Recognizing women’s rights as human rights is crucial for achieving equality, justice, and inclusive development. In Morocco’s rich history and diverse culture, the significance of gender equality cannot be overstated. As the nation faces crucial decisions in terms of human security and human rights, embracing gender equality aligns with noble goals and unlocks immense potential for a thriving and prosperous future.
Despite constitutional guarantees, gender disparities persist, affecting various aspects of Moroccan society. These issues are not solely a domestic concern; they also have implications for the country’s international image and relationships, especially in the context of its foreign policy and diplomatic efforts related to the Sahara issue.
Morocco’s foreign policy is intricately linked with the Sahara issue. The longstanding dispute over the territory has shaped the country’s diplomatic efforts and alliances, influencing how Morocco interacts with other nations. As Morocco navigates the complexities of this issue, it must also address the broader flaws in its current foreign policy approach.
The Sahara Issue: Shaping Moroccan Foreign Policy
The Sahara dispute dates back to colonial times when Spain withdrew from the region in 1975. This led to competing claims for sovereignty between Morocco and the Polisario Front, a Sahrawi rebel movement seeking self-determination for the Sahrawi people. Despite a cease-fire agreement in 1991, since 1976 over 200,000 individuals were displaced, around 100,000 were killed, and 5,000 Moroccan soldiers, 2,000 Mauritanian soldiers, 4,000 Polisario rebels, and 3,000 civilians lost their lives. The unresolved conflict has implications for regional stability and international relations.
Morocco asserts historical and legal ties to the Sahara, considering it an integral part of its territory. However, the Polisario Front insists on the right to self-determination for the Sahrawi people through the United Nations declaration 1966 calling for self-determination to be exercised through referendum. This fundamental conflict has hindered progress toward a lasting resolution.
The Sahara issue has shaped Morocco’s foreign policy priorities and engagements. To gain international recognition for its sovereignty claims, Morocco has strategically forged alliances with various countries such as the US, Israel, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain etc., seeking their support in regional and global forums. The complexity of this issue has at times led to tensions with other nations, such as Algeria. Algeria believes the Sahrawi territory belongs to the Polisario and accuses Morocco of illegal occupation, demanding international intervention as a “decolonization issue.” These tensions have significant geopolitical consequences for regional integration, growth, and development, while also causing human suffering for the Sahrawi people caught in the middle. Warfare with the Polisario led to large-scale population relocations between 1975 and 1991.
To bolster its position on the Sahara, Morocco has employed various diplomatic, economic, and strategic approaches. By showcasing its commitment to regional stability and economic development, Morocco aims to garner international support for its stance on the issue.
The Sahara dispute has not only strained relations with Algeria but also influenced Morocco’s interactions with other countries. The preoccupation with the Sahara issue has often overshadowed other critical diplomatic priorities, including the pursuit of human rights and intersectional justice, thus limiting the potential for broader collaboration, as elaborated below.
Morocco's Traditional Foreign Policy at the Crossroad
A. Tensions in Diplomatic Relations Due to the Sahara Issue
As Africa’s gateway to Europe for many migrants and asylum seekers, Morocco’s King Mohammed VI has used migration as bargaining chip in bilateral relations, particularly with Spain, to secure significant funds critical for the state’s fiscal balance .The EU allocated a total of 234 million EUR to Morocco for migration management as part of the National Strategy on Immigration and Asylum spanning from 2015 to 2021. This significant funding facilitated ongoing collaboration between Spain and Morocco on migration issues, resulting in heightened Moroccan naval patrols tasked with intercepting migrant boats. Additionally, in 2019, the EU earmarked an additional 101.7 million EUR, serving both as assistance to Morocco and as a strategic initiative aimed at curtailing the influx of migrants into EU territory. These allocations highlight a multi-year commitment and a specific measure taken in 2019 to address migration..
However, in 2021, Morocco-Spain relations soured when Spain offered medical treatment to Polisario leader Brahim Ghali, without informing Morocco. In response, Morocco loosened its border control, with resulted in an inflow of at least 8,000 migrants over the course of two days to Ceuta, one of the Spanish port cities in Morocco. Morocco accused Spain of supporting their enemy and lacking communication, while Spain blamed Morocco for using migrants to apply diplomatic pressure, gain leverage. The EU sided with Spain.
Another instance in which the Sahara issue severely impacted Morocco’s foreign policy was the normalization of diplomatic relations between Morocco and Israel, in exchange for Trump’s recognition of Moroccan sovereignty over the Sahara territory. On December 22, 2020, Morocco, Israel, and the United States signed a joint agreement committing to recognizing Moroccan sovereignty over the disputed Sahara territory and supporting Morocco’s autonomy proposal as the basis for resolving the Sahara problem.
B. Overemphasis on Militarization and Defense Spending
While national security can be vital, excessive militarization and defense spending have diverted resources from social development. Redirecting funds from defense to social welfare programs can create a more balanced and inclusive society by addressing issues such as inequality. Implementing a Feminist Foreign Policy (FFP) has the potential to advocate for reducing militarization efforts, shifting the focus towards diplomatic and peaceful solutions, particularly in the Sahara conflict. FFP aims to foster enduring peace by recalibrating priorities, redirecting resources to diplomacy and social welfare programs, and promoting a more balanced and inclusive society. It is evident that FFP transcends the realm of mere policy, assuming the role of a transformative catalyst that prompts a recalibration of priorities—redirecting resources towards diplomacy and social welfare programs, thereby fostering the emergence of a more balanced and inclusive society.
From the viewpoint of the Moroccan government, the conflict requires a large number of soldiers, with around 130,000 guarding the berms equipped with advanced electronic surveillance gear. While the exact costs of security expenses connected to the conflict are difficult to measure, it’s estimated that the Sahara conflict receives about half of Morocco’s military budget, which has been increasing in recent years. In 2021, Morocco was listed among the top 10 countries with the highest military spending as a share of gross domestic product. The 2022 draft finance bill allocated $12.8 billion for the military, increasing by 4.604 billion since 2021, and 5.0 billion in 2022. Morocco disputes the notion of an “economic cost” in the Sahara, considering all funds spent there as an investment .
Morocco’s traditional foreign policy approach has placed a heavy emphasis on safeguarding territorial integrity, but insufficient attention has been given to human security. Prioritizing the well-being and safety of individuals, especially vulnerable communities, should be central to foreign policy considerations.
C. Failure to Fully Commit to Internationally Ratified Treaties
Morocco acknowledges international law’s importance but limits its application to preserve national identity. It has selectively ratified international treaties, not fully implementing some. Important conventions on social security and gender equality remain unratified. Morocco adopted UN Resolution 1325 but didn’t ratify essential conventions against violence towards women, like the Rome Statute and Istanbul Convention.
A consistent commitment to fulfilling international obligations is crucial for establishing trust and collaboration with other nations. Morocco’s unwavering dedication to upholding global norms, particularly regarding human rights, is demonstrated through meticulous compliance with ratified treaties. This commitment not only enhances Morocco’s global reputation but also directly benefits its citizens by creating an environment that promotes their well-being and rights. Consequently, it strengthens the foundation of a more equitable, just, and inclusive society.
Advocating for a Moroccan Feminist Foreign Policy
A FFP places intersectional justice, inclusivity, and human rights at its core. By adopting a feminist lens to its foreign (and ideally also internal) policy, Morocco can actively challenge patriarchal norms, foster inclusiveness, and effectively address the unique needs and concerns of marginalized communities. A Moroccan FFP would not only promote intersectional justice and human rights but also prioritize diplomatic and peaceful solutions while acknowledging the unique concerns and voices of marginalized communities in the Sahara region.
As an African Feminist activist, I stress the importance of being cautious when incorporating the term “feminism” into discussions of foreign policy, given its historical associations with colonization, imperialism, and the exploitation of African labor and resources. This necessitates a comprehensive review and rigorous analysis. It’s crucial to recognize that “Western feminist foreign policy” should not be portrayed as a savior for African countries. Instead, we can view it as a framework applicable in certain contexts while remaining mindful of the gaps it maintains and the uncomfortable omissions it perpetuates—omissions that often align with our priorities. “African feminisms propose a decolonial way of thinking about domestic and foreign policy, situated within a broader vision of a new FFP that is anti-imperialist and centres marginalised communities’ social and economic well-being and prioritises human security and dignity.” At the heart of feminism lies the imperative to dismantle power structures. It’s vital to challenge and hold hegemonic powers accountable, particularly in instances where foreign policy disregards critical matters like racial justice. Srilatha Batliwala writes that “understanding power in terms of both power structures and power relations is very important for anyone working for social change; and poses these reflections, what it is (our definitions of power), where it is what it looks like, what are its causes or sources (factors that create power structures and the mechanisms that sustain it. Without challenging the white supremacist-colonial-patriarchal power, FFP is another trend that promises liberation for the most marginalized people but does little to nothing to change the material conditions of those most affected by systems of oppression and hegemony.”
Therefore, I propose the following recommendations for the enactment of a Moroccan feminist foreign policy:
A. Addressing the Flaws in Morocco’s Foreign Policy Through a Feminist Lens
B. Prioritizing Human Rights and the Needs of Marginalized Communities
C. Challenging Patriarchal Norms and Promoting Inclusivity
And that starts by :
A. Establishing a Task Force
Create a dedicated task force with civil society and government representatives to assess policies and implement gender-responsive strategies.
B. Rethinking Security and Resource Allocation
Shift focus from territorial security to human security by reallocating resources to healthcare, education, poverty alleviation, and infrastructure development, benefiting vulnerable communities. . This involves reevaluating defense spending and reallocating resources to social welfare programs.
C. Advocating for Gender Equality Internationally
Engage in international forums to promote women’s rights and collaborate with like-minded nations to advance gender equality globally. By forging partnerships, sharing best practices, and collectively advocating for change, Morocco can play a pivotal role in driving concrete advancements in the realm of intersectional justice within the international arena.
D. Strengthening Treaty Commitment
Fully commit to and implement international treaties on human rights and gender equality, including ratifying important treaties like the ICCPR, ICCPR-OP1, Istanbul Convention, Rome Statute, CESCR-OP, and CRC-OP-IC, demonstrating dedication to global justice and equality.
The path forward: A Foreign Policy that works for all.
Building Moroccan FFP and African feminist narratives on FFP as a contribution to the glaring absence of African voices in those spaces could significantly improve equality, justice, peace, and prosperity in Morocco. A Moroccan FFP would help shed light on the country’s main issues by putting its efforts, resources and focus on challenges that take into consideration fragile and people in need. The need to overcome the patriarchal and traditional sovereign Foreign Policy is needed to help Morocco with its other issues and work toward its unity, peace and security by dismantling male dominance, moving away from military security and focusing more on a human rights approach. Shifting to a Feminist Foreign Policy must not stop at the foreign ministry alone to encompass the entire government. This approach involves identifying vulnerable groups, integrating their needs into foreign policy strategies, and collaborating internationally to enhance global safety and equity.
This article was written by:
Chaïmae Ribani, fellow with CFFP from July-September 2023 within the CrossCulture Programm by ifa – Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen.