US-Morocco Co-Op Bolstered as Moroccan Economy Sputters
Last month U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton hosted the first round of the U.S.-Morocco Strategic Dialogue, and on Friday the State Department released a statement on initial progress and goals for the partnership. The statement was generally congratulatory, noting that “the United States commended the important reforms and initiatives undertaken by His Majesty the King Mohammed VI,” and “both sides recognized the continued desire to find opportunities to strengthen the already excellent and mutually beneficial relations.” The Memorandum of Understanding included plans for increased cooperation in the political, security, economic, and education and cultural fields. Specifically, the agreement called for increased bilateral and regional trade and investment, “deepening the ongoing bilateral dialogue on human rights” including a new Human Rights Dialogue before the end of the year, “advancing women’s empowerment by increasing women’s access to political and economic opportunity,” supporting judicial reform, bolstering counter-terrorism programming and associated institutions, and expanding youth educational exchanges and empowerment programs.
The statement included language on Western Sahara, supporting “efforts to find a peaceful, sustainable, mutually agreed-upon solution;” calling Morocco’s autonomy plan “serious, realistic, and credible;” and urging the parties to work within the UN framework for negotiations. The U.N. Peacekeeping chief visited the Western Sahara for the first time in 14 years last week, which the Polisario Front said demonstrates that the international community has not forgotten about Western Sahara.
Prominent Moroccan opposition blogger Hassan Barhoun was also briefly detained [Ar.] and his camera seized last week after covering a protest calling for the release of prisoners in Tetouan. Barhoun has been arrested several times in recent years for his anti-government comments and human rights advocacy activities.
Moroccan King Mohamed VI left for a trip to the Gulf as domestic economic indicators continued a downward slide. In light of a significant budget deficit, low currency reserves, falling tourism numbers, rising food prices, and a significant trade deficit, Standard & Poor’s revised Morocco’s debt outlook to negative and warned of further potential downgrades. Reports indicate that Morocco will soon be forced to dip into a $6.2 billion IMF fund, which comes on top of last year’s five-year $5 billion GCC grant.