Le Figaro: Between Paris and Rabat, the reasons for a falling out that takes root

Tags : France, Morocco, Algeria, Western Sahara, Israel, Pegasus, spying, Moroccogate, bribery, corruption,

Pegasus affair, visa restrictions, Western Sahara: as the points of tension accumulate, the entourage of the King of Morocco denounces the « arrogance » of the French president.


MAGHREB It’s a deaf rupture that does not say its name. However, it has no equivalent under the reign of Mohammed VI. We must go back to the time of Hassan II and the Ben Barka affair, this opponent who disappeared and was assassinated in Paris, or to the release of Notre ami le roi, the devastating book on the former Cherifian monarch, to find traces in the story of such a severe estrangement between two partners supposed to maintain a privileged relationship. Unlike previous crises, the source of the conflict is not clearly identified.

Searching in Paris and Rabat for the origin of the diplomatic crisis between France and Morocco is like venturing into a game of treasure hunts with a route devoid of beacons. Clues are deliberately hidden, messages scrambled while the unsaid accumulate on both sides of the Mediterranean. “I recently met a French friend. He asked me: “What is the problem with you?” I said, « What’s wrong with you? » Everyone asked each other the question,” laughs a senior official of the Moroccan state apparatus on condition of anonymity. “There was a succession of badly experienced events and misunderstandings. We reacted according to codes of friendship with the feeling of betrayal, ”he continues. He wants to believe that the crisis is only cyclical.

In December, Paris tried to renew the dialogue. Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna went to Rabat to clear the ground. She announced the end of the French policy of restricting visas granted to Moroccan nationals. Without succeeding in unraveling the skein.
While France dispatched a new ambassador to Rabat, Christophe Lecourtier, a diplomat connoisseur of the kingdom and former director general of Business France, Mohammed VI terminated the functions of his representative in Paris without appointing a successor. Emmanuel Macron spoke on the angry subject at the end of February. While acknowledging « controversies », the French president displayed his « willingness to move forward with Morocco ». « The king knows it, we have had several discussions, there are personal relations which are friendly, » he said. Scathing, the development was not long in coming. « Relations are neither friendly nor good, any more between the two governments than between the Royal Palace and the Elysée », replied via Jeune Afrique an official source in Rabat.

It is true that since the Pegasus affair, the disputes have piled up like a millefeuille. The refusal to repatriate Moroccan nationals subject to an expulsion order led to the reduction by two of the visas granted by France. The rapprochement with Algeria was followed by a Moroccan raid on the conflict in Western Sahara, a territory annexed by Morocco and claimed by the Sahrawi separatists of the Polisario Front supported by Algiers. Then to “Marocgate”, this case of corruption in Brussels discovered in the wake of “Qatargate” was added the unprecedented vote of the European Parliament against Morocco. MEPs denounced the attacks on freedom of the press, a resolution initiated, according to Rabat, by Stéphane Séjourné, a close friend of Emmanuel Macron. Under fire from critics.

As for the personal relations between the president and the king, they are sluggish. The current, it seems, never really passed between the two heads of state. « They have no hooked atoms, » believes someone familiar with the Franco-Moroccan relationship. In 2017, during his first visit to the kingdom, the French president and his wife were nevertheless invited to a meal breaking the Ramadan fast offered by the king in his private residence, an attention reserved for close friends. And a few months later, the monarch took part, accompanied by his son, Prince Hassan then aged 14, in a working lunch at the Élysée on the occasion of the world climate summit. But these gestures of favor disappeared after the retirement of the influential French ambassador in Rabat, Jean-François Girault.

Already distant, the relationship between the two leaders is strained with the Pegasus affair. In July 2021, the journalist organization Forbidden Stories revealed that the mobile phones of tens of thousands of people around the world had been hacked by spyware sold to states by the Israeli company NSO, with the approval of the Hebrew government. . Once installed, the program accesses conversations, messages, data, images.

Morocco is believed to be one of the main users of the snitch. Emmanuel Macron, his Prime Minister Édouard Philippe and fourteen ministers of his government at the time and senior officials are on the list of targets. Just like French journalists or simple citizens supporting from near or far the cause of the Polisario Front.

The same is true in Spain, Algeria – the rival of the Cherifian kingdom – as well as in Morocco. In total, the list contains some 10,000 names. The Moroccan « services » led by Mohammed Yassine Mansouri and Abdellatif Hammouchi are singled out.

Emmanuel Macron convenes an exceptional Defense Council from which nothing filters, but the episode marks the president. For his part, Mohammed VI locks himself in denial. France is falling out with Israel and Morocco. The argument is silent, no doubt so as not to escalate it. It subsides with the seller of the snitch after four months, but persists with the presumed user for lack of having burst the abscess. “Israel has somehow made amends. He implicitly acknowledged his responsibility by asking for adjustments to the program. Morocco, for its part, has entered a dead end,” comments a diplomat who has closely followed the case. “What is the point of emphasizing this negative story which, if true, only puts the vulnerability of the French head of state on the table. And then after all,

While the French « services » are watching their Moroccan counterparts more than ever with suspicion, the judicial inquiries opened in France have reportedly failed to identify, through formal evidence, the sponsors of the rapes of correspondence. The kingdom’s lawyers, whose defamation complaints have been dismissed, denounce « an empty file ». Imaginative, they tried without success in Madrid to condemn the much listened to journalist Ignacio Cembrero for “bragging” by unearthing a text from the code of medieval Iberian law.

Without any apparent cause and effect relationship, the announcement by the French government in September 2021 of the reduction of visas for North African nationals has accentuated a latent crisis. The measure was intended to push the countries concerned to agree to issue laissez-passer to recover illegal migrants under deportation procedure (OQTF). During the first half of the year, France only managed to send home 80 of the 3,301 Moroccans with an OQTF. The restrictions have raised anger in a country whose nationals obtain the most French visas in the world. Applicants are forced to contact the Spanish and Italian consulates to enter the Schengen area and then on French soil. « We would have liked to accentuate the turbulence, we couldn’t do better », says a diplomat. Since the lifting of the measure, the OQTFs have resumed towards the Maghreb at a pace euphemistically described as “measured” by a French diplomat. As for Moroccan resentment, it is not fading. “Beyond the family and personal micro-dramas experienced by our compatriots, they wanted to punish us and infantilize us, they told us: “Go on, stay at home”. We attacked our elites, who are nevertheless very Francophiles, knowing that reciprocity was not possible since we are dependent on tourism,” the senior Moroccan official exclaimed. “Beyond the family and personal micro-dramas experienced by our compatriots, they wanted to punish us and infantilize us, they told us: “Go on, stay at home”. We attacked our elites, who are nevertheless very Francophiles, knowing that reciprocity was not possible since we are dependent on tourism,” the senior Moroccan official exclaimed. “Beyond the family and personal micro-dramas experienced by our compatriots, they wanted to punish us and infantilize us, they told us: “Go on, stay at home”. We attacked our elites, who are nevertheless very Francophiles, knowing that reciprocity was not possible since we are dependent on tourism,” the senior Moroccan official exclaimed.

In media circles, quick to relay the campaigns orchestrated by the royal palace and the security services, the watchword is on the offensive against a French president accused of all evils. Distinguished from the Legion of Honor « under Chirac », Hassan Alaoui, the director of Morocco Diplomatic has constantly denounced a president who « unlike his predecessors is in denial of a secular relationship » and maintains a relationship « vicious » with Morocco. For this author of a hagiography of Mohammed VI, a return to normal « is not for tomorrow » because of the « hostility », « arrogance » and « paternalistic spirit » of the head of the French state. He denounces the alliance of the « Algerian lie » and « Macronian Jupiterism ». « It is impossible to be on the side of Algeria and Morocco at the same time, » he says.

Considered by the kingdom as its Alsace-Lorraine, the « sacred » cause of Western Sahara took on new vigor after the recognition, by the American administration of Donald Trump, of the « Moroccanness » of the territory in exchange for the ratification by the Morocco of the Abraham Accords signed between Israel and Gulf countries. The palace believes that it has since gained momentum on this file. He intends to push the European countries to align themselves in turn with his positions. The Moroccan government won a first victory when Spain abandoned its support for the Polisario Front, resulting in the rupture of the friendship treaty between Madrid and Algiers. Morocco won its case by blackmailing Spain with immigration. Migrants were able to enter the Spanish enclave of Ceuta en masse or leave the mainland coasts to reach the Canary Islands, where the situation risked becoming unmanageable. Madrid is now in favor of the autonomy plan proposed by Rabat, which it considers « the most serious, realistic and credible basis for resolving the dispute ».

Buoyed by his success, Mohammed VI announced a paradigm shift during his annual throne speech last August. From now on, relations with the allied countries will be subordinated to their degree of allegiance to the royal theses on Western Sahara. The message was mainly intended for France. Paris was invited, without being quoted, to revise the doxa of its diplomacy on the inextricable conflict, the last of decolonization. “This type of speech lacks subtlety. What’s the point of saying things that wouldn’t change anything while adding fuel to the fire,” commented a French diplomat. In a balancing act, Paris defends a position of benevolent neutrality with regard to Morocco without departing from the framework of the United Nations and international law. France considers that the Moroccan plan is « a » solution,

The revival of Cherifian patriotism also requires a re-examination of history. The concept of “Eastern Sahara” is brought up to date. Maps are unearthed from the royal archives and Marshal Lyautey is called in to remind us that the current division of the borders betw een Morocco and Algeria is an artificial creation of the colonial system. “A monarchical nationalism is developing in the name of which we get angry with each other. With its projection in Africa and its phosphate, Morocco sees itself as an emerging power, able to free itself from French tutelage, analyzes Ali Amar, the boss of the online media Desk. He is convinced that he can reshuffle the cards around the sacred question of Western Sahara. Public opinion welcomes she is proud when Morocco hits the table and gets the scalp of American recognition of the territory from Trump. She wonders why France does not follow. »

Moroccan diplomacy still intends, in the name of its “particularism” in the Maghreb, to attach itself to Europe but on its own terms. A “Turkish strategy” which can turn out to be a double-edged sword.

Le Figaro, 10/04/2023

#Morocco #France #Macron #Algeria #Western_Sahara

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