New America Media, News Analysis, Jamal Dajani
Editorâ€™s Note: Morocco is girded to pay a price for co-operating with the US on the war on terror says Jamal Dajani, director of Middle Eastern Affairs at Link TV. He writes frequently on the Middle East and the media.
TANGIERS, Morocco â€“ Shortly after the failed suicide attacks in Glasgow, Scotland, the Moroccan Interior Ministry declared a heightened state of alert warning of imminent terrorist attacks in Morocco. According to several Moroccan and Arab terrorist experts, the recent failure of Al Qaeda in Europe will force it to shift its attention to Arab and Islamic countries which enjoy strong relations with the West and the United States and are considered partners on the war on terror. Morocco fits this description.
During a recent trip from Tangiers to Fez, a heightened state of alert was evident. Our driver was stopped and questioned either by police or the Royal Darak no less than six times.
According to Almassae, the main Arabic daily newspaper, the threat comes from Al Qaeda in the Arab Maghreb, led by Bin Ladenâ€™s self-appointed deputy in Algeria, Abu Al Wadud, who, during a recent televised broadcast made direct threats against Morocco. An unnamed source from the Moroccan security service believes that these threats are real, due to two factors: first, this branch of Al Qaeda has always delivered on its threats in the past and second, several known Moroccan terrorists appeared on the tape sitting next to Abu Al Wadud.
Only a week ago, a suicide car bomb killed at least eight people and wounded thirty in the town of Lakhdaria, about 120 kilometers southeast of Algiers. The bombing took place during the opening of the All Africa Games, one of the continentâ€™s biggest sporting events, taking place in Algiers. Meanwhile, Moroccan police detained 15 suspected Al Qaeda members who were plotting to blow up sensitive targets in the North African country.
Morocco has always been considered a bridge between Europe and the Middle East, and between Africa and the Arab world; an Islamic country where ancient traditions intermingle with modernity and where nightclubs and mosques exist on the same block. Does Al Qaeda plan to destroy this harmony?
Since the ascent of Mohammed VI to the throne, Morocco has seen many changes. The young enthusiastic king has embarked on a campaign of reform and transparency absent during the reign of his father King Hassan II, who died in 1999, leaving the young heir with the responsibility of guiding this impoverished nation into the 21st century. The young king has brought about vital domestic reforms, such as the elevation and protection of the status of women, as well as establishing an independent commission on human rights.
One of his first decrees was to grant freedom to a number of political prisoners and abolish many of the laws that restricted freedom of the press. Though his critics claim that he has not done enough, others believe that he has opened a Pandoraâ€™s box full of new troubles. Criticism against the king and various members of the government can be seen daily in the Moroccan press. Articles and op-eds about allegations of fraud by government officials and ministers are common.
Recently, the press was up in arms about unconfirmed reports that the Moroccan government has plans to grant the United States permission to build a new military base on its soil and use it as a monitoring center for all of Africa. Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia are part of another US project, the Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Partnership, under which African countries collaborate with US forces to prevent the spread of terrorism and receive intelligence and assistance from the United States.
With this new openness in Moroccan society, Berbers have been more aggressively seeking recognition of their identity and language (Amazigh). During a recent debate on television I watched a proponent for the Amazigh language demand that government-run schools give it a higher priority than French. Although Arabic is Moroccoâ€™s official language, French is widely taught and serves as the primary language of commerce and government.
In the midst of these issues, the kingdom remains in a precarious position dealing with the separatist Polisario movement in the Western Sahara and historically strained relations with neighboring Algeria and Spain. The kingdom has accused both of arming the separatist rebels.
The rise of Islamism may be the biggest threat facing the young king. Ironically, King Mohammed VIâ€™s new policy for tolerating an independent press has worked in their favor. They now urge the government to be accountable for their unfulfilled promises. On September 7, 2007, some 15 million eligible Moroccan voters are expected to go to the polls during the legislative elections, and many believe that these parliamentary elections will swing in favor of the Islamists.
The kingâ€™s father, Hassan II, used a metaphor to describe his country that seems fitting. He stated that Morocco is â€œlike a tree whose roots lie in Africa but whose leaves breathe in European air.â€ Will the current king be able to maintain this delicate balance?