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A year of Change, Reform, and Progress in Morocco – Ambassador Edward M. Gabriel

A year of Change, Reform, and Progress in Morocco

by Ambassador Edward M. Gabriel (ret.)

March 15, 2012

     Americans watched the Arab Spring unfold and saw the common aspirations for democracy, freedom, and economic empowerment across North Africa and the Middle East.  However, we did not look at the region from a single point of view—to the contrary, the various triggers, reactions, successes, and failures led us to understand the uniqueness of each country involved.  Morocco stood out from the very beginning.

Morocco’s King Mohammed VI’s historic March 9th speech, calling for a commission to bring together Morocco’s political and civil society leaders, trade unions, and youth to propose wide-reaching reforms, quickly caught the United States’ attention and the reaction and ensuing support were unequivocal. At the time, Senator John McCain, who had visited Morocco a month before the speech, praised the King’s “long-standing commitment to lead Morocco to a future of reform and modernization,” and called Morocco a “positive example to governments across the Middle East and North Africa,”—a powerful endorsement at a time when regional unrest was intensifying.

  Later that month,Morocco’s then Minister of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation, Taeib Fassi Fihri, the highest ranking Arab leader to visit theUnited Statessince the Arab Spring began, met with US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. She emphasized that Morocco was “well-positioned to lead” in working with the international community to peacefully resolve the crisis in Libya. She further reiterated that the longstanding US policy supporting a peaceful end to the Sahara conflict through autonomy under Moroccan sovereignty “remained constant” and described the Moroccan plan as “serious, realistic, and credible – a potential approach to satisfy the aspirations of the people in the Western Sahara to run their own affairs in peace and dignity.”

Just a few weeks ago, Secretary Clinton reaffirmed the commitment to and continuity of US solidarity and support when she met with Morocco’s new Foreign Minister, Saad-Eddine Al-Othmani in Rabat.  She made clear, as she has done numerous times during her tenure, that “US policy toward the Western Sahara has remained constant for many years” and took steps with Minister Othmani to further the strategic dialogue between Morocco and the US.

To further strengthen this long-standing support for a resolution to the Western Sahara conflict, the US Congress approved, for the first time, the use of US program assistance to Morocco in all “regions and territories administered by Morocco,” including the Western Sahara.  These funds will support Morocco’s extensive and ongoing programs aimed at building infrastructure, providing training, and improving the lives of all of its citizens, including the Southern Provinces.  Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, Chairman of the newly reconstituted Morocco Caucus in the US House of Representatives, applauded Congress’ “vital change in U.S. foreign assistance” and called its actions “an acknowledgement of the unprecedented reforms in Morocco and reinforces strong support for a solution based on autonomy under Moroccan sovereignty.”

Americans watched as Moroccans from all segments of society proposed, debated, and articulated the reforms necessary to solidify democratization in Morocco. We took note of a process that was largely peaceful and swift, yet thoughtful and thorough, taking place in a spirit of cooperation and desire for genuine reform demonstrated by the Moroccan people and the King, whose vision for irreversible progress was clear.  As Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Chairwoman of the US House Committee on Foreign Affairs, noted, “King Mohammed’s proposed constitutional changes are a welcome start in what must be a long-term process to increase democracy and enhance stability in Morocco. […] If adopted, expanded, and fully implemented,Morocco’s reform agenda could serve as an example for the region.”

The entire world—not just the United States—closely watched Morocco’s November parliamentary election, the first of-its-kind since the Arab Spring. Once again, we were reminded ofMorocco’s commitment to democracy when the country’s political parties united to form a strong governing parliamentary coalition which made the socio-economic and political empowerment of Moroccans its priority for the coming year.

We stood in solidarity with the Moroccan people following the tragedy of the senseless bombing in  Jemaa el Fna and were encouraged by Morocco’s commitment to prevent these violent actions of a few to derail the commitment of the millions determined to build a stronger, more inclusive Morocco. TheUSfirmly supportsMorocco’s redoubled efforts to combat AQIM and other terrorist groups who are increasingly intent on destabilizing the region and placing obstacles in the way of progress.

The US continues to follow Morocco’s process and progress closely for more many reasons: both countries share a history of more than two centuries of partnership and cooperation, andMoroccois a vital friend in a region grappling with threats to stability, security, and democracy.  As Morocco joins the United Stateson the United Nations Security Council for the next two years, these ties will be more important than ever as both nations partner to tackle the most important international political issues of our time.  I am confident that we will not only continue to watchMoroccomove forward, but the US will actively work to support our historic friend and partner in peace, progress, and prosperity.-Amb. EMG

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