To Smooth the Storm, Morocco Pushes On

Articles, favorable and not, continually assess Morocco’s strategic responses to the Arab Uprisings, which King Mohammed VI took on head first by quickly promoting a new Constitution (2011); holding elections for a new Parliament to be led by the party with the most seats, in this case the Islamic-oriented Justice and Development Party (PJD); and speaking out often about the need for more citizen participation in the affairs of government. He has also reiterated his commitment to better education outcomes, more equitable economic development, and greater personal and institutional freedoms (e.g., for the media and the judiciary).

Those who defend the regime say this process began with the installation in the late 1990s of an opposition leader as Prime Minister and awareness by King Hassan II, the current King’s father, that unchallenged royal “business as usual” would not survive another decade. They blame the slow pace of change on the birthing pains of a parliamentary democracy, where every current has the ability to prolong debate and question ministers.

Critics of the regime, both Moroccan and otherwise, are of two minds—either the government has been co-opted and still remains too friendly to the royal palace, slowing down needed reforms, or it is a conspiracy in which a slow pace maintains stability and reforms that threaten existing power centers are stalled. They point to the level of human rights abuses, negative government responses to criticism at home and abroad, and lack of large-scale job creation as indicators of failures.

The reality fluctuates between “the government is beholden to the palace and won’t rock the boat” and “the King is a visionary who supports, and indeed calls for, more progress than is being made.” Realistically, the question is: what can Morocco do and what is the reality behind its moderate and mostly successful leadership in the region?

A difficult yet necessary point of departure are the redlines in Moroccan discourse: the monarchy, territorial integrity (read: the Western Sahara/South/Southern Provinces), and Islam. Negative comments on any of these issues have led to bloggers being jailed, newspapers being fined and harassed, and strong criticism levied by government spokespersons.

How does Morocco’s handling of these core topics contribute to understanding the debate around the country’s progress?

Let’s begin with the monarchy. The King still is the symbolic and real leader in military, political, and religious affairs. But the new constitution gave real powers to the Parliament, which is still evolving as an institutional force. Intense debate and discourse take place, and the media follows and stokes partisans on all sides of the issues. So while Parliament might only get a grade of C+ or C-, it is far more decisive than similar bodies in any of its neighbors.

Which brings us to the Sahara. Morocco remains steadfast in its claim to the South, committing billions of dollars to its development in the next 10 years. Some observers note a level of heightened security, some even call it excessive, when it comes to dealing with outsiders such as human rights organizations, left-wing European politicians, and NGOs with similar orientations. This is a difficult challenge for the government, which is working to balance safeguarding freedoms of speech and assembly with progress in implementing regionalization.

Islam is a special category in Morocco’s heritage. As a descendent of the Prophet Muhammed, the King has special obligations towards the religion. In response to critics who challenge the King’s religious role, one could ask: Would they prefer an Iranian or Saudi-style religious domain? The King’s promotion of Maliki Islam’s moderate principles throughout Africa and elsewhere, his exemplary handling of issues regarding the Jewish heritage of Morocco, and his continued interest in the status of Jerusalem are only some of Morocco’s assets when it comes to Islam.

Much has been made of Morocco’s imam and mourchidates training programs to counter violent extremism and the King’s promotion of women’s rights. Using Islam as a touchstone for Morocco’s progress illustrates the King’s awareness of the sensitive ground on which he is treading.

Morocco has much to offer, not as a model, but as a workshop in which democratic and social development challenges are being articulated, refined, and implemented. How it succeeds, in light of both external and internal obstacles, depends largely on the King’s ability to inspire Parliament and the Moroccan people to adopt progressive steps that enhance and enable the future. If Parliament takes advantage of the constitution and gradually builds an institutional foundation for government, and political parties mature as issue-driven entities, Morocco will succeed where others are failing.

Morocco Continues to Polish Its Green Credentials

Unique Partnerships for a “Greener” Morocco

Thanks to a State Department-funded program, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, better known as Virginia Tech, and a Moroccan NGO – the Industrial Cluster for Environmental Services (CISE) — have developed a partnership that won a contract to promote “green” entrepreneurship” in Morocco. The background to the relationship is quite interesting. Selma Elouardighi, born and raised in Rabat, came to Tech’s School of Public and International Affairs in August 2010 as a PhD student in Planning, Globalization and Governance. As she tells it, “My research interests centered on corporate environmental responsibility…and I decided to focus my work on the transfer of environmental best practices from developed to developing countries.”

Her key findings were that environmental best practices (EBP) are most effectively adapted when market pressures engage corporations and their supply chains. “Networking, which often leads to the identification and capitalization of synergistic opportunities between various firms, is an important facilitator of a systematic adoption of EBP.” Selma decided that the best way forward in Morocco was to set up CISE, an association of producers and consumers of environmental services and technologies.

As Selma puts it, “CISE provides a platform for sharing of best practices and partnership development between various constituencies [companies, public sector, higher education and research institutions, and environmental NGOs] to collectively pave the path for cleaner production and corporate environmental responsibility…and aims to promote research activity…and an incubator for green enterprise.”

Both sides play critical roles in CISE. The producers, by attracting more members from the industrial sectors, increase the spread of Morocco’s green programs. Consumers of these services help identify the technologies needed in the market, which help set priorities for producers and at the CISE incubator for environmental projects. CISE sees itself, eventually, as a bridge between academia and industry in that university facilities “serve as R&D labs for small and medium sized enterprises,” which in turn work with graduate and doctoral students to bring their innovations to market.

After registering CISE in Morocco in June 2014, Selma reached out to her colleagues at Virginia Tech and found a professor who was trying to start an educational program with Morocco. After some discussions, they agreed to collaborate. Michael Mortimer, Director and Senior Fellow at the Center for Leadership in Global Sustainability (GLiGS) at Virginia Tech College of Natural Resources and Environment became that counterpart for CISE. Always on the lookout for broadening the school’s international ties, he was already developing programs in China, India, South Africa, Turkey, Indonesia, and now Morocco.

When he saw a State Department request for proposal to fund a “Green Entrepreneurship” project in Morocco, the collaboration with CISE became a viable entry point for a joint proposal, which won the grant competition. CISE then engaged its stakeholders to identify the value chains in recycling and energy efficiency that appeared to be priorities. These included recycling of used oil, used tires, dangerous/toxic wastes, plastics, construction waste, and fish waste, with energy efficiency of construction materials also targeted. Requests for proposals were then sent to entrepreneurs throughout Morocco to identify strategies for how they would create green projects in these areas or others.

Those whose proposals are chosen will receive funding and support from business coaches who will work with the entrepreneurs and monitor their progress. The coaches are professors working in entrepreneurship at HEM, the highest-rated business school in Morocco and a CISE partner.

An interesting feature of the GLiGS program is that all graduate students must spend at least 10 days abroad conducting research. As Professor Mortimer said, it is a “marvelous opportunity” for students to learn about challenges in other countries and give back to the hosts by undertaking case studies or other small-scale projects. Since the Tech graduate students are professionals who have work experience, this means that they bring their expertise to bear on environmental and health-related issues in the host country.

World Bank Steps Up, Again

After, the international conference on climate change COP21 finished up its work in Paris last year, it passed the challenge of delivering global consensus on a way forward to COP22 — to be held in Morocco this coming November. And Morocco is relishing the challenge. The King has already appointed a senior-level task force to manage the logistics and agenda-building for COP22, and members have been holding meetings with their counterparts in many countries to move the agenda forward.

Not content to just be a great host, Morocco, with the help of its partners, is ramping up its concrete commitments to reduce emissions through a variety of projects, which, in addition to the Virginia Tech-CISE partnership, are playing a role in promoting a sustainable green environment in Morocco.

The World Bank, through several of its funding mechanisms, is supporting a major recycling project that aims to ramp up the rate of recycled materials from 5% today to 20% by 2022, while giving employment to waste-pickers and providing greatly improved working conditions including health care, access to a bank account, regular wages, and housing support.

Another World Bank project supports the sustainability of agriculture, tourism, and fisheries by promoting, for example, better groundwater management practices, soil conservation, improved information for farmers, and preservation of fish stocks; at the same time it encourages the diversification of employment “through the promotion of industries that have less negative impact on the environment, such as eco-tourism and aquaculture.”

These projects, funded by donor organizations, demonstrate that Morocco is deeply engaged on its COP21 commitments as well as its energy use goals for 2020 and beyond. By partnering with fund sources, NGOs, and the private sector, Morocco is opening opportunities for entrepreneurs and workers to find new opportunities in “Green” Morocco.


Nizar Baraka Details how “Advanced Regionalization” is Advancing Democracy in Morocco

Plan for the Sahara only the Beginning for Empowering All Moroccans

At a recent roundtable discussion in Washington, DC, The Honorable Nizar Baraka, former Minister of Finance and Economy, who serves as president of the Economic, Social, and Environmental Council (CESE) in Morocco, provided his analysis of the regionalization program being rolled out in Morocco, and how this is already changing the political space in the country.

Mr. Baraka began by reviewing the CESE process for developing the first study of “the South” (the Saharan provinces), which included public hearings with testimony from some 1500 people as well as dozens of studies prepared by experts, which resulted in recommendations for extensive restructuring of local government and a robust economic development strategy. He explained that what is being done in the South is the beginning of “advanced regionalization” for all of Morocco.

He believes this is part of the implementation of shared decision-making and devolution of power promised in the 2011 Constitution. Mr. Baraka emphasized that the credibility of regionalization will only become real when citizens participate in local decision-making that affects their daily lives.

For example, the Parliament (Chamber of Deputies) is currently debating bills that give Civil Society the capacity to submit proposals and petitions directly to Parliament.

There is great economic disparity among the regions in Morocco, he explained. For example, 52% of Morocco’s GDP is produced in four regions, while 53% of its doctors practice in two regions. Similarly, the rate of joblessness in the South is twice the national average. Baraka insists that the direct election of the region’s presidents (the highest locally elected officials), and the five-fold increase in budgets for regional development are strong incentives for citizens to be more involved in local affairs.

So the CESE efforts have focused on how the government can create an environment for greater political responsiveness, and part of this campaign is a new economic development model for the region based on public-private partnerships. This includes large-scale investments in diversifying the economy, a new university focused on local needs, particular attention to conservation, and positioning the Sahara as a gateway to sub-Saharan Africa.

Economic Diversity to Drive Economic Growth

The Sahara is well poised for economic growth. Its GDP is 60% higher than the national average, but some 30% of that is generated by government programs. So the strategy going forward is to deeply engage the private sector to increase investments and jobs. One critical target is to diversify the local economy while protecting the environment. The focus is on empowering individuals to more fully participate in the economy; for example, raising the rate of women in the workforce from a woeful 14% to at least the national average of 25%, and doubling the number of employed youth..

Sectors slated for diversification include fishing, aquaculture, value-added farming, renewable energies, downstream phosphate industries, and eco-tourism. Plans have been finalized for a local university focusing on the needs of the region, including professional development of medical personnel, educators, managers, and lawyers; tourism and hospitality; and research and development supporting local industries. Given that the South’s literacy rate is already 20% higher than the national average, targeted efforts to build on their capabilities through focused programs of higher education should reap short and long term benefits, in terms of jobs and meeting future employer needs.

Conserving the environment is also a prime consideration, especially well water, which is overused. Desalination, reuse of gray water, greater efficiency of energy utilization, treatment regulations for well water, a new dam, and a comprehensive campaign to preserve the eco-system in the Bay of Dakhla are the headline items in this effort.

Looking at both the supply side, which pushes the growth of the local economy, and the demand side, which is the pull of market needs, Africa is the obvious market. Building a new expressway from Agadir to Dakhla onwards to Mauritania and Senegal, high speed digital connectivity, expanded port facilities, and the export of solar power along an interconnected grid are all in the plans for the next 10 years. It is anticipated that 75% of the targeted $10 billion of investment will come from national government public-private sector partnerships, while the regional governments will contribute the remaining 25%. The goal of these efforts is to create 120,000 jobs and cut unemployment in half.

Mr. Baraka provided discussed other plans underway, which he believes will create a seismic shift in how citizens see their roles in relation to the government. Empowering proactive, engaged, and contributing citizens is the core mission of advanced regionalization, which will require a different mix of incentives in Morocco’s different regions. The most important impact, according to him, is that the political space in Morocco has changed forever. This is clear in viewing the evolving role of the media and civil society, debates in Parliament over legislative initiatives, and the pressure on political parties to restructure their governance to reflect issues and priorities. More importantly, advanced regionalization will continue this process and move Morocco towards its goal of a new social compact based on engagement and respect.

A Competition of Successful Student Initiatives for Countering Violent Extremism Previewed at State Department Showcase

The “Peer 2 Peer (P2P): Challenging Extremism” project, launched in spring 2015, is based on the premise that empowering student “experts” in reaching their peers was a critical strategy in efforts to combat extremist propaganda. The idea was simple – create a competition in which “Teams were tasked with developing campaigns and social media strategies against extremism that were credible, authentic, and believable to their peers and resonated within their communities,” according to the program brochure. Last week we saw the results of the second P2P competition.

Who better to build this program than EdVenture Partners (EVP), which has been developing innovative industry-education partnership programs for more than 26 years? Their programs provide students with hands-on experience in finding solutions to real-world challenges. In fact, it was EVP that developed the “Brand Morocco” competition, which brought together schools in North America and Morocco to design marketing campaigns aimed at US companies to promote key sectors in Morocco.

As the danger of extremists manipulating social media to attract youth and the vulnerable has become a major concern of governments and NGOs, the need for a multifaceted counter-narrative became apparent. EVP, with its network of more than 800 schools, worked with several US government agencies to shape the P2P campaign, and it has been growing exponentially, attracting high visibility corporate partners such as Facebook. This year, teams from 45 universities in 17 different countries participated; the target for next semester is more than 100 universities in up to 40 countries.

How it Works

Working with their professors, student teams immerse themselves in the project casebook that is full of details on how to proceed, information on the project’s objectives, and the anticipated end product. The teams then undertake research to define and better understand their target market and build a social media strategy to reach out and influence their peers.

Students receive a budget to produce an actual campaign, implement it, and measure the initial results – all within one semester. A key criterion is that the campaign can be duplicated and utilized elsewhere, so sustainability and scalability are critical.

The fall 2015 finalists were: Lahore University of Management Sciences, Lahore, Pakistan; the US Military Academy at West Point, New York; and the Università della Svizzera italiana in Lugano, Switzerland. Honorable mentions included Alfaisal University in Saudi Arabia; New York University; Rochester Institute of Technology; University College London in the UK; University of California, Los Angeles; the University of Cincinnati; and the University of New Mexico.

And the Winners Are!

The team from Lahore won first prize on the back of their FATE campaign. FATE is short for “From Apathy to Empathy,” focusing on the dangers of people become inured to violence when it is so overwhelming and part of their daily lives. Using their own country as the baseline, the students outlined the dangers of apathy across several dimensions, including weakening of religious tolerance, lack of awareness of options to counter violence in their communities, and the dehumanization of victims, who are treated as numbers.

The work they undertook was incredibly diverse and demanding: focus groups, media advertising, outreach to local schools and universities in Pakistan and the region, engaging experts, and mobilizing social media. You can check out their Facebook link at for more details and descriptions of their outcomes to date. They also developed several hashtags, including #challengeextremism – which is a virtual poster campaign — and #notjustanumber – aimed at students. An arts component has also been developed along with partnership with NGOs and other universities. With close to a half a million impressions on Facebook, reaching 380,000 people with close to 15,000 likes, they are off to a tremendous start.

The team of cadets from West Point, who came in second, had an innovative approach to reaching out to the target populations – attract them directly through social media using #Let’sTalkJihad. The campaign creates a home where young, restless, and searching youth can find out more about Islam, what’s going on with others in their demographic, and be exposed to scholars and advocates and peers who can relate to them across a range of topics and interests. Their website,, guides the viewer through several options for discussion, discovery, and contemplation, giving them resources and contacts to enable them to talk about what’s on their mind, in several languages, for Muslims and non-Muslims alike.

Their presentation was quite polished, with anecdotes about the responses they are getting across the country, from “impressionable, at-risk youth” who access social media and the internet in search of answers. The target populations of Muslims and others who are in the middle — that is, neither totally disengaged nor already committed to the message of militant jihad — have been responding. They are being funneled to the website, which is creating a sense of community for young people to explore, ask, and learn from credible sources. In the few months since the site went active on Facebook, there have been 836,000 content views.

A very different approach was taken by the third-place finishers from Switzerland. They believe that if people are sensitized to the importance of preserving cultural heritage, they can be mobilized to protect endangered sites and artifacts. So their campaign, Faces4Heritage,, targets the one billion annual transnational tourists through various social media, to influence their perspectives and attract them to support initiatives to build peace through preservation.

The team found a ready ally in UNESCO, and they are partners in promoting protection and conservation of heritage sites. An innovative logo, which is half of an artifact that depicts a face, invites the reader to place their face in the other half of the logo – inspiring the message of “Faces for Heritage.” Pointing out that heritage is a major part of our identity, their goal is to engage travelers, tourism professionals, and heritage leaders to denounce destruction of heritage sites. The campaign is also on Facebook and Twitter and is being supported by tourism associations, museums, public institutions, Wikipedia, cultural events, universities, and NGOs. They have developed an online course that is already heavily subscribed. To date, they have had 680,000 visitors on Facebook for 1.6 million impressions, and 575,000 Tweets to their hashtags.

Tony Sgro, founder of EVP, sees these projects, and the dozens more that were submitted, as significant proof of concept for the P2P program. “The results clearly show that using social media is a powerful tool to mobilize youth everywhere in the world, against extremism. The creativity, imagination, discipline, and passion behind these campaigns indicate how powerful this mobilization can be. Our goal of doubling the number of schools next semester and even more growth after will enable P2P to become a significant non-violent alternative to the extremists’ message of hate.”

Judges for the finalists’ round of the competition were four government officials working in the fields of counterterrorism and public diplomacy, as well as Monika Bickert, Head of Product Policy at Facebook, and Jessica Stern of Boston’ University’s Pardee School of Global Studies. One fun anecdote – most of the finalists from overseas had never been to the US before so they were treated to a White House tour. As they were going through the halls, President Obama and Vice President Biden stopped and said hello. Selfies and smiles all around!


Second Millennium Challenge Compact with Morocco Gathers Steam

Initial Contracts Being Signed; Formal Approval Needed by Moroccan Chamber of Deputies

There is good news coming from Washington and Rabat as the second Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) compact with Morocco – valued in excess of $517 million ($450 US, $67.5 Morocco) — is taking off. The partnership between Morocco and the US that makes the MCC compact feasible is the result of years of collaboration across a range of projects funded by various US agencies. The mutual respect and trust engendered serves both as a model for other programs and a legacy of a friendship of shared values and interests in human, economic, and social development. The link to the compact site is , and the actual compact document is at

The process began in November with a “technical” signing that enables the release of funds for initial activities. The MCC press release notes that “Signature of the compact allows MCC and the GoM to begin the work necessary to ensure a successful and timely implementation of the program such as hiring staff and beginning key studies.  A larger, public ceremony to celebrate the commencement of compact activities is planned for spring 2016.”

With this “technical” signing, some $21.4 will million to be spent in the coming months to set up: financial management and procurement activities; basic administrative functions, including staffing, offices, equipment, and other items; finalizing monitoring and evaluation activities; hiring consultants for preparatory studies and activities; and other steps needed while awaiting final approval by the Chamber of Deputies.

In Morocco, the GoM will set up its MCC counterpart (in the office of the Head of Government); to establish its accounting and budgeting process; ensure that it “will not reduce the normal and expected resources that it would otherwise receive or budget from sources other than MCC for the activities contemplated under this Compact and the Program”; and continue to contribute its committed funding to existing programs that will be part of the compact.

 How the Process Works

Once Morocco was approved as a candidate for a second MCC grant, extensive consultations with stakeholders and a study by the African Development Bank identified weaknesses in workforce development and land management as obstacles to greater economic momentum. This resulted in a two-phase compact focusing on “Education and Training for Employability,” assigned $220 million; and $170.5 million allocated to “Land Productivity,” which concentrates on more effective management and investment practices for agricultural and industrial land. The rest of the grant is for monitoring and evaluation, program administration, in addition to contributions from the GoM.

Signing for the Moroccan side was the Head of Government, Abdelilah Benkirane, while Jonathan Bloom, Deputy Vice President, Africa, represented the MCC. It was attended by representatives of the seven Ministries, who, along with a private sector representative and two from civil society, will make up the Moroccan board of directors for the compact.

Once program areas are identified, “terms of reference” are developed to describe the goals of each program in sufficient detail that companies and organizations can submit comments – through “call for ideas” conferences –and eventually bid on services. The initial “call for ideas” conference results in public RFPs (Request for Proposal) in which competitive bids and project descriptions are submitted.

This process often results in new initiatives that had not been considered initially. One example is the Technical Vocational Education and Training (TVET) program to focus on support for new and existing public-private training centers, with companies taking the lead in the training and placement of trainees. The goal is to deeply involve the private sector in curriculum development, standards for qualifications, and eventual employment.

Land development is a much trickier proposition, as titling and management issues “inhibit access to and productive uses of rural and industrial land, thus diminishing investment and the consequent demand for labor.” “In rural areas, the project develops a faster, fairer, replicable process for moving the country’s collective irrigated land into the hands of smallholder farmers. In the industrial sector, the project develops a new model for industrial zone development” enabling the government to streamline how it brings industrial land to investors.

Overall estimated beneficiaries of the program are: more than 1.7 million graduates from improved and skills-centered secondary schools; 275,000 from the workforce development efforts; more than 80,000 farmers benefiting from improved rural land management; and some 96,000 benefiting from upgraded industrial land policies.

In addition, the MCC compact emphasizes sustainability across all sectors. Secondary Education “will pilot an Integrated School Improvement Model that will demonstrate how to achieve cost-effective, quality education, and a plan will be developed during the Compact for expansion of this model post-Compact. The Private Sector-Driven TVET grant facility is intended and designed to continue functioning after the Compact. GoM co-financing during the Compact will continue afterwards and enable the grant facility to continue.” Throughout the program, GoM and MCC “will collaborate to ensure that interventions aimed at mainstreaming social and gender inclusion will include mechanisms that promote sustainability beyond the Compact Term.”

There are many additional details available on the website, and more will emerge as future “call for ideas” conferences are announced. At this point, MCC is pleased with the enthusiasm and responses to the initial conferences from both Moroccan and US entities. Hopefully, the Chamber of Deputies will approve the overall compact in time for a formal signing in conjunction with the US-Morocco Strategic Dialogue in Rabat in April

Building Global Dexterity on Company Teams

In our increasingly globalized world, more and more U.S. companies rely on local staff to help manage their international operations—and therefore need to maximize their intercultural competency and global resource management skills. From an organizational point of view, this can create significant challenges.

Today’s global work groups (and whole offices and even companies) are often made up of people from a variety of cultures; it is vital that diversity training, expatriate management and training, and cultural competency training are given priority.

But they have to be done right. The key to overcoming these challenges is what Brandeis University’s Andy Molinsky calls “Global Dexterity[i]”—understanding that to be successful in the global business world, managers, division heads, and other leaders need to learn the “global skills of adapting behavior successfully across cultures,“ and “be attuned not only to the expectations and norms of how to behave in a situation but also the cultural background of the individuals involved.”[ii]

How Do Cultural Values Affect Your Own/the Group’s Behaviors?

In the international business context, both leadership and rank-and-file employees must hone their cross-cultural skills.

In my sessions, I like to use a group exercise to help people understand how their own cultural assumptions impact how they view new situations and other peoples, and how they react to both.

FarsideI begin by having them look at the famous “Far Side” illustration to the left. Then I ask them to think about the cultural assumptions involved with how they interpret the picture:

What does it tell you about motivation, values, behaviors, and priorities?

What role does culture play in decision-making?

The decision the chicken makes about whether to cross the road or not tells us a great deal—if we ask the right questions, such as…

Why do my staff always say “yes” when I need direct answers?

How can I build trust in my group?

Another way to look at it is, in dealing with other cultures, motives, and values are not always obvious or apparent…take a look at the iceberg image. It reflects the ratio between our conscious and subconscious minds.
At the top, we can observe someone’s behaviors and actions—it is all that we can “see,” and there isn’t very much of it (at most 10%). At the bottom is the subconscious: we can only guess at the opinions, assumptions, and motivations buried there (either in ourselves or for other people—or cultures).

If possible, you must try to discover—and act upon—these subconscious opinions, assumptions, and motivations through questions, presenting options, and learning about people’s interests.

Don’t guess.  

Get involved, ask questions, and learn how to communicate within a different cultural context. These are the only ways to meaningfully engage multi-culture staff and effectively motivate them to work together to create value for your company, regardless of setting.


[i] Andy Molinsky, Global Dexterity: How to Adapt Your Behavior Across Cultures Without Losing Yourself in the Process, Harvard Business Review Press, March 12, 2013.


Why Did Islamic State (Daesh) Launch Virulent Media Campaign against Morocco, Others?

Morocco Continues to Strengthen Security Efforts, Pushes for Regional Cooperation

Since the beginning of the year, the dominant terrorism-related stories in North Africa are the continuing inroads by Daesh into Libya and the growing lack of security in Tunisia from external and internal factors. While Morocco and Algeria face fewer threats due to their extensive and effective security measures, this has not diminished the challenges they face, and, in fact, Morocco and Tunisia are under fierce attack in a number of social media postings by Daesh these past two weeks.

According to an article in the Jerusalem Post, “The jihadists participating in the campaign call on Muslims to join ISIS strongholds in Tunisia, Libya, Mali and Algeria in order to oust the apostate democratic governments of Tunisia and Morocco and replace them with an Islamic regime based on Sharia law.”

At least four video messages have been released to date from different Daesh branches. The first, from a group in Syria, focused on the Arab Maghreb Union member states (Algeria, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Tunisia), calling on sympathizers in the region to overthrow the “infidel” regimes because of their parliamentary democracies that fly in the face of authoritarian caliphate rule, the incorporation of local religious sensibilities such as Sufi practices, and other “liberal” errors. An analysis of the video indicates the speakers are Libyan, Moroccan, and Tunisian. Sympathizers are encouraged to attack the infidels by all means possible, or failing that, to join Daesh in Libya.

The next video, some 14 minutes in length, from another Daesh group in Syria, continues the previous themes with particular attention to opposing the existing governments and overthrowing their “liberal” practices to end opposition to the caliphate. The Daesh branch in Sinai released a 10 minute video and a six minute video with Moroccan speakers calling out both the regimes and their terrorist competitor, al-Qaeda in the Maghreb (AQIM). The governments are attacked for their lack of Islamic legitimacy, and the AQIM for insufficient fervor in attacking the existing regimes and not pledging allegiance to Daesh. Images of the perpetrators of the Paris attacks are prominently featured in the messages specifically directed at Morocco.

Morocco Responds with even Greater Resilience

Morocco has taken a number of critical steps to enlarge its capabilities to deal with immediate terrorist threats, as well as those posed by returning fighters from Iraq and Syria. In addition to setting up its equivalent of the FBI, Morocco plays a critical role in regional and international coalitions that foster information-sharing, tactical training, enhanced surveillance techniques, and better policing techniques.

As importantly, Morocco is broadening the scope of its training of imams and mourchidates (female religious counselors) to include more countries, most recently Nigeria and Ivory Coast; while its efforts to support greater economic and social development throughout the country are accelerating.

These hopeful signs are all the more important when viewed in the regional and African context. It is clear that Islamic extremists have accelerated the pace of their attacks and are keen to enlarge their operations from bases in Libya and West and East Africa. “This is the result of a combination of factors, including competition between extremist groups for attention and, ultimately, recruits and resources, as well as opportunity,” said J. Peter Pham, director of Atlantic Council’s Africa Center, talking about the rise in extremist attacks.

While Morocco is increasing its capabilities through a variety of hard and soft mechanisms, neighboring Algeria is undergoing a restructuring of its security forces, taking them out of the Ministry of Defense and placing them under the control of the President’s office. While this has been welcomed by some as a means of depoliticizing the role of the security services, a recent article in The Weekly Standard warns that these actions without accompanying economic and political reforms expose Algeria to even greater peril. As the article noted, “the regime waged a ruthless war against Islamist militants in the 1990s, a war that cost nearly 200,000 lives, most of them civilians, without solving Algeria’s deeply rooted Islamist problem.”

With North Africa clearly in the sights of Daesh and other Islamic militants, Europe is becoming more immersed in resolving the Libyan conflict as a key step in countering terrorism. At the same time, resolute support for Morocco and its neighbors is vital for any longterm defeat of extremism and for greater economic and social progress.