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Cablegate: Scenesetter for Codel Thompson

VZCZCXYZ0009
OO RUEHWEB

DE RUEHRB #0746/01 2241630
ZNR UUUUU ZZH (CCY ADXC4ECC7 MSI9403-623)
O 111630Z AUG 08
FM AMEMBASSY RABAT
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 8981
INFO RUEHNR/AMEMBASSY NAIROBI 0121
RUEHTC/AMEMBASSY THE HAGUE 0882
RUEHCL/AMCONSUL CASABLANCA 4266

UNCLAS RABAT 000746

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE

STATE FOR H, NEA/RA AND NEA/MAG

C O R R E C T E D C O P Y (CAPTION ADDED)

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: OREP PTER ASEC PREL PGOV MO
SUBJECT: SCENESETTER FOR CODEL THOMPSON

1. (SBU) Representative Thompson, we are looking forward to
your and your delegation's visit to Morocco. The Moroccans
are eager to share their assessment of domestic and regional
terrorist threats and to discuss border security issues.
Your meetings with Moroccan officials will afford good
opportunities to shore up our strong bilateral
counterterrorism relationship.

--------------------------------------------
Moroccan Government, Politics, and Economics
--------------------------------------------

2. (SBU) Governance: Morocco's political scene is stable
but evolving. King Mohammed VI rules as well as reigns.
Morocco's Constitution and reality ascribe to the Palace the
balance of political power. The King has made significant
political reforms, including relative freedom of expression,
advances on human rights, and enhanced legal protections for
women, particularly through bold revisions to the family law
code in 2004, which are controversial with conservative
Islamists. Partly as a result of this reform record, public
support for the King and his reform agenda is generally solid.

3. (SBU) Parliament and Political Reform: The September
2007 legislative elections were certified as free and
transparent by a team of international monitors (funded by
the USG). In the elections, the Islamists performed below
expectations but led the opposition as the second largest
bloc in parliament. The elections were marred by a record
low turnout, broadly seen as a reflection of low public
confidence in the Parliament and political parties. To
address this, for the past few years, the USG has been
funding capacity-building programs for the Parliament and
political parties.

4. (SBU) Current Government: Prime Minister Abbas El
Fassi's government, formed in the Fall after the September
legislative elections, is built on a minority coalition.
Most observers believe it will not last for the full
five-year mandate of Parliament, and see a growing role for
Fouad Ali El Himma, an intimate of the King, head of the
Parliament's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, and
catalyst behind a new political bloc calling itself the
Movement of All Democrats (MTD). Islamists, socially
conservative but loyal to the King, won the popular vote in
the fall elections, but lost the race for parliamentary seats
and will remain in an opposition role. We currently see no
prospect for a significant shift in Morocco's foreign and
security policies. Neither Parliament nor the Prime Minister
has much say in these issues, which are managed by the Throne
directly with concerned ministries.

5. (SBU) Economics and Trade: The economy is relatively
robust with growing foreign investment and remittances,
increasing tourism and a booming stock market, marred by
increasing disparities in wealth. Since implementation of
our Free Trade Agreement on January 1, 2006, bilateral
commerce has more than doubled. Moroccan exports to the U.S.
have increased 38 percent, and U.S. exports to Morocco have
increased 155 percent. However, Morocco still looks
economically to Europe first. Agriculture remains the sector
that determines whether GDP rises or falls. In 2007, drought
and a small crop limited economic growth to only 2.3 percent,
but better, if still below average rain and crops this year
should revive growth. Rising food prices have quickly become
a principal domestic issue for Morocco, sparking sporadic
protests. The Government will continue to subsidize basic
goods, remembering the food price riots of the 80's and 90's
that threatened the stability of the nation.

6. (SBU) U.S. Assistance: We are focusing our assistance to
Morocco on four priorities: counterterrorism, economic
growth, democracy and governance, and supporting quality
education. One of our many tools will be the Millennium
Challenge Account Compact with Morocco wherein USD 697.5
million will be provided over the next five years to support
economic growth and reduce poverty.

--------------------------------
Morocco's Domestic Terror Threat
--------------------------------

7. (U) A relative lull since the 2003 Casablanca bombings,
which targeted Jewish and Western interests and killed 45
people, was shattered when a series of suicide bombing
attacks took place in Morocco in 2007. The spring 2007
violence again centered in the city of Casablanca, Morocco's
commercial capital, but the last attack occurred in August
2007 in the interior city of Meknes.


8. (SBU) Characteristics of the attacks support previous
analysis that Morocco's greatest terrorist threat stems from
the existence of numerous small "grassroots" Salafi Jihadist
groups in Morocco willing to commit violent acts against the
state, foreigners, and innocent civilians.

9. (SBU) The attacks in 2007, which appear to have been, at
best, poorly coordinated events, contrast sharply with more
elaborate plots in 2006 that were thwarted by the vigilance
of Moroccan authorities. In the most prominent of these,
Moroccan authorities arrested 51 members of the so-called
Ansar al-Mahdi cell, five of whom were Moroccan soldiers, in
early August 2006. (Fifty defendants in this case were
convicted in January 2008 and received sentences of 2 - 25
years.)

10. (SBU) Throughout 2007 and 2008, the Government of
Morocco (GOM) continued to dismantle terrorist cells within
the Kingdom.

----------------
External Threats
----------------

11. (SBU) Morocco has several external terrorist threats
including AQIM, Pakistan-based al-Qa'ida, and jihad veterans
returning from Iraq. Al-Qa'ida number two Ayman al-Zawahiri
implicitly called for attacks on the two Spanish enclaves of
Ceuta and Melilla in 2006 and 2007.

------------------------
Returning Iraqi Fighters
------------------------

12. (SBU) The GOM is concerned about Moroccan veteran
jihadists eventually returning from Iraq to propagate
jihadist activity at home. While overall numbers of
Moroccans fighting in Iraq are difficult to estimate, some
press reporting puts the number at several hundred.

---------------------
Morocco's CT Approach
---------------------

13. (SBU) A key to the GOM's counterterrorism (CT) strategy
has been a comprehensive approach which not only emphasizes
neutralizing existing terrorist threats through traditional
law enforcement and security measures, but also engages in
preventative measures to discourage terrorist recruitment
through political reform and policy measures and by taking
advantage of the Islamic "high ground" through the King, as
religious leader, and the religious establishment. As a
religious and political leader for all Moroccans, King
Mohammed VI has led this effort by unambiguously condemning
terrorism and those who espouse or conduct terrorism.

14. (SBU) In 2008, the GOM continued to implement internal
reforms aimed at ameliorating socio-economic factors that
create conditions conducive to extremism. The National
Initiative for Human Development, launched by King Mohammed
VI in 2005, is a USD 1.2 billion program designed to generate
employment, combat poverty, and improve infrastructure, with
a special focus on rural areas. The Embassy is chipping in
with programs targeted at vulnerable youth and we have a
proposal for FY 09 funding to sponsor prison reform and
deradicalization.

-----------------
Counter-extremism
-----------------

15. (SBU) Morocco's Ministry of Religious Endowments and
Islamic Affairs (MOIA) also continues reforms launched in
2004 to counter extremist ideology and promote religious
moderation and tolerance. In 2006, 30 imams were dismissed
in favor of those preaching a government-sanctioned message.
The MOIA also supervised revisions to the country's religious
curriculum, broke with the precedent by appointing 50 women
as spiritual guides at mosques, and installed a
closed-circuit television network that broadcasts moderate
religious sermons to 2,000 mosques each day.

16. (SBU) The GOM also emphasized adherence to human rights
standards in the pursuit of terrorist suspects and increased
law enforcement and justice transparency as part of its CT
program. The GOM this year provided NGOs unprecedented
access to prisons and demonstrated unprecedented frankness in
presenting to the public candid assessments of the terrorism

threat.

------------
Legal Reform
------------

17. (SBU) Following the suicide bombings in Casablanca in
May 2003, Morocco passed laws to broaden the definition of
terrorism, proposed heavy sentences for inciting terrorism,
and increased investigative authorities, powers against
suspected terrorists. In an effort to combat terrorist
financial transactions, the new laws also allowed for
freezing of suspect accounts, and permitted the prosecution
of terrorist finance related crimes.

---------------------------------
Regional and International Issues
---------------------------------

18. (SBU) Border Troubles with Algeria: The Moroccan
relationship with Algeria remains tense, and the border
between the two countries remains closed. Although
possessing common languages and some ethno-cultural roots,
the two countries have evolved in politically divergent
directions. Territorial tensions began shortly after
Algerian independence, when a dispute over the demarcation of
the border between the two countries in 1963 led to a brief
period of hostilities known as the Desert (or Sand) War. For
the last 30 years, a major bone of contention has been the
Western Sahara issue and Algerian support for the self
-proclaimed Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic and its
political and military leadership, the POLISARIO Front. The
Moroccan purchase of F-16's was apparently motivated by the
sense of threat from a previous Algerian purchase of advanced
aircraft from Russia. In March, Morocco publicly proposed
opening the border between the two countries, which was
quickly rebuffed by the Government of Algeria (GOA). Morocco
subsequently made a second proposal to upgrade bilateral
dialogue, to which there has not yet been a public response
from Algeria. In the interim, the two Prime Ministers met,
in their role as leaders of the parties that led the North
African states to independence, the highest level encounter
in years, but with little broader impact.

19. (SBU) Western Sahara: Moroccan foreign policy is
dominated by defending and seeking political recognition of
its sovereignty claims over Western Sahara. The issue
remains the most visible source of tension with Algeria,
which has historically supported the POLISARIO's quest
efforts for independence by way of a UN-sponsored referendum.
The issue provoked Morocco to leave the African Union and
helped block regional integration through the Arab Maghreb
Union. Approximately one year ago, Morocco proposed a new
autonomy plan for Western Sahara, and a series of
UN-sponsored negotiations with the POLISARIO began in
Manhasset, New York. This proposal, deemed "serious and
credible" by the USG, would provide Sahrawis--indigenous
people of Western Sahara--autonomy in administering local
affairs while respecting Moroccan sovereignty over the
territory. After the recent renewal of the mandate of the UN
peacekeeping mission, the U.S. announced we considered the
independence option for the territory, "not realistic," which
was appreciated by the GOM.


*****************************************
Visit Embassy Rabat's Classified Website;
http://www.state.sgov.gov/p/nea/rabat
*****************************************

Riley

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