Mohamed Alaoui: Time Macron came clean over Western Sahara


French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna’s recent visit to Morocco and her announcement of the decision to re-issue visas to Moroccans may be an encouraging start towards ending the months-long silent crisis between Rabat and Paris, where visas were part of the problem.

However, Morocco is waiting for an advanced position from Paris regarding the issue of the Moroccan Sahara, as Paris has for long been reluctant to declare its support for Morocco, in line with the positions of the United States, Spain and Germany.

Paris still clings to a vague policy of procrastination instead of opting for a serious and effective approach to the issue of the Kingdom’s territorial integrity.

French President Emmanuel Macron sent his foreign minister to Rabat, and at the same time he dispatched Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin to Algeria, and made a phone call to his Algerian counterpart, Abdelmadjid Tebboune. This indicates that France is still betting on the element of time as a means of pressure, and intends to continue to tread this very path with Morocco.

Conditions are ripe today, in fact better than a year ago, for France to make a bold leap. The geopolitical juncture is particularly conducive to introducing profound changes, if the Elysee Palace is ready to consider unconventional ideas in dealing with Morocco.

Three days after the French foreign minister announced the end of the visa crisis with Morocco, Darmanin announced, during his visit to Algeriers where he met with President Abdelmadjid Tebboune, the end of the French visa crisis with Algeria and the resumption of normal consular operations, which means the return of these operations to their pace before the COVID-19 pandemic.

On the sidelines of the Francophone Summit held in Tunisia last month, Macron defended the reduction of the number of visas issued to Algerian and Moroccan nationals by 50%, and expressed the belief that restrictions on French visas were bearing fruit. His statement is however contradicted by the new realities taken into consideration by both the French ministers of interior and foreign affairs.

The end of the visa crisis with Algeria and the resumption of normal consular relations between the two countries is maybe convincing for the Algerian leadership, but it does not end Morocco’s crisis with Paris.

The visa crisis, through which Paris put pressure on Morocco, did not yield the expected results.

Moroccan Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita did not enthusiastically comment on his French counterpart’s announcement of the return to the status quo ante. He pointed out that Morocco had refrained from officially commenting on the French unilateral decision to cut the number of visas as it considered it  a sovereign decision by France.

Macron’s policy with regard to Morocco is based on flawed input from close advisors while Rabat has come a long way in making many countries grasp the notion that the Sahara issue is an integral part of Moroccan national security, in all its political, security, military and economic dimensions.

French decision makers need to fathom this fact and build on their future positions. Morocco no longer accepts France’s wavering in this regard. It sees any attempt to exert pressure by whatever means as a waste of time.

Catherine Colonna mentioned the need to “reactivate cooperation mechanisms” between the two countries. But she did explain what method, priorities or road map she would follow to clear the path for new forms of cooperation.

There is nothing new here. The French foreign minister did not say anything different from France’s usually vague discourse regarding the Sahara. Paris says that its position has not changed. When one looks closely at this position, expressed by Paris more than once, one finds a tendency to avoid saying, from near or far, that the autonomy plan presented by Morocco is the only basis for ending the conflict in the Sahara.

There has been repeated talk of a coming visit to Morocco by President Emmanuel Macron. The French foreign minister reaffirmed from Rabat that the visit is scheduled for the first quarter of next year 2023. We believe that Macron wants to convince Morocco of what he already told the European leaders’ meeting in Prague about their need to work on a type of “strategic conversation” to overcome divisions and start new projects.

But Morocco is not ready to listen to Macron’s abstract speeches, which are not followed by tangible moves based on clear and actionable political and economic principles. Also, the kingdom’s officials are no longer interested in picture opportunities which are misconstrued as substitutes for agreements that serve Morocco’s economic and strategic interests.


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