Morocco: how the diplomatic thaw begins – L’Express

Morocco how the diplomatic thaw begins – LExpress

The signs of warming between Paris and Rabat follow one another: the French ambassador to Morocco who makes a public mea culpa on the visa affair, a Moroccan ambassador appointed to France… And if the two ex-allies wanted to warm up their diplomatic relationship? Certainly, it will not be easy to forget two years of tensions between Morocco and France, a former colonial power where a large Moroccan diaspora lives. The origin of this quarrel? The policy of rapprochement with Algeria desired by French President Emmanuel Macron, while Algiers broke off its diplomatic relations with Rabat in 2021.

The peak of these tensions was reached in September 2023. “After the earthquake, we witnessed the peak of the Franco-Moroccan crisis since we went so far as to insult the heads of state”, underlines from AFP Pierre Vermeren, historian and professor at the Sorbonne University in Paris. A controversy arose when France offered its aid to Morocco, which ignored it. “Relations were at an impasse,” he believes.

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And the crisis could have escalated even further if the two countries had not come to their senses. “Why King Mohammed VI irritates the French Deep State so much”, headlined, on September 20, the online newspaper The 360 – close to the palace. The article criticizes the media treatment of the earthquake in France, deemed “hysterical”, and which, in its eyes, can only be engineered from the Elysée. The same online newspaper directly attacked the French president the next day: “A little man, a little woman”, but he takes no responsibility: who is Emmanuel Macron really?”

On the Elysée side, it is the Pegasus scandal, revealed in 2019, which is having difficulty getting through. The head of Moroccan security used this Israeli spyware to listen to opponents and enemies in France, but also… Emmanuel Macron himself. Despite these quarrels, Franco-Moroccan relations have never crossed the point of no return.

A failure with Algeria

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How to explain this relaxation? For Hasni Abidi, director of the Center for Studies and Research on the Arab World and the Mediterranean in Geneva, the difficult rapprochement between Paris and Algiers largely explains the current appeasement with Rabat. For Paris, its Algerian neighbor had many advantages such as its proximity to the countries of the Sahel. But failing to reconnect with the African giant, Macron is once again making eyes at his rival, Morocco. “President Emmanuel Macron realized that he had taken the wrong path by believing, hard as iron, that he could reconcile his country with Algeria,” maintains a journalist from Maroc Hebdo in his chronic from November 17.

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Return, therefore, to Morocco. With French forces departing in this region, it is easier to make gestures in favor of France’s traditional and historic ally. Today, “there is clearly a staging” of the desire to reestablish ties with Rabat, notes Hasni Abidi, in reference to the interview given by the French ambassador Christophe Lecourtier to Moroccan television 2M, Monday November 13. “What a waste on our part,” the diplomat said of the decision taken in 2021 to restrict the issuance of visas to Moroccans.

The restriction was lifted almost a year ago, but this policy has “deeply damaged the image and influence of France,” he admitted. We cannot manage a relationship as intimate as that between France and Morocco with statistics”. The diplomat’s remarks were warmly received by the Moroccan press. Maroc Hebdo thus saw it as “one more step towards the end of a period of diplomatic tension”.

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A Moroccan ambassador to France

And efforts have also been made on the side of the Royal Palace with the appointment, on October 19, of Samira Sitail to the post of Moroccan ambassador to France, which remained vacant for a year. This appointment marks the “desire to speed things up a little and open a new page”, adds Zakaria Abouddahab, professor of international relations at Mohammed V University in Rabat, to AFP.

In Marrakech, during the General Assemblies of the IMF and the World Bank, the Moroccan head of government Aziz Akhannouch received the French Minister of the Economy Bruno Lemaire. For Zakaria Abouddahab, the two countries “learned lessons” from a situation which benefited “no one”. “The Paris-Rabat couple is solid,” he says. Especially since the interests of the two countries intersect on several economic or political issues.