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The king congratulates himself.

MOROCCO BELIEVES IT has a great deal to offer the world in 1993. It sees itself as a bulwark against the rising tide of Islamic fundamentalism in North Africa, a pillar of the Arab Maghreb Union and the wider Arab world, a keen advocate of improved cooperation between the Maghreb and Europe, and a promising pupil under the tutelage of the IMF and World Bank.

Morocco would like to believe it is all this and more. The contrast with neighbouring Algeria is there for all to see, according to Rabat. While the embattled regime of Algeria's head of state, Ali Kafi, is faltering in its attempts to haul Algeria out of the mess resulting from a botched transition to a multiparty system, King Hassan wins fulsome (if selective) praise at home as the architect of the new, improved Moroccan democracy, offering the kind of firm government and continuity about which Algerians can only dream.

The self-congratulation is certainly as strong as ever, but is any of it justified? Sceptics, who include opposition leaders and Sahrawi separatists, paint a far less flattering picture. They argue that while Morocco's political crisis may be less vivid than Algeria's, it is no less real. King Hassan's critics see Morocco's expanded profile in Europe more as a desperate search for favour than the beginnings of meaningful integration. The coming year, they argue, far from being one of triumphant consolidation, will reveal some disturbing home truths.

On the domestic front, much will depend on the legislative elections scheduled for 30 April, the culmination of a process which King Hassan began with the dissolution of parliament last February and continued with the promulgation of a new constitution (Morocco's fourth since 1962) in September.

Hassan boldly described this as "Morocco's passport into the world scene". But beyond boosting the prime minister's role, its main purpose was to confirm the king's political and religious supremacy. Of more interest was the bizarre referendum which followed, where by the reckoning of the minister of interior, Driss Basri, 99.96% of voters backed the constitution despite an opposition boycott campaign.

Elections, which are supposed to take place every six years, were originally scheduled for 1990, but were postponed on the grounds that the referendum on the Western Sahara should take precedence. King Hassan now rejects that argument, however, and has pressed ahead despite the mild reservations expressed by the UN and the much fiercer objections of Polisario. Voting in March will again take place "in the whole of the national territory", and that includes the Western Sahara.

If the municipal elections held last October are anything to go by, the legislature will be crammed with loyal followers of the king. Hassan's task will be made easier if the opposition goes for a boycott, but there is still some confusion about its intentions. The two main opposition parties, the Union des Forces Populaires (USFP) and Istiqlal, fared disastrously in October, winning less than 25% of the vote amidst allegations of vote-rigging and intimidation. There were at least five deaths in incidents before and after the voting and the April poll is likely to be even more explosive.

The legislative elections will be watched with considerable interest by the new administration in Washington, which King Hassan may find considerably less congenial than those of Presidents Reagan and Bush. The last time King Hassan was at the White House in September 1991 he called his host, George Bush, "a man of rectitude, humility, deep thought, true foresight, and unshakeable faithfulness to his friends."

The United States, for its part, has been quick to acknowledge Morocco's strategic usefulness, which has survived the end of the Cold War. General Norman Schwarzkopf's recent book pays special tribute to the ready assistance Morocco provided during the Kuwait war.

But the Democrats may be a little more cautious. Relations cooled considerably under President Carter, who was seen by King Hassan as dangerously sympathetic to Polisario. High profile human rights initiatives from Washington will not be welcomed. Morocco's most celebrated political prisoner at present is Noubir Amaoui, secretary-general of the Confederation Democratique du Travail (CDT) and an important figure in the UFSP, who was sentenced to two years in prison in April for remarks made in a newspaper interview.

France is likely to be less critical. While relations between Paris and Rabat have been severely strained by incidents such as the publication of Gilles Perrault's Notre Ami Le Roi, France's prime minister, Pierre Beregevoy, was warmly received last November. Beregevoy pledged he would do what he could to facilitate Morocco's integration into Europe, but this is likely to be a long and frustrating process, with other European partners markedly less sympathetic. Europe too has issued warnings on human rights.

A financial protocol of ECU463m was approved by the European Parliament in October having been held up in January over reservations both on human rights and Morocco's non-cooperation in the Western Sahara. The European Council stressed in June that relations between Europe and the Maghreb states will take account of "respect for international law, human rights and democratic principles."

Whatever its ties to the Arab world and Africa, Europe remains very much the place Morocco wants to be, the source of some 52% of Moroccan imports and the destination of 56% of exports. The European Commission has drawn new guidelines on the "Euro-Maghreb" partnership, claiming that this will go beyond "the development cooperation policy followed until now," and will feature "cooperation in all fields, not just economic and social, but also political." The precise nature of the assistance Europe is willing to offer is not, as yet, clearly defined, but the emphasis is likely to be on facilitating privatisation initiatives, providing technical assistance and giving general support to economic reforms in conjunction with the IMF and World Bank.

The EC has made it clear that the Arab Maghreb Union (AMU) is the "only institutional forum for Maghreb cooperation," but the AMU is still in its infancy. King Hassan was a notable absentee at the last summit in Nouakchott and despite Morocco's professed commitment to Maghrebi integration and rapprochement with a traditionally hostile Algeria, far more divides the AMU's member states than unites them.

No hurry in the Western Sahara

IT IS DIFFICULT to remember that the referendum on the future of the Western Sahara was originally meant to have taken place this time last year. King Hassan is certainly in no rush to see the vote take place and, despite continuing to reaffirm his commitment to the referendum process, will do nothing to help speed things along.

Polisario, for its part, spent much of 1992 condemning what it saw as Morocco's delaying tactics, particularly King Hassan's attempts to get an extra 120,000 voters involved, and imploring the UN to take the whole dossier more seriously. The movement clearly has grave reservation about the will and the capacity of the UN Mission for a Referendum in the Western Sahara (Minurso) to carry out the mandate assigned to it in 1991.

There is a feeling that the UN secretary-general, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, like his predecessor, Javier Perez de Cuellar, is too soft on Morocco, not least because of his background as an Egyptian official. The secretary-general's reports have certainly been more than accommodating to Rabat, meekly accepting Morocco's holding of municipal elections in 1992, despite a previous understanding that they would be put off until after the referendum.

The issue of who can and cannot vote in the Sahara referendum has yet to be resolved. It was hoped that a UN-brokered meeting of Sahrawi elders in Geneva in early December would reach an agreement on this, but the talks collapsed. No provision has yet been made for the exchange of prisoners and the repatriation of hundreds of thousands of Sahrawi refugees.

The UN may plead that it has more pressing business elsewhere in the African continent. Apart from the continuing crisis in Somalia, this year sees the launch of a major peace-keeping operation in war-torn Mozambique. But the organisation will lose much credibility if it allows Minurso to drift into oblivion.

Morocco claims confidently that Polisario is a spent force anyway, its leadership split, its morale low, and its external backers indifferent. Much has been made of the improved relations between Morocco and Algeria, Polisario's long-time host. Algeria, so the argument goes in Rabat, is far too pre-occupied with its domestic problems to do much on Polisario's behalf, and wants to be rid of the Sahara issue. Not surprisingly, Polisario has vigorously denied this.

The movement has also played down the defection to the Moroccan camp of several senior Polisario cadres, notably its former foreign minister and envoy in Algiers, Brahim Hakim, who is now a "special ambassador" for King Hassan. It points instead to the continuing arrival in the refugee camps near Tindouf of Sahrawis fleeing Moroccan-controlled territory.

The exodus, it is claimed, is partly due to a new wave of repression by the local authorities. According to Sahrawi sources, the Moroccan municipal elections in October, which were held throughout the "national territory" (the Western Sahara provocatively included), coincided with a spate of demonstration in Smara, El Ayoun and Assa. Mass arrests followed each protest and the climate has become increasingly tense.

This, in Polisario's version, is the Sahrawi intifada gathering steam. Morocco has dismissed the demonstration as a little local difficulty, but this line may become more difficult to defend in 1993 with the forthcoming legislative elections likely to trigger fresh disturbances.

Renewed violence might also force the UN to come off the fence. The 300-odd blue berets deployed to date have seen precious little action, but there is clearly a feeling on Polisario's side that they should take a higher profile, acting as a check on Morocco's excesses. King Hassan will fiercely resent any perceived challenge to Moroccan sovereignty, but the UN needs to show its teeth a little more where the Western Sahara is concerned.
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Title Annotation:includes related arti cle; King Hassan of Morocco
Author:Simpson, Chris
Publication:The Middle East
Date:Feb 1, 1993
Previous Article:The Islamisation of modernity.
Next Article:Headlong towards a liberal economy.

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