France buries hatchet with Morocco after diplomatic row

France buries hatchet with Morocco after diplomatic row
Analysis: In the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo attack, France has taken the initiative to repair its damaged relations with Morocco.
4 min read
12 February, 2015
France needs Morocco's cooperation, especially on security matters [Anadolu]
The meeting held between President Francois Hollande and Moroccan King Mohammed VI on 9 February has gone some way towards repairing the damage caused by a string of diplomatic incidents over the past year.

The official statement issued by the Elysee Palace after the meeting stated that Franco-Moroccan relations were back on track, and that tensions between Rabat and Paris were over.

This reconciliation comes after a tempestuous year, during which France launched scathing attacks on a number of Moroccan officials, reportedly culminating in France summoning Abdellatif Hammouchi, the head of Morocco's DGST domestic intelligence service, for interrogation by the French judiciary in Paris.

Bilateral relations hit rock bottom after Salaheddine Mezouar, minister of foreign affairs, was forced to take off his shoes, jacket and belt at Charles de Gaulle Airport while on a stopover from Morocco to The Hague.
Rabat told Paris it was not ready to compromise its 'diplomatic dignity' by sending an official to join the Charlie Hebdo march.

The then-French foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, failed to contain the repercussions of the incident, even though his ministry issued an apology in the name of the French government.

Rabat refused to send an official to join the Charlie Hebdo march.

An alternative course?

The Moroccan king's private visit to Turkey last month fuelled concerns that Morocco was attempting a strategic realignment of its foreign relations.

At the peak of the row between the two countries, the Moroccan justice minister, Mustafa Ramid, visited the French capital, where he met his French counterpart, Christiane Taubira. During the meeting, the two sides are understood to have discussed ways to reactivate and expand existing judicial cooperation agreements.

Ramid's successful visit coincided with an announcement by the palace that the king would make a private visit to Paris. This was followed by the appearance of Princess Lalla Meryem in a ceremony held at the Arab World Institute in Paris, in the presence of the French prime minister, Manuel Valls. The meeting between the king and Hollande was the climax of a rapid rehabilitation of relations.

The statement issued at the end of the meeting underlined the determination of "the king of Morocco and the president of France to work together to combat all forms of terrorism and fully cooperate in the security field".

This is the essence of the issue, especially after the Charlie Hebdo incident and subsequent French press commentary indicating the attack would not have happened had there been effective Moroccan-French intelligence cooperation at the time.

Invaluable experience

Rabat has a great deal of experience combating armed groups, dating back to the dismantling of the Atlas-Asni cell in 1994, which attacked a tourist facility in Marrakech.

There were also sleeper cells that emerged after the 16 May 2003 attacks in Casablanca and finally, the bombing of the Argana cafe in 2011, in which 16 people, Moroccans and foreigners, were killed and a number of others injured.

France sees Morocco as its backyard, and an entry point to Africa, which it cannot afford to give up or leave to its rivals.

This chapter of the French-Moroccan diplomatic row is over, now that the two countries have restored security cooperation and reactivated judicial cooperation agreements, including those for extradition.

This indicates that Moroccan pressure successfully led to a breakthrough with the French political bloc hostile to Rabat, and it shows that France cannot afford to give up its strategic interests in north Africa.

Pundits believe France sees Morocco as its backyard, and an entry point to Africa, which it cannot afford to give up or leave to its rivals.

As part of the revival of this political dynamism, bilateral ministerial relations are expected to intensify in the near future in preparation for a high-level meeting between the two governments.

The royal palace's displeasure with France has been a constant since the era of the late King Hassan II; however, it never reached the point of estrangement. After every transient period of tension, relations quickly warmed up; this latest estrangement is following that pattern.

This is an edited translation from our Arabic edition.