism.
In an October 2020 report, the World Bank criticized the delay in establishing a free trade area in the Arab region. Referring to the occupation of Palestine and the question of Western Sahara, it stated: ‘The West Bank and Gaza-Israeli conflict, and the strained relations between Morocco and Algeria, among others, impede the development of a more united front among MENA countries.’16
Regarding global imperialism, Palestine and Western Sahara are questions that were inherited from the Cold War period of anti-colonial struggles and ‘progressive’ regimes. Since that time, economic and political shifts in the Arab region and the African continent have brought regimes and elites to power that have broken with their countries’ histories of national liberation, and that have complied with global institutions and global capitalism. Those regimes, along with global imperialism, came to see the two questions of Palestine and Western Sahara as blocking the economic integration of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, and the region’s own integration with global capitalism.
The Moroccan regime is fully aware of this radically changed context. The monarchy benefited from the 2008 global economic crisis, presenting itself to capital as able to operate across the continent as an exemplary ‘mediator’. It has also benefited from the 2011 regional uprisings, appearing now as a model of a politically stable regime that safeguards imperial interests, including concerns over clandestine migration and terrorism. Indeed, in the aftermath of Covid-19, the monarchy is set to benefit from the decline in global value chains and their redistribution at the regional level.
Further, the regime’s mobilization of the discourse of ‘territorial integrity’ and ahistorical ‘sovereignty’, internally and externally, is an attempt to preserve these economic profits and political interests. This strategy is demonstrated in state manoeuvres with regard to Western Sahara, a central issue for the monarchy which is also at the core of regional transformations. With the downfall of the staunchest supporter of the Saharawi Republic, Muammar Gaddafi, and the Algerian regime’s own crises, the Moroccan regime has assumed a commanding position on the issue.
For nearly a decade the monarchy has pursued an economic strategy of transforming Morocco into a launchpad for imperial investments in Africa. The regime utilizes Moroccan capital to shift the opinion of imperial countries on Western Sahara in its favour. Those countries prefer a stable regime that is able to guarantee their interests and their economic raiding of Africa.
Perhaps the biggest political victory achieved by the monarchy in this context was its return to the African Union (AU) in 2017, 32 years after Morocco’s withdrawal from the Organisation of African Unity.17 Morocco’s return received widespread and indeed unconditional support from the AU member states, reflecting the shift in the continental balance of power. At the same time, the Moroccan regime enacted a policy of developing economic relations with countries with which it previously had no links, in the hope of changing their position on the question of Western Sahara.
Additionally, the United Nations has tipped in favour of adopting the Moroccan state’s viewpoint in its reports, especially as the task of holding a referendum on self-determination has faded into the background: the United Nations praises the Moroccan autonomy plan, and repeatedly emphasizes the importance of a buffer zone and the negotiation of a solution, while simultaneously rejecting changes and calling for a neutral census of refugee camp populations, and so on – all of which are frequently raised as complaints by the Polisario.
Following the Polisario’s blocking of the Guerguerat crossing at the Mauritanian border in late 2020, the Moroccan regime established new ‘facts on the ground’, initiating a security cordon in order to guarantee smooth crossings of the border – and thereby breaching the ceasefire negotiated through the United Nations in September 1991. In response, the Polisario declared war. However, there were only very limited skirmishes, which in no way affected the Moroccan regime. Throughout this period, the monarchy took advantage of the Polisario’s internal contradictions, which arise from the Front’s transition from a national liberation movement into a state apparatus, the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR). The Polisario now has a large bureaucracy (a police force, an army, and a diplomatic corps) though this survives only through external aid, and is indeed entirely dependent on the Algerian military – changes that parallel those that took place within the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO). In his 2004 book, Eastern Cauldron, Gilbert Achcar speaks of the decay of the Polisario, which he describes as a ‘long march backwards’.18 Both the Polisario and the PLO have become a state apparatus without a territory; both seek lands in order to exercise state power while having quasi-total dependence on the so-called international community and its legitimacy.
Monarchical diplomacy regarding Western Sahara has thus become more aggressive, benefiting from imperial competition on the African continent. After decades of being blackmailed, the monarchy became the blackmailer: Rabat has taken every opportunity to call back its ambassadors to Morocco in protests over the issue, as it did with Germany in May 2021, after that country’s Foreign Minister’s statement on former President Trump’s recognition of Western Sahara as Moroccan, and with Spain a month later, when the president of SADR received hospital treatment there. Subsequently the Moroccan monarchy used its role as an EU border guard (with regard to containing clandestine migration from the African continent) to pressure Spain by allowing hundreds of minors to migrate to the Spanish enclave of Ceuta. Because of Spain’s weak position within the hierarchy of global imperialism, the regime’s diplomatic gains and economic standing may translate into internal and external consolidation of the monarchy, thus surpassing the effect of the 1975 Green March. This will surely be the case if the monarchy succeeds in squeezing concessions from Spain, even if solely in the form of a diplomatic deal (of the kind signed by Britain and China in 1889, relating to Hong Kong).
Recently, Morocco’s aims in Western Sahara have been combined with support from the US, with the country’s normalization with Israel. The Moroccan monarchy’s relations with Israel have continued since its formal independence. In his book Lineages of Revolt (2013), Adam Hanieh describes the development of relations between Arab states, including Morocco, in the context of the imperial strategy of transforming the MENA into a free trade and investment zone.
In October 2000, the Moroccan regime was forced to shut down an Israeli ‘liaison office’ in Rabat under pressure from popular solidarity with the second Palestinian Intifada. However, the power balance has now tipped towards the counter-revolutionary forces in the Arab region. Having made political gains through weathering the 20 February storm, with increased regional weight and status among the imperial powers, the regime was able to openly normalize relations with the Zionist state: it signed an agreement to that effect on 10 December 2020, under the auspices of the United States.
Never before has the monarchy achieved such an internal and external consensus as it has recently established – it flaunts its gains like Achilles. However, while Achilles had just one weakness, the monarchy has two: the first is the erupting social crisis, that it is attempting to contain, and the second is the coming global economic crisis and its implications for the monarchy’s hopes of playing the role of forward guard of global capital, invading the markets and looting the wealth of Africa.