Morocco’s Arab Street Maneuvers

January 23, 2014
King Mohammed VI of Morocco (PDN/SIPA/Newscom)

King Mohammed VI of Morocco (PDN/SIPA/Newscom)

Morocco is a stable, Western-oriented Arab monarchy, which is also known for its cooperation with Israel dating back decades. Last fall, King Muhammed VI came to Washington as part of an effort to deepen the relationship between the U.S. and Morocco. At that time, Ambassador- at-Large Serge Berdugo, president of the Jewish community of Morocco and former minister of tourism, told the Washington Jewish Week that Morocco has always been “a player of goodwill, trying to do our best to promote peace [between Israel and the Palestinians] and two states with security and dignity — security for one, dignity for the other.”

With so much warm feeling, it might be surprising to learn that Israel and Morocco do not have diplomatic relations. According to most analyses, neither the Arab street nor the people of Morocco would tolerate the monarchy making that move until at least the more active leadership of the Arab world does.

In light of the monarchy’s quiet peace with Israel, it is troubling to see that within Morocco things are moving in the wrong direction. Last summer, five parties in parliament put forward legislation that would criminalize contact with Israel. The two bills make it illegal to trade with Israeli entities. And at least one bill proposes to make it illegal for Israelis to enter Morocco. The legislative trend clearly reflects hostility to the Jewish state and its citizens, tens of thousands of whom are of Moroccan descent.

The bills’ sponsors are not fringe parties. Two are leading parties in the government, and another is associated with the king. This suggests that the legislation could not have moved forward without tacit support of the crown.

Yet the bills are not expected to become law. Although the king has the final word on any such legislation, he is not expected to act openly upon the bills. Indeed, since his Arab street credibility depends upon his not appearing too close to Israel and the West, he needs to orchestrate a different path to stop the bills. Thus, it is anticipated that parliamentary factions with Arab bona fides will withdraw support for the bills, and the status quo will continue. Even so, the whole situation reflects a decline in relations between Israel and Morocco and is cause for concern and caution.

The United States has chosen to remain silent on the legislation, apparently waiting for the storm to pass. But not everyone else is. Last week, the Dutch foreign minister, perhaps acting as a surrogate for the West, criticized the bills. “The very headline of these bills is alarming,” Frans Timmermans told the Dutch parliament, adding the king and government of Morocco should act to prevent them from passing into law. We agree.

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