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.




US, UN Laud Morocco’s Role in Promoting Libya Peace Talks

Agreement Provides Framework for Including Absent Tripoli Leadership

The United Nations Special Envoy Bernandino Leon praised Morocco for its support for the negotiations among the various warring parties in Libya to promote the political and military cooperation that has remained elusive since the ouster of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. At the concluding press conference in the Moroccan city of Skhirat, where the talks were held, he said “The Skhirat Agreement was made possible thanks to the contribution of many Libyans who worked within the working groups and other groups, but also thanks to the host country, Morocco, which has played a very important role, which is not only a host role, but also a role of political support.”

Leon was not alone in his praise for Morocco. At the State Department daily press briefing on July 13, Spokesperson John Kirby mentioned that “The United States Government welcomes the July 11th initialing of the final draft political agreement at the UN-led talks in Morocco, which is an important step toward the creation of a government of national accord…We express our deep gratitude to the Kingdom of Morocco for its leadership hosting the UN talks and to all of those participating in this process.”

The Skhirat agreement is the beginning of the next phase of negotiations aimed at restoring order to Libya. This is particularly critical in the face of mounting ISIL threats in the country and its continued economic and humanitarian catastrophes, including the influx of thousands of refugees seeking passage to Europe, creating yet another crisis.

As Envoy Leon pointed out, “This is a very important partnership between Morocco and the UN mission, “and that “during the next step, the parties will work on complex aspects, namely the formation of a national unity government, the negotiation of annexes (of the Agreement) and especially the involvement of armed groups, the Libyan army and the militias.”

Despite the agreement, the future remains in doubt. The General National Congress (GNC), based in Tripoli, and its allied Dawa militia were absent from the talks. However, this does not preclude their eventual inclusion, as Leon made clear that “the door is open to all not present. They have also played a critical role in this text. As I have said many times, there is no text that is entirely satisfactory to all parties and that responds to all their demands… I am confident that in the weeks ahead a clear decision will be made and will address all sides and issues.”

US interlocutors and regional powers, including Morocco, are now pressing ahead to bring the GNC into the deal so that the process of beginning a national unity government, writing a constitution, controlling airports and oil facilities, and integration of rival militias can begin in earnest, within the framework of the agreement. Leon concluded his remarks by continuing his plea for more collaborative talks. “We call on the remaining delegates and all Libyan decision makers to unite now and to join in supporting this agreement, in the interest of their country and people and in Libya’s common future.”

Impressive Gains and Challenging Future

Morocco Pushes Ahead on Human Rights despite Obstacles

While there may be some who question if there is sufficient energy behind Morocco’s human rights agenda, there is ample evidence that King Mohammed VI has an impressive vision to ensure that human rights protections are robust in Morocco. Amid a great deal of fanfare and activity, Morocco hosted the second World Forum on Human Rights this past week. According to organizers, more than 7,000 people from close to 100 countries participated in the three-day event in workshops, panels, dialogues, presentations, and speeches from several of the world’s leading advocates of human rights.

In his speech to the Forum, delivered by Justice and Liberties Minister Mustapha Ramid, King Mohammed began by acknowledging that “major changes and global challenges underscore the need for holistic, well thought-out and concerted responses.” Conscious of Morocco’s own leadership role in the fields of transitional justice, women’s empowerment, and protection of migrants, he reminded the audience that no nation is insulated from these issues, as they are part of a global transformation.

“Profound changes are affecting the international human rights order. By embracing universal human rights values, the countries of the South, civil society and national human rights institutions play an active role in the process of setting up regional and international instruments for the protection and promotion of human rights.” He noted that the pace of change and increased challenges provide “a unique opportunity for debate and exchange of views on new human rights issues,” which include the rights of the elderly, coping with the impact of the digital age and corporations, empowering the poor, and dealing with the volatile issue of the “enforceability of economic and social rights.”

It is not commonly known that along with the UN Declaration of Human Rights, there is a companion declaration of economic and social rights, which is only now, after more than five decades, rising on the global agenda.

Facing Down Intolerance

The King referred to negative forces that are dragging down progress, “reclusiveness, intolerance, rejection of others because of ethnic considerations or a distorted understanding of the lofty message of religion are leading to blatant violations of fundamental rights, including the sacred right to life.” Despite his concern that each country has cultural and societal characteristics that affect the form of human rights concerns, “The universal character of human rights must not be questioned. Rather than being the product of a single school of thought or doctrine, universality should, in its very essence, be the result of a progressive, dynamic process whereby values are embraced at individual and collective levels.” Perhaps reflecting on his experience in Morocco when confronted with extremism from the right and left, he said that “[i]n this process, national and cultural traditions should be allowed to find their rightful place around a set of immutable values, not in opposition to it or next to it. Indeed, universal values acquire greater legitimacy when they represent and protect human diversity, and when all peoples and cultures contribute to shaping them, ultimately considering them as their own.”

He made mention of the fact that Africa, in particular, was not well represented in the early definitions of human rights covenants due to its relatively recent entry into global debates. “Since it did not have the opportunity to contribute to developing the international human rights law, Africa should be given the opportunity to enrich it with its own culture, history and genius, thus increasing the continent’s chances to fully embrace it.”

Importantly, the King reminded the participants that “Universal values are common to us all, but the pathways we take are not.” He made it clear that Africa is “fully committed to human rights” and “wants to make a contribution to devising standards that are truly universal.” These are encouraging words in the face of extremism, terrorism, ethnic cleansing, and ethnic rivalries spread across the continent.

Setting a Global Agenda

The King expanded on three concerns he encouraged the World Forum to address: gender equality, the emerging debate on Sustainable Development Goals, and the issues of international migration and asylum seekers.

Regarding gender equality, current Moroccan efforts include legislation to broaden the definition of domestic violence, follow-up on the constitutional mandate to set up an anti-discrimination commission, gender budgeting – a novel concept that seeks to measure the scope of spending on women — and protection for domestic workers.

The King lauded ongoing efforts to expand the scope of the Millennium Development Goals when the newly drafted Sustainable Development Goals are announced in September 2015, in particular, inserting human rights concerns into the debate.

Reflecting on Morocco’s experiences with a range of migration issues, the King spoke of the more that 240 million international migrants whose futures are “being debated around the world today and which involves governments, civil society and the international community.” His concern is quite broad, both in terms of the overall growth and the increasing numbers of girls and women being displaced, trafficked, and subjected to intolerable hostility.

While reminding the participants of the devastating conditions afflicting many migrants, the King said “It should be pointed out that the Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families – which is the main human rights instrument in this area – has, until this day, been signed and ratified only by countries of the South.” Morocco’s almost year-long effort to regularize migrants in the country has overcome serious technical obstacles and hopes to meet its targets shortly.

Morocco Pressing Ahead

To complete his assessment, the King pointed to “quite a decent record [in Morocco] covering such vital areas as transitional justice, women’s rights, human development, the rehabilitation of the Amazigh culture as a key component of the Moroccan identity, the consolidation of national human rights institutions and the governance of the religious domain on the basis of the tolerant principles and teachings of Islam.” He also referred to “other ongoing projects with a significant impact on the protection of human rights in such areas as justice, the press, civil society, local governance and the protection of vulnerable groups,” all reflecting commitments made by the government and the people of Morocco in ratifying the 2011 Constitution.

According to press reports, Morocco has signaled its intention to set up a National Preventive Mechanism, which will make it only one of 30 countries to have a fully operative mechanism against cruelty and torture. Among other issues being addressed are the death penalty and protection of children’s rights domestically, and joining an international effort opposing child soldiers, the sale of children, child prostitution, and child pornography.

It is quite stunning to consider that while Morocco is facing its human rights issues at home, from protecting migrants to children’s rights, and broadening the decentralization of authority to local officials, it continues to champion human rights internationally. As the King concluded, the goal is “a world which treats the most vulnerable and poorest segments of society more fairly and equitably, and which is committed to promoting brotherly relations between all human beings.”

Hosting the World Forum on Human Rights shined a bright light on Morocco’s record and its aspirations; and its openness to discuss its reforms will only serve to strengthen its resolve.

Another Nail in the Coffin of the “Washington Consensus”

Moroccan King calls for respecting each country’s challenges

At the annual session of the General Assembly of the United Nations (UNGA), countries seek to project their vision for the world, appeals are made, agendas offered, and then the work begins. The UN itself is an extra-ordinary organization composed of multiple departments and agencies with missions to achieve and defend important causes and hopefully bring about a more stable, inclusive global community. In the span of a month, delegates grapple with macro-concerns such as climate change, security issues including terrorism, and basic concerns with gender, youth, and equality of opportunity.

Africa reaching for global partnerships

Africa reaching for global partnerships

In the US, these proceedings attract little attention outside of those constituencies that see the UN as a type of platform for highlighting their issues and promoting solutions. It is somewhat of a coincidence that PBS has just shown “The Roosevelts,” which surveyed both the death of the League of Nations and the instrumental role of Eleanor Roosevelt in shaping some of the earliest efforts to promote human rights and dignity. And yet, I don’t think those viewers then turned on their televisions to find out what the UN was doing, even as President Obama was making his address and the US assumed the chair of the Security Council.

Why such limited interest in the UN? Well, one reason is that Americans believe that we are more effective and efficient in carrying out policy. Another is the disrepute the UN earned in the 70s and 80s for mismanagement and contentiousness, which cast a lingering pall on the organization’s image. Lately, when Americans tune into the UN, it seems that its primary role is assembling coalitions to do battle against forces that would undermine stability and security in some part of the world, or to engage in debates on global issues that have little success for resolution (think environmental standards).

King Mohammed VI calls for long term partnerships to promote African development

King Mohammed VI calls for long term partnerships to promote African development

Yet, from time to time, the UN’s routine agenda is interrupted by an insightful and challenging message that is both thoughtful and a call to action. When King Mohammed VI sent Morocco’s Head of Government, Abdelilah Benkirane, to deliver the King’s message, most pundits anticipated a focus on the current crises in the region. So there was some surprise when King Mohammed took on the issue of the treatment of developing countries by the West, and then offered viable options for building partnerships for sustainable economic growth.

Challenges “Patronizing” Views of Developing Countries

Sustainable development is the central theme of this year’s 69th UNGA. While there have been many attempts at defining it conceptually and practically, the King’s remarks reflect Morocco’s experiences and continued challenges. More importantly, his speech was built not on a wishful foundation but on the hard-earned lessons that the Kingdom incorporates into its policy deliberations.

I was intrigued that King Mohammed put Morocco’s development strategy within the larger context of the world’s current turmoil and instability at the end of the speech. His words indicated quite clearly that his concern for equitable treatment within the global community preceded much of today’s conflicts.

“The world stands at a crossroads today. Either the international community supports developing countries to help them achieve progress and ensure security and stability, or we shall all face the consequences of more conflicts and greater fanaticism, violence and terrorism – all of which feed on feelings of injustice and exclusion – and no part of the world shall be safe.”

New technologies rapidly adopted and developed in Africa

New technologies rapidly adopted and developed in Africa

“As the world grows more acutely aware of the cross-border threats posed by the lack of sustainable and human development, and as we realize that ours is ultimately a common destiny, I am sure there will be a global awakening regarding the need to work for a more secure, more equitable and more humane world.”

In this framework, he noted that “Achieving sustainable development is one of the pressing challenges facing mankind. It is particularly important, in this respect, to strike a balance between the requirements for economic and social progress and the protection of the environment, on the one hand, and the safeguard of the rights of future generations, on the other.”

Sounding as progressive as any Western monarch, King Mohammed VI made his case for treating each country based on its particular profile rather than a one-size fits all prescription. “Aware of these critical challenges, I have sought to set up a distinctive development model rooted in the culture and in the specific national values of the Moroccan people – a model which also takes into account the need for positive interaction with international principles and objectives in this area.”

In his remarks, the King focused on the need for a healthier relationship, actually partnership, between developing countries and those who had colonized Africa and Asia; a partnership that recognizes that each country has its own path to follow “…having taken into consideration its historical development, cultural heritage, human and natural resources, specific political circumstances, as well as Its economic choices and the obstacles and challenges facing it.”

Just as he has done on his tours to multiple African countries, he called for respect for each country’s road to development promoting economic and political progress within the context of a country’s defining values and principles. The King singled out the injustice of asking former colonies to adopt Western models in short periods of time and with conditions imposed externally.

Yet King Mohammed did not overlook the responsibility of developing countries to step up to the challenges of authentic, inclusive, equitable development incorporating over time a balanced approach to sustainable growth. Reflecting on the work being done on intangible capital – “factors related to the living conditions of the population, such as security, stability, human resources, institutional development and the quality of life and of the environment…,” the King noted that “the right conditions need to be created, in theory and in practice, to move on to the next stage with regard to promoting both democracy and development, without interference in the internal affairs of states. In return, the latter should commit to good governance.”

Open for sustainable growth and development

Open for sustainable growth and development

King Mohammed challenges both developed and developing countries to redefine their relationships as partnerships reflecting shared interests that will lead to progress in economic and political policies. It is clear that the King believes shortcuts or facile solutions are not sustainable, and he emphasizes approaches rooted in the soil of the countries working to advance. It cannot be said that this King avoids controversy. Whether in dealing with Islamic extremists, the Assad regime, Jerusalem, or North-South relations, Morocco stands clearly in the camp of those who promote coordination, collaboration, and constructive engagement as an instrumental strategy for growth.

It is this visionary stance that enables Morocco to “punch above its weight.”

“Countering Violent Extremism” The Moroccan Way

Women playing a major role in counter-terrorism strategies

I have just finished reading “A Gendered Approach to Countering Violent Extremism – Lessons Learned from Women in Peacebuilding and Conflict Prevention Applied Successfully in Bangladesh and Morocco.” It was written by Krista London Couture of the National Counterterrorism Center and released by the Center for 21st Century Security and Intelligence at Brookings. Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) is the latest acronym to join the list of references to conflict between state and non-state actors and the environments in which they persist.

Brookings study on women and counterterrorism

Brookings study on women and counterterrorism

The assumption of the study is that “an increase in women empowerment and gender equality has a positive effect on countering extremism.” She gathered data on 16 indicators to identify any linkages between women’s role in a society and its ability to counter extremism. , Ms. Couture claims that “violent extremism is most effectively countered through increased education, better critical thinking, and enhanced opportunities” for women and sets out to prove it in her study Ms. Couture chose Bangladesh and Morocco because of “their direct and indirect emphasis on women empowerment to fight terrorism and its perceived factors that drive recruitment and radicalization to violence.” In Morocco, she focuses on two programs – the Moudawana, the reform of the family law code in 2004; and the mourchidates program in which women are trained similarly to imams (prayer leaders) to act as community social workers and advisors to families.

Her research “focuses on identifying and assessing the ways in which women can and do commendably serve in the prevention role [not that of enabler or participant in terrorism or counterterrorism].” According to her account, “Research and policies indicate that female empowerment and gender equality indicators continue to be valuable gauges in peacebuilding and conflict prevention.”

When an indicator is a labeled a “gauge” it indicates to me that there may not be a causal link on which to build sustainable strategies. While the relationship may be important, even vital, there are no guarantees that improving the lives of women is more salient than other factors in preventing extremism. So how does her methodology provide more insights into how policy makers can assess prioritizing women’s empowerment over “hard” power solutions to terrorism?

Challenging Traditional Notions of Counterterrorism

Mourchidates have the same studies as imams - prayer leaders

Mourchidates have the same studies as imams – prayer leaders

As Fatima Nezza, a Moroccan mourchidate , remarked to Ms. Couture, “If you train a man, you train one person. If you train a woman, you train an entire community.” This remark echoes the observation that in Muslim-majority countries, as in most traditional societies, women are significant anchors to social stability and development. So the author’s 16 “Key Female Empowerment Indicators,” cover social, political, economic, and quality of life indicators as a baseline for assessing the status of women in a particular society. When women are valued and supported as credible voices for stability in a country, “Programs where women are active participants moderate the intent and action of extremism at varying stages of radicalization.”

The relationship between CVE and human development has been the subject of many studies since 9/11. It is clear that to Ms. Couture that “Investing in civilian populations is critical to the success of curbing violent extremism. An essential element of effective CVE programs mandates long-term stability.” In this context, a country’s level and extent of development is a crucial factor in CVE efforts. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the United Nations, and the US Department of State and Department of Homeland Security have issued reports on the role of women in countering extremism. “Strategists believe that when women are empowered socially, politically, and economically in culturally appropriate and relevant ways, they will become contributing members of society who hold the answers and solutions to complex aspects and issues inherent in CVE,” according to Ms. Couture.

The organization Sisters Against Violent Extremism (SAVE), has written “Women have a key role to play in funding and implementing new, alternative approaches to ending violent extremism. …their close proximity to potentially vulnerable youth through their roles as the main caretaker in most societies provides them with a unique point of view that can lead to vital insights into how to steer youth away from violence.”

Morocco’s CVE Offense

Three factors cited in the paper that influence the impact of Morocco’s CVE strategy are improvements in development indicators for women, their empowerment as a result of the Moudawana, and the targeted efforts of the mourchidates. Ms. Couture points to King Mohammed VI’s continuing reforms, the pace of social liberalization, and its effective counterterrorism regime as elements that set Morocco apart from other countries in the region. Morocco’s moderate form of Islam is also a crucial factor, and she notes “The Moroccan Government initiated a program of countering extremist views and interpretations of Islam by reaching the wider population with moderate Islamic narratives.”

Mourchidate working in community center

Mourchidate working in community center

She describes the mourchidates program in great detail and praises their “optimism and tireless efforts. By educating women and mothers, providing a safe and productive outlet and activity for youths, and providing positive alternatives and choices for prison inmates, female mourchidates are changing the tide of terrorism by blunting potential catalysts.” She recognizes that it will “take a generation of teaching moderate Islam and tolerance through education and communication within a community” to change radical views of Islam, and Morocco has made that commitment. Holistically, “Providing an education, fulfilling basic needs, and affording opportunities to women are what Morocco has deemed necessary to counter violent extremism effectively.”

Ms. Couture concludes her analysis by linking the CVE role of women to the notion of “smart” power promoted by Professor Joseph Nye as bridging the gap between soft and hard power. She believes that “Women, who typically invest more in their families, can be the best defense against ignorance, intolerance, and a lack of opportunities.”

Morocco has made its CVE strategy clear: promoting economic and human development, encouraging greater equity and political space, and supporting greater understanding and appreciation of the moderate principles of Islam are integrated into a cohesive program to advance stability and security in the country and the region. While more study needs to be done across a broader population, results to date indicate that Morocco has made a “smart” choice in its CVE strategy and the primary role of women in that regard.

Moroccan Foreign Minister to UN Security Council: We are Honoring our Commitments, what about the Other Side?

*Letter to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon Sets the Record Straight*

Salaheddine Mezouar, Morocco’s Minster of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation sent a frank letter to Ban Ki-moon, Secretary General of the United Nations, on April 1 regarding the implementation of UN Resolution 2099, which renewed the MINURSO mandate in 2013.

MINURSO is the peace-keeping mission charged with ensuring a cease-fire between Morocco and the Polisario in the disputed Western Sahara. Morocco has offered a political compromise, which has the support of the US government and throughout the international community, to give the territory broad autonomy under Moroccan sovereignty, which the opposition Polisario Front refuses to discuss.

In his letter, intended for the Security Council members in advance of the 2014 MINURSO mandate renewal due by April 30, Mezouar pointed out that Morocco has taken all of the steps and others beyond the recommendations made in Resolution 2099, particularly in the area of human rights.

Among the highlights he mentioned are the report by the Economic, Social, and Environmental Council (CESE), which made a series of recommendations that will involve the investments of $18 billion over the next 10 years for social, human, and political development.

The Moroccan government has both adopted and agreed to fund these recommendations in full.

Regarding human rights reporting, the government has pledged to respond to complaints from the National Council for Human Rights (CNDH) offices in Laayoune and Dakhla within 90 days.

Morocco's human rights body

CNDH reports on human rights abuses

In addition, Morocco has continued to welcome the UN Special Rapporteurs – personnel assigned to report on specific issues – including the Special Rapporteur on torture who came in 2013 and will be returning for an update in the spring.

Morocco is particularly concerned that the debate in the Security Council on the MINURSO renewal reflects the current status of the UN’s position. All of the relevant resolutions since 2004 begin with the preamble of “Reaffirming its commitment to assist the parties to achieve a just, lasting and mutually acceptable political solution,” not a mandated referendum which has proven impractical and unrealistic.

Resolution 2099 also calls on the parties to “work with the international community to develop and implement independent and credible measures to ensure full respect for human rights…” which the opposition has used to critique Morocco’s human rights record without exposing the same kind of assessments of the Polisario-run camps around Tindouf, Algeria.

Morocco continues to welcome international organizations to review and evaluate its presence and activities throughout Morocco. For example, the government has just signed an agreement with the Council of Europe to open a Council office in Rabat to enhance coordination on human rights, rule of law, and democracy.

By any measure, the year to year progress as called for in Resolution in 2099 has been achieved by Morocco.