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Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Morocco: Current Issues

Alexis Arieff
Analyst in African Affairs

King Mohammed VI retains supreme political power in Morocco, but has taken some liberalizing steps with uncertain effects. In 2011, following popular demonstrations that echoed unrest elsewhere in the region, the king proposed a new constitution that may provide greater independence to the Prime Minister, the legislature, and the judiciary. It was overwhelmingly approved in a public referendum. The moderate Islamist Justice and Development Party (PJD) is leading the government for the first time after winning a plurality of seats in November 2011 legislative elections. While the party has been legally recognized for two decades, its leaders continue to grapple with their transition from outsider opposition status to the day-to-day responsibilities of running the government amid an economic downturn and responding to vast and divided expectations. The PJD’s campaign promises to crack down on corruption and cronyism may also place it on a collision course with pro-palace elites. Protests have dwindled since their apogee in early 2011, but sporadic demonstrations continue over economic grievances, and some activists continue to call for deeper changes to the political system.

The U.S. government views Morocco as an important ally against terrorism and as a free trade partner. Congress appropriates foreign assistance funding for Morocco for counterterrorism and socioeconomic development, including in support of a five-year, $697.5 million Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) compact agreed to in 2007. Congress also reviews and authorizes Moroccan purchases of U.S. defense articles. U.S. officials have expressed support for Morocco’s political reform efforts while reiterating strong support for the monarchy.

Morocco’s approach to countering terrorism involves security measures, economic reforms, education, international cooperation, and control of religious outlets. Morocco experienced devastating terrorist attacks in 2003, and Moroccan nationals have been implicated in attacks and plots overseas. Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), a regional criminal-terrorist network, has not mounted a successful attack in Morocco. However, individual Moroccans have joined AQIM outside of the country and the group has reportedly attempted to use Moroccan territory as a transit point for regional smuggling operations.

Morocco’s human rights record is uneven. A number of abuses have been documented along with constraints on freedom of expression. At the same time, the 2004 Family Code is a significant initiative that could improve the socioeconomic rights of women if fully implemented. The king has also sought to provide a public record of abuses perpetrated before he ascended the throne in 1999 and to enhance the rights of ethnic Berbers (Amazigh/Imazighen), the original inhabitants of the region. In 2010, questions about religious freedom arose when foreign Christians were expelled for illegal proselytizing, sparking criticism by some Members of Congress.

Morocco’s foreign policy focuses largely on France, Spain, and the United States. The country is currently serving a two-year stint as a non-permanent member of the U.N. Security Council. Relations with Algeria are troubled by the unresolved dispute over the Western Sahara, a territory that Morocco largely occupies and views as an integral part of its national territory. Algeria supports the POLISARIO Front in its quest for the region’s self-determination. Relations between Morocco and Israel are strained, though some 600,000 Moroccan Jews are citizens of Israel. Morocco severed diplomatic ties with Iran in 2009, and was invited to join the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) in May 2011. See also CRS Report RS20962, Western Sahara, by Alexis Arieff.

Date of Report: June 20, 2012
Number of Pages: 23
Order Number: RS21579
Price: $29.95

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