An Exciting Introduction to Morocco 

Last month my wife and I went on a wonderful two-week tour of Morocco with Overseas Adventure Travel. Here is the OAT map for the tour:

We were impressed by the country’s fascinating history and people, its beautiful architecture, cities and rugged Atlas Mountains, the immensity of the rolling Sahara Desert along its southern border and its current construction boom.

While there we also learned of Morocco’s recent re-establishment of its diplomatic relations with Cuba, a country about which I have written a lot, and of Morocco’s membership in the African Union, both related to Morocco’s lingering conflict over the Western Sahara, which was the subject of a recent U.N. Security Council resolution, all of which were discussed in recent posts.[1]

Also fascinating was the country’s religious profile. Its population of 33.7 million is 99% Sunni Muslim with 1% Shia Muslims, Christians, Jews and Bahias. In every town the mosques’ minarets were the instantaneously recognizable tallest structures.[2]

Our OAT tour guide told us that the current king, Mohammad VI, has been leading efforts to ensure that Muslims in Morocco are not encouraged to join extremists groups like ISIS or Al Qaeda. All imams have to complete an education course at the capitol at Rabat that is organized and administered by the government’s ministry of religious affairs (The Ministry of Endowments and Islamic Affairs of the Kingdom of Morocco) and that excludes the extremist ideologies promoted by ISIS and Al Qaeda.

We also were told that neither the government nor the Muslim leaders discriminate against Christians or Jews, and we visited a synagogue in Fez. On the other hand, we were told, the Christians and Jews are forbidden from preaching or proselytizing or evangelizing in public.

Previously I had learned that the five “pillars” of Islam are (1) shahada, declaring as a matter of faith and trust that there is only one God (Allah) and that Mohammad is God’s messenger; (2) salat, saying the Islamic prayer five times a day; (3) zakat, giving to the poor and needy; (4) slym, fasting during the month of Ramadan; and (5) haji, making a pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca at least once in a lifetime.

Although in Morocco I only experienced hearing the call to prayer over a minaret’s loudspeaker, I came to see these pillars of faith as similar to various practices of Christian spirituality, as ways of reinforcing a believer’s connections with God (Allah), and as ways that help believers live in accordance with the will of God (Allah). These pillars and practices, in my opinion, also rest on the belief that no one is perfect, that all find it too easy to stray from the path of faithfulness and that all need reminders of God or Allah’s way.

I felt fortunate that my Minneapolis church (Westminster Presbyterian) has warm relations with a local mosque and that we have hosted at least two worship services including its leaders. [3]

After returning to the U.S., I conducted research and discovered more about the previously mentioned government ministry; Morocco’s positive relations with international anti-terrorism groups; the important Declaration of Marrakesh promoting respect for religious minorities in Muslim countries; the most current U.S. State Department’s assessment of Morocco’s religious freedom; and the nature of current U.S.-Morocco relations. These topics will be explored in subsequent posts.

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[1] Cuba and Morocco Re-Establish Diplomatic Relations, dwkcommentaries.com (May 7, 2017); U.N. Security Council Orders More Negotiations About the Western Sahara Conflict, dwkcommentaries.com (May 9, 2017).

[2] CIA World Factbook, Morocco.

[3] Interfaith Worship Service at Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church, dwkcommentaries.com (Dec. 2, 2015); A Christian-Muslim Conversation About Forgiveness, dwkcommentaries.com (May 15, 2017).

 

U.N. Security Council Orders More Negotiations About the Western Sahara Conflict

Disputes over the Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony, have followed its 1975 annexation by Morocco in opposition to competing claims by the Polisario Front. In 1991 the U.N. brokered a cease-fire and established a peacekeeping monitoring mission and to help prepare a referendum on the territory’s future that has never taken place. So far the parties have been unable to agree upon how to decide on self-determination. Morocco wants an autonomy plan under Moroccan sovereignty while Polisario wants a U.N.-backed referendum including on the question of independence. Below is a map of the Western Sahara.

Western_sahara_map_showing_morocco_and_polisaro.gif

On April 28, 2017, the U.N. Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 2351 extending the mandate of the U.N. Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) until 30 April 2018 and calling on the parties to that conflict to resume negotiations under the auspices of the Secretary-General without preconditions and in good faith, in order to facilitate a just, lasting and mutually acceptable political solution.[1]

Other provisions of the resolution called on the parties to cooperate fully with the operations of MINURSO, to take the necessary steps to ensure unhindered movement for U.N. and associated personnel in carrying out their mandate, to demonstrate the political will to work in an atmosphere propitious for dialogue in order to resume negotiations, to implement the relevant Security Council resolutions, to resume cooperation with the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, to ensure that the humanitarian needs of refugees were adequately addressed.  It also supported an increase in the ratio of medical personnel within the current uniformed authorization, as requested in the Secretary-General’s most recent report to address MINURSO’s severely overstretched medical capacity. Yet another part of the resolution noted that both sides had withdrawn troops from the Guerguerat area of the territory, a vast swath of desert bordering the Atlantic Ocean that has been contested since 1975.

In support of the resolution, U.S. Deputy Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Ambassador Michele Sisson, emphasized hat peacekeeping missions should support political solutions, said that postponing the [referendum] had been the key to allowing MINURSO to close out the 2016 chapter in the territory.  The U.S. was pleased with the mandate renewal, which helped in returning the Council’s attention where it belonged — supporting a political process to resolve the situation on the ground.  Emphasizing that the situation must change, she said the Council must look at the “big picture” in Western Sahara, including the absence of any political process for many years, she said.  The resolution demonstrated the importance of the parties working with the U.N. to return to the table.  The Mission must be able to hire the right staff in order to be as effective as possible, and to adjust components that were not working, as well as they should.  The U.S. would watch closely to see what happened on the ground, she said.

Also speaking in support of the resolution were the other Security Council members: Uruguay, Sweden, Senegal, Ethiopia, China, France, United Kingdom, Italy, Bolivia, Japan, Ukraine and the Russian Federation.

Although the resolution was passed unanimously, France, a permanent Council member, backs Morocco, its former colony, while Polisario has been supported by some non-permanent council members and by South Africa.

Afterwards Morocco’s foreign ministry said the kingdom was satisfied with the resolution and hoped for a “real process” toward a solution, which it said should be on its autonomy initiative. Morocco also called for neighboring Mauritania and Algeria, the latter of which backs Polisario and maintains tense relations with Morocco, to be involved in negotiations. Algeria, on the other hand, called the resolution a victory for the Sahrawi cause that put the process “back on track.”

Morocco recently has made at least two diplomatic moves that may be related to enhancing its position in such negotiations.

First, on January 31, 2017, the African Union (AU) at its Summit, 39 to 9, approved Morocco’s request for readmission after having left the AU in 1984 in response to a majority of its members recognizing the disputed territory in the Western Sahara.

Morocco’s King Mohammed VI in his speech at this year’s AU Summit emphasized “how indispensable Africa is to Morocco and how indispensable Morocco is to Africa.” As evidence he mentioned that “since 2000, Morocco has [signed] nearly a thousand agreements with African countries, in various fields of cooperation,” including providing scholarships for Africans to attend Moroccan universities, launching the African Atlantic Gas Pipeline, creating a regional electricity market, constructing fertilizer production plants, creating the Adaptation of African Agriculture program to respond to climate change. These actions, he asserted, demonstrated Morocco’s “commitment to the development and prosperity of African citizens, [who] have the means and the genius; [so that] together, we can fulfill the aspirations of our peoples.”

This readmission, say analysts, also enhances Morocco’s status in upcoming negotiations over the Western Sahara although the King did not mention this in his speech. Instead, he made a modest allusion to this conflict when he said, “We know that we do not have unanimous backing from this prestigious assembly. Far be it from us to spark off a sterile debate! We have absolutely no intention of causing division, as some would like to insinuate!”[2]

The other diplomatic move that can be seen as an attempt to soften resistance towards Morocco’s position in negotiations over the Western Sahara was its re-establishment of diplomatic relations with Cuba, as discussed in a prior post.

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[1] U.N. Security Council, Press Release: Security Council Extends Mandate of United Nations Mission (April 28, 2017); U.S. Mission to the U.N., Ambassador Sisson Remarks at the Adoption of UN Security Council Resolution 2351 on the [U.N.] Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) (April 28, 2017); U.N. Security Council, Press Release: Secretary-General Welcomes Withdrawal of Moroccan, Frente Polisario Elements from Western Sahara’s Guerguerat Area, Urging Adherence to Cease Fire (Apr. 28, 2017); Reuters, U.N. Security Council Backs New Western Sahara Talks Push, N.Y. Times (Apr. 29, 2017); Assoc. Press, UN Council Backs New Effort to End Western Sahara Conflict, N.Y. Times (Apr. 28, 2017).

[2] Quinn, Morocco rejoins African Union after more than 30 years, Guardian (Jan. 31, 2017); Morocco Ministry of Foreign Affairs, His Majesty the King delivers a speech at the 28th Summit of the African Union (AU) in Addis Ababa (Jan. 31, 2017); Abubeker, Why Has Morocco Rejoined the African Union After 33 Years, Newsweek Feb. 2, 2017).

Cuba and Morocco Re-Establish Diplomatic Relations

On April 21 at the United Nations Cuba and Morocco signed a memorandum of understanding that stated, “Guided by the mutual will to develop friendly relations, the two governments agreed to reestablish ties as well as political, economic and cultural cooperation.” They also expressed their willingness to develop ties of friendship and co-operation in the political, economic and cultural spheres, among others.[1] Below is a photograph of the two countries’ flags.

The two countries thereby agreed to end 37 years of non-relations. In 1980 Morocco severed such ties because Cuba had extended diplomatic recognition to the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) in Morocco’s Western Sahara region. There also had been another period of non-recognition (October 31, 1963 through January 13, 1964) after Cuba had supported Algeria during its Sands War with Morocco in the Western Sahara.

In an article about this recent re-establishment of diplomatic relations, Granma, the official newspaper of the Communist Party of Cuba, stated that the “Cuban government maintains its stanch position in support of the Sahrawi people’s right to self-determination and will continue to offer cooperation in the fields of health and education” while expressing “gratitude to the Sahrawi people for their unbreakable solidarity toward the Cuban Revolution and its work.” These thoughts were echoed by a SADR official’s thanking “Cuba, the African Union and other countries ‘for defending the peoples’ right to self-determination, independence and decolonization, as well as for their loyalty to the guiding principles of international policy.’”

The Granma article also stated that the “reestablishment of diplomatic relations demonstrates Cuba’s willingness to, without forgetting history, develop bilateral ties on the basis of the unwavering principles of its foreign policy and firm vocation to build bridges between peoples and nations.” (Emphasis added.) Nor did the article forget that “Cuba values and appreciates Morocco’s support in the United Nations since 2006 voting in favor of the island’s resolution calling for an end to the economic, commercial and financial blockade [embargo] imposed by the United States.”

Only one week after the Cuba-Morocco announcement, the U.N. Security Council unanimously passed a resolution calling for new negotiations to end the conflict in the Western Sahara. The U.N. has been involved in this conflict since at least 1991 when it brokered a cease-fire and established a peacekeeping mission to monitor and help prepare a referendum on the territory’s future which has never taken place.[2] This will be discussed in a future post.

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[1] Morocco, Cuba re-establish Diplomatic Relations, Morocco World News (April 21, 2017); Lamzouwaq, Morocco-Cuba: 37 Years of Cold Hostility, Morocco World News (Apr. 25, 2017); Akwei, Morocco and Cuba have restored 37-year-old broken diplomatic ties, Africa News (April 22, 2017); Borrero, Cuba and Morocco looking to the future without forgetting the past, Granma (April 26, 2017).

[2] Assoc. Press, UN Council Backs New Effort to End Western Sahara Conflict, N.Y. Times (April 28, 2017).

 

Spanish Court Refuses to Apply New Amendment to Spain’s Universal Jurisdiction Statute

On March 15th Spanish High Court Judge Pablo Ruz refused in two cases to apply Spain’s new amendment to its universal jurisdiction statute.[1] This is the subject of a report in Spain’s leading newspaper, El Pais.

U.S. Detainees Case

One case has U.S. Government officials in its sights. It involves alleged torture by U.S. officials of five individuals from the moment of their initial detention in various countries (Afghanistan, Pakistan and Gambia) and subsequent detention at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. On March 15th Judge Ruz renewed his request to the U.S. Government for information about U.S. investigation of these cases.

The Judge concluded that under the new amendment “torture and war crimes cannot be pursued . . . because the target of the procedure is not a Spaniard or a resident of Spain.” These restrictions , however, are trumped by international treaties ratified by Spain–the Geneva Conventions and the Convention Against Torture–which force signatory countries to pursue crimes.

The new amendment also stipulates that crimes cannot be pursued in Spain if they are already being investigated by an international court or by the country where they were committed. This is why Judge Ruz is insisting on securing information from US authorities regarding the status of any investigation there.

Western Saharan Genocide Case

The other case involves claims of genocide against several members of the Moroccan military in connection with Western Sahara, a disputed territory that Morocco claims as its own.

Judge Ruz asserts that the court has jurisdiction because the alleged crimes were committed between November 1975 and February 1976 when Western Sahara was still a Spanish colony. Thus, the court concluded, the alleged crimes must be considered to have been committed on Spanish territory for legal purposes.

The Judge also says he has the power to keep open this investigation because it involves alleged genocide.

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[1] A prior post discussed the amendment added earlier this year to the universal jurisdiction statute while comments thereto talked about initial reaction to the amendment. Another post involved the court’s refusal to apply the new amendment in a case involving the Geneva Conventions while a subsequent post talked about the High Court’s following the new amendment in drug-trafficking cases.