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Morocco outspends Algeria by 8 to 1 on lobbying in Washington DC

August 19, 2009

Thanks to an article on the muck-raking website Pro Publica, I was informed of the launching of the amazing site, which contains publically disclosed information about foreign lobbyists working in the US. Lo and behold, Morocco is on the list – on sixth place with 3,337,392 USD spent over part of 2007 and the whole of 2008 – of the most active foreign powers in Washington DC, where the bulk of the money is of course spent, mostly to influence Congress.

The methodology can be discussed: amazingly, AIPAC doesn’t appear anywhere, as it is stunningly enough considered as a domestic lobby, and Israel, its mentor, is thus not on the top-list – indeed, its total outlay on lobbying, AIPAC excluded, is stated as ludicrously low 253,912.67 USD – less than Algeria and a fraction of what Morocco spends. Of course, if AIPAC can get through unnoticed, others can as well. With that caveat however, the figures made public allow for some interesting comparisons between Morocco and Algeria, whose lobbying activities concern exclusively the Sahara conflict.

Here is what Pro Publica has to say about Morocco in its lead article (where it is btw not capable of spelling that name correctly):

A fight over independence
Morroco (sic!)
The Western Sahara [14] is an inhospitable patch of desert about the size of Colorado on Africa’s Atlantic coast, with a population of about 400,000, a GDP of only $900 million, and an economy based on nomadic herding, fishing and phosphorous mining. It is also one of the last colonies in the world — Morocco [15] annexed it a few years after Spain granted it independence in 1975 — and the subject of 34 U.N. Security Council resolutions on the territory since 1999.

In late 2007 and 2008, the desert region was a top priority for Morocco’s hired lobbyists. At issue was Western Sahara’s autonomy, but the story also shows how, in a foreign lobbying arms race, the side with the biggest arsenal can come out on top.

The government of Morocco sought the support of Congress in this lengthy territorial dispute. The region has long demanded independence. An indigenous insurgent group, the Polisario Front [16], waged a guerrilla war against the Moroccan military until the United Nations brokered a cease-fire in 1991.

Part of the terms of that deal included holding a referendum to determine the territory’s final status, but no vote has been held. In 2007, Morocco issued a proposal to grant Western Sahara autonomy within sovereign Morocco. The U.S. initially welcomed the proposal, and direct talks began between Morocco and the Polisario with the involvement of Algeria, which supports self-determination for the Sahrawi tribes from the area.

Toby Moffett, a lobbyist for Morocco who served as a Democratic congressman from Connecticut in the 1970s and ’80s, wrote an op-ed for the April 8, 2007, edition of The Los Angeles Times, explaining how he presented Morocco’s position to an unnamed member of Congress: “Morocco has a good story to tell,” he wrote. “It believes that the long-standing dispute with Algeria and the rebel Polisario group over the Western Sahara must be resolved.

“We tell the congresswoman and her staff that the region is becoming a possible Al Qaeda training area,” he wrote. “Algeria and the Polisario recently hired lobbyists, too, so we’ll have our hands full.”

Indeed, records show the Algerian government’s lobbyists had 36 contacts with members of Congress and staff promoting self-determination for the people of Western Sahara. The Algerians paid a modest $416,000 in lobbying fees.

By comparison, lobbyists for the government of Morocco had 305 contacts with members of Congress and their staff. Morocco paid $3.4 million in lobbying expenses — putting it among the top foreign government spenders for FARA filings in the period.

The intense campaign won converts. A bipartisan group of some 173 House members signed on to a statement supporting Morocco’s offer of autonomy for the region without formal independence. President Bush also expressed support [17] for Morocco’s plan in summer of 2008. And this April, 229 representatives sent a letter to President Obama urging him to back Morocco.

Until Obama reversed Bush’s stance [18] last month, Morocco’s investment worked.

I would be much more guarded on the last sentence – I don’t think that the reversal spoken of goes as far as is alleged – while Morocco’s autonomy plan is no longer the only show in town as far as the White House is concerned, the World Tribune article on which that assessment is based cites unidentified diplomatic sources, which could well be Algerian ones for all we know. The statement made before the Senate’s foreign relation committee by US ambassador to Morocco, Samuel Kaplan, certainly does not go that far, and is still mentioning a mutually acceptable negotiated agreement as the way forward, an option that falls much short of the Algerian government’s and the Polisario’s favored referendum option.

The marked Moroccan advantage over Algeria in lobbying expenditure is however stunning, for me at least. Unless there is some major cover-up, which I do not consider likely, it would tend to indicate the following:

  • contrary to what many Moroccans believe or have believed (myself included), the Sahara issue appears to be eight times more important to the Moroccan government than to its Algerian counterpart;
  • no other country than Morocco or Algeria spends lobbying money on the Sahara issue, a fair comment on the number of countries caring about this issue to the extent of spending some money on it (although I suppose that Madrid and Nouakchott would find that opinion unfair);
  • however, whereas Morocco has some limited spending on mtters unrelated to the Sahara (through its Tourism Board, or on terrorism, human rights and bilateral issues), it is apparently the only lobbying issue currently worth the Algerian government’s money;
  • the sums officially spent on lobbying in the US by either government amount to pocket money – to give a comparison, the official budgeted expenditure for the Royal Palace for 2008 amounted to 543 million dirhams, i.e. 68 million USD, or twenty times the amount spent on lobbying in Washington DC – as for Algeria and its bulging foreign exchange reserve, any comment would be superfluous;
  • nowhere does the Polisario appear in the database – not a cent of its admittedly meagre financial resources is spent on lobbying in Washington DC, as its Algerian principal is footing the bill – cash being king, this sheds additional light on the internal hierarchy between the two

Of course, a few caveats are in order: the figures apply for a period lasting slightly more than one year – figures over a longer period might, or might not, be different. They only cover what passes as foreign lobbying according to the Foreign Agent Registration Act. As we saw, AIPAC is incredibly enough not covered by these figures, and neither is Suzanne Scholte’s reliably pro-Polisario outfit Defense Forum Foundation. As I wrote earlier on Obiter Dicta, the Defense Forum Foundation has paid over 114,957 USD over the years 2000-2009 for 66 trips to Algeria undertaken by members of Congress, mostly Republicans by the way. The amount of other expenses incurred by the Defense Forum Foundation on the Sahara issue is not known. These amounts are however not included in Algeria’s US lobbying budget on the Sahara dispute – nor are hypothetical similar costs incurred by pro-Moroccan organisations included in Morocco’s Sahara budget.

As for the rest of the Maghrib, Tunisia and Mauritania haven’t spent a nickel on lobbying in the US, whereas Libya easily outspends both Morocco and Algeria, with a total of 4,931,012.10 USD, out of which close to 3 million USD go to the mammouth law firm White & Case, marked as legal fees (no details provided).

Further reading: “Qui est Suzanne Scholte, pasionaria républicaine du Polisario?“, Obiter Dicta, Dec. 8, 2008

80 Comments leave one →
  1. August 26, 2009 09:02

    Look at the press and the Moroccan official declarations. They are all unanimous that the failure of the Vienna negotiations are attributed to the positions of Algeria and not to Polisario. According to, you, in what purpose, if it is not to continue to feed this hatred?
    For more details, see the following sites

  2. Amina permalink
    August 26, 2009 10:33

    Dear Sahrawi Citizen@ The RASD recognized by more than 80 States? Not so sure about that. The last number I had was less than 50.

    Hope you’re not serious when you say ” The moroccan press continue to cultivate this hatred which is the basis of what they call “consensus, unanimity for the Sahara”. In reality, it’s a unanimity against Algeria”? Have you ever read the algerian press?

    N for Nouakchott@ The people you met in Morocco must have been idiots. I’ve never met the kind of moroccans you’re talking about. If you’re Mauritanian, you should really be proud of being a citizen of that great country.

  3. August 26, 2009 11:08

    Afghanista, Albania, Angola, Antigua et Barbua, Algeria, Barbados, Belice, Benin, Bolivia, Botswana, Burkin Fasso, Burundi, Cabo Verde, Camboya, Chad, Colombia, Congo, Northe Korea, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominique, Equateur, El Salvador, Ethiopia, Ghana, Granada, Guatemala, Guinea Bissau, Guinea Equatorial, Guyana, Honduras, India, Iran, jamaica, Kenia, Kiribati, Laos, Lesotho, Liberia, Libia, Madagascar, Mali, Malawi, Mauritania, Maurice, Mexico, Mozambique, Namibia, Nauru, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Panama, Papua and Guinea, Peru, Ruanda, Isles Salomon, San Cristobal et Nevis, Santa Lucia, San Vicente et Granadinas, Sao Tome et Principe, Seychelles, Sierra Leona, Siria, South Africa, Surinal, Swaziland, Tanzania, Timor Leste, Trinidad and Tobago, Tuvaldu, Venezuela, Vietnam, Yemen, Ex-Yugoslavia, Zambian Zimbabwe

    The countries which recognize the RASD are in total 85, and remember, the effects of the recognition are irreversibles whatever is the change of position of the country. Concerning the Algerian press, it is the right of answer for this campaign which Morocco leads since 1975, a media and terrorist campaign. It was confirmed, Morocco supported the terrorism in Algeria. Today, Morocco continues to bet on the terrorism and the health of Bouteflika and the end of its mandate. Here is an article of Hespress on the subject.

    • marc delare permalink
      July 8, 2010 08:06

      Lol love the list! all 3rd world countries (minus 2 or 3) and btw, update your little list, Afghanistan has withdrawn its recognizance for years now! Since the war started and the new government took power.

  4. Amina permalink
    August 26, 2009 12:26

    Dear Sahrawi citizen,

    First of all Hespress is just a website (like your own frensh written blog) where anyone can write anything he wants. I’m not even sure the people who write there are journalists.

    Second point: Again most of the countries you’ve cited above recognized the polisario not the RASD or SADR wathever you want. Iran? Mali? Ex Yougouslavia? India? Come on, you’re joking! Algeria is the only arab country which recognizes the republic you’re talking about. Libya never recognized tha Rasd. Same story with Syria.

    “The countries which recognize the RASD are in total 85, and remember, the effects of the recognition are irreversibles whatever is the change of position of the country”…Could you explain how a recognition made by “Ex” Yougoslavia is irreversible?

  5. Laroussi permalink
    August 26, 2009 12:50

    Where does Morocco start, and where does it end? The question of so many great philosophers.

    Honestly, how can you ask of a country called “where the sun sets” to define its borders according to western standards? Of course the borders (to the east?) are flexible… 😉

    • August 26, 2009 13:24

      The real question is, how can such a country ask to be taken seriously by its neighbors and the international community?

      • Laroussi permalink
        August 26, 2009 19:14

        You can always ask (or even demand) for anything you like, serious or not. I would say that the real question is how on earth the international community can take such a country seriously? Morocco for some reason is given quite a lot of respect considering its current tradition of expansionism.

        If a neighbour of mine steals or even tries to steal vegetables from my backyard, he or she will immediately be banned by the rest of the community and considered an outcast. Morocco has no such problems.

  6. August 26, 2009 13:07


    “Second point: Again most of the countries you’ve cited above recognized the polisario not the RASD or SADR wathever you want. Iran? Mali? Ex Yougouslavia? India? Come on, you’re joking! Algeria is the only arab country which recognizes the republic you’re talking about. Libya never recognized tha Rasd. Same story with Syria.”

    If you are not well informed, it is not of my fault. Then, I do not want to enter a banal debate. Inquire at first and come to discuss later.

    “Could you explain how a recognition made by “Ex” Yougoslavia is irreversible?”

    Yougoslavia does not exist any more, but Serbia did not remove this recognition yet and continue to support the cause of the sahrawi people.

  7. August 26, 2009 17:27

    Amina — Most or all of those states did actually recognize the RASD, although some have since changed their mind (and/or regime). There was a Sahrawi embassy in Tripoli, although I don’t think it’s still there. Libya’s current policy on recognizing POLISARIO/RASD seems to vary from “certainly” to “absolutely not”, depending on who’s asking. As for the Moroccan vs. Algerian press on the Sahara: well … pot, meet kettle.

    Laroussi — I don’t see what the meaning of Morocco’s name as a state has to do with anything. Algeria (el-Jazair) is Arabic for “the Islands”, but I don’t think that means they’re obliged to relocate to the Mediterranean. The problem with Morocco’s borders is caused by colonialism, power politics and nationalism gone berserk, not by some intrinsic incompatibility between being Moroccan and having borders.

    Sahrawi Citizen — Quite a lot of those countries did in fact rescind their recognitions of the RASD, whether you think they’re entitled to or not, and I’m not aware that there is some sort of legal requirement for them to continue recognizing it if they have once started to do so. Presently, something like 45-50 states continue to support the RASD as an independent gov. Also, POLISARIO most certainly didn’t kill 300,000 Moroccan soldiers. I’m sure Moroccan war deaths were in the high thousands or even low tens of thousands, considering the number of prisoners-of-war (some 2000 Moroccans total, no?), but 300,000 is pure fantasy.

    Ibn Kafka — Your post is in the news! First time MPR is mentioned in print, as far as I know.

    • August 26, 2009 17:35

      Great find, alle!

    • August 26, 2009 18:15

      There is always a sahrawie embassy in Tripoli, the ambassador is Malaïnine Tqana. Libia is a part of the contingent of security of North Africa, beside the Polisario forces. Lybia did not rescind her recognition of the RASD, it has just stopped any military and humanitarian aid.

      On the irreversibilité of the recognition, there is an example: the African Union can chase away the RASD because the majority of countries rescinded their recognition? I do not know, but I do not believe.

      The figure of 300.000 deaths is not a fantasy for someone who followed closely the war in the Western Sahara. Only in the battle of Guelta Zemmour, on October 13th 1981, there were 700 deaths and more than 200 prisoners. The total number of prisoners was of more than 2500.

    • Laroussi permalink
      August 26, 2009 19:23

      “I don’t see what the meaning of Morocco’s name as a state has to do with anything. Algeria (el-Jazair) is Arabic for “the Islands”, but I don’t think that means they’re obliged to relocate to the Mediterranean. The problem with Morocco’s borders is caused by colonialism, power politics and nationalism gone berserk, not by some intrinsic incompatibility between being Moroccan and having borders.”

      Alle, I was being ironic. I find it quite funny (or rather disturbing depending on the mood) that Morocco still can present an official map of the kingdom that has no eastern border. A map where Tindouf seemingly is part of Morocco.

      • August 26, 2009 20:54

        OK, sorry for missing the irony. As for the map, yes.

  8. August 26, 2009 18:28

    Sah citizen — On Libya, thanks for the info. But given Qadhafi’s often … odd behavior, are you sure this is presented as an official embassy? A government-approved or -accepted POLISARIO office, I’m sure there is. There’s one in Syria too, but that’s not necessarily the same as an embassy. In Libya’s case, I think the Colonel likes to keep it ambiguous since 1984.

    On the AU, I think they could (theoretically) decide to expel the RASD, if its support within the union dropped significantly. That would obviously be controversial and cause a debate about what is a sovereign state that I’m sure no one wants to have, and it doesn’t seem likely, but I don’t see why it’s technically impossible.

    300,000 deaths: yeah, but Guelta Zemmour was one of the biggest POLISARIO successes throughout the war, one of a few where the Sahrawis wiped out a major military stronghold instead of just harrassing it. To arrive at 300,000 dead soldiers you’d need almost 500 Guelta Zemmours, and that just didn’t happen.

    • August 26, 2009 18:42

      Mahbes, Ejdeiria, Smara, Zag, Wargziz, Lemseyed…… nobody can count the similar battles to Guelta Zemmour. It was 17 war years of fierce war as we cannot imagine. It is not a question of resolve an equation to know how many moroccan soldiers died in this war

      The representation in Libia was always an embassy

      • August 26, 2009 20:52

        I agree there was fierce fighting, but it will never add up to 300,000. Reasonable estimates, I don’t know except for what I guessed at above. Come to think of it, I’ve never seen an estimate from either side.

  9. August 26, 2009 22:11


    I found thi information, may be it can help you to make an estimantion

    According to the newspaper “Al Massae” in its edition of 09/10/2008, the families of the Moroccan militaries fallen in the war constituted an association which counted more than 30.000 deaths in the fights in the Western Sahara. This association asks to proclaim one day of the year to celebrate ” the deaths for the homeland and the integrity territorial “. The president of the association, Brahim Al-Hajjam, protested against ” the precarious situation in which many of these families in the allocations live oscillate between 400 and 1500 dirhams to which are added the unemployment of their children and the difficulties of the economic situation of the country, as torturers of the Polisario reunited in Morocco enjoy privileges without limit “.

    These declarations hint at Omar Hadrami, given that he was the person in charge of the services loaded with centres where lived the Moroccan war prisoners. The association asks:
    – Compensation of all the families and the restoration of their rights.
    – The celebration of a solemn act of reception of the released war prisoners.
    – Compensation of 601 families deprived of the compensations of the Social Security.
    – Stop treating this file as a taboo.
    – The creation of centres of rehabilitation for the released war prisoners.

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