By Elle Winfield, Class of ’19

From Anti-terrorism assistance to US-AID advancement initiatives, the US and Morocco have a long history of diplomacy, dating back to the recognition of US independence in 1777. The aims of both states have, until recently, been believed to be synonymous- specifically the effort to curtail the rise of extremist Islamism. Further, under the reign of Mohammed VI, a monarch whose legacy aspirations seem fixated on wider societal reform and democracy, the interests of the US appear safeguarded. The ‘clash of civilizations’ cliché, the administration seems to stress, does not apply to Morocco.

However, the ‘King’s Dilemma’- of how to liberalize governance whilst still retaining monarchial control- has brought new questions to the field of international relations following The 2011 Arab Spring. A historical and arguably unpredicted uprising, the fall out saw six major state revolutions and the consequent global refugee crisis as the region became engulfed in civil war. Morocco, however, remained to a large extent relatively stable in comparison to its neighbors.

The extent to which the domino effects of 2011 will threatened, or even topple, this monarchial state, therefore depends on the actions of immediate government- most significantly, the King.

During the Springs height, Mohammed VI promised his populace a remodeled leadership, based on the principles of power sharing as a show of commitment to democracy. His recent dismissal of Benkirane, Prime Minister from 2011-2017, however, suggests a different narrative- one in which the King remains the sole political ‘director’. In a time of rising citizenry unrest, the responsiveness of Mohammed to the demands of the populace will have direct consequences on the ability of the US to maintain its national security objectives. Should an insensitive government regime inspire national resentment, the fracturing of leadership would critically harm the states capacity to respond to growing terrorist activity in the region. The significance of this is underlined both due to Morocco’s pivotal geographical location and due to the rising prevalence of extremist Islamist factions in the state.

Organizations, such as the Moroccan Islamic Combatant Group, stand to gain critical support from Moroccan citizens as a consequence of a stagnating or ignorant government. The rise of these terrorist factions is not only an immediate concern for Mohamed VI, but stands to threaten Morroco’s long term US diplomacy if not adequately confronted as a matter of preventative national security.

The question of Moroccan state reform is as such far greater a question than previously realized. On one hand, failure to enact political change is expected to invigorate potentially harmful organizations that directly challenge US-Moroccan counter-terrorism policies. On the other, an expansion of Moroccan diplomacy may allow the legitimate rise of Islamist parties, whose mandates represent a potential long term risk to American aspirations for the region.

The question being raised by Morocco is therefore the extent to which the implementation of extremist Sharia Law, constitutes as a direct threat to the efforts of counterterrorism. Do all beliefs exist within the outline of America’s first amendment? If not, to what extent does American foreign policy have both an interest or a right in Moroccan interventionism, if the Mohammed VI fails in domestic reform?

Whilst western attention currently rests on the failed states of Syria and Yemen, it is imperative that, in order for counterterrorist policy to succeed, the focus of the currently reductionist administration must must expand to include its oldest ally, the Moroccan state.