x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Morocco king must address regional stability and Sahara conflict during US visit

The visit by Morocco's King Mohammed VI to the US, which comes at a crucial moment, is paramount by all standards. Taoufik Bouachrine tells why in his column in the Morocco-based daily Akhbra Al Youm. Other Digest topics: US-Iran deal, Kerry's remarks on Egypt.

The visit by King Mohammed VI to the US, which comes at a crucial moment, is paramount by all standards, wrote Taoufik Bouachrine, the publishing director of the Morocco-based daily Akhbra Al Youm.

The Moroccan king’s visit is important because the US is going through a difficult time, as the world seems to be shifting from unipolar to multipolar. This means international politics will become more complicated and states’ alliances and interests will see swift changes, the writer noted.

There are already signs of this significant geostrategic change. There is a strong return to the international arena of Russia, which is emerging as a powerful rival to the US on the Arabian Gulf, Syria and Egypt; The US has failed to strike Syria despite Bashar Al Assad crossing what President Obama had set as a red line.

There is also the attempt to remove Iran from the “axis of evil”, as Washington and Iran sit down for nuclear talks despite anger from Saudi Arabia and Israel, which fear negotiations with Iran will strengthen its regional influence. The US, however, acting according to its interests, is no longer capable of bearing the “cost of the empire”. The era of costly wars for the US is over as its economy has been terribly harmed by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Secondly, the visit must seek to “dot the I’s” with the US administration over the Western Sahara conflict. The US proposal to expand the UN mission’ mandate to human rights monitoring in the disputed territory means killing Morocco’s plan for self-governance within the Moroccan sovereignty, the writer suggested.

This proposal, if adopted, will take the conflict 20 years back because the Algerian-backed Polisario Front will cash in on the UN mission’s new powers to stimulate separatist cells at home. Once feeling protected by a UN umbrella, separatists will provoke Moroccan forces and these won’t be able to exercise restraint, causing the Sahara conflict to be further internationalised and eventually lead to the separation of more than half of the country.

The Moroccan monarch must hold clear talks with the Americans regarding their policy towards the region and the future of its stability, instead of them focusing solely on immediate interests of gas and oil contracts with Algeria.

Morocco must revisit its position towards the US strategy in the region. Granted, bilateral trade is not significant – foreign trade index does not exceed $2 billion per year and Morocco has no gas or oil, but the country must advance other trump cards: the strategic location at the confluence of Europe, Africa and the Arab world.

But before geography, Morocco must position itself as a country with an unwavering determination to build a democratic country, the writer said in conclusion.

US-Iran deal worries Syria and Hizbollah

The concern over the odds of a conciliation deal between the United States and Iran is not limited to the Gulf states, commented Abdul Rahman Al Rashed in yesterday’s edition of the pan-Arab newspaper Asharq Al Awsat.

The Syrian regime and Hizbollah are afraid as well. Israel, with all its influence in the US has voiced concern, too, the writer said.

The Gulf States are worried about a hasty solution between the Obama administration and Iran, one that gives Iran a free hand in return of halting its nuclear programme, or one that allows it to be nuclear with few restrictions that are detrimental to Gulf States, the columnist added.

The Syrian regime and Hizbollah are concerned for different reasons over the Geneva talks between Iran and six world powers. They fear Iran could sell them out on the negotiation table in return for keeping its military nuclear programme.

Abandoning Syria’s Al Assad regime will be Iran’s best proof that it is serious in its intent to change. Moreover, US President Barack Obama today will be able to convince the Congress of a conciliation deal with Iran only if it benefits Israel. Mr Obama, therefore, will need a vow from Iran to disarm Hizbollah as well, the writer argued.

Without these concessions, it is almost impossible the Congress will approve a conciliatory policy with Iran, according to the writer.

Kerry seeks to mend ties with new Egypt

The US inconsistent stance on Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood is a clear indication of its hesitant policy in the region, wrote Mazen Hammad, a columnist with the Qatari newspaper Al Watan.

The US secretary of state, John Kerry, on Wednesday accused the Brotherhood of having stolen the revolution that removed Hosni Mubarak in 2011.

Mr Kerry’s remarks were the second attempt by the US in two weeks to mend ties with Egyptian authorities that took power after Mohamed Morsi was removed from office in July.

Mr Kerry argued that the rising youth who sparked the 2011 revolution demanded freedom and change, rather than a desire for a greater role for religion in public life, adding that they sought a chance to get education, jobs and other things they were deprived of under the Mubarak regime.

Egypt’s new army-backed government should be pleased to hear Mr Kerry’s statement, which backtracked on Washington’s previous pro-Brotherhood stance. Yet it is very belated, coming only after Russia sealed a $2 billion arms deal with Egypt after the US halted delivery of F-16 fighter jets and Abrams tanks to Egypt.

Naturally, Mr Kerry’s remarks have angered the supporters of Mr Morsi who sought a power grip following the toppling of longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak.

* Digest compiled by Abdelhafid Ezzouitni