A model for the Middle East or an exception to the rule?
The deputy foreign minister of Morocco, Youssef Amrani, talked to Right Turn this morning, the day after Morocco’s “strategic dialogue” with the United States.
He was emphatic in his criticism of the violence against American embassies. “We condemn it in the strongest way, these attacks against the U.S. embassies.” Not surprisingly, as an official of a Muslim country, he added: “We see attacks against all kinds of religions.” (It was interesting that he didn’t single out Islam, given the violence in the region recently against Christians.) But he made clear that he would not excuse the violence: “We cannot justify violence against civilians or diplomats.” (Consider how much more cogent a condemnation of the attacks are Amrani’s remarks than the first U.S. utterances from the Cairo embassy.)
He added a personal note about slain U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens. “He started in the peace corps in Morocco. He loved the region. For us, we have lost something also.”
As for the first strategic dialogue meetings, he told me, “We are very pleased it is a new step in our relationship. It is an upgrade in our relations.” He added that “what is important is that America appreciates Morocco.”
During our phone interview, he developed an argument about how the U.S.-Moroccan relationship can have broader impact in the region. Amrani said, “It is very timely because it sends a strong message to other nations in the region that we can have strong relations with the U.S.” Amrani, however, stressed that this did not happen overnight and countries can’t expect an instantaneous robust relationship with the United States without doing their “homework first.” He explained, “[T]he strategic relationship] happens for many reasons — because we share the same values and same principles.” Moreover, he stressed that Morocco has been on a path to reform for years under the auspices of the king. “What is important is we have to do our homework in the Maghreb,” he said. He recalled, “Morocco started reforms more than ten years ago, both political and economic.” It is only after a country enlarges “the space of freedom” that economic and political reforms can take place, and in turn a more intimate relationship with the United States can arise.
Amrani stressed that Morocco remains a work in progress. “We have to work harder,” he said. “For us, we have to continue to build the rule of law, good governance and put people at the center [of society].” The world economic slump has affected Morocco, but he said because the country began economic reforms years ago and has developed, for example, small enterprises, it has weathered the current downturn. The key, he said, is “to create wealth.”
Finally, he observed that the potential involvement of al-Qaeda in the embassy attacks should be a wake-up call to the West. He pointed out that Morocco has been sounding the alarm about al-Qaeda of the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) for years. He sketched out the deadly combination: “Al Qaeda and narco-traffickers and human trafficking and terrorism.” He cautioned, “We cannot fight against extremism only through security measures.” The entire range of political and economic reforms, he said, are necessary to “stabilize” the region, and thereby undercut al-Qaeda’s spread.
The big question remains: Can the U.S.-Morocco dialogue be instructive for other countries and a model for U.S. relations with other Muslim countries, or is Morocco, because of its history, monarchy and culture sui generis? We’ll have to wait to find out, but as Morocco is virtually the only U.S. foreign policy success in the region, we should think seriously about how and where else the Moroccan model can be applied.