Unprecedented and escalating diplomatic tensions between Morocco and Germany beginning in March 2021 led to the suspension of political and cultural cooperation and the delay of major joint economic projects earlier this year.
On March 1, Morocco cut off communication with the German embassy in Rabat, and in May recalled its ambassador to Berlin, Zhour El-Alaoui, in protest of Germany’s “hostile policies against Morocco’s higher interests,” according to a declaration issued by Moroccan Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Moroccans Living Abroad. Germany’s “deep misunderstandings on fundamental Moroccan issues” (alluding basically to Morocco’s Western Sahara issue) reportedly also angered Morocco’s leadership.
In May 2021, Morocco recalled its ambassador to Berlin in protest of Germany’s “hostile policies against Morocco’s higher interests.”
After the Trump administration’s recognition of Morocco’s sovereignty over the entire Western Sahara in December 2020, Germany (although not a member of the UN Security Council) called for an urgent meeting of the Council to counter Trump’s decision. The year before, Germany had disregarded Morocco’s role as a major geopolitical player in Africa by not inviting it to an international conference in Berlin in 2019 on the Libyan crisis. Morocco viewed the slight as another instance of Germany’s “constant and relentless fight against the regional role that Morocco plays.”
Some German and Moroccan media included reports of leaked information regarding Germany’s alleged intentions to curb Morocco’s ambitions in Africa, especially after the success of Morocco’s investment strategy in many sub-Saharan African countries.
A report on North African rivalries over sub-Saharan Africa, written by Senior Fellow in the German Institute for International and Security Affairs Middle East and Africa Division Isabelle Werenfels— who reportedly is affiliated with the German Federal Intelligence Department— called Morocco’s policy in Africa “hegemonic,” and made recommendations to Germany and the EU to slow Morocco’s development ambitions and put them on equal footing with those of its neighboring countries (Algeria and Tunisia). However, the German embassy in Morocco refuted the claim that Dr. Werenfels works for the German intelligence services, describing the information as “completely false and baseless.”
Morocco also accused German authorities of working in complicity with Mohamed Hajib, a Moroccan man previously convicted of terrorist acts, who has used Germany as a rear base to attack Moroccan institutions and incite terrorist acts in the country over the last several years. These moves not only angered Rabat, but also highlighted a consistently antagonistic German policy detrimental to the kingdom’s national and international interests.
Ensuing tensions between Morocco and Germany prompted the halt of several strategic joint economic projects.
The cumulative misunderstandings and ensuing tensions between Morocco and Germany prompted the halt of several strategic joint economic projects. One year after signing a German-Moroccan green hydrogen alliance (upon which Germany had counted to achieve its energy neutrality and reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 65% by 2030), Morocco ended cooperation on the project in light of Germany’s unfriendly tactics to undermine Morocco’s quintessential Western Sahara issue.
In his speech to the nation on the 46th anniversary of the Green March on November 5, 2021, King Mohamed VI affirmed that any strong and sustainable trade agreements between Morocco and its partners should include the whole territory of Morocco, including the Sahara.
“I wish to tell those with ambiguous or ambivalent attitudes, that Morocco will not have any economic or commercial transaction with them in which the Moroccan Sahara is not included,” the King said:
Morocco was also affected by the diplomatic break with Germany. The latter has been one of the main donors contributing to Morocco’s sustainable development projects and modernization efforts, with funds amounting to 1.387 billion euros in 2020. There are also more than 300 German companies operating in the kingdom in various economic sectors, all of which have been impacted to varying degrees since Morocco froze ties with the German embassy in Rabat.
Germany’s Foreign Ministry released a statement hailing Morocco as “an important link between north and south.”
However, after the inauguration of the new German government on December 8, upon the election of social democrat Olaf Scholz as Chancellor, Germany’s Foreign Ministry released a statement on December 13 hailing Morocco as “an important link between north and south” politically, culturally and economically, and noted the long bilateral relations that had started at the dawn of Morocco’s independence in 1956.
The statement also clarified Germany’s position on the Western Sahara issue, confirming that it supports the UN Secretary General’s newly appointed Personal Envoy to the Sahara, Staffan de Mistura, “in his efforts to find a just, lasting political solution acceptable to all, based on UN Security Council Resolution 2602 (2021).” The statement also recognized Morocco’s “important contribution” to the desired and long-awaited solution to the conflict through its autonomy plan.
Three days before the German Foreign Ministry’s statement, Mohamed Hajib, the radical Islamist who has been attacking the monarchy and other institutions in Morocco since he arrived in Germany in 2017, announced his withdrawal from further political activism in a video posted on YouTube, but later on deleted it for reasons unknown. Many observers think that this was not a coincidence, but rather another sign of Germany’s move in the direction of appeasing tensions with Morocco.
The Moroccan Ministry of Foreign Affairs, African Cooperation, and Moroccans Living Abroad expressed its satisfaction with Germany’s new posture, stating that “the Kingdom of Morocco welcomes the positive declaration and constructive positions recently expressed by the new Federal Government of Germany.” The ministry’s statement also sent positive messages to the German government, affirming that Germany’s new positions will “allow the resumption of bilateral cooperation and the return of the work of the diplomatic representations in the two countries in Rabat and Berlin to its normal form.”
According to the Deutsche Welle international broadcaster, the German Foreign Ministry said on December 23, 2021 that diplomatic missions in Rabat and Berlin should return as soon as possible to their “usual professional channels of communication.” The ministry added that German-Moroccan relations must now be pushed forward through dialogue.
German-Moroccan relations must now be pushed forward through dialogue.
In a recent development, Morocco’s News Agency (MAP) revealed on January 5, that the President of the Federal Republic of Germany, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, addressed a message to King Mohammed VI on the occasion of the New Year wherein he affirmed that Morocco under the King’s leadership has “carried out extensive reforms,” recalling “Germany’s continuous and strong support for the wonderful development of Morocco.” The German president also hailed Morocco’s autonomy plan for Western Sahara, describing it as “a serious and credible effort by Morocco, and a good basis for reaching an agreement” for this regional dispute. President Steinmeier also invited the Moroccan King to pay a “state visit to Germany,” in order to “establish a new partnership between the two countries”.
The official statements coming from Berlin and Rabat confirm that the authorities in both countries are well aware that the diplomatic spat between them does not serve the interests of either. Morocco now expects Germany to solidify its new positions on the Sahara issue and translate its recent statements into actions. Reconciliatory messages in diplomatic relations are very important to initiate dialogue and negotiation, but they are not enough without a strong political will that results in conclusive and positive measures.
Germany has much that Morocco can benefit from in terms of renewable energy, Germany’s automotive industry, its healthcare industry, as well as information technology and telecommunications. Morocco, in turn, is a promising gateway to business in the African continent with solid investment and trade infrastructure (the best in Africa according to the 2021 Infrastructure Index) and abundant economic and investment opportunities, especially in its southern Sahara territories.