Commentary Magazine


Topic: Morocco

Encourage Private Investment in Morocco, Western Sahara

On Thursday, Secretary of State John Kerry and Moroccan Foreign Minister Salaheddine Mezouar will sit down to begin the third bilateral U.S.-Morocco Strategic Dialogue. I’ve written frequently about Morocco here at COMMENTARY because it’s important to recognize success in the Arab world. While across the Middle East, North Africa, and the Sahel, many states are teetering, Morocco—like Israel, Oman, the United Arab Emirates, and perhaps Tunisia—is a rare success. It has not only been a consistent U.S. ally in a world increasingly devoid of them, but it has also pushed itself front and center on efforts to counter violent extremism.

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On Thursday, Secretary of State John Kerry and Moroccan Foreign Minister Salaheddine Mezouar will sit down to begin the third bilateral U.S.-Morocco Strategic Dialogue. I’ve written frequently about Morocco here at COMMENTARY because it’s important to recognize success in the Arab world. While across the Middle East, North Africa, and the Sahel, many states are teetering, Morocco—like Israel, Oman, the United Arab Emirates, and perhaps Tunisia—is a rare success. It has not only been a consistent U.S. ally in a world increasingly devoid of them, but it has also pushed itself front and center on efforts to counter violent extremism.

After some low points during the reign of King Hassan II, under the current king, Mohammed VI, human rights have markedly improved and press freedom is also improving. That does not mean Morocco is perfect; no country is. Corruption remains a problem which inhibits business, and police abuse is also a problem for those in detention. Still, a quick comparison between Morocco and pretty much every other state shows just how valuable bilateral relations are. And Morocco is taking its democratic empowerment to new heights with its new autonomy plan to devolve real power down to a more local level in the Western Sahara among other regions.

It is time to close the file on the Western Sahara dispute, a manufactured grievance with its roots in Cold War politics. If there is one thing that the last two decades have made clear, is that the United States cannot take stability for granted in the Islamic world and Africa; filling vacuums is a U.S. interest. When a vacuum can be filled with a stable, moderate government with a proven and sincere record as an aspiring democracy, that is even better.

At the same time, however, as much as Moroccans and fans of a strong U.S.-Moroccan bilateral relationship would like, no administration in Washington is going to focus as much energy on bilateral ties as would be possible in an ideal world. With civil wars in Syria, Libya, and Yemen; renewed Russian bellicosity; drug gangs running rampant in Mexico; the Iran nuclear deal; and a rising China, Morocco is always going to be on the backburner, condemned by its own success.

This is why it should be the policy of the United States to encourage direct, private investment throughout Morocco and the Western Sahara. Algeria may dispute Moroccan sovereignty over the territory, but there are few merits to Algeria’s claim; rather, European Union auditors have shown that Algeria simply treats the Sahrawi refugee issue as a cash cow. There is nothing in U.S. law that prevents direct foreign investment in the Western Sahara. U.S. diplomats and commercial officers based in Rabat should travel to the region, show American businessmen the ample opportunities available, and help aspiring investors navigate Morocco’s bureaucracy. Providing employment will help cement stability, and greater foreign investment will encourage transparency and financial reform. That will be good both for U.S. jobs and business, and support U.S. national-security issues. It’s seldom the United States gets an opportunity to do so much right with so little effort. Let us hope that the Strategic Dialogue can be the occasion that pushes Washington to replace its 20th century policy with one designed for the new century.

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Two Simple Ways Turkey Can Undercut the Islamic State

It’s no secret that Turkey has become the weak link in the fight against the Islamic State (ISIS). Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Turkey’s Islamist president, sees the world through an ethnic and sectarian chauvinist lens, and simply cannot conceive the Islamic State as a greater threat than Syria’s secular Kurds, his conspiratorial vision of Israel and Jews, or Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Syria’s Alawis.

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It’s no secret that Turkey has become the weak link in the fight against the Islamic State (ISIS). Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Turkey’s Islamist president, sees the world through an ethnic and sectarian chauvinist lens, and simply cannot conceive the Islamic State as a greater threat than Syria’s secular Kurds, his conspiratorial vision of Israel and Jews, or Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Syria’s Alawis.

Turkey has provided medical aid, safe haven, and perhaps even weaponry to the Islamic State. But its biggest contribution has been free passage. A huge preponderance of the foreign fighters flowing into Syria and Iraq have transited Turkey. It’s as easy as flying in on Turkish Air, transferring to a domestic flight to Gazientep or Hatay near the Syrian border, and then paying a taxi driver to go to the border. Turkish border guards at most charge a $40 bribe to turn the other way, according to journalists and analysts who have made the journey.

I spent much of the last week in Morocco for the Marrakech Security Forum, where I had the opportunity to speak to Arab security professionals. Issues relating to foreign fighters dominated conversations. For example, why is it that so many Moroccans fight for the Islamic State inside Syria and Iraq and yet are poorly represented in Boko Haram’s emirate or in Libya, where the Islamic State is also resurgent? Or, conversely, since Islamist radicalism is rife in Algeria, why is it that Algerians are relatively poorly represented in the Islamic State, but yet are ever present in the Libyan fight?

Sometimes, the answers are mundane. It comes down to the Turkish visa regimen. Turkey does not require visas for Moroccans, making Syria accessible to would-be Moroccan jihadists. Ditto for Libyans, Lebanese, Jordanians, and Tunisians. And yet, Turkey requires visas for Algerians, hence the relatively small number of Algerians fighting in Syria and Iraq. It’s simply much easier for Algerians to fight in Libya which has proximity in its favor.

Meanwhile, Moroccans have reported a shift over time in how their extremists travel to fight in self-conceived jihads. In the past, Islamist enablers would recruit young Moroccans and help facilitate their travel to the world’s hotspots. Today, however, most of the Moroccans traveling to join the Islamic State understand they need only fly to Istanbul and then they will easily find a facilitator inside Turkey. Whether in Istanbul’s airports or in regional cities, Islamic state spotters find young would-be jihadis exiting the airport and make themselves known. Picture pimps at the Port Authority bus terminal in New York approaching girls coming off buses from the Midwest in the 1970s; when you’re trained to spot the young and naive, it’s relatively easy work.

This raises two simple policy fixes which might cut off some of the oxygen from the Islamic State:

  • First, if Turkey is serious about the fight against terrorism, it needs to start requiring visas in advance from nationalities which today serve as the chief recruiting pool for the Islamic State. Businessmen and legitimate tourists won’t have a problem applying, and Turkish intelligence might benefit from the vetting as well.
  • And, second, if would-be Islamic State fighters have no problem finding Islamic State fixers in and around Turkey’s airports, then it’s curious that the Turkish intelligence service can’t identify and round them up. Here, the problem is likely less ability than desire on the part of the Turkish government. But that’s no reason to deflect diplomatic attention to a real problem. Once again, perhaps it’s time to designate Turkey a state sponsor of terrorism if only to pressure the Erdoğan government to do what a responsible member of the international community would have done years ago.

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Countering Violent Extremism the Right Way

In the aftermath of the terrorist attack on the offices of French satirical paper Charlie Hebdo and the subsequent attack by Islamist extremists on a kosher market, President Barack Obama invited political and religious leaders to a Summit on Countering Violent Extremism. The whole summit is a bit amorphous and unfortunately seems to be the latest example of foreign policy by photo-op rather than substance.

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In the aftermath of the terrorist attack on the offices of French satirical paper Charlie Hebdo and the subsequent attack by Islamist extremists on a kosher market, President Barack Obama invited political and religious leaders to a Summit on Countering Violent Extremism. The whole summit is a bit amorphous and unfortunately seems to be the latest example of foreign policy by photo-op rather than substance.

Crippling the U.S. effort is an unwillingness to address the theological component: violent interpretations of Islam. I have spent the last several days in Morocco, witness to the academic and diplomatic effort to counter extremism which was a major subject of discussion at the Marrakech Security Forum, and then in Rabat, where I was able to sit in on workshops in which Moroccan graduates of religious studies programs and peer leaders addressed strategies to identify and counter radicalism among their peers.

I have previously addressed some aspects of Morocco’s strategy to promote religious moderation, here. Morocco has pioneered the Mourchidat program, in which both men and women together study the same religious curriculum, but combine it with instruction in psychology, sociology, and history so that they can discuss and explain religion to ordinary people so that extremists do not have a blank slate upon which they can declare their interpretation of Islam to be the correct one.

In addition, the Moroccans have set up networks to reach across society in order to nip radicalization in the bud, and provide alternatives. Think a religious equivalent of Boys and Girls Clubs, one in which young people undertake activities that provide alternatives to the Islamist vision. Other groups reach out via children’s books, cartoons, and interactive websites, some for children, and others for serious discussion and debate about religion and radicalism. See, for example, www.chababe.ma, whose offices I visited today.

Many Western diplomats and experts understand that change will have to come from within. Moroccan religious leaders recognize there is no single summit or call for international attention which can moderate growing extremism within Islam. Rather, it is a decades-long struggle that requires building a group of religious scholars that have credibility to push back upon those Saudi- and Qatar-funded and Muslim Brotherhood-oriented scholars inclined either to politicize Islam or to push more intolerant lines.

It also means not dismissing moderation in places such as Morocco as simply peripheral to the world of Islam. Today, the Islamic holy cities of Mecca and Medina lay in Saudi Arabia, but that is only because Ibn Saud in 1925 conquered the previous Kingdom of Hejaz. The reality is that Nejd, from where the Saudis came, was long obscure and marginal to Islamic history, and that Saudi Arabia itself and the brand of Islam which it (and Qatar) promotes was not relevant until they used oil wealth to promote it. Morocco and Moroccan religious scholars have traditionally been far more influential throughout Africa and during both the Umayyad and Fatimid eras, as well as under the Almoravids. In many ways, the Islam practiced in and increasingly promoted by Morocco is far more authentic than the Wahhabism espoused by Saudi Arabia.

Nor should Western officials dismiss voices of moderation simply because calls for moderation against extremism occur alongside political agendas. Here, the case of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi is instructive. In late December, Sisi made an extraordinary speech at Al-Azhar University calling upon theologians to revolutionize and modernize religion. His speech was largely ignored in the United States and the West, but it reverberated across the Maghreb and the Middle East. American diplomats seem more intent on antagonizing and isolating Sisi or dismissing his call to revolutionize Islam as a political ploy to further undercut the Muslim Brotherhood. Even if that were the case, however, what’s wrong with that? Radical Islamism and the theology preached by the Muslim Brotherhood are inherently political. The only difference between Sisi and the Muslim Brotherhood is that Sisi seeks to promote a vision of religion which embraces tolerance and enables greater individual liberty, while the Brotherhood seeks to constrain interpretations and de-legitimize those who seek interpretations of Islam which conform with individual liberty and broader religious tolerance.

In sum, there’s no shortage in the Middle East of efforts to counter violent extremism. Those in the region who seek to counter violent extremism don’t tie their hands with political correctness: They recognize that the problem lies within interpretations of Islam, and simply seek to counter those interpretations with better ones. Denying the legitimacy of the religious basis for extremism, however, is counterproductive. It is also arrogant, as the people who least have credibility to define what Islam is or is not are those like President Obama whose legitimacy is entirely political and not based in theology.

So what should the West do? We must embrace those like the Moroccan and Egyptian governments which actively seek to promote moderation. Moroccan King Mohammed VI and Sisi—and the religious scholars who work alongside them—have much greater standing to lead the drive than a White House intent on a photo-op or an easy answer. We must not stand in the way of those voices who acknowledge the need for contemporary interpretations that focus on the present and future rather than the past.

And we must not fall into the trap of assuming compromise means finding the lowest common denominator. Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated groups like the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) might be the loudest in the United States because their financiers provide the resources to enable them to be, but that does not mean anyone should treat them as sincere in the effort to counter radicalization; rather, we should recognize that their main goal is to obfuscate the theological roots of radicalism and undercut the sincere efforts of moderates across the Middle East and elsewhere to promote moderation, modernity, and tolerance within Islam.

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We Need a Boko Haram Strategy

I’m currently attending the Marrakesh Security Forum in Morocco, an annual confab that focuses on security issues in Africa, especially with regards to the Sahel and Maghreb. Representatives from nearly every African and European country, as well as China, Russia, and a large American delegation are here to discuss an area that doesn’t get the sustained attention it deserves, despite how crucial it is to regional and American national security.

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I’m currently attending the Marrakesh Security Forum in Morocco, an annual confab that focuses on security issues in Africa, especially with regards to the Sahel and Maghreb. Representatives from nearly every African and European country, as well as China, Russia, and a large American delegation are here to discuss an area that doesn’t get the sustained attention it deserves, despite how crucial it is to regional and American national security.

One talk was given by Professor Narcisse Mouelle Kombi, a special advisor to the president of Cameroon. With regard to Boko Haram, he noted that in 2014, the group was responsible for more casualties than ISIS. As with the ISIS, there is increasingly a foreign fighter problem with Boko Haram. “Boko Haram soldiers are coming from everywhere,” he noted. As for the war against Boko Haram, he pointed out that it was political, ideological, and territorial, which is more than President Obama often acknowledges with regard to the fight against Islamist extremists.

One of the key points Mouelle Kombi made, however, that isn’t expressed enough is that while ISIS has been largely checked by the Kurds to its north and the Shi‘ites to its south and east, there is little to stand in the way of Boko Haram. It is expanding rapidly, not only in Nigeria but in Cameroon and in the Sahel as well.

This then raises the point: Obama has declared war on ISIS and he outlined a strategy to defeat the group in his September 10, 2014 speech that followed the beheadings of two American journalists. That strategy can be debated—it certainly seems to fall short—but at least the subject is up for debate, all the more so now with the submission to Congress of an Authorization for Use of Military Force.

But when it comes to Boko Haram—as grave a threat and territorially perhaps just as substantive with the ability to grow even faster—there is very little discussion. Expressions of outrage do not equate with a strategy. Nor does simple condemnation of the corruption of Goodluck Jonathan’s government in Nigeria. Boko Haram isn’t about grievance with the Nigerian government; it’s about Islamist ideology. Boko Haram versus ISIS should not be an either-or question, but rather a recognition that the two are flip sides of the same coin.

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How to React to Algeria’s Diversion of Humanitarian Aid?

Within both the United States and Europe, foreign aid has become a feel-good operation more successful at creating jobs for bureaucrats and consultants in Washington and Brussels than in achieving real success among its targets. This shouldn’t surprise since so often the metric of success used by the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) is money spent rather than results achieved. A decade ago, for example, it emerged that 95 percent of the money which the United States spent to “fight” malaria in Africa was actually being spent on consultants, and only five percent was making it to Africa itself to counter Africa’s most deadly disease. Lots of malaria experts bought new cars, but it didn’t do the public health in Africa much good.

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Within both the United States and Europe, foreign aid has become a feel-good operation more successful at creating jobs for bureaucrats and consultants in Washington and Brussels than in achieving real success among its targets. This shouldn’t surprise since so often the metric of success used by the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) is money spent rather than results achieved. A decade ago, for example, it emerged that 95 percent of the money which the United States spent to “fight” malaria in Africa was actually being spent on consultants, and only five percent was making it to Africa itself to counter Africa’s most deadly disease. Lots of malaria experts bought new cars, but it didn’t do the public health in Africa much good.

For both the foreign or humanitarian aid industries, refugees have become a particular cash cow. The Palestinians have received more per capita in aid than any other people, but have little to show for it, except perhaps the inflated bank accounts of UNRWA officials and the tremendous mansions built by Palestinian politicians, from both Fatah and Hamas. And as for those with their hands out on behalf of their people? Let’s just say that Palestinian spokesmen like Hanan Ashrawi (a speech for whom I once handled while working at Yale University) don’t often fly economy class or stay at the Hampton Inn. The main victims of the refugee industry become the Palestinians themselves, who are used as diplomatic distractions and pawns for others’ enrichment.

Alas, the Palestinians are not alone. I have written before about the Tindouf refugees camps over which the Polisario Front and its self-styled “Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic” rules with an iron fist. Tens of thousands of Sahrawi refugees remain stranded in the desert with their voluntary return to Morocco prevented so that Algeria and the Polisario can profit off them. And almost a year ago, I wrote here how the Polisario Front and its Algerian backers were diverting and smuggling humanitarian aid.

Now it seems the European Union is catching on. Last month, Le Monde reported on a new report out of Brussels which confirms what has become obvious: Algeria has been actively colluding with the Polisario Front to divert international aid, using the remaining refugees as humanitarian pawns while enriching themselves. According to Le Monde, the diversion of humanitarian aid begins in the Algerian port of Oran, but assistance gets diverted along the almost 1,000-mile route into Tindouf. It’s really no different from how the North Koreans diverted food and fuel aid in the 1990s.

Alas, just as the State Department sought to bury talk of North Korean cheating, the Pentagon actually for a time thought it wiser to classify corruption rather than eliminate it, and the United Nations sought to bury investigation into its multi-billion-dollar oil-for-food corruption scheme, the European Commission is so far keeping its full report under wraps. In every case, the bureaucratic response is without fail to excuse corruption and protect the reputations of incompetent administrators even at the expense of helping those in need.

So what to do? The European Commission should release its full report. And, with proof of Algerian and Polisario embezzlement, it should also first demand restitution and reimbursement of the diverted funds—perhaps hundreds of millions of dollars over the years—from Algeria and, second, investigate and explain the failure of checks and balances that led the criminal scheme to continue for so long. Accountability should never be a dirty word. Foreign assistance should never be an entitlement, and it should never occur into perpetuity lest as with the cases of Tindouf, North Korea, and Gaza, it becomes an obstacle to conflict resolution rather than a solution to humanitarian crises.

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Is Morocco Making Excuses to Crack Down on Dissent?

Note to journalists: If being handed a story by activists on a silver platter, it pays to make sure they’re not pulling a fast one on you, cherry-picking facts and ignoring the elephants in the room. Today’s case in point is Borzou Daragahi’s piece in the Financial Times suggesting that the Moroccan government is using the “specter of ISIS [the Islamic State]…to erode rights in Morocco.”

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Note to journalists: If being handed a story by activists on a silver platter, it pays to make sure they’re not pulling a fast one on you, cherry-picking facts and ignoring the elephants in the room. Today’s case in point is Borzou Daragahi’s piece in the Financial Times suggesting that the Moroccan government is using the “specter of ISIS [the Islamic State]…to erode rights in Morocco.”

Daragahi seems a bit too often to conflate analysis with his own personal politics. After Iranian President Hassan Rouhani won Iran’s presidential election in 2013, I was on a National Public Radio panel analyzing the election’s significance alongside Daragahi. Daragahi likened former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his administration to that of George W. Bush. What was surprising was not that Daragahi believed this, even if it showed a surprising lack of insight into the American political process, but rather that he felt so confident in his opinion that he didn’t hesitate to make the analogy to a national radio audience.

His analysis of Morocco is likewise lazy. To support his charge that Morocco is using the specter of ISIS to crack down on dissent, he apparently attends one demonstration with around 100 activists, quotes an analyst anonymously without explaining why anonymity would be needed, and then cites Human Rights Watch (HRW), an organization which incorporated material from a U.S. Treasury Department-designated al-Qaeda financier into its Middle East reports. Sometimes Human Rights Watch does good work, but its methodological shortcoming and tendency to conflate political advocacy with objective analysis should lead it never to be utilized as a neutral source.

To be specific, however, here’s what Daragahi missed in the report he assembled after parachuting into Morocco: He apparently failed to discuss the ISIS challenge with security officials, nor does he appear aware of Moroccan reforms and elections which will allow the Western Sahara to elect its own government and practice real regional autonomy. That’s a pretty big omission, the journalistic equivalent of reporting on Hillary Clinton and neither mentioning the 2016 election nor her tenure as secretary of state.

I have visited Morocco frequently over the last several years, most recently over Thanksgiving, in order to attend the second annual Forum Mondial des Droits de l’Homme, an international confab of human-rights activists, including non-governmental and opposition groups from Morocco itself. Six months before the Islamic State rampaged through Mosul and much of northern Iraq, Moroccan security officials warned about the danger more than 600 Moroccans would pose to regional security as they returned from fighting inside Syria (I wrote about this here and others did a few months later, here). And, of course, Moroccan jihadists have formed their own ISIS-linked brigade inside Syria. Of course, none of this Daragahi sees fit to report, nor does he even appear aware of the background to either Moroccan extremism or the government’s reforms. Rather than simply crack down, however, Moroccan officials have sought to counter such radicalism with an unprecedented, non-violent program which they are now exporting throughout the region, training imams from Mali, Libya, Tunisia, Côte d’Ivoire, Gabon, Guinea, the Maldives, and Nigeria.

True, Morocco’s Parliament is currently considering a bill that seeks to criminalize training with extremists or attempting to reach their camps. The new law would allow the government to charge Moroccans engaged in terrorist activity abroad as well as those doing it inside the country. According to the draft law, those convicted will face five to 15 years in prison and fines of between $5,800 and $58,000. And it is also true that Moroccan security forces have been active in their attempts to monitor terrorist recruitment and stem the flow of foreign fighters.

Many human-rights monitors are lazy, and some journalists even more so. They punish access. If it’s safe and easy to go to Morocco or Israel, why not simply travel there, take advantage of their freedoms, and write self-righteous and critical reports devoid of context? Egypt bans journalists and academics? Let’s avoid that. Turkey has become the world’s largest prison for journalists? Strike that off the travel list as well. Algeria remains a military police state which strictly controls visas? Best not to try to go to the Tindouf camps where the Polisario Front, a Marxist Cold War throwback, holds refugees as virtual hostages. And, of course, there’s Iran, where the Washington Post correspondent remains in prison. Morocco is far from perfect, but it does allow access and real space for civil society.

What Daragahi seems not to realize is that it’s easier for groups to claim oppression than admit that the reason they can’t attract more than 100 people to a rally in a country of 33 million is simply because people are by and large happy with the direction of the country and recognize that the Moroccan government today—unlike the Moroccan state of two decades ago—is serious about redressing grievances and moving forward with democratic reforms. That doesn’t mean that there isn’t room for improvement in press freedom, in countering police abuse, or in prison conditions. But to suggest that Morocco isn’t sincere about its desire for reform? Or that it is hyping the threat of ISIS? Perhaps Daragahi wants to consider all the reporting from a year ago suggesting that the Iraqi government and others in the region were hyping the threat of ISIS before he amplifies what is essentially a conspiracy theory.

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Why Do States Choose to Kill Dissidents in Paris?

Over the past couple days, I have been in Brussels to attend and speak at a conference addressing the challenges Turkey and the Kurds pose to the European Union. One speaker, French lawyer Antoine Comte, provided an update into the investigation concerning the murders almost two years ago of Sakine Cansiz, a co-founder of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), as well as Kurdish activists Fidan Doğan and Leyla Söylemez, shot dead in their office in Paris. He noted the long history of political assassinations in Paris. In 1965, Moroccan dissident Mehdi Ben Barka disappeared in Paris, allegedly killed by the Moroccan security services. And a few years later, Chadian dictator François Tombalbaye apparently had exiled politician Outel Bono killed in Paris. According to the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center, the Islamic Republic has assassinated at least 11 dissidents in Paris. Algerian, Syrian, Palestinian, South African, and Basque activists, politicians, and terrorists have all been killed in Paris.

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Over the past couple days, I have been in Brussels to attend and speak at a conference addressing the challenges Turkey and the Kurds pose to the European Union. One speaker, French lawyer Antoine Comte, provided an update into the investigation concerning the murders almost two years ago of Sakine Cansiz, a co-founder of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), as well as Kurdish activists Fidan Doğan and Leyla Söylemez, shot dead in their office in Paris. He noted the long history of political assassinations in Paris. In 1965, Moroccan dissident Mehdi Ben Barka disappeared in Paris, allegedly killed by the Moroccan security services. And a few years later, Chadian dictator François Tombalbaye apparently had exiled politician Outel Bono killed in Paris. According to the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center, the Islamic Republic has assassinated at least 11 dissidents in Paris. Algerian, Syrian, Palestinian, South African, and Basque activists, politicians, and terrorists have all been killed in Paris.

Back to Cansiz, Doğan, and Söylemez: At the time, I speculated the Iran might have been responsible. The preponderance of evidence which has emerged since the murders, however, makes it pretty clear I was wrong, and that Turkey’s security service was to blame. The most damning evidence is a leaked, ten-minute conversation in which the alleged assassin discusses the mission and targets with members of the Milli İstihbarat Teşkilatı (MIT), Turkey’s intelligence service. In addition, a leaked MIT document (consistent with MIT paper stock including watermarks) corroborates those who allege MIT complicity. The French daily Le Monde summarizes the allegations.

The French government, however, has gone silent on its investigation and the French Interior Ministry appears to be stopping its investigation so as not to antagonize the Turkish government. After all, should Paris pursue an investigation that might antagonize Ankara, contracts could be at risk. Alas, with France, the same story repeats.

And it will keep repeating—with Paris being ground zero for murders of dissidents and political opposition—until the French government recognizes that putting its own commercial interests above the rule of law makes it not a dream destination for honeymooners but rather a playground for regimes seeking to quiet their oppositions. Rather than deep-six the investigation into the three Kurdish activists, it is long past time for the French government to pursue the investigation quickly and publicly, wherever it may lead and whomever it might implicate.

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Remembering Forced Expulsions in the Arab World

There are two ironies concerning refugee flows in the Arab world. The first is how selective some Western advocates are when they focus exclusively on displaced Palestinians and Palestinian refugees, and the second is how they effectively punish those countries which do the right thing and absorb and settle refugees rather than using them as a political pawn.

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There are two ironies concerning refugee flows in the Arab world. The first is how selective some Western advocates are when they focus exclusively on displaced Palestinians and Palestinian refugees, and the second is how they effectively punish those countries which do the right thing and absorb and settle refugees rather than using them as a political pawn.

Attending the concurrent NGO fair, I spent some time at the booth of the Association des Marocains Victimes d’Expulsion Arbitraire d’Algérie (AMVEAA). Basically, there story is this: On December 18, 1975, the Algerian government expelled 45,000 families—about 500,000 people—who were legally resident in Algeria, and many of whom had lived in Algeria for decades. Houari Boumediene, the chairman of Algeria’s Revolutionary Council, ordered the Moroccans detained and expelled in response to the Moroccan “Green Marchinto the Western Sahara.

The condition of the Moroccans’ expulsion was appalling, and it was done without prior notice. Algerian police hunted down Moroccans wherever they could be found and dumped them across the border. Many Moroccans died, and the humanitarian crisis caused by hundreds of thousands of individuals strained the Moroccan government. Meanwhile, the deportation split mixed families, and the expelled Moroccans lost pensions, and left behind bank accounts and personal property.

AMVEAA wants restitution for lost property and cites language from the UN’s Committee on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families to support their claim.

Realistically, the chance they will collect is between zero and null. But, there case does illustrate just one more case—the mass expulsion of Jews from Arab lands following Israel’s independence being the other—of the hypocrisy of the refugee issue. The 500,000 persons expelled from Algeria are greater than the 472,000 Palestinians which the United Nations Mediator on Palestine concluded had left Israel in 1948.

Israel, however, settled the refugees as did Morocco. They are cases to be celebrated, and examples of responsible governance. Why the world continues to subsidize Palestinian refugees rather than disbanding the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) and handling management of any remaining issue to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees is beyond any logic and, indeed, UNRWA’s founding purpose.

Whether or not Algeria comes clean on its actions taken against the backdrop of Cold War animus, let us praise the Moroccans for doing the right thing. It’s time to recognize that Rabat and Jerusalem represent the best practices in refugee resettlement, and UNRWA the worst. Let’s replicate a model that works, and recognize UNRWA not only betrays Palestinians, but refugees around the world, many of whom desperately need aid not to build rockets but rather to get their lives restarted after suffering dislocation and tragedy.

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Why Not Send Development Aid to the Western Sahara?

I spent the last week of November in Morocco in order to attend the Second World Human Rights Forum, an international confab of NGOs working on issues ranging from indigenous language rights, to countering child abuse, to labor issues, to women’s education, to combating torture and providing restitution to its victims.

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I spent the last week of November in Morocco in order to attend the Second World Human Rights Forum, an international confab of NGOs working on issues ranging from indigenous language rights, to countering child abuse, to labor issues, to women’s education, to combating torture and providing restitution to its victims.

The Moroccan Association of Human Rights which, contrary to the reporting of Al Jazeera, is a somewhat obscure group, boycotted (after first demanding and receiving an invitation) the event in protest of, well, it’s never clear when it comes to the Moroccan Association of Human Rights. Yet the fact of the matter is that while far from perfect, Morocco has made great strides in respect for human rights since King Mohammed VI assumed the throne upon his father’s death fifteen years ago. Morocco is the only country, for example, to host a truth and reconciliation committee–with testimony on television no less–without first having regime change. That Mohammed VI encouraged such a process, in effect airing his own father’s dirty laundry, highlights sincerity.

When it comes to language and indigenous rights, Morocco has also been doing the right thing. The Berber language Tamazight is now official, and buildings and documents outside Berber areas now sport it and its distinctive alphabet next to Arabic and French. Berbers also display their own flag, a privilege indigenous groups elsewhere in the Arab world (except in post-war Iraq) and Iran cannot do.

In the Western Sahara, too, the Moroccan government has done the right thing. While Algeria and some other countries dispute Moroccan suzerainty over the Western Sahara, a colonial territory with historic links to Morocco which Morocco occupied upon the Spanish withdrawal, the Moroccan government has flooded the region with resources to spark its economy and provide better schooling, housing, and other infrastructure than is available in much of the rest of country. This coming year, Morocco will begin implementing its regionalization plan, effectively giving the Western Sahara local autonomy, and setting the stage for greater regional autonomy throughout the diverse country.

To support Morocco’s success as it moves forward, the United States should begin providing development assistance directly to the Western Sahara. Traditionally, the United States has avoided doing so because of disputes over the Western Sahara’s status, but U.S. policy now embraces Morocco’s suzerainty over an autonomous Western Sahara. There is no legal impediment to providing development aid to the region, one which I was fortunate to visit a year ago. The irony of the current situation is that the United States essentially aids one side of the dispute—Sahrawi refugees stuck in Algerian refugee camps—through the donations the United States makes to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the World Food Program. And yet, USAID refuses to provide assistance to support those refugees who have escaped their Algerian and Polisario captors and decided to return to the Western Sahara. It should be the policy of the United States to end refugee crises, rather the perpetuating them.

The biggest problem the Western Sahara now faces is capacity. The region will soon do far more to govern itself, but the managerial and bureaucratic class in the region has little to no experience doing so. American aid to develop real managerial capacity and build up the independence and autonomy of civil society could be crucial. And Morocco would welcome it. So would the Sahrawis living in Moroccan Western Sahara. How sad and short-sighted it is, then, that rather than assist the one regional state that is stable and secure, has listened to the international community, and is doing the right thing, the United States seems intent on turning its back on an opportunity to make permanent Morocco’s progress and provide a base and a model for local autonomy which could expand stability and democracy well beyond Morocco’s borders.

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Arab Spring Comes to Polisario Front?

I have written here before about the Polisario Front, a Cold War throw-back and authoritarian cult funded by the Algerian military regime as a tool against Morocco. The Department of Homeland Security classifies the Polisario Front as a terrorist group. Polisario leaders seek to cloak themselves in a shroud of anti-colonial legitimacy saying they are fighting for a Sahrawi state in the Western Sahara, a former Spanish colonial territory now autonomous under Moroccan control. That is enough for many leftist journalists and progressive academics to embrace them, and even President Obama took a photo with the Polisario Front’s autocratic leader, but the reality is their constituency is tiny and growing smaller every day.

While the Polisario imagines themselves leading a state, the sad truth is they reign over little more than a handful of refugee camps in the Tindouf province of Algeria which house not more than 100,000 Sahrawi, of whom perhaps only 40,000 are refugees from the Western Sahara. These refugees live in a political culture as authoritarian and as that of Turkmenistan, Eritrea, North Korea, or the Mujahedin al-Khalq. Here, for example, is a report that the Polisario has forced youth into marriages in order to create new constituents. The Polisario notoriously separated children from their parents and shipped them to Cuba for indoctrination. The Polisario taxes residents to fund the profligate lifestyles of its leaders. Party membership—and blind loyalty to Mohamed Abdelaziz, the Polisario’s dictator—is required for employment and to receive other benefits. The group prevents residents of the Tindouf camps from returning home. While the United Nations facilitates some family visits between Moroccan Tindouf refugees and their families, the Polisario refuses to allow husbands and wives and children to travel together, treating those left behind as hostages in order to guarantee the return of the camp residents. In short, to be born into the Polisario-run camps is to be born into an authoritarian hell.

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I have written here before about the Polisario Front, a Cold War throw-back and authoritarian cult funded by the Algerian military regime as a tool against Morocco. The Department of Homeland Security classifies the Polisario Front as a terrorist group. Polisario leaders seek to cloak themselves in a shroud of anti-colonial legitimacy saying they are fighting for a Sahrawi state in the Western Sahara, a former Spanish colonial territory now autonomous under Moroccan control. That is enough for many leftist journalists and progressive academics to embrace them, and even President Obama took a photo with the Polisario Front’s autocratic leader, but the reality is their constituency is tiny and growing smaller every day.

While the Polisario imagines themselves leading a state, the sad truth is they reign over little more than a handful of refugee camps in the Tindouf province of Algeria which house not more than 100,000 Sahrawi, of whom perhaps only 40,000 are refugees from the Western Sahara. These refugees live in a political culture as authoritarian and as that of Turkmenistan, Eritrea, North Korea, or the Mujahedin al-Khalq. Here, for example, is a report that the Polisario has forced youth into marriages in order to create new constituents. The Polisario notoriously separated children from their parents and shipped them to Cuba for indoctrination. The Polisario taxes residents to fund the profligate lifestyles of its leaders. Party membership—and blind loyalty to Mohamed Abdelaziz, the Polisario’s dictator—is required for employment and to receive other benefits. The group prevents residents of the Tindouf camps from returning home. While the United Nations facilitates some family visits between Moroccan Tindouf refugees and their families, the Polisario refuses to allow husbands and wives and children to travel together, treating those left behind as hostages in order to guarantee the return of the camp residents. In short, to be born into the Polisario-run camps is to be born into an authoritarian hell.

Just as the White House remained largely silent when Iranians rose up for freedom in 2009, and remains muted on similar anti-authoritarian protests in Venezuela today, so too is it now silent on a nascent freedom movement in the Polisario-run camps. According to al-Arabiya:

The so-called “Youth Movement for Change” released a video accusing the Polisario Front’s leadership of corruption and called for improving the conditions of Sahrawi refugees in Tindouf. The movement also demanded the departure of the Front’s aging figures, including its 66-year-old leader Mohammad Abdelaziz who has been in control since 1976. The youth group, which was founded in February this year, accused Abdelaziz and his associates of “trading in the suffering of the Sahrawi refugees.” “We have suffered from injustice for more than 40 years. We demand the departure of this corrupt leadership, which is the oldest, most corrupt leadership in the world,” Mohammad Lamine, a spokesman for the nascent group, told Al Arabiya News Channel from the Tindouf refugee camp. “They have been stealing humanitarian aid provided by international organizations to the refugee camps and whenever we raise our voices against [this] they accuse us of being agents of Morocco,” he added.

Susan Rice, currently Obama’s national security advisor, has twice during the Obama administration promoted policies which would impose a politically-charged ‘human rights monitoring’ regime in the Western Sahara, a move that would effectively undercut Morocco’s security and empower Polisario Front propaganda in the Western Sahara. She did so supposedly in the name of the interests of the Sahrawi population (most of whom, it seems, prefer to reintegrate into Morocco or into the Western Sahara to which Morocco granted autonomy). But when she and President Obama have the opportunity truly to support liberty, freedom, and human rights for Sahrawis, they remain silent. That silence simply makes the Polisario’s oppression easier. How sad. And how telling.

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Bashing Morocco Won’t Help U.S. or Israel

In recent weeks, some conservative analysts have pointed out supposed international hypocrisy in the treatment of Morocco’s possession of and presence in Western Sahara. After the Wall Street Journal reported on African migrants seeking to transit Morocco to reach Europe, Eugene Kontorovich, a law professor who has taken his excellent blog brand “The Volokh Conspiracy” to the website of the Washington Post, wrote:

The Wall Street Journal has an interesting story today on African migrants attempting to get into Spanish enclaves in Morocco. However, it makes a major factual error [when it writes] “Spanish Interior Minister Jorge Fernández Díaz said during a visit to Ceuta in February that 80,000 migrants were waiting in Morocco or along its border with Mauritania for a chance to reach the enclaves.”

The problem, of course, is that Morocco has no border with Mauritania. Rather, in between the two countries is Western Sahara, currently illegally occupied by Morocco and inundated with Moroccan settlers, but not recognized by any country as Moroccan territory.

Mistakes happen of course – and it is possible the journalist is reporting without qualification the Spanish minister’s words, which itself would be interesting. What is more surprising is the lack of outraged reaction from international law professors, experts, NGOs, and other peace-loving types (according to my quick Google search). If someone suggested in the Journal that the West Bank was within Israel’s borders, it would lead to an immediate outcry, and a rain of derision from learned people….

Similarly, one could imagine the international law outrage if the Congress authorized U.S. aid to Israel to go support its presence in the West Bank. Yet in the 2014 Omnibus Spending Bill, this is exactly what happened with Western Sahara.

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In recent weeks, some conservative analysts have pointed out supposed international hypocrisy in the treatment of Morocco’s possession of and presence in Western Sahara. After the Wall Street Journal reported on African migrants seeking to transit Morocco to reach Europe, Eugene Kontorovich, a law professor who has taken his excellent blog brand “The Volokh Conspiracy” to the website of the Washington Post, wrote:

The Wall Street Journal has an interesting story today on African migrants attempting to get into Spanish enclaves in Morocco. However, it makes a major factual error [when it writes] “Spanish Interior Minister Jorge Fernández Díaz said during a visit to Ceuta in February that 80,000 migrants were waiting in Morocco or along its border with Mauritania for a chance to reach the enclaves.”

The problem, of course, is that Morocco has no border with Mauritania. Rather, in between the two countries is Western Sahara, currently illegally occupied by Morocco and inundated with Moroccan settlers, but not recognized by any country as Moroccan territory.

Mistakes happen of course – and it is possible the journalist is reporting without qualification the Spanish minister’s words, which itself would be interesting. What is more surprising is the lack of outraged reaction from international law professors, experts, NGOs, and other peace-loving types (according to my quick Google search). If someone suggested in the Journal that the West Bank was within Israel’s borders, it would lead to an immediate outcry, and a rain of derision from learned people….

Similarly, one could imagine the international law outrage if the Congress authorized U.S. aid to Israel to go support its presence in the West Bank. Yet in the 2014 Omnibus Spending Bill, this is exactly what happened with Western Sahara.

And, over at UN Watch, the fantastic organization which monitors and exposes UN hypocrisy, Hillel Neuer takes the French government to task for agreeing to cancel a human-rights monitoring mechanism in the UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO).

Both authors make certain assumptions which may not be fully warranted. Western Sahara is less occupied than disputed. The Spanish had seized it in their own colonial scramble but, historically, Morocco has deep roots in the territory. Indeed, several Moroccan dynasties have roots in the region which is now in Western Sahara. Many Sahrawi are and always have been Moroccan, and many have never embraced the separatism that the authoritarian Polisario Front promotes. The dispute itself is more a relic of the Cold War, with both Cuba and Algeria sponsoring the Polisario and using it as a tool in the broader struggle against, respectively, world capitalism and the Western-leaning Morocco.

The policy of the United States is to recognize Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara. The idea that Western Sahara isn’t recognized as Moroccan is questionable. First, Morocco has given the territory autonomy. Second, only 45 states (and South Ossetia) recognize the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, which claims ownership of the territory.

And as for MINURSO, it is worth asking why anyone would want a UN organization dedicated to holding a referendum—and failing to do that for decades—to expand its mission into human-rights monitoring, especially given the inability of the UN to address human rights anywhere with credibility. MINURSO has become the North African equivalent of UNRWA—an organization that was created as a temporary mechanism to fulfill a specific mission in but which subsequently became a monster of politics. That France and the United States have decided not to enable MINURSO to be used as a weapon against Morocco, the most stable, moderate, and responsible state, is good news.

It is easy to lament how Israel is singled out for its occupation of disputed territory and point out the hypocrisy of the world not treating Morocco the same way. Indeed, there are additional parallels that neither Kontorovich nor Neuer consider. To punish Morocco, however, simply justifies the absurdity of so many Palestinian claims and the insanity which consideration of Israel brings to the international community. Indeed, when it comes to the international law surrounding the status of Western Sahara, it may be more productive, from the standpoint of American national security and positive precedents to be applied elsewhere in the Middle East, to consider Samuel J. Spector’s argument that “from a legal perspective, national self-determination does not necessarily offer a one-size-fits-all remedy, let alone a helpful framework, for the settlement of conflicting claims and grievances over disputed territories.”

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A Tale of Two Terror Resolutions

On March 12-13, I attended Iraq’s “first international counterterrorism conference” in Baghdad. It wasn’t the most organized conference, but it did enjoy attendance from most European countries, many African, Arab, and Asian countries, and the United States. Saudi Arabia and Qatar boycotted, and there was no high-level Turkish representation. The speeches were as one might predict: condemnations of terrorism, laments at international inaction, and frustration at growing sectarianism. The Iranian deputy foreign minister was tone deaf as he used his ten minutes at the podium to pursue the usual Iranian bugaboos, topics in which few others at the conference had any real interest, given the recognition that the problems facing Iraq and the Middle East can’t simply be blamed on those whom Iran sees as enemies.

Iraq has suffered immensely from terrorism over the past decade. While many American opponents of military action to oust Saddam Hussein blame that action for the tens of thousands of Iraqi civilian deaths in the intervening years, Iraqis recognize that the only ones to blame for deaths at the hands of terrorists are the terrorists themselves and those states who sponsor such terrorism.

Three thousand miles away, in Marrakech, Morocco, Arab interior ministers issued a declaration enunciating a “total rejection of terrorism,” regardless of cause or justification. While a lack of universal definition of terrorism will always undercut the fight against it, the good news is that so many Arab countries are now taking terrorism seriously now that they recognize that playing with fire has gotten them burned. Both Morocco and Iraq have been victims of al-Qaeda-inspired terrorism, and while Morocco tends to have been more successful in rolling back radicalism and countering terrorism, both face neighbors intent on utilizing terror as a tool of foreign policy.

Algeria, for example, still subsidizes and shelters the Polisario Front, whose unnecessary camps increasingly are used as recruitment centers for al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. And Iraq faces the influx of not only Iranian-backed militias, but also Turkish and Saudi support for al-Qaeda factions in Al-Anbar, Mosul, and other large Sunni areas.

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On March 12-13, I attended Iraq’s “first international counterterrorism conference” in Baghdad. It wasn’t the most organized conference, but it did enjoy attendance from most European countries, many African, Arab, and Asian countries, and the United States. Saudi Arabia and Qatar boycotted, and there was no high-level Turkish representation. The speeches were as one might predict: condemnations of terrorism, laments at international inaction, and frustration at growing sectarianism. The Iranian deputy foreign minister was tone deaf as he used his ten minutes at the podium to pursue the usual Iranian bugaboos, topics in which few others at the conference had any real interest, given the recognition that the problems facing Iraq and the Middle East can’t simply be blamed on those whom Iran sees as enemies.

Iraq has suffered immensely from terrorism over the past decade. While many American opponents of military action to oust Saddam Hussein blame that action for the tens of thousands of Iraqi civilian deaths in the intervening years, Iraqis recognize that the only ones to blame for deaths at the hands of terrorists are the terrorists themselves and those states who sponsor such terrorism.

Three thousand miles away, in Marrakech, Morocco, Arab interior ministers issued a declaration enunciating a “total rejection of terrorism,” regardless of cause or justification. While a lack of universal definition of terrorism will always undercut the fight against it, the good news is that so many Arab countries are now taking terrorism seriously now that they recognize that playing with fire has gotten them burned. Both Morocco and Iraq have been victims of al-Qaeda-inspired terrorism, and while Morocco tends to have been more successful in rolling back radicalism and countering terrorism, both face neighbors intent on utilizing terror as a tool of foreign policy.

Algeria, for example, still subsidizes and shelters the Polisario Front, whose unnecessary camps increasingly are used as recruitment centers for al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. And Iraq faces the influx of not only Iranian-backed militias, but also Turkish and Saudi support for al-Qaeda factions in Al-Anbar, Mosul, and other large Sunni areas.

Still, problems remain that will continue to undercut any real progress in the fight against terrorism. First is the lack of any universally-recognized definition of terrorism. Here, the United States could take the lead but making any counterterrorism assistance granted to allies contingent on their acceptance of a definition of terrorism put forward by the United States.

Second is the continued attempt by Iran, Turkey, and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation to criminalize “Islamophobia,” by which they mean the association of Islam with terrorism. The problem isn’t Islam per se, but rather the interpretation of Islam embraced by radical factions, the Muslim Brotherhood, and Salafis. The battle is not one of civilizations, but rather one of theological interpretations. Denying that, and criminalizing debate, will only exacerbate terrorism rather than contain it.

Lastly, the United States must recognize that countries it has long considered top partners in the region—Qatar and Turkey—are now those, alongside Iran, who do the most to fan the flames of terrorism rather than contain it. Diplomatic nicety should not be a substitute for progress in fighting the scourge of terror. Perhaps rather than treat Turkey and Qatar with kid gloves, it is time to work through countries like Iraq and Morocco who recognize the problem and are no longer willing to sit by and ignore it.

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Is Morocco the Antidote to Saudi-Sponsored Extremism?

Emeritus Princeton University professor Bernard Lewis, probably the greatest living historian of the Middle East, once tried to explain the impact of Saudi Arabia upon the practice of Islam in the modern era by the following analogy:

“Imagine if the Ku Klux Klan or Aryan Nation obtained total control of Texas and had at its disposal all the oil revenues, and used this money to establish a network of well-endowed schools and colleges all over Christendom peddling their particular brand of Christianity. This is what the Saudis have done with Wahhabism. The oil money has enabled them to spread this fanatical, destructive form of Islam all over the Muslim world and among Muslims in the west. Without oil and the creation of the Saudi kingdom, Wahhabism would have remained a lunatic fringe in a marginal country.”

Lewis is right, of course, that the Saudi use of petrodollars to fund an intolerant interpretation of Islam has greased radicalism from West Africa through Southeast Asia and, of course, throughout the Middle East, Europe, and North America as well.

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Emeritus Princeton University professor Bernard Lewis, probably the greatest living historian of the Middle East, once tried to explain the impact of Saudi Arabia upon the practice of Islam in the modern era by the following analogy:

“Imagine if the Ku Klux Klan or Aryan Nation obtained total control of Texas and had at its disposal all the oil revenues, and used this money to establish a network of well-endowed schools and colleges all over Christendom peddling their particular brand of Christianity. This is what the Saudis have done with Wahhabism. The oil money has enabled them to spread this fanatical, destructive form of Islam all over the Muslim world and among Muslims in the west. Without oil and the creation of the Saudi kingdom, Wahhabism would have remained a lunatic fringe in a marginal country.”

Lewis is right, of course, that the Saudi use of petrodollars to fund an intolerant interpretation of Islam has greased radicalism from West Africa through Southeast Asia and, of course, throughout the Middle East, Europe, and North America as well.

De-radicalization may be fashionable among European officials, Western NGOs, and the State Department, but there is little evidence that U.S. and European programs are anything more than an expensive boondoggle.

Increasingly, Morocco appears to be the antidote to decades of Saudi-sponsored radicalism. I have highlighted here before the innovative “Mourchidat” program. Now Morocco is beginning to expand its imam training program to Tunisia and Libya in North Africa, as well as Guinea in West Africa. This follows a similar program conducted on behalf of imams in Mali, which has faced a severe challenge from al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.

President Obama will soon travel to Saudi Arabia. This is wise, as Obama seeks to repair ties with the Saudi Kingdom undercut by his own diplomatic tin ear. Still, if Obama really wants to support friends, he should move to bolster U.S. ties with Morocco, which is pulling far beyond its weight in efforts to promote peace, stability, and moderation not only among Arab states, but also across Africa, a continent Obama once described as a priority. Rather than throw money at de-radicalization programs that don’t have anything to show for their efforts, perhaps it is time to actually work through allies to support what does work.

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Obama Does Right on Morocco. Will Kerry?

On January 17, President Obama signed into law the 2014 Appropriation Bill passed by Congress which includes for the first time language mandating that U.S. assistance designated for Morocco be used in the Western Sahara. That move reinforces the policy of the United States to support Moroccan sovereignty over the Western Sahara while at the same time Rabat grants the former Spanish colonial territory local autonomy.

The Western Sahara might seem irrelevant to U.S. national security, but it is not. Morocco is the only truly stable and friendly country in the Maghreb or the Sahel, and the Western Sahara is on the front line of the battle against al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.

Morocco has also been at the center of some earlier Obama administration missteps when Susan Rice, first as Obama’s ambassador to the United Nations and then subsequently as national security advisor, sought to empower that the United Nations’ failed mission for a referendum on the Western Sahara also monitor human rights in the Western Sahara. The problem with such an arrangement is, as with everything else in the United Nations, authoritarian and anti-Western regimes subordinate objective fact to propaganda and politics.

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On January 17, President Obama signed into law the 2014 Appropriation Bill passed by Congress which includes for the first time language mandating that U.S. assistance designated for Morocco be used in the Western Sahara. That move reinforces the policy of the United States to support Moroccan sovereignty over the Western Sahara while at the same time Rabat grants the former Spanish colonial territory local autonomy.

The Western Sahara might seem irrelevant to U.S. national security, but it is not. Morocco is the only truly stable and friendly country in the Maghreb or the Sahel, and the Western Sahara is on the front line of the battle against al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.

Morocco has also been at the center of some earlier Obama administration missteps when Susan Rice, first as Obama’s ambassador to the United Nations and then subsequently as national security advisor, sought to empower that the United Nations’ failed mission for a referendum on the Western Sahara also monitor human rights in the Western Sahara. The problem with such an arrangement is, as with everything else in the United Nations, authoritarian and anti-Western regimes subordinate objective fact to propaganda and politics.

Morocco’s respect for human rights has improved tremendously over recent years, as has the access it grants human-rights activists and monitors. Neighboring Algeria—a reactionary, military-dominated regime which has a dismal record and denies access regularly to journalists, diplomats, and human-rights monitors—regularly accuses Morocco of abuses. It knows and takes advantage of the fact that human-rights groups effectively punish access. Why Rice would work to subvert a friendly state and a U.S. ally to the advantage of an unfriendly state and abuser of basic rights remains unclear to the present day, as she has never explained her actions nor her willingness to impose a new change absent consultations with her colleagues across the administration.

Just because two countries might dispute a territory does not mean that the United States should be neutral: Washington should always side with allies and democrats over adversaries and autocrats. Whether with regard to the West Bank, Abkhazia, or Senkaku, the obsessive desire for neutrality simply encourages radicals to stake out more extreme positions. Perhaps Obama hasn’t fully learned that friendship matters but, at least with regard to Morocco and the Western Sahara, he seems headed down the right path.

Now let us hope that Kerry will ensure that the State Department adheres to the will of Congress and actively invests in Morocco’s Western Sahara even if it makes Algeria mad. The U.S. Embassy in Rabat should actively assist U.S. firms that want to do business in the Western Sahara or off its coast. At the same time, the Pentagon should reinforce Morocco’s claim by scheduling port calls for destroyers or cruisers in the Western Sahara, an economic boon to the hotels, resorts, and restaurants of the region’s pristine port cities.

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Why Do Human Rights Groups Punish Access?

Human-rights groups are an important component of civil society, even if the best-known groups—Human Rights Watch (HRW), Amnesty International, Human Rights First, and various United Nations offshoots—corrupt their mission by conflating human rights with politics.

As corrosive a trend among human-rights organizations is their punishment of access. Simply put, the more open a society is to its critics, and the more access it grants outside observers, however tendentious they might be, the more human-rights organizations condemn them relative to societies which engage in large-scale abuse but slam the door to outside observers.

Much has been written about the disproportionate opprobrium reserved for Israel. Back in 2011, Alana Goodman observed:

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Human-rights groups are an important component of civil society, even if the best-known groups—Human Rights Watch (HRW), Amnesty International, Human Rights First, and various United Nations offshoots—corrupt their mission by conflating human rights with politics.

As corrosive a trend among human-rights organizations is their punishment of access. Simply put, the more open a society is to its critics, and the more access it grants outside observers, however tendentious they might be, the more human-rights organizations condemn them relative to societies which engage in large-scale abuse but slam the door to outside observers.

Much has been written about the disproportionate opprobrium reserved for Israel. Back in 2011, Alana Goodman observed:

In 2010, HRW published 51 documents on “Israel and the Occupied Territories,” more than on any other country in the Middle East. Compare that to the organization’s research on some of the most notorious human rights abusers — it published only 44 documents on Iran, 34 on Egypt, and 33 on Saudi Arabia.

Not much has changed. So far in 2013, HRW has issued 14 press releases condemning Israel for various policies or abuses, and six press releases condemning the Palestinian Authority or Hamas leadership in Gaza. All five commentaries HRW published bashed Israel, or called on other countries to take a harsher line toward the Jewish state.

Compare that with Jordan (nine press releases, and four commentaries, three of which called for more acceptance of Syrian refugees); Lebanon (nine press releases and two commentaries, both of which focused on Syrian refugees); or Qatar (two press releases and five commentaries). True, there was more focus on Egypt and Syria this past year, but comparing countries with coups and civil wars to the region’s only democracy underscores the point. So too does the fact that criticism of Saudi Arabia has increased as that kingdom has granted human-rights groups more access.

Israel is not the only country penalized by the access it grants outsiders. King Muhammad VI has steadily liberalized Morocco since taking the throne in 1999 after the death of his father, King Hassan II. Since that time, HRW has issued four reports critical of Algerian human-rights abuses (and a fifth critical of Algerian cooperation with the United States), while it has issued three times that number criticizing Morocco. Make no mistake: Algeria has a far worse human-rights record, with a downward trajectory while Morocco has acknowledged past abuses and worked—quite successfully in most cases—to overcome them.

Nor is it just the Middle East where this pattern exists. In the past five years, HRW has issued four reports about Colombia where human rights have steadily improved, but only two about Venezuela, where Venezuela’s socialist leaders have pushed human rights into the gutter. Likewise, over the past five years, HRW has issued one report about Belarus but five about Georgia.

The U.S. State Department is guilty of the same pattern when it writes its annual human-rights reports. Here, there is no better example than the discrepancy in how the State Department treats Morocco, a loyal and increasingly progressive U.S. ally, and the Polisario Front, an autocratic Cold War throwback which imprisons not only Sahrawi tribal members in refugee camps in the Western province of Tindouf, but also Mauritanians and Algerians it has captured in order to swell refugee numbers. The Algerian government and Polisario both have a policy of refusing to allow residents to return home to Morocco, which has welcomed anyone who wants to come (there are very limited family visits, but usually Polisario holds family members hostage to ensure that men and women return to their spouses and children rather than remain in Morocco). While historically, the U.S. Embassy in Rabat handled the Polisario camps, in recent years the U.S. Embassy in Algiers has taken over the responsibility. Herein lays the problem: The U.S. Embassy in Algiers is either unable to visit the camps, or unwilling to antagonize the Algerian government with which it must work for fear of making an issue of the camps. The end result is that the State Department annual human-rights report is hypercritical of Morocco, effectively punishing it for its openness, while giving the Polisario Front effectively a clean pass by omission.

That the lesson governments might take from the practices of both human-rights organizations and the State Department is that the way to a clean bill of health is to restrict access is unfortunate. Human-rights officials might enjoy hanging out more in Casablanca, Rabat, Tel Aviv, Tbilisi, and Bogota rather than spending their time being harassed by police and security services in Minsk, Gaza, Caracas, Algiers or Tindouf, but they are doing themselves and their organizations a disservice by taking the easy way out. Fortunately, countries like Israel, Morocco, Colombia, and Georgia seem committed to doing the right thing regardless of how their critics treat them. Still, that the pattern of punishing access exists is undeniable and should provide pause for the human-rights organizations, for the existence of such a pattern corrupts the end result and gives countries reason to dismiss all reporting as arbitrary and not based on set standards.

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De-Radicalization the Right Way

The real fight within the Islamic world remains between the forces of moderation and more extreme elements who justify terrorism in theology. A host of contractors and NGOs have responded by creating a de-radicalization industry which, alas, has too often become the contemporary equivalent of snake oil salesmen from centuries past. The State Department and its European counterparts are willing to give cash to anyone who says the right thing, and promises a magic formula to transform religious radicals into non-violent moderates. Countries like Saudi Arabia learn they can bypass real accountability for their funding of hate if they design a program, never mind its high recidivism rate shows it to be little more than a diplomatic scam. Al-Qaeda and art therapy seldom mix.

The real victory of moderation over radicalism will be internal to Islam, and will likely involve women. I have written here before that young Pakistani schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai did more to delegitimize the Taliban than 15 years of State Department and Pakistani government programs. And I have also written more recently about how Morocco has in many ways become a model for moderation throughout the Middle East. Nowhere is that more true than when it comes to promoting religious moderation and inclusive and tolerant interpretations and practices within Islam. A case in point is the Mourchidat program in Morocco, in which women train in Islamic theology alongside their male counterparts. The men and women are treated as equals and master the exact same theological curriculum, although women will not be able to lead public prayer. Both men and women take classes in psychology and communications to better perform their functions as community counselors and confidants.

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The real fight within the Islamic world remains between the forces of moderation and more extreme elements who justify terrorism in theology. A host of contractors and NGOs have responded by creating a de-radicalization industry which, alas, has too often become the contemporary equivalent of snake oil salesmen from centuries past. The State Department and its European counterparts are willing to give cash to anyone who says the right thing, and promises a magic formula to transform religious radicals into non-violent moderates. Countries like Saudi Arabia learn they can bypass real accountability for their funding of hate if they design a program, never mind its high recidivism rate shows it to be little more than a diplomatic scam. Al-Qaeda and art therapy seldom mix.

The real victory of moderation over radicalism will be internal to Islam, and will likely involve women. I have written here before that young Pakistani schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai did more to delegitimize the Taliban than 15 years of State Department and Pakistani government programs. And I have also written more recently about how Morocco has in many ways become a model for moderation throughout the Middle East. Nowhere is that more true than when it comes to promoting religious moderation and inclusive and tolerant interpretations and practices within Islam. A case in point is the Mourchidat program in Morocco, in which women train in Islamic theology alongside their male counterparts. The men and women are treated as equals and master the exact same theological curriculum, although women will not be able to lead public prayer. Both men and women take classes in psychology and communications to better perform their functions as community counselors and confidants.

A recent report in Reuters details how the program provides a moderate alternative by inserting those who can explain religion to both men and women, rather than simply requiring rote memorization and practice:

Farah Cherif D’Ouezzan, Founder and Director of the Center for Cross Cultural Learning in Rabat, says that the program is effective in promoting the “spiritual security” Saqi speaks of and directing ideological power away from fundamentalist sects. “I think it’s filling that gap that only Wahhabis and Salafis were filling-the gap that people needed someone to explain religion to them – especially in a country with so much illiteracy and where religion is such an important part of culture. In the past you either had to follow the Wahhabis or Salafis or you were not Islamic,” said Cherif. Both the Wahhabi and Salafi movements practice strict, uncompromising forms of Islam which have often brought them into conflict with Western values.

The whole article is worth reading.

Having American taxpayers throw money at the problem of radicalization will achieve little, nor will working through organizations like the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) or the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), which often do more to obfuscate the problem of radicalism rather than resolve it. Sometimes it’s important to sit back and observe the best practices which actually breed long-term success. For this, Morocco’s Mourchidat program seems to be the clear model for the region to replicate.

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Morocco Should Be the Model

It has long been fashionable to describe Turkey as a model for the Middle East, if not the Islamic world. I’ve written on these pages many times how this notion is outdated as Turkey’s government has moved to undo the separation between mosque and state, and how the prime minister himself has acknowledged his goal to be to raise a religious generation.

American reliance on Turkey during and after the Arab Spring has been nothing short of disastrous. In Egypt, Libya, and elsewhere, Turkey has moved to privilege the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist groups over relative moderates. Of greater concern to U.S. national and regional security, Turkey has become the chief transit center for religious radicals and al-Qaeda sympathizers entering Syria. Rather than stop Libyans, Mauritanians, Chechens, Uighurs, and Saudis who disembark Turkish Air flights in Gaziantep and ask them why their sudden interest in a location they previously avoided, Turkish police simply demand $40 and wave the jihadists on across the border.

The contrast with Morocco could not be sharper. While Jews are fleeing Turkey, and anti-Semitism appears rife at senior ranks of the Turkish government, Jews are returning to Morocco, if only as tourists. According to Jeune Afrique, 45,000 Israelis visited Morocco in the past year. Between 1993 and 1995, Morocco’s minister of tourism was Jewish. The Moroccan constitution of 2011 enshrines not only the Kingdom’s Arab and Berber identity, but also its “Hebraic heritage.” Such constitutional prerogatives and monarchy’s moderation dampen the populism of some parties which in the last month, for example, proposed a bill banning contacts with Israelis. That such a hateful bill stands no chance at passage underscores the checks and balances inherent in the system. In Turkey, by contrast, the prime minister himself led a campaign to boycott Israel and Israelis.

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It has long been fashionable to describe Turkey as a model for the Middle East, if not the Islamic world. I’ve written on these pages many times how this notion is outdated as Turkey’s government has moved to undo the separation between mosque and state, and how the prime minister himself has acknowledged his goal to be to raise a religious generation.

American reliance on Turkey during and after the Arab Spring has been nothing short of disastrous. In Egypt, Libya, and elsewhere, Turkey has moved to privilege the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist groups over relative moderates. Of greater concern to U.S. national and regional security, Turkey has become the chief transit center for religious radicals and al-Qaeda sympathizers entering Syria. Rather than stop Libyans, Mauritanians, Chechens, Uighurs, and Saudis who disembark Turkish Air flights in Gaziantep and ask them why their sudden interest in a location they previously avoided, Turkish police simply demand $40 and wave the jihadists on across the border.

The contrast with Morocco could not be sharper. While Jews are fleeing Turkey, and anti-Semitism appears rife at senior ranks of the Turkish government, Jews are returning to Morocco, if only as tourists. According to Jeune Afrique, 45,000 Israelis visited Morocco in the past year. Between 1993 and 1995, Morocco’s minister of tourism was Jewish. The Moroccan constitution of 2011 enshrines not only the Kingdom’s Arab and Berber identity, but also its “Hebraic heritage.” Such constitutional prerogatives and monarchy’s moderation dampen the populism of some parties which in the last month, for example, proposed a bill banning contacts with Israelis. That such a hateful bill stands no chance at passage underscores the checks and balances inherent in the system. In Turkey, by contrast, the prime minister himself led a campaign to boycott Israel and Israelis.

Morocco has consciously embraced religious moderation. Imams go through rigorous training and must continually renew their licenses. Those who promote intolerance or religious hatred quickly find themselves out of a job. While freedoms plunge throughout the region, Moroccans enjoy an increasingly free and vibrant press and readily engage in public demonstrations. During a trip to Rabat this past week, I saw separate demonstrations relating to unemployment and demands for the court to dismiss charges against a journalist who linked to a website hosting an al-Qaeda call for violent jihad. Moroccan police kept their distance from the demonstrators, and directed their attention instead to directing traffic around the demonstrators. Contrast that with Turkey, where the government’s response to a protest against the paving over of a park was to fire tens of thousands of tear gas canisters, beat scores of protestors, and kill at least four.

While Turkey embraces Hamas, Morocco broke diplomatic relations with Iran over that country’s attempts to promote radical religious interpretation. And rather than support religious extremists, Morocco has lent its expertise to promote constitutional checks and balances and women’s rights in countries like Tunisia, Libya, and Yemen. While the Turkish ambassador to Chad openly endorsed al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb when fighting erupted in Mali, Morocco continues to help Mali reconstruct itself and defeat all remnants of al-Qaeda.

Morocco increasingly also provides a model for justice. Just as in Turkey, serious human-rights abuses marked the 1970s, 1980s, and perhaps even 1990s in Morocco. In recent years, though, the two countries have again diverged. Morocco implemented a new, quite progressive constitution in 2011. Rather than sweep past abuses under the rug, the Moroccan state sponsored a truth and reconciliation committee in which citizens across the spectrum embraced, giving the Kingdom a chance at a fresh start. Not so in Turkey. When Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan took over in 2003, he drew a sharp distinction between past and future, but used his power not to reconcile but rather to seek revenge against first real and perceived enemies, and increasingly against anyone who might develop an independent political base. While Moroccan press freedom and political space has increased over the years, Turkish press freedom has retracted to the point that Turkey now rests behind even Russia in watchdog rankings.

Neither Morocco nor Turkey is perfect, but trajectory is important. Morocco provides a path toward reconciliation and moderation, while Turkey’s political leadership has increasingly turned that country into a beacon for populism and hate. Generations of diplomats have become accustomed to thinking of Turkey as a partner and a model for the region. But autopilot should never be a substitute for wisdom. Increasingly, it is apparent that a moderate, more democratic future for the Middle East lies not in the Turkish model but rather the Moroccan one.

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Kuwait as a Model

The bad news continues to flood in from across the Middle East: Tunisia—the best hope for the Arab Spring—is unstable after political assassinations against leading non-Islamist politicians. While I don’t shed any tears over the Egyptian government’s crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood, a movement which for decades has inspired terrorism and hatred, at best Egypt faces years of Islamist insurgency and economic life support. The Syrian civil war goes from bad to worse. Bahrain remains tense and what Bahraini police occasion do with rubber bullets, their Saudi counterparts in the Eastern Province do with live ammunition. Iraq is not the basket case many assume, but it has faced a wave of renewed terrorism as bad as anything experienced prior to the U.S.-led surge.

Is there any good news or responsible governance coming from the region? Certainly, Morocco is navigating the waters of the Arab Spring fairly well, with the king seemingly sincere in his reform. So too is Oman, where Sultan Qaboos’s regime has always been an example of moderation and responsibility. But Qaboos has no heir apparent and he’s not going to have one, meaning that the Sultanate of Oman upon which the United States and so many moderate regional states have come to rely may have an uncertain future as Iran and other nearby powers will try to muck about in his succession in order to further their own illiberal interests.

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The bad news continues to flood in from across the Middle East: Tunisia—the best hope for the Arab Spring—is unstable after political assassinations against leading non-Islamist politicians. While I don’t shed any tears over the Egyptian government’s crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood, a movement which for decades has inspired terrorism and hatred, at best Egypt faces years of Islamist insurgency and economic life support. The Syrian civil war goes from bad to worse. Bahrain remains tense and what Bahraini police occasion do with rubber bullets, their Saudi counterparts in the Eastern Province do with live ammunition. Iraq is not the basket case many assume, but it has faced a wave of renewed terrorism as bad as anything experienced prior to the U.S.-led surge.

Is there any good news or responsible governance coming from the region? Certainly, Morocco is navigating the waters of the Arab Spring fairly well, with the king seemingly sincere in his reform. So too is Oman, where Sultan Qaboos’s regime has always been an example of moderation and responsibility. But Qaboos has no heir apparent and he’s not going to have one, meaning that the Sultanate of Oman upon which the United States and so many moderate regional states have come to rely may have an uncertain future as Iran and other nearby powers will try to muck about in his succession in order to further their own illiberal interests.

I had the privilege of visiting Kuwait last year, my first extended stay in the country for almost two decades. Kuwait has had some rough patches over recent years both because of changing demography but also because the government has pushed forward with real attempts at reform, encouraging real dynamism, and giving women a long-overdue vote. At the same time, the Kuwaitis have had to navigate dangerous sectarian trends as they find themselves wedged between Iran, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia. This, they seem to have done masterfully, even as trouble continues to brew on the horizon. At any rate, I’ve delved into the issue of sectarianism in Kuwait and Kuwait’s response to it in this detailed essay, for those who want reassurance that some states actually do try to temper incitement rather than rely on shallow populism for immediate political purposes.

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The Other Arab Spring?

Not all “Arab unrest” is equal. Consider these current headlines out of North Africa and try to spot the odd man out: “Libya’s south teeters toward chaos — and militant extremists,” “Egypt Takes Another Step Toward Autocracy—and Instability,” “Tunisia Sees Rising Jihadist Threat,” “Thousands march against Morocco government.” Chaos, autocracy, jihad, and … marching. Today in the Maghreb, where most populations are preyed upon either by unchecked authority or unchecked anarchy, Morocco is different. This is not an accident.

I was recently in Morocco, as a guest of its Institute of African Studies, and the point most Moroccans tried hardest to impress upon me was that their country is fundamentally unlike the failing and convulsed states around it.

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Not all “Arab unrest” is equal. Consider these current headlines out of North Africa and try to spot the odd man out: “Libya’s south teeters toward chaos — and militant extremists,” “Egypt Takes Another Step Toward Autocracy—and Instability,” “Tunisia Sees Rising Jihadist Threat,” “Thousands march against Morocco government.” Chaos, autocracy, jihad, and … marching. Today in the Maghreb, where most populations are preyed upon either by unchecked authority or unchecked anarchy, Morocco is different. This is not an accident.

I was recently in Morocco, as a guest of its Institute of African Studies, and the point most Moroccans tried hardest to impress upon me was that their country is fundamentally unlike the failing and convulsed states around it.

And so it is. The kingdom has a functioning parliamentary system. And in 2011, responding to the sentiments unleashed by the Arab Spring, King Mohamed VI held a referendum on the country’s constitution. The resulting document calls for greater participation of elected parties and a Moroccan prime minister. It also newly enumerates a welcome assortment of rights and freedoms. A large-scale decentralization effort is underway to transfer various responsibilities from the king to elected bodies around the country. Whether the diffusion of power will be mostly genuine or cosmetic, continuous or stalled, remains to be seen. But Morocco is certainly not Libya or Egypt or Tunisia.

Mohamed VI appears to be a sincere reformer but he is undoubtedly a savvy king. Expanding the space for consensual governance was the best way to preserve the monarchy. A quick glance around the region tells you all you need to know about rulers who swam against the spring tide. And in truth, Morocco’s previous king, the far tougher Hassan II, began a program of very modest reform in the 1990s, long before Arab tweeters celebrated their flash-mob “victory” in Tahrir Square. So today Moroccans occasionally march, in small and peaceful numbers. It is a blessing that shouldn’t go unnoticed.

But while Moroccan achievement deserves praise, it’s no guarantee of long-term stability or moderation. On this, it was my turn to impress the point upon several Moroccans. The topic came up in regard to the Justice and Development Party (PJD), the largest party in parliament and that of the Moroccan Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane. PJD, you see, is Islamist. And while some Moroccans expressed concern about what PJD members would do if they came to office in future local elections, most were quick to point out that the king and the constitution simply render authentic political Islam a non-starter. Additionally, PJD is widely understood to be that ever-elusive, quasi-mythic giant squid of Middle Eastern affairs—a moderate Islamist party. 

It’s true that in my limited travels I witnessed a good deal of modern and indulgent living, and the Islamists in office cast no shadow on the day-to-day affairs of those with whom I came into contact. I saw many accomplished, uncovered women drinking alcohol and spied only a handful of dour men with fanned beards.

But “It can’t happen here” is an insufficient credo for any people anywhere. It undermines vigilance. And Morocco’s wonders notwithstanding, liberal Moroccans can’t afford to be complacent. The world has yet to see a self-described moderate Islamist party hold to its vow of moderation over the long term. Moreover, within Morocco’s diverse human mosaic reside hundreds of thousands of decidedly non-moderate Islamists. These are the members or associates of the organization Justice and Charity. Unlike PJD, Justice and Charity is non-political. But it wasn’t so long ago that we were assured the Muslim Brotherhood had no designs on the Egyptian presidency.

Historically, the appeal of political Islam owes much to the absence of other compelling political ideas. I thought of this when a Moroccan women’s rights champion explained to me that in her country “politics isn’t connected to values. Politics is about power.” When every other party’s platform is as inspiring as an NFL team playbook, the sincerity and purpose of the Islamists’ can shine in comparison.

This is all to say that King Mohamed VI is threading the eye of an unforgiving needle. He must proceed with democratic decentralization quickly and blatantly enough to satisfy a reform-minded public, but not so recklessly as to give newly empowered parties the means to undermine the largely moderate nature of Morocco.

In the context of the Arab Spring, Barack Obama has talked often about the need for democratic change to come from within a given country. He’s articulated his preference for reform over revolution and has pledged to stand by leaders who show a willingness to move forward on human rights issues. It would seem, therefore, that the president should take a special interest in Morocco.

The most compelling case for American involvement in Morocco, however, rests on national security. For the United States, conflicts in Northern Africa largely go unnoticed—before manifesting as unignorable crises. One such conflict now festers in the Western Sahara and could soon become explosive. Tens of thousands of refugees reside in bare-bones camps in the Algerian town of Tindouf. The camps are controlled by the Polisario Front, an Algerian backed leftist group opposed to Moroccan control of the Western Sahara. That the camps are reportedly run like huge cruel prisons might evoke some Western sympathy. But that they have also reportedly become a recruiting grounds for al-Qaeda-linked groups should spur the United States to action.

As it happens, the action called for is of the very type Obama favors: non-military diplomacy based on mutual compromise. In 2007, Morocco proposed an autonomy plan for the Western Sahara. Broadly speaking, if agreed to, autonomy would mean Western Saharans could govern themselves within the framework of the Moroccan constitution, and the Polisario camps would disappear. American officials have contented themselves with voicing support for the initiative. But without active diplomatic action from the United States it’s doubtful the Polisario and Algeria will take the proposal seriously.  

There’s no guarantee that the application of American diplomacy would bring the decades-old conflict to an end. But with some 50,000 nothing-to-lose desert refugees ripe for jihadist indoctrination, it’s hard to see the downside. Of course, the U.S. can always remain on the sidelines for another Mali- or Algeria-type conflagration to emerge and then watch as our allies try to put it out. Don’t assume, however, that we’ll always have Paris.

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Another UN Anti-Israel Spectacle

If you were concerned that the United Nations is spending too much time on the massacres of civilians in Syria, or on the ongoing arrests of journalists in Turkey, or on the repression of women in Egypt, or on the persecution and murder of Christians in Nigeria and across the Arab Spring countries – you can set your mind at ease. Today, the UN Security Council will be focused on Israel:

The UN Security Council will on Wednesday hear a briefing on the humanitarian situation in the occupied Palestinian territories which the United States had opposed… Valerie Amos, the UN humanitarian coordinator, will give details on the impact of Israeli settlements at the UN Security Council meeting on Wednesday morning as part of discussions on the Middle East, diplomats said. Morocco officially made the request for the briefing as the Arab representative on the 15-member council. The briefing would be “useful,” said Morocco’s UN ambassador Mohammed Loulichki.

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If you were concerned that the United Nations is spending too much time on the massacres of civilians in Syria, or on the ongoing arrests of journalists in Turkey, or on the repression of women in Egypt, or on the persecution and murder of Christians in Nigeria and across the Arab Spring countries – you can set your mind at ease. Today, the UN Security Council will be focused on Israel:

The UN Security Council will on Wednesday hear a briefing on the humanitarian situation in the occupied Palestinian territories which the United States had opposed… Valerie Amos, the UN humanitarian coordinator, will give details on the impact of Israeli settlements at the UN Security Council meeting on Wednesday morning as part of discussions on the Middle East, diplomats said. Morocco officially made the request for the briefing as the Arab representative on the 15-member council. The briefing would be “useful,” said Morocco’s UN ambassador Mohammed Loulichki.

The AFP description that Morocco “officially made the request” is a little muted. What actually happened is that Morocco replaced Lebanon on the Security Council – yes, Iran’s Hezbollah-controlled proxy state has just now stepped down – and immediately hijacked a session on Children and Armed Conflict to demand time to talk about Israeli settlements.

Morocco’s electoral scene is dominated by the Islamist Justice and Development Party. Moroccan-occupied Western Sahara was picked out by Freedom House [PDF] for its “Worst of the Worst 2011″ list. And of course there’s something basically hypocritical about sidelining a genuine human rights issue to posture about human rights. But since this is the UN, it took just more than a week for Morocco to get its anti-Israel spectacle.

At the end of November, the UN’s Middle East peace envoy blamed the Middle East deadlock on Israeli settlement construction. Days after that, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, on a call to Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu about Palestinian funds, took the opportunity to criticize Israeli settlement construction. A few weeks later, Ambassador Rice – no particular fan of Israeli settlement construction – was moved to condemn the sum of the UN’s anti-Israel focus as “obsessive” and “ugly.” A week after that, the UNSC tried to issue a condemnation about Israeli settlement construction.

So you can see how the Moroccans might think there’s not enough time being spent at the UN on Israeli settlement construction.

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