Security in the Sahara Not a Shell Game

Threat not Overstated; Remedies Require “Losing Old Paradigms”

Contradictions are not rare in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region when it comes to politics and diplomacy. This is particularly evident in the continuing efforts to resolve the Western Sahara conflict. While all of the parties voice concern over the lack of a resolution, most, namely the Polisario and Algeria, are unwilling to offer credible options for how to do so, essential for regional cooperation needed to address extremist threats emanating from ungoverned spaces and, unsurprisingly, a lack of regional coordination.

The stalemated negotiations atrophying in the UN Secretary General’s office have underscored these concerns about how this situation impacts regional security and yet have offered little in the way of realistic options for resolving the conflict.

From the UN perspective, one needs look no further than the UN Secretary General’s report on his trip to the region. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon noted “The frustrations I witnessed among Western Saharans, coupled with the expansion of criminal and extremists’ networks in the Sahel-Sahara region, present increased risks for the stability and security of all the countries of this region. A settlement of the Western Sahara conflict would mitigate these potential risks and promote regional cooperation in the face of common threats and regional integration to bolster economic opportunity.” And yet, rather than use the security imperative to spur action towards a resolution, Ban Ki-Moon’s actions prior to the report put a negotiated political compromise further out of reach.

The Security Council’s response has been to once again reiterate the importance of working with the parties on a negotiated political settlement. One can only hope that the future of the UN’s presence in the territory will move forward toward a realistic settlement that would not rely on dead initiatives like a referendum, but engage in discussions built on achievable solutions. Only then will the region be able to revive some sort of effective security coordination among all the state actions.

This has yet to be realized despite clear deterioration of security in the Sahel-Sahara region, largely because of ongoing regional rivalries and the antiquated thinking of Algeria and the Polisario. As Professor Mohammed Benhammou, President of the Moroccan Center for Strategic Studies, noted in recent article, “Regrettably, in the Maghreb the conditions for cooperation do not always exist due to antiquated thinking, particularly over the Sahara. The closed border between Morocco and Algeria has impacted most regional relationships. For example, Tunisia, Libya, and Mali are forced to develop security strategies with both countries separately at the expense of a more effective coordinated regional strategy.”

Some of the challenges to developing such a regional strategy, particularly with regard to Algeria’s role, are outlined in a recent article in the Sada Journal about the reconstitution of Algeria’s security forces. As the author indicates, the restructuring of the security services (DRS) over the past two years, designed at least in part to improve counterterrorism capabilities, has done little more than eliminate a competing power center to the presidency.

Another part of the current strategy – highly visible counterterrorism operations to “rebuild popular confidence in the Algerian military’s ability to maintain public security,” thereby, “sending a message to France, its neighbors in the Sahel, and other countries interested in regional security that Algeria is still the dominant player,” also rings hollow given Algeria’s increasing difficulty in securing its own borders. Not to mention when one considers the failure of Algerian regional initiatives such as the Joint Military Staff Committee (CEMOC), which purported to be a regional security mechanism that was convened without Morocco, largely because of the dispute over the Sahara issue.

This is hardly a recipe for effectiveness and conflict resolution. Unless the old paradigms dissipate in order to activate true regional security cooperation including all stakeholders, Ban Ki-moon’s fears will become even more tangible and immediate.




The Best Intentions Do Not Always Make Great Policy

To Fix Its Middle East Policy, US Must Support Assets while Confronting Challenges

If you think the label “silly season” only describes tsunamis whirling around the national elections, you’re missing an important contest among US think tanks to frame policy options for the next administration. What’s interesting about the exercise is that it doesn’t matter who wins, since the same realities, domestic and foreign, face whoever is elected.

Options and solutions proposed by think tanks, in any case, reflect their particular points of view, priorities, and insights into what the previous administration has done right or wrong, or didn’t pay enough attention to, or ignored at America’s peril. And this is especially clear with countries where our interests diverge, such as China, and more intriguing with those countries where the US has shared interests, such as the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). What is also clear from past administrations is that the MENA region is where good intentions regarding countries from Morocco to Iraq often fail to deliver consistently sound and actionable policies.

The Center for a New American Security (CNAS) recently launched its foray into this tangle of good intentions with the analysis, “Reset, Negotiate, Institutionalize – A Phased Middle East Strategy for the Next President.” It is well-reasoned and documented, enumerates feasible steps, and clearly focuses on protecting what remains of America’s alliances in the region without jeopardizing our ability to adapt to changing circumstances.

That said, whether it’s CNAS, SAIS, CSIS, AEI, CEIP, or any other of the more than 100 foreign policy think tanks in Washington, DC, almost any position on an issue can be found. For example, the recent GCC Heads of State meeting generated pro and anti Saudi Arabia and pro and anti Iran articles, providing support for obviously opposing views, all reflecting someone’s definitions of America’s national interests in the region.

And then there is the question of priorities – when will Morocco, for example, receive the same attention as the UAE or Qatar? All are allies and have important regional roles to play in promoting stability and security, yet it seems that unless  a country or a region is in triage, it has to speak up loudly and visibly to be heard.

Secretary Kerry Greets King Mohammed VI

Secretary Kerry Greets King Mohammed VI

Morocco is an excellent case in point. The only mention of Morocco in the CNAS report is as the host for the talks to constitute a government in Libya. Absent from the only map in the report is everything west of the Levant. No mention is made of the growing threats to North Africa, and Morocco in particular, from Daesh and other extremists, nor is there any commentary on the flow of fighters from the region to the Syria-Iraq war zones and back.

Yet Morocco has steadfastly support America’s interests throughout the region, and for this, Daesh has issued numerous threats against the country. Morocco plays a key role in Jerusalem through King Mohammed VI’s role as head of the Jerusalem Committee. It also has the most robust security service cooperating with the EU and the US in combating terrorists who have already caused great damage to Europe’s sense of equanimity and attitudes towards immigrants fleeing combat zones.

Morocco recently became co-chair of the Global Counterterrorism Forum, and the country’s special counterterrorism bureau recently intercepted jihadists intent on bringing chemical weapons into Europe through Morocco. What more can be asked of our ally? If the report is an example, without being more proactive, the US is in danger of a growing breach with our friends.

It is in this context that King Mohammed spoke out at the recent GCC-Morocco Summit about the impact of not respecting old and tested friendships. “There have been new alliances which may lead to disunity and a reshuffling of roles and functions in the region. In fact, these are attempts to foment strife and create chaos, and no country would be spared. It could have serious consequences for the region, even the world at large.”

The king then went on to detail how Morocco was diversifying its “partnerships at political, strategic and economic levels,” to include Russia, China, and India. He believes that the GCC and Morocco and Jordan “Are facing conspiracies which seek to undermine our collective security. They want to destabilize the few countries which have managed to safeguard their security, stability and political systems.”

So when think tanks look at the MENA region, it may be more impactful to think beyond conflicts in the Levant and Gulf to also address threats to America’s interests at the other end of the Mediterranean. For example, the CNAS report recommends that as a first step, the next president make a trip “focused on America’s closest regional partners,” starting with the Levant and the Gulf, “and possibly Egypt,” clearly aimed at damping down instability in Iraq and Syria.

Yet the conflict and chaos that drive these priorities are inexorably moving across the region and will metastasize if not confronted with a robust US and EU led strategy in partnership with friends like Morocco.

Progress Requires Empowering Youth, Not Deriding Them

Need to rethink assumptions about Arab work ethic

Jessica Ashooh, deputy director of the Atlantic Council’s Middle East Strategy Task Force, took aim at several of the comments about Arab youth made by President Obama in his now famous interview in The Atlantic. While decrying the overall dismal state of the political life in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), the president remarked that Arabs, frankly, weren’t up to par with their counterparts in Southeast Asia, which, he said, “is filled with striving, ambitious, energetic people who are every single day scratching and clawing to build businesses and get education and find jobs and build infrastructure.”

The president is, of course, entitled to his opinions. But given his stature, these somehow get translated into truth, which, in this case, supports stereotypes that disparage a generation of Arab youth, who are similarly engaged in a significant struggle to build value, create jobs, and improve their quality of life. This feeds into the common misperception that somehow “Arabs” do not share American interests in the MENA region.

Yet time and time again, from the high level of joint military cooperation such as the annual African Lion exercises to the multitude of education, training, capacity-building, and entrepreneurship projects the US supports though economic assistance funding, we indeed find significant alignment with our friends, such as Morocco, in the region. Despite the fact that being a “friend of America” entitles you to be on the ISIS/ISIL/Daesh hit list, we find youth throughout the Arab world actively engaged in challenging the status quo and building quality life options.

Contrast what the president had to say with a recent World Bank blog posting. “As you walk through the ancient market in Fes or that of any other medina in Morocco, pass a vibrant hair salon in downtown Casablanca with the feel of a beauty mega-factory, or see young people on a street corner in Rabat waiting to be picked up for a day job in construction, you cannot but be impressed with the entrepreneurial spirit on display. The young people hard at work across the country are part of a huge army of Moroccan youth, many of whom have less than secondary school degrees, stuck  in the informal sector with limited opportunities for a good, steady income.”

women cashiers WBThroughout Morocco, which is emblematic of the vast majority of Arab youth, young people are striving to find the means to acquire skills, financing, teams, and markets that will change their futures for the better.  As Ashooh writes, “Beyond the noise of the ISIS horror show, young Arabs are seeking education and starting companies at record levels, using technology to improve not only their personal prospects but also their societies.”

Morocco provides a multitude of examples of start-ups that are nurtured in facilities and labs with resources that support entrepreneurial teams of men and women working in collaboration to redefine how technology can benefit sectors from small-hold farms to mature information systems. Combined with the country’s dedication to renewable energy and improved health services, opportunities for enhancing quality of life are increasing daily.

The government senses that it has a key role to play but, rather than regulate how entrepreneurism should evolve, instead is listening to the youth and their allies in the private sector to encourage and abet an entrepreneurial eco-system. With increased access to early and second stage financing, business fairs to demonstrate new applications and technologies, and increased attention from private investors, youth are reaching for opportunities that simply did not exist even five years ago.

And while developing and using technology require a defined skill set, there are many other technologies that can be applied by those with a less formal education in areas such as agriculture, hospitality services, small-scale energy, home and health care, and artisanal crafts. These latent skills are accessible to previously illiterate village women, poorly educated rural youth, and those enmeshed in the informal economy. It is about options; it is about change. Remarkably, women make up some 35% of the start-ups in Morocco, 10 times the ratio of women-led tech startups in the US.

So if President Obama wants to see what the majority of MENA youth are focusing on, he should visit one of the dozens of tech fairs held each year in Morocco; or visit incubators that are borne of university-private sector partnerships. He should listen to the aspirations of those who every day are striving to make a difference in their lives and their communities.

While Putin Ponders, Obama Scrambles, China Projects

The last several weeks have given pundits and analysts alike a veritable treasure trove of events to test their hypotheses about trends in the Middle East. With the announced withdrawal of Russian forces from Syria turning out to be much less than what the West would hope for, and Obama’s confessions to Jeffrey Goldberg in the Atlantic magazine about his foreign policy challenges, there was plenty of fodder on the table.

On top of all of this, as some would call it, is the raging theater of the U.S. presidential campaign, which does little to reassure allies and foes alike about where the U.S. is headed under various scenarios of a new administration.

As usual, differing perspectives are offered by the “experts” with little reluctance to second guess either the great Russian bear or the reluctant American president – the former quite resolute in his vision of the “new world,” while the latter dithering as to how the U.S. can discharge its role as a super power while asserting its role under some form of international consensus and collaboration. Added to the mix is the continuing saga of “one belt one road” push by China on land and on the sea to solidify its own vision of economic hegemony abroad and unchallenged military influence in its neighborhood.

President Obama has had to face realities in Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan turning his “less is more” posture on its head with revelations of U.S. marines in forward positions in Iraq, the military extending and broadening the U.S. presence in Afghanistan, and hard choices to be faced regarding some form of deeper involvement in Syria and Libya. There are no hopeful signs of clarity emerging from the Democratic and Republican candidates for president who are content to duel over who is more qualified by raising voices, making charges against opponents, and ambiguous doomsday statements, not to mention the hell they will raze upon America’s enemies.

Putin continues to roll onward, dictating the tempo of peace in the Crimea and Ukraine, intimidating bordering states in the Balkans, and calling for restraint in the recent Armenia-Azerbaijan flare-ups. No one doubts that Russia has literally saved the Assad regime while simultaneously pummeling foes and promoting negotiations over Syria’s future. Russia’s boots on the ground commitment has given it the dominant voice in Vienna; John Kerry’s can only operate at the margins, prodding Russia into ensuring the territorial survival of a Syrian state, but at what cost?

Then, China’s Foreign Ministry named Xie Xiaoyan as its special envoy to the international negotiations over Syria. He had previously served as ambassador to Iran, the African Union, and Ethiopia, so he knows the territory well. His appointment runs counter to the typical Chinese hands-off behavior and may herald its attempt to be involved more deeply in Middle East affairs. China’s relations with Iran are still evolving and are closely tied to the One Belt One Road initiative that can only become more beneficial to both parties. Mutual economic interests may have more long term results than today’s political diplomacy.

Ironically, several analysts have suggested a causal link between the declining economic fortunes of China and Russia with their aggressive behavior over the past 30 months, including the upswing in defense spending and posturing. Given that both, and many of their clients, have the luxury of a longer horizon than U.S. governments, there is little to suggest that America can outwait either of its competitors or in this case “adversaries.”

Others have suggested that, were it not for the continuing tensions in the South China Sea and the Chinese perception that the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is aimed at curtailing its ambitions in Asia, the natural alliance is U.S.-China versus Russia. Yet it can’t be reassuring to hardliners in Beijing who interpret American actions through at pre-WWII lens when the US Trade Representative’s website states that “TPP is a platform for engagement and growth in the Asia-Pacific Region. It solidifies relationships with our allies and firmly establishes the United States as a leader in the Pacific.”

This is not to say that Russia, the U.S., and China cannot find mutual interests as they have over Iran and North Korea. With many Middle Eastern heads of state headed for Moscow and Beijing to protect their interests, no one seems interested in coming to the U.S., not even Benjamin Netanyahu, to try and sort out how to best guarantee a place on America’s list of preferred allies. The narrative for 2016 is far from decided.

Stevens Initiative Launches Grassroots Global Conversations among Youth

The first group of awardees of the Chris Stevens Virtual Exchange Initiative competition, limited to US NGOs in its first year, was announced this week in Washington, DC. The program is part of a multi-year effort to generate cross-cultural communications among young people in the US. Middle East, and North Africa (MENA). An international public-private partnership, the Stevens Initiative is named in honor of Ambassador Chris Stevens, who was killed in Libya and had been a Peace Corps Volunteer in Morocco.

The Aspen Institute is hosting the Initiative and managing the process of awarding grants through competitions to be held annually, beginning in the US and then extended throughout the MENA region. A defining feature of the Initiative is the central role played by technology to create virtual exchanges, according to the Aspen Institute, “to improve understanding, respect, and dialogue across cultures and equip young people with the skills they need to succeed in a global economy.”

The exchanges focus on creating virtual classrooms where students connect from different parts of the world to learn and work together on a variety of defined subjects, and through this interaction, to develop better understanding and respect for each other and their cultures. Recognizing that in most countries, access to the Internet could be limited by economic and social factors, the Initiative places special consideration on projects that reach into underserved and marginalized communities.

The Initiative is providing $5 million to support the new online programs, which aim to bring more than 20,000 young people together to engage in cross-cultural learning experiences in 17 countries in the Middle East and North Africa and in 25 American states.

As Elliot Gerson, Executive Vice President of the Aspen Institute noted, “Our goal is to spark conversations between students in countries around the world – conversations to exchange ideas and information and to work together on addressing important issues. We are excited at the prospect of helping to prepare a new generation of global citizens.”

Most programs will launch in spring 2016 and continue for a period of two years. Among the projects:

  • Online English and Arabic language exchange between students in California and their peers in Morocco and Saudi Arabia
  • Using media tools, including virtual reality, as a springboard for conversation and social learning among middle and high school students, including Syrian refugees, in Kentucky, New York, and Jordan
  • Environmental studies projects for students in the United Arab Emirates and the United States
  • A virtual “study abroad” program for students in Iraq, Illinois, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Washington, and Wisconsin

Evan Ryan, Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs at the U.S. Department of State, added that “By creating opportunities for engagement among students, teachers, and professionals, the Stevens Initiative honors Ambassador Stevens’ legacy.”

The next round of the competition, scheduled for later in 2016, will be open to applicants from the MENA and the US. It will focus on sharing best practices and on research into how to measure the impact of the Initiative and how to grow the program.

The awardees of the first Stevens Initiative grant competition are:

  • Chicago Sister Cities International
  • Eurasia Foundation
  • Global Nomads Group
  • National Democratic Institute
  • Soliya
  • State University of New York – Center for Collaborative Online International Learning
  • University of California – Berkeley
  • Wofford College
  • World Learning

An interesting sidebar is that Ambassador Stevens attended UC Berkeley, and its Center for Middle East Studies (CMES) administers the Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens Memorial Fund for Middle Eastern Studies to support UC Berkeley student travel and research in the Middle East and North Africa.

According to the Center, “The new CMES program will provide an opportunity for Berkeley undergraduates to interact with peers at institutions in rural Morocco and Saudi Arabia, with subsequent exchanges planned in Iraq and Jordan.”

CMES Chair Emily Gottreich pointed out that “Ambassador Stevens spent his undergraduate career studying history here at UC Berkeley before starting his service career in Morocco with the Peace Corps. We are honored to have been entrusted with the important work of continuing his legacy through these exchanges.”

The Stevens Institute is a collaboration among the Stevens family, the US Department of State, the Bezos Family Foundation, the MacArthur Foundation, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Algeria, Morocco, Microsoft, Twitter, Mozilla, and GoPro.

Muslims Battered on both Sides of the Atlantic

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.                                                         W.B. Yeats The Second Coming

There are plenty of interpretations of this poem, written by Yeats after WWI, and its memorable lines have inspired many novel and film titles. It is especially appropriate today as we see the failure of the center to hold against the tide of radicalism from the left and right.

Attempts to reason against the illogic of blaming all Muslims for the acts of a very few fall on deaf ears among skinheads, Trump/Cruz supporters, or other too ready to blame “the other.” The center cannot hold because it has little capacity to counter extremism, which would require more awareness of Islam and Muslims than most are willing to engage.

Muslims themselves are torn between justifying acts of reasonable opposition to autocratic regimes and pointing fingers at those whose horrific acts undercut every word of compassion uttered by their communities. It is ironic that the vast majority of extremists call themselves Sunnis, salafists, jihadists, while Shiites, whose excesses of past decades in Lebanon and obdurate policies emanating from Iran, are tarred with the same brush as al-Qai’da franchises and Daesh, Inc. Despite 1400+ years of separation, in the end, they are, in fact, all Muslims, all guilty.

To non-Muslims, Muslims are equally culpable for a multitude of sins stretching from Indonesia to Nigeria to Europe and even North America. To most Americans, Muslims are predominately Arabs, as are Iranians, because “what’s the difference?” They all share the tenets of Islam, a religion of hate and submission we are told by the Trump/Cruz apologists on talk radio. Muslims, they claim, are unwilling to live in peace with the rest of humanity (read Christians) because of religious precepts.

Far be it for these supporters to actually shake hands and converse with a Muslim although they may have been doing it for years without contamination. Enlightened statements by President Obama, leading military and intellectual leaders, and well-intentioned political leaders have not impacted those who fervently believe that Muslims are somehow a lower form of humanity that won’t rest until the apocalypse has come – strangely similar to most Christian evangelicals.

My concern is both broad and deep for my country and for the lack of civility that characterizes public life. I have worked and lived with Muslim communities my entire professional life, here in the U.S. and in many Arab countries, and Iran, which I know is not Arab. I have always thought it a blessing (baraka you could say) that my parents taught me compassion, inclusiveness, and openness, especially to that which I did not understand or feared.

While mine was a mostly normal American childhood, bigotry was somehow always lurking around, in remarks, insinuations, teasing. My sister/poet Elmaz writes of the pain of discrimination and marginalization…I guess it’s harder for some. Mine was more cerebral, since I was fortified by not giving a damn.

I am a Christian Arab American; we are the majority of Arabs in the U.S. We weathered the Palestinian and Lebanese conflicts as highly political rather than theological conflicts. So much is different today. We hear from varied sources about the persecution of Christians by Daesh. Lost in the hateful news is that the tyranny of Daesh, acting in the name of Islam, has been responsible for far more Muslim deaths. Daesh and its comrades are enemies of humanity, not just of religions.

The same drumbeat of deprecation is rising even louder in Europe as tides of immigrants and horrific violent acts deprive the centre of a stable platform for engaging doomsayers, bigots, and racists of all stripes. In our naïve caricature of the region, we want clarity about friend and foe. This is no easy task. It is somehow lost in translation that we are in a generational identity struggle among ourselves and with those “not like us.” It is a struggle that we cannot, each in our own way, avoid confronting.

Just think for a moment, why are refugees headed for Europe and beyond? Is it because they hate the West, its civilization, and its society? Is it because they are hiding terrorists cells within their numbers waiting to strike? Or is it because, like us, they just want to wake up each day to the tedium of jobs, families, children, and traffic?

It is this normalcy that is under attack and must be forcefully countered. We are certainly in a clash of civilizations – humanity against the beasts who deny us choice.

lead photo from


What Latin America’s Populist Experiences can Teach Middle East Reformers

Enabling Grassroots Capitalism is Key for Restructuring Societies Equitably

Roger Noriega and Andres Martinez-Fernandez argue in a recent article that populism failed as an economic growth strategy in Latin America because it lacked essential qualities such as transparency and sustainability. Rather than enabling citizens to acquire skills that would equip them to achieve a better quality of life, it perpetuated a system of handouts and elitism that in reality keeps the poor in their historically disadvantaged status.

To Ambassador Noriega, who has decades of experience in the region, revolution and reform based on slogans and distribution of rewards has shown its deficiencies. The introductory summary notes that “Grassroots capitalism is the only solution to poverty, empowering poor and marginalized citizens to make them stakeholders in their country’s economic access.” And that “Policymakers also must address the systematic barriers to equitable growth, including corruption, stifling bureaucracy, crime, and violence.”

This could easily serve as a description of the dysfunctional social and economic development policies plaguing oil-rich and not-so countries in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). The past decade has been unkind to those countries long attached to socialist and paternalistic policies that treat people as clients and beneficiaries rather than citizens valued for their participation in the country’s future.

Reforms that inch a country closer to a citizen-centric model hold the most promise for a holistic model of human development, one that includes capacity-building for institutions as well as individuals. When looking at the MENA region to identify is countries that, like Latin America, are in a transition from a top-down system of economic and political empowerment to something more interactive and less prescriptive, where does one begin?

Morocco can serve as a template for measuring intentions vs. results, since King Mohammed VI is committed to redefining relations between people and government. His early reform of the family law, transparent handling of the abuses of the previous regime, and reduction of the role of the palace as a key economic engine in the economy demonstrate his understanding that Morocco must change if it is to progress.

The challenge of course, as described in the article, is that grassroots capitalism is not a mere refinement of traditional capitalist models. Rather, it empowers and enables people through institutional respect for rule of law, property rights, relevant training and education, and support for individual enterprise and entrepreneurship.

The “emphasis must also be placed on internal reforms that speak to peoples’ priorities…and cultivate a popular consensus around a new brand of grassroots capitalism: policies that generate sustainable growth with free-market solutions; consciously extend economic opportunity and political freedom to the very poor; generate decent jobs and social mobility; incentivize entrepreneurship to unlock the potential of those outside the formal economy; and fortify the rule of law to fight that corruption, crime, and violence that debilitates societies.”

Morocco has started on that path: the National Initiative for Human Development (INDH); educational reform and investments in training and entrepreneurship; advanced regionalization; and improvements in childcare, women’s rights, and equitable access to basic infrastructure are propelling it in the right direction.

The hovering questions “Is there enough time,” and “Will the country stay the course,” can only be answered with confidence if the results of the country’s growth and enhancements to personal and collective rights are shared equitably. A diverse society like Morocco has much at risk without a shared vision of what Morocco will be and how all will benefit. This is where the king’s role as enabler-in-chief is so critical – generating national buy-in to a vision of an equitable, just, inclusive, and fair society that takes none for granted, at any level.

How Can the US Help?

While small government is a virtue to free-market advocates, progress is not free. As Noriega maintains, “If leaders committed to democratic capitalism are to succeed in winning and maintaining public confidence, they must attach greater value to poor and marginalized citizens and integrate them into plans for a better future.” And here is where the US is already helping, by enabling Moroccans to have a voice in their local governments.

counterpart internationalA recent USAID grant to Counterpart International has set up a Civil Society Strengthening Program (CSSP) to be piloted in two cities in Morocco to help, as their information sheet mentions, both “government and civil society work together to ensure a more inclusive government that represents all Morocco’s citizens.” In the northern city of Tetouan, the project works with the Municipal Council on implementing a three-year action plan to “strengthen local Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) and improve their participation in public affairs.”

The President of the municipality, Mr. Mohamed Idaomar, points out that there is “a real need for the involvement of an effective civil society in order to represent the concerns and the expectations of citizens and to identify priorities of the municipal action plan.”

In a similar way, the agreement between CSSP and the municipality of Temara “focuses on creating a consultative body to represent civil society, promote gender equality and equal opportunities for all citizens, and hold communication meetings with citizens.” USAID will provide technical and logistical support for the municipality to build its capacity for organizing training sessions for municipal staff on how to improve communications with citizens and CSOs.”

While these are small steps, taken together, they continue to move Morocco towards a more responsive, equitable, and just society, based on all hands working together.