29 June - 5 July 2000
Issue No. 488
|Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875|
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A reception fit for a kingBy James Zogby*
Morocco's King Mohamed VI took Washington by storm last week. The Clinton administration gave the young Moroccan monarch an extraordinary reception. Highlights of the visit included a large state dinner, a formal luncheon with Secretary of State Madeline Albright, a dinner with Secretary of Defense William Cohen and a warm reception on Capitol Hill which featured both a luncheon in the king's honour and the unanimous passage of a Senate resolution pledging "an expansion of ties" between Morocco and the United States.
In public and private, President Bill Clinton and Secretary of State Albright repeatedly referred to Morocco as "America's oldest friend" and praised King Mohamed as "one of the Middle East's most able leaders." Clinton, in his toast at the state dinner, said that "no foreign guest is more deserving of a warm welcome here than King Mohamed." While Albright, in her remarks at the dinner, said that "America will never forget that in 1777 the first nation to recognise the United States was the Kingdom of Morocco." She added that 10 years later, the two countries signed a "peace and friendship" agreement, which they have upheld since, making it one of the longest unbroken treaties of its kind.
While relations between the two countries have long been close, they have become even closer in recent years. The United States sees Morocco, according to Clinton, as the Arab world's most successful democracy. Although King Hassan II began a programme of democratic reforms toward the end of his life, King Mohamed was praised for pushing such reforms much further, especially in deepening respect for human rights.
Clinton publicly hailed King Mohamed's efforts to improve social and economic conditions and to strengthen civil society as well as "to heal old wounds, promote political freedoms, and protect human rights." Towards such ends King Mohamed has taken the dramatic step of establishing a fund to compensate individuals whose human rights were violated. He has spoken eloquently about the rights of women and the disabled and has expressed concern about the plight of the unemployed.
Despite the young king's efforts, unemployment is still high and the educated young still have difficulty finding work. While Albright acknowledged the "important steps to improve economic conditions by privatising industry and examining possibilities for agricultural reform" taken by Morocco, it is clear that more needs to be done. The United States understands that for the reforms to work and to further Morocco's advancement, more must be done to assist the North African country's economic development. As a result, high on the agenda of this state visit's bilateral discussions were efforts to promote US investments in Morocco.
For its part, the Moroccan business community is planning a follow-up visit to the United States. During that time, businessmen intend to propose investment projects to potential American partners. The total value of investment sought for these projects is $2 billion.
Beyond the discussions of "shared history and common values and interests" and plans for economic partnership, there were also serious discussions about political concerns.
Morocco has pledged to work with the UN effort headed by former US Secretary of State James Baker to resolve the issue of the Western Sahara. Plans for a UN-sponsored referendum on this area of Morocco where there is a strong secessionist movement have been cancelled repeatedly. In his public remarks, King Mohamed pointedly referred to the region as Morocco's "southern province" but he also reiterated his nation's commitment to seeking "a just and lasting solution" in cooperation with the international effort.
Many observers were impressed that in all of his formal and public remarks, and reportedly also in his private discussions, King Mohamed stressed the importance of resolving the Middle East conflict. He said that Israel should withdraw from all occupied territories, and that a "fully sovereign Palestinian state" with Jerusalem as its capital should be established.
In this context it should be noted that Morocco's special relationship with the United States and its commitment to the Middle East peace process exists alongside a special relationship with the US's Arab American and American Jewish communities. The king's meetings with these two communities were another highlight of his state visit.
Israeli and American Jews have long sought to deepen ties with Morocco, in part due to the substantial Moroccan Jewish community in Israel, as well as Morocco's record for openness and tolerance.
Arab Americans, on the other hand, have only recently begun to develop strong ties with Morocco. This is in part due to the fact that there has been no significant Moroccan American component to the Arab American community -- most Moroccan emigrants have gone to Europe -- meaning that Arab Americans have had little experience with that country.
Morocco's current Foreign Minister Mohamed Ben Eissa, when he served as Ambassador to Washington, actively sought out the Arab American community. By working with Arab Americans on Moroccan-related issues and educating them on Moroccan concerns, he succeeded in broadening both the base of support for his country in the United States and the political awareness of Arab Americans. This process has been supported as well, by the US's current Ambassador to Morocco, Edward Gabriel, an Arab American. He too has been a strong advocate for US-Moroccan ties and has played a role in encouraging Arab Americans to become more engaged in Moroccan issues. Further evidence of this deepening Arab American interest and involvement has been the formation of the US-Moroccan Affairs Committee (USMAC) headed by Saba Shami, an Arab American activist. In 1999, USMAC won the endorsement of 110 members of Congress in support of Morocco. Working with the National Council on US-Arab Relations, USMAC has sponsored visits to Morocco for members of Congress, educators and Arab American leaders.
In an effort to continue its role as a bridge builder, the Moroccan leadership is currently examining the possibility of hosting a joint meeting of Arab American and American Jewish leaders in order to foster a dialogue between the two communities.
Looking back on the many facets of the state visit, some observations must be made. The warmth and praise with which the United States greeted Morocco is based not only on history, but current realities as well. There is a genuine appreciation by America for the country and its role in the broader region as well as for Morocco's king and his goals for reform.
What must now occur, however, is that the warmth of the greeting and the expansiveness of the state visit, be translated into concrete support. President Clinton announced the establishment of a scholarship programme to enhance educational opportunities for Moroccan students, while secretaries Albright and Cohen both spoke of new programmes to support Morocco, ranging from expanded food assistance to closer military ties.
But, as King Mohamed has noted, Morocco needs investment partnerships more than aid. For Morocco to continue to advance on its chosen path, it will need the help of its friends. As one prominent Moroccan businessman noted, the current level of trade and investment between the two countries "does not rise to the level of our strong political bilateral ties." In this regard, the recent state visit could be an important step in consolidating those friendships and advancing an agenda for the future.
* The writer is President of the Washington-based Arab American Institute.