Diplomatic challenges persisted across the globe in 2017, leaving Morocco at the intersection of competing interests. Through it all, the kingdom maintained mostly solid relationships with its international counterparts, even as other alliances shifted. Morocco’s multi-faceted identity is reflected in its active membership in a range of international organisations, including the UN, the Arab League, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation and most recently, the African Union (AU). The country’s engagement with a variety of international actors indicates a continuation of the pragmatic approach that has long been a trademark of its foreign policy.
EU ENGAGEMENT: Geographical proximity, as well as long-standing security and economic development interests, have kept Morocco’s ties with Europe close in the post-colonial era. Economically, the EU remains Morocco’s largest trading partner, and a key source of political and financial assistance. Morocco is also the biggest recipient of EU funds from the European Neighbourhood Policy framework – which focuses on supporting equitable access to social services, improved democratic governance, and sustainable employment and economic growth. In 2016 EU bilateral assistance under the instrument amounted to €165m.
In addition, Morocco continues to work closely with the EU over the ongoing migrant crisis. Tensions persist, as Moroccans enter Europe illegally, while many refugees from the Middle East and Africa also pass through Morocco as a transit point to Europe. Although this issue is unlikely to be solved in the short term, it is on Morocco’s radar. For instance, King Mohammed VI’s strategy paper regarding the migrant crisis was presented at the AU summit in July 2017.
GULF NEUTRALITY: When Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the UAE and Bahrain announced in June 2017 that they were severing diplomatic ties with neighbouring Qatar, the fallout prompted many regional players to quickly take sides. Morocco remained a neutral exception, with King Mohammed VI first offering to mediate the argument and then expressing “full support” for Kuwait’s Emir Sabah Al Ahmad Al Jaber Al Sabah to resolve the crisis. Morocco’s royal family shares enduring ties to Saudi Arabia, but has also become closer to Qatar as it seeks investment for infrastructure and other growth projects, which Qatar had announced it would support earlier in 2017. In June 2017 Morocco sent airplanes with food products to Qatar, which remains under a regional blockade, though the Ministry of Foreign Affairs indicated in a statement that this was meant as a charitable gesture for the Islamic holy month of Ramadan rather than as a political response to the crisis.
US-MOROCCO: The year 2017 marked the 230th anniversary of the US-Morocco Treaty of Friendship, signed in 1787, a decade after Morocco became the first country to officially recognise the US. The US maintains national security and regional political-economic stabilisation interests in the country, as embodied by the 2014 US-Morocco Framework for Cooperation on Training for Civilian Security Services, which provides anti-terrorism assistance funds, and a free trade agreement signed in 2004. While the January 2017 inauguration of US President Donald J Trump reverberated across the Arab World, ramifications for Morocco have been limited to date, and the positive working relationship between the two countries remains largely intact.
EASTERN RELATIONSHIPS: Morocco continues to strengthen relations with China, due largely to increasing Chinese financing, such as an initial $1bn investment in a new tech city in Tangiers. Tourism from China has also risen dramatically since Morocco dropped visa requirements in June 2016, with the number of Chinese visitors expected to have exceeded 100,000 in 2017. This is up from 46,000 in 2016, a figure that represented a 300% increase over 2015. With a reputation as one of the most stable and moderate countries in the MENA region in terms of political cooperation and foreign investment, Morocco is likely to maintain its favourable relationships around the globe in the years ahead.