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Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Morocco: Current Issues

Carol Migdalovitz
Specialist in Middle Eastern Affairs

The United States government views Morocco as a moderate Arab regime, an important ally against terrorism, and a free trade partner. Congress is particularly interested in Morocco because it is a recipient of considerable U.S. foreign assistance to help it combat terror and to develop.

King Mohammed VI retains supreme power, but has taken some liberalizing steps with uncertain effects. Since 2005, several elections have met international standards. National politics currently seems focused on a developing rivalry between the Party for Authenticity and Modernity (PAM) established in 2008 by a former classmate of the king and the moderately Islamist Justice and Development Party (PJD) that previously had been on the rise.

The government is greatly concerned about terrorism because, after 9/11, Morocco experienced several devastating terror attacks and Moroccan expatriates have been implicated in attacks and plots overseas. Morocco takes a comprehensive approach to countering terror, involving security measures, economic reforms, control of religious outlets, education, and international cooperation. Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), considered the greatest threat to the North African region, has not mounted a successful attack in Morocco. However, individual Moroccans have joined AQIM outside of the country and the group has attempted to use Moroccan territory to smuggle drugs elsewhere.

Morocco’s human rights record is uneven as a number of abuses have been documented and the Western Sahara issue has produced harsh suppression of activists and constraints on freedom of expression. At the same time, the Family Code is a landmark initiative that could improve the rights of women if fully implemented. The king has tried to provide a record of abuses perpetrated before he ascended the throne in 1999 and to enhance the rights of Berbers, the original inhabitants of the region. In 2010, questions about religious freedom arose when foreign Christians were expelled for proselytizing in contravention of Morocco’s laws and some members of Congress criticized the Moroccan government for this action.

Morocco has not been severely affected by the global economic crisis. It is concentrating on economic reforms that could alleviate poverty as a way to prevent radicalization and terrorism. It also has begun several major renewable energy projects to lessen dependence on foreign sources.

Morocco’s foreign policy focuses largely on France, Spain, and the United States. Morocco’s relations with Algeria are troubled by the unresolved dispute over the Western Sahara, a territory south of Morocco that Morocco largely occupies and views as an integral part of its national territory. Algeria supports the POLISARIO Front in its quest for the region’s self-determination. Morocco supports a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, considers Jerusalem to be the future capital of a Palestinian state, and has criticized Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians. Relations between Morocco and Israel are strained, but the link between them may be unbreakable as about 600,000 Moroccan Jews are citizens of Israel. Morocco severed diplomatic relations with Iran in 2009 ostensibly for bilateral reasons. Morocco cooperates with the United States to counter terrorism, is a recipient of considerable U.S. foreign aid, and a purchaser of U.S. arms.

See also CRS Report RS21464, Morocco-U.S. Free Trade Agreement, by Raymond J. Ahearn and CRS Report RS20962, Western Sahara: Status of Settlement Efforts, by Carol Migdalovitz.

Date of Report: December 20, 2010
Number of Pages: 16
Order Number: RS21579
Price: $29.95

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