After years of drought in relations and mutual tension, the pace of official meetings and contacts between Morocco and Gulf countries has been increasing for months. Since 2017, a “silent crisis” has erupted between Rabat and Gulf capitals, during the crisis between Qatar and each of Saudi Arabia, the Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt, in addition to other causes of tension such as the Arab alliance in Yemen and the internal Libyan conflict, all of which have led to the cooling of warm relations between the UAE and Saudi Arabia on the one hand. And the Kingdom of Morocco on the other hand, which is trying to preserve the independence of its foreign policy on regional issues.
However, it seems that the Moroccan-Gulf relations have begun to return to their initial normal, with the progress made in the Gulf reconciliation, which was announced on January 5. Will Rabat open a new blank page with some Gulf capitals?
Controversial files dominated the relationship between Morocco and Gulf countries
Experienced Relations between Morocco and the axis of Saudi Arabia – the Emirates A state of stress; Because of the divergence of the positions of the two parties regarding many controversial files. Among the most prominent of these files is Rabat’s neutral position on the blockade imposed by the Arab Quartet on Doha, starting in June 2017.
Rabat has also withdrawn from an Arab military coalition led by Riyadh, which has been carrying out military operations in Yemen since 2015, in support of the pro-government forces in the face of the Houthis, who are supported by Iran.
On March 27, 2019, Moroccan Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita announced, in a press conference, “controls for the continuation of coordination with the UAE and Saudi Arabia.”
And those links are that Foreign Policy It is a sovereign issue for Morocco, and that coordination with the Gulf countries, especially Saudi Arabia and the UAE, must be according to the desire of both sides and not according to demand, and that coordination includes all important issues in the Middle East and North Africa, such as the Libyan crisis.
With the support of Arab and Western countries, including the UAE, retired Major General Khalifa Haftar has, for years, contested the internationally recognized legitimate authority of Libya in the oil-rich country. In 2020, Moroccan websites reported news that Morocco had withdrawn its ambassador and consuls in the UAE. Because the position of an Emirati ambassador was not appointed in Rabat after a year of vacancy.
During that crisis, the Moroccan government, and its president, Saad Eddine El Othmani, was subjected to accusations of failure in the face of the “Corona” pandemic, and of inability to meet the needs of citizens, by what Moroccans said were “electronic flies” belonging to the UAE.
Do you open a new page in relations now?
But Moroccan-Gulf relations It is witnessing improvement, especially after the UAE opened, on 4 November, a consulate in the Sahara region, which is disputed between Rabat and the “Polisario” front, backed by Algeria, neighboring Morocco.
In the same month, Abu Dhabi expressed its support for Rabat’s move “militarily” to control the situation at the “Guerguerat” border crossing between Morocco and Mauritania, to stop the “provocations” of the “Polisario” front, which aim to disrupt the vital crossing.
Likewise, on December 14, a consulate for Bahrain was opened in the Sahara region, which has been in dispute since 1975, after the Spanish occupation ended its presence in the region. This conflict turned into an armed confrontation between the two sides, which was stopped in 1991 with the signing of a ceasefire agreement, under the auspices of the United Nations.
The region’s crises began to resolve, and this was reflected in Rabat’s relationship with the Gulf
Says Saeed AlseddiqiProfessor of International Relations at the University of Sidi Mohamed bin Abdullah (governmental) in Fez, northern Morocco, told Anadolu Agency: “Despite the coldness that characterized Morocco’s relations with some Gulf countries during the last few years, this did not affect their general orientation.”
He explained that “these countries have maintained their relations at reasonable levels, and none of them will accept the sacrifice of a large legacy of political, economic and military cooperation that has accumulated over decades … and perhaps the personal relations between the rulers of these countries have always been the strong guarantee of non-deterioration.”
Al-Siddiqi believes that “the return of warmth to these relations can be explained by the agreement between these countries on the political changes in the Arab region, whose indicators began in Libya, the intra-Gulf relations (reconciliation), the new American administration (headed by Joe Biden) and the relationship with Israel.”
The Libyan conflict is witnessing a political breakthrough, while Arab countries, including the UAE, Bahrain and Morocco, signed agreements in 2020 to normalize relations with Israel.
Regarding the future of Moroccan-Gulf relations, Al-Siddiqi said: “Although there are many factors that unite these countries, and that can help them develop and strengthen their relations to the point of forming a political alliance in the region, they are vulnerable to any misunderstanding between them, and this is one of their weaknesses.” .
“Morocco succeeded in maintaining its neutral position.”
For her part, Yasmina Abul-Zuhour, a researcher at the Moroccan Institute for Policy Analysis, says that Morocco “maintained a position of neutrality throughout the crisis with its allies in the Gulf Cooperation Council.” In a study entitled “Healing the Rift in the Gulf Region: Morocco’s Risks and Gains,” published last February, Yasmina added that “when Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt imposed a blockade on Qatar in 2017, Morocco was faced with a delicate balance that was evident in preserving its relationship with Doha. Without hostile to the Saudi-Emirati bloc. “
She added, “Despite intermittent tensions with the Riyadh-Abu Dhabi axis, decision-makers in the Kingdom (Morocco) succeeded in maintaining a neutral policy towards the conflict, and were able to strengthen relations with Qatar, and this policy aimed to protect the diplomatic and economic interests of the Kingdom.”
And she added, “Following the progress made at the Al-Ula (Gulf, Saudi) summit in January 2021 and a partial solution to the (Gulf) crisis, Morocco is likely to gain a lot of economic and diplomatic support.” The researcher went on to say that “Rabat’s independent and neutral foreign policy in the Gulf has proven to the international community that it is a reliable regional party.”
In this context, Morocco is linked to a strategic cooperation agreement with the countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council signed in Riyadh in 2012, and includes the fields of political, economic, investment, commercial, tourism, security, cultural, and scientific cooperation, among others.
On April 20, 2016, a Gulf-Moroccan summit was held in the Saudi capital, Riyadh. It was remarkable that the summit affirmed the formation of a “unified strategic bloc” and the commitment “to jointly defend the security and stability of their countries.”