Like any great nation, Germany has a number of myths attached to its character, perhaps largely due to its legacy over the last 100 years where it changed the course of history by starting – and losing – two world wars. Chief amongst those untruths that people like to believe about the Germans is that they are a thorough, efficient kind of people who rarely blunder and are confident about who they are and where they stand in the world.
In fact, in my experience of working for German state television as a freelance foreign correspondent for almost a decade, few of these clichés about Germans are true. In reality, I found Germans to be insecure, arrogant, and above all fiercely stubborn people.
Morocco’s recent spat with Germany is an interesting one as its outcome will be determined by the realities of the German Foreign Ministry and its government. But has Rabat started a fight that it can’t possibly wriggle out of? And will it pay a heavy price for the capricious move, which, in early March, saw Morocco break off relations with the German embassy?
The row, on the face of it, appeared to be Berlin’s position opposing Donald Trump’s move to officially recognize Western Sahara as Morocco’s legitimate protectorate.
The row, on the face of it, appeared to be Berlin’s position opposing Donald Trump’s move to officially recognize Western Sahara as Morocco’s legitimate protectorate, of sorts. But there were other issues in the background which also brought the palace in Rabat to a breaking point: Berlin not inviting Rabat to a key conference on Libya (absurd and petty, given that Morocco was the host country for a UN-brokered agreement in 2015), Germany’s obsession with creating human rights type watchdogs inside Morocco, and a recent scandal over a German-Moroccan national who was wrongly arrested by Interpol and spent some time in a Moroccan jail before returning to Germany.
The latter was probably a blunder on the part of Morocco. But aside from that, Berlin has been playing hardball with Rabat for some time and a recent report, which underlined Germany’s stellar opposition to the Trump move on Western Sahara, puts a spotlight on Berlin and its comical, if not desperate need to be an international player on the global stage.
Germany is not alone both in the UN and within the EU when we talk about countries which are now looking to the UN itself to put the toothpaste back into the tube over the Trump move. And it was perhaps a tad naive of the Rabat elite to think that it could nip this bud early before such ideas spread. Rabat will see in the coming weeks that the overwhelming support that the indigenous people of Western Sahara had before Trump made the move, will only be emboldened. It will put the spotlight back on Morocco to make the next move or face the cold shoulder in the one international organization in the world where it really can’t afford to become a foe.
The Trump move hasn’t advanced the Western Sahara issue for Rabat but merely has become the starter’s pistol for a whole new international debacle.
The Trump move hasn’t advanced the Western Sahara issue for Rabat but merely has become the starter’s pistol for a whole new international debacle as countries like Germany dig their heels in deep.
Trump’s recognition of Western Sahara did pave the way for the normalization of relations between Israel and Morocco which will no doubt bear fruit in terms of assistance in development and trade. No question. But the price that Morocco will pay will be a heavy one around the world as many powerful countries – who previously turned a blind eye to the unsavory details of how Morocco goes about its business inside Western Sahara – will now no longer remain silent.
It’s a fatuous assumption by Rabat that Berlin is alone on this subject and the stunt of shutting down relations was probably unwise. Many might argue that, given the limited diplomatic skills that Morocco has or, indeed, the lack of élan that its Foreign Minister wields internationally, that Rabat really had no choice. It was pushed in a corner. Perhaps there is some truth in this.
But picking a fight with the EU’s 600-pound gorilla can only end in tears for Morocco. If Germany is as stubborn as its track record shows, Berlin will want to make an example of this move to influence the bigger players in the UN – the US, France, and the UK for example. It will argue that the human rights situation is so bad within Morocco itself, how can Rabat enjoy any of the previous patronage when it reacts like this to Germany? “What did Germany do?” the Germans will ask their friends in the European Parliament. “If this is how Rabat responds to merely a point of view which opposes theirs, then what can we assume is the real story in Western Sahara?” Germany’s Foreign Minister will chime to other EU foreign ministers in Brussels when they meet.
Morocco doesn’t have an impressive track record on finding a democratic solution to the Western Sahara problem.
Morocco doesn’t have an impressive track record on finding a democratic solution to the Western Sahara problem. Indeed, in 1991, it threw up a cloud of dust, when the realities of a referendum there didn’t look favorable or conducive to its objectives.
The problem stems largely from no debate whatsoever within Morocco itself. When such a policy is enforced for decades and people, media, and relevant officials get used to such an endlessly enforced doctrine, then it’s easy to see how the palace finds it so hard to talk to international players. In Morocco, most citizens who love their king are terrified to even talk about the subject in any light other than the one which is the official one. An entire generation has accepted that it would be treachery to do so, and therein lies the heart of the problem. Rabat has extended this ideology to the international community and has thus run into a brick wall.
The UN is an institution which practically lives and breathes by the mantra that colonialization in any form cannot be accepted. By default, the institution works against any such models, no matter how opaque they may be. What Rabat has done by locking horns with Germany – which although not on the security council, still, nonetheless has considerable influence – is self-destructive. Statements from Rabat which justify the move along the lines of no longer accepting relations with countries which separate politics from trade is naive at best. Rabat will find, to its detriment, that politics, aid, and trade, have to its own advantage been separate for decades by many friends of Morocco. To insist that a new homogenization of relations should be the new norm will only backfire on those who came up with the idea to try and teach the obstinate Germans a lesson.
*The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Inside Arabia.