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Tripoli trip-up

September 4, 2009

that's the door, brotherYou’ve already heard: The Moroccan delegation and its military contingent (for a parade) withdrew in protest when they discovered that the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (RASD), was present at Qadhafi’s 40-year-bash. Moroccan-Libyan relations look sure to take a hit from this provocation, and official Morocco is presently up in arms demanding an apology.

But … what was the provocation, exactly? The African Union was invited, RASD is part of the African Union, Libya is chairman of the African Union, and, besides, POLISARIO officials often visit Libya for all sorts of reasons. There’s no secret about that. There was in fact every reason to expect the RASD to go to the celebrations, since they maintain longstanding ties with Libya (albeit more discreet now than in the 70s), and even receive some modest support from the Brother Leader (scholarships and such).

What’s more, Chairman Abdelaziz’s attendance was publicly announced by POLISARIO’s news agency, the SPS, already on the 30th, so the Moroccan government knew about the RASD delegation at least two days in advance. Probably even earlier, given that it is not thought to rely solely on the SPS for information on Maghrebi affairs.

And yet to Tripoli they go, Taieb Fassi Fihri & PM Abbas el-Fassi heading a major delegation. Once there, they claim to be shocked, shocked, to see Abdelaziz at the table, so they get up and exit in a hurry, order their army parade unit to pack up and leave, all the while spewing furious press statements as they go.

What really happened here?

There are two possible explanations. Either, the Moroccan government is (a) faking surprise and outrage to embarrass Libya or (b) they for some reason thought that the RASD delegation was lying about its planned attendance. (For the sake of completeness, there’s also an option (c) which supposes that Moroccan authorities do not read POLISARIO’s open-domain public relations material, but I’m going to disregard that in good faith.)

Now, (a) would seem like a really strange way of conducting foreign policy, but then again, Morocco’s diplomatic temper has been very unstable lately, so I don’t think we can rule it out. The reason could be, for example, Qadhafi’s alleged support for a referendum in Western Sahara during the preceding AU summit (in line with this, for whatever it’s worth), and his blatant public chumming with the Abdelazizes. [updated/fixed]

However, option (b) is also weakly supported: if POLISARIO was going to cancel, should there not have been some indication of that between their first announcement of attendance (Aug. 30) and the actual celebrations (Sep. 1)? There was not: the SPS kept confirming right up to the moment the Moroccans walked out.

Morocco claims to have had “assurances” that the RASD would not show, and evidently these assurances must have been so strong that they believed them over the SPS’s repeated claims to the contrary. It was in fact, writes Le Matin, “the necessary assurances on the highest level of state” which were then “not respected”. What exactly that means remains a mystery, but it’s certainly not unimaginable that Qadhafi or one of his sons could have passed along a promise, only to break it later. Libya is not known for being highly predictable.

If the Libyans broke an explicit promise, that could certainly cause a reaction like this. But how could the Moroccans not see it coming, given the traffic coming out of SPS, and the movements of Abdelaziz? He and a number of other high-level POLISARIO officials arrived in Tripoli days before them, and they must have expected him to be there, when they got on the plane to Tripoli.

I don’t pretend to have an answer here, but I’d be happy to hear yours.

16 Comments leave one →
  1. September 8, 2009 00:53

    Now Ibn Kafka, a few Spanish whankers care about the Sahara as well….

    I had not thought of the Moulay Rachid / King Jet Ski connexion, but that makes no small degree of sense relative to the Guide.

    Alle, re Algeria and FP, I was thinking GENERALLY, not relative to purely Maghrebine matters. They are the masters of autistic FP. Witness the current madness around foreign investment.

    • ibnkafka permalink
      September 10, 2009 22:12

      Lounsbury: true about the Spanish wankers, and one could throw in a few French ones as well.

      Laroussi: I’m certainly no fan of the MAP, but that’s where the little info that there is can be found, together with the Polisario & Libyan press agencies. As it is a state outlet, it can reasonably be seen as expounding the official version of events, in exactly the same way as APS, JANA or SPS.

      alle: I’m not sure you have to look that far. The mere presence of Mohamed Abdelaziz el Marrakchi on the official tribune in Tripoli would have sufficed to infuriate Morocco, irrespective of what resolutions were taken by the African Union. The AU is largely seen as a lost cause in Rabat, and has little influence over the Sahara issue, and it is in my view unreasonable to think that Morocco would have reacted as it did merely over this. I suppose we will never know for certain about what guarantees were given to Morocco and at what level, but the Polisario leader’s presence at the official festivities would seem to be real motive behind Morocco’s withdrawal.

  2. September 8, 2009 20:23

    If anyone, as unlikely as it may seem, is interested, the AU Action Plan from the summit is now online (PDF). On Western Sahara the member states decided…

    To support the ongoing UN efforts to overcome the current impasse and relevant UN Security Council resolutions, which call for direct negotiations between the two parties without preconditions and in good faith, with a view to achieving a just, lasting and mutually acceptable political solution, which will provide for the self-determination of the people of Western Sahara, in the context of arrangements consistent with the principles and purposes of the Charter of the United Nations.

    >>>That’s copy/paste from the most recent UNSC resolution, so nothing controversial. Continued,

    To this end, the Special Session calls for the intensification of efforts towards the holding of a referendum to enable the people of the Territory to choose between the option of independence and that of integration into the Kingdom of Morocco.

    >>>This part however, endorses POLISARIO’s main demand (independence on the ballot) and contradicts Morocco’s position. As far as I can see, the AU hasn’t been this explicit about the referendum and a right to vote on independence in many years, basically since Morocco started refusing it, so that would seem to be a clear gain for POLISARIO. (Not that this will be settled in the AU, but still.)

    No word, however, on what Qadhafi said or didn’t say during the proceedings. If he did push for the inclusion of the referendum bit (as POLISARIO claims & Morocco denies) I can definitely see how Rabat would be unhappy with him.

    My five cents: That the referendum phrase is included in the final declaration seems to suggest that he did — at least someone did — and that POLISARIO was actually right on this one, my earlier assumptions to the contrary notwithstanding. And, if that is correct, I think there’s good reason to assume a connection between Morocco’s walkout and Qadhafi’s Saharan stunt in the AU summit the day before. Just as his public make-out sessions with Abdelaziz after that are likely to be intended as a slap to Morocco, since they gave him one by going back to Rabat.

    (None of which precludes other factors, such as Qadhafi also having promised not to behave like this, but then breaking his vow, and/or Ibn Kafka’s theory about the level of representation, etc.)


  1. Le mirage libyen « Ibn Kafka's obiter dicta – divagations d'un juriste marocain en liberté surveillée
  2. Libyan-Moroccan relations, an earlier chapter « Maghreb Politics Review

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