Analyst in African Affairs
Successive U.S. Administrations have viewed Morocco as an important regional ally, as a partner in counterterrorism, and as a free trade counterpart. Morocco receives substantial U.S. development aid, and bilateral trade and investment have increased following a 2006 Free Trade Agreement. Morocco benefits from U.S. security assistance and military cooperation, and is a purchaser of U.S. defense articles, including F-16 jets. New emphasis may be placed on the U.S.- Morocco relationship amid regional turmoil and growing terrorist threats emanating from neighboring states in North Africa and the nearby Sahel region of West Africa.
King Mohammed VI, who inherited the Moroccan throne in 1999, retains supreme political power but has taken some liberalizing steps. In 2011, amid popular demonstrations that echoed unrest elsewhere in the region, the king proposed a new constitution that, if fully implemented, could strengthen the legislature, judiciary, and local-level government. It nonetheless preserves the king’s role as an arbiter of political decision-making, head of the military, and the country’s highest religious authority. The constitution was adopted in a public referendum in July 2011, but the implementation process has been slow and opaque. Legislative elections held in 2011, under the new constitution, brought an Islamist political party, the Justice and Development Party (PJD), to power for the first time. The PJD has sought to bolster the power of elected officials and to institute economic and governance reforms. However, the party has faced challenges in transitioning from an outsider opposition role to the day-to-day responsibility of policymaking. It has also struggled to overcome tensions with pro-palace elites, as well as with nominal allies. Protests have dwindled since their apogee in 2011, but sporadic demonstrations continue over economic and social grievances, while some continue to call for deeper political changes.
Obama Administration officials have expressed strong support for the Moroccan monarchy, while also encouraging political reforms and occasionally voicing human rights concerns. Despite longterm, warm ties, the U.S.-Morocco relationship was briefly troubled in April 2013 by U.S. support at the U.N. Security Council for U.N. human rights monitoring in the disputed territory of Western Sahara. Morocco administers most of Western Sahara and considers it an integral part of its sovereign territory. The United States has recognized neither Morocco’s claim to the region, nor the self-declared independent Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), which is backed and hosted by Algeria. The region’s status remains subject to U.N. mediation efforts. (See CRS Report RS20962, Western Sahara, by Alexis Arieff.) Relevant draft legislation includes H.R. 2855 and S. 1372.
Morocco’s foreign policy focuses on its Western partners (especially France, Spain, the European Union, and the United States); the Middle East; and, to some extent, francophone Africa. Morocco is also completing a two-year stint as a rotating member of the U.N. Security Council. Neighboring Algeria is a regional rival and supports independence for Western Sahara. Friction over the Western Sahara issue has stymied Moroccan-Algerian relations, Moroccan relations with the African Union (Morocco withdrew in 1984 over recognition of Western Sahara), and regional economic and security cooperation.
Date of Report: October 18, 2013
Number of Pages: 20
Order Number: RS21579
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