Cablegate: Morocco: Monarch Criticizes but Extends Hand To

DE RUEHRB #1706/01 3111519
P 071519Z NOV 07

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 RABAT 001706




E.O. 12958: DECL: 11/07/2017

REF: A. RABAT 01695
B. MADRID 02070

Classified By: Classified by Charge d'Affairs Robert P. Jackson for rea
sons 1.4 (b) and (d)


1. (C) On November 6 Morocco's King Mohammed VI criticized
Spain over the visit of King Juan Carlos to the disputed
enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla, but called for "honest and
forward-looking dialogue", sending a clear message that the
relationship will be preserved. Moroccans across the
political spectrum have reacted stridently to the November 5
and 6 visits to the coastal cities. Prime Minister Abbas
El-Fassi made a strong speech to Parliament and there were
protests and sit-ins by senior government officials, NGOs,
and parliamentarians. Morocco postponed the annual bilateral
PM-chaired coordination meeting indefinitely. Foreign
Affairs Committee Chair Fouad Ali El Himma presented a
protest letter to the Spanish Ambassador on October 6. This
nationalist grandstanding increased the profile of both PM El
Fassi and El Himma in the royal domain of Foreign Affairs.
Exacerbated by inopportune timing on the eve of Morocco's
Green March celebration, the visit raised political tensions,
but has not so far appeared to have fired the public
imagination. It is likely the flurry of Moroccan anger will
not set back burgeoning relations across the straits of
Gibraltar. End Summary.

Irked, but Calming the Waters

2. (U) Press reports indicate that on November 6, royal
adviser Mohammed Moatassim read a statement from King
Mohammed VI to the Moroccan cabinet. In it, the monarch
condemned the recent visit by Spain's King Juan Carlos to the
disputed Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla on Morocco's
northern coast as "useless" and a sign of "yearning for a
long-gone era of darkness." (Note: Morocco does not
recognize Spanish sovereignty over the two enclaves. End
Note.) He reiterated his resolve to reassert Moroccan
sovereignty over the territories, which have been under
Spanish rule for approximately 500 years. He closed,
however, by calling for an "honest and forward-looking"
dialogue in order to continue building constructive relations
between the two countries.

Fired by Memories of the Green March

3. (U) On November 5, the day of the visit, a group of
parliamentarians, NGO representatives, local government
officials and hundreds of protesters marched on the border
crossing between Morocco and the Spanish enclave of Melilla
An even larger crowd (some press estimates put the number of
people at 5,000) demonstrated uneventfully at the border with
Ceuta. The march was organized to protest both Juan Carlos's
visit and the continued "colonization" of Moroccan territory
by Spain. This event followed similar, but relatively small,
peaceful protests outside the Spanish Consulates in Tetouan,
Agadir and Casablanca.

4. (U) In Rabat, also on November 5, a 10-person delegation
headed by the Chairs of the parliamentary Foreign Affairs
Committees (FAC) from the chambers of Councilors (upper
house) and Deputies (lower house), under the leadership of
Deputies' FAC Chair Fouad Ali El Himma, "demarched" the
Spanish Ambassador in his own Embassy.

5. (C) A Spanish poloff told us that Al Himma personally
transmitted a parliamentary letter of protest to the
Ambassador during a surprisingly cordial meeting. He was
accompanied by the heads of the major parliamentary caucuses,
including the Party of Justice and Development (PJD). The
Spanish Embassy told us that the letter repeated political
leaders' call for Spain to re-evaluate the status of the
enclaves and criticized the King's visit as provocative and

RABAT 00001706 002 OF 002


A Calculated Spanish Miscalculation?

6. (C) Other Spanish emboffs told us that the Government of
Spain (GOS) knew that King Juan Carlos's visit would lead to
a strong Moroccan reaction, but that Spanish electoral
imperatives played a role in the decision to send him to the
enclaves. The King had been under pressure from separatists
on the one hand and grumbling from the military on the other.
At the same time, Prime Minister Zapatero, who faces
re-election in March 2009, calculated that the domestic
electoral boost he would receive from the king's journey
outweighed the damage it would do to bilateral relations.
Additionally, Madrid believed that Spanish/Moroccan relations
were the strongest they had ever been and that they would
weather the storm. They maintained the visit by Crown Prince
Felipe and Foreign Minister Moratinos on October 30 was
actually an opportunity for Moratinos to give the Fassi
government advance notice and sound out their reaction. At
the time, Moroccan Foreign Minister Fassi-Fihri assured the
Spanish of overall "business as usual." Nevertheless the
strength of the response caught the Spanish diplomats here
off guard. In one initial first consequence, the Moroccan MFA
announced that the annual high-level coordination meeting,
chaired by the two countries' respective Prime Ministers, was
"unlikely to occur."

Remember the Melilla

7. (C) Our Spanish contacts felt that the widespread
"manufactured outrage" and "orchestrated" demonstrations
outside Spanish missions and the two enclaves were a sign of
the Fassi government's weakness. The limping parliament
seized on this issue to whip up the winds of Moroccan
nationalism and gain legitimacy in the eyes of a jaundiced
electorate. They said that complaints by the unpopular Prime
Minister El Fassi, that the visits "hurt Moroccans feelings,"
were an effort to distract from his own short-comings.


8. (C) The strident and visible public reaction was likely
exacerbated because the Juan Carlos visit came on the eve of
annual celebrations commemorating the Green March, the date
on which Hassan II sent 20,000 Moroccans into the desert to
"liberate" the Western Sahara from Spain. In Morocco at
least, we note that stirring up nationalistic feelings to
distract from domestic concerns has long been a tactic of the
kingdom's leaders. It was used by both Prime Minister El
Fassi and Fouad Ali El Himma to strengthen their nationalist
and foreign policy credentials. Neither the Prime Minister
nor parliament have had much prior role in foreign affairs, a
preserve of the throne.

9. (C) The theatrics of the Moroccan response could end up
benefiting Juan Carlos and Zapatero as they face the Spanish
right. We assess that Mohammed VI's comments are a signal to
the Moroccan side to reduce the rhetoric and histrionics and
begin moving past the issue. We concur with our Spanish
colleagues that there likely will be little long-term effect
on relations. End Comment.

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