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DE RUEHCL #0165/01 2261658
O 141658Z AUG 09




E.O. 12958: N/A


1. 1. (SBU) Summary: Representative Mashall, Consulate
Casablanca warmly welcomes you nd your delegation to
Morocco. Politically and eonomically, Morocco is a
country "on the move," eeply engaged in reform and
development, albeit nevenly. Morocco has averaged
over 5 percent anual growth in recent years and
products and servces are increasingly specialized
to take advantag of international trade
opportunities and boos local growth. The country
has made substantialadvances in political and
social reforms in the reas of human rights, equal
rights for women andpress freedom. Nonetheless,
King Mohammed VI retins extensive political power
while Parliament rmains weak. At the local level,
however, we hav seen encouraging progress. For
example, 12 perent of the seats, i.e., over 3,000,
were reserve for women in the nationwide communal
elections o June 12, and women won additional
contested seas even above the number reserved.

2. (SBU) Morcco's top foreign policy priority is
securing inernational support for its claim to
Western Sahara. Morocco faces a serious, but
largely contained, terrorism threat mainly from
small, disorganized cells adhering to Salafia
Jihadia extremist ideology. Morocco has controlled
this threat through the vigilance of its internal
security services, emphasis on prevention of
radicalization (in the religious, social and
economic spheres), and robust international
cooperation. Morocco's military is modernizing and
shares a positive relationship with the U.S., as
evidenced by increasing military sales, including
the purchase of 24 F-16s among other equipment, and
training. End Summary.

Economics, Trade and Assistance

3. (SBU) Morocco's economy is dynamic and
diversifying, although marred by disparities in
wealth and hampered by stiff export competition from
other low-cost countries. Over the past few years,
the Government has replaced many slums with adequate
housing, and unemployment has declined to below 10
percent. Despite the global economic slowdown,
economic growth is expected to exceed five percent
this year, thanks in large part to a record
agricultural harvest. Recent evaluations describe
the Kingdom as resisting economic contraction thus
far, but feeling increasing strain from declining
exports, remittances and tourism. The financial
sector is sanguine about Moroccan banks' continued
immunity to the financial turmoil that has affected
other countries, and observers are optimistic about
the country's economic prospects.

4. (U) Since implementation of the U.S.-Morocco
Free Trade Agreement (FTA) on January 1, 2006,
bilateral commerce has nearly tripled. Seeing new
markets develop as a result of the FTA, U.S. and
other foreign firms have increased their investments
in Morocco. Recent studies by Moroccan business
groups have concluded, however, that Moroccan firms
are not taking advantage of opportunities that exist
in the U.S., leading to some criticism of the value
of the FTA to Morocco. The Embassy sponsors
outreach sessions to raise awareness of FTA benefits
and reduce obstacles for Moroccan businesses to
create commercial ties with American counterparts,
and the USAID Mission has also supported economic
growth in ways that take advantage of the FTA
opportunities in targeted sectors such as

5. (SBU) United States bilateral assistance to
Morocco focuses on youth and women, targeting four
priorities: economic growth, counterterrorism and
counter-extremism, democracy and governance and
quality education. Assistance includes projects
under the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC),
USAID, Peace Corps, and the Middle East Partnership
Initiative (MEPI). Building on decades of USAID and
Peace Corps efforts, the MCC signed a five-year, USD
697.5 million Millennium Challenge Account Compact
with Morocco in 2007 to reduce poverty and increase
economic growth. The MCC will support five major
projects selected for their potential to increase
productivity and improve employment in high
potential sectors of Morocco's economy: Fruit Tree
Productivity, Small Scale Fisheries, Crafts,
Financial Services and Enterprise Support.

Governance and Parliament

6. (SBU) Current Government: Prime Minister Abbas
El Fassi's government, formed after the September
2007 legislative elections, is built on a minority
coalition. The Government, filled with young
technocrats from within and outside El Fassi's
Istiqlal party, has performed better than many
expected and looks capable of a full term despite
its minority status. Internal democracy is growing
within political parties. A political formation
founded by Fouad Ali El Himma, an intimate of the
King, has evolved into a new Party of Authenticity
and Modernity (PAM) by grouping several smaller
parties. It now constitutes the largest political
bloc in Parliament, won the most votes in the June
12 municipal elections and could be prepared to lead
should the current coalition falter.

7. (SBU) Parliament: The bicameral Parliament has
little power and provides no effective check on the
monarchy. Constitutional change, which most major
parties call for openly, may help improve the system
some day, but weak regional government capacity,
high rates of illiteracy among the population, and
mutual distrust among parties that are used to
monarchical paternalism may slow changes. Although
the September 2007 parliamentary elections were the
most transparent in the country's history, the
record low participation (37 percent of registered
voters) reflects the lack of voter confidence in the

8. (SBU) Local Government: Morocco's June 12
municipal and local elections were notable for the
Government's decision to reserve 12 percent of local
council seats for women candidates. In what has
been called the "petite revolution," women won 3,400
local seats, a 25-fold increase in elected women
officials in the country. Although most were
elected from the reserved women's list, hundreds
were elected from general lists in competition with
male candidates. Morocco now has more elected women
officials than any other Arab country and has
dramatically increased the visibility of women as
leaders and policy makers, a critical step in
shattering gender stereotypes and eliminating
discrimination against women. Of the recently
elected officials, a dozen women won subsequent
election by peers to chair local councils, i.e., to
be mayors or the equivalent rural executives. To
support this historical advance of women's
participation, the USG, through a collaborative
project managed by the International Republican
Institute (IRI) and the National Democratic
Institute (NDI), sponsored training for over 3,500
female candidates prior to the elections.

Human Rights and Reform

9. (SBU) King Mohammed VI has embarked on an
ambitious and continuous program of human rights
reforms that include the Arab world's first truth
commission, a revised family code, and growing
governmental transparency and accountability. In
addition, there has been a recent expansion of
cultural rights and outlets for Berbers, one of the
largest ethnic groups in Morocco. Morocco has made
substantial progress on issues of freedom of speech
and press freedom, but "redlines" remain around
media discussion of the monarchy, Islam, and the
Western Sahara, which, if crossed, can lead to
debilitating financial penalties and even jail. The
government's seizure at the beginning of August of
newsmagazines that were preparing to publish the
results of an opinion poll on the monarchy provided
a vivid illustration of the limits of press freedom,
as did recent high-profile libel judgments against
newspapers. Morocco is a leader in the region in
press freedom and social reforms, but these positive
changes are still not deeply rooted in law and could
be rolled back. Continued support and encouragement
from partners like the United States and Europe are

Foreign Policy Issues

10. (SBU) Western Sahara: Moroccan foreign policy
is dominated by defending and seeking international
recognition of its claims to sovereignty over
Western Sahara. The issue is a source of long-
standing tension with neighboring Algeria, which has
historically supported the POLISARIO Front's quest
for independence for Western Sahara by way of a UN-
sponsored referendum. In April 2007, Morocco
proposed a new autonomy plan for the region, and a
series of UN-sponsored negotiations with the
POLISARIO have taken place in Manhasset, New York.
The Moroccan proposal would provide Sahrawis, the
indigenous people of Western Sahara, autonomy in
administering local affairs, while the territory
would remain under Moroccan sovereignty. There have
been four rounds of talks, and new informals began
in Vienna, Austria on August 10. The U.S.
Government supports a UN-brokered peaceful
resolution to the dispute and has recently called
for support for the UN Secretary General's Personal
Envoy on this issue, former U.S. Ambassador
Christopher Ross, to advance the process.

11. (SBU) Middle East Peace Process: The late King
Hassan II helped promote Middle East peace by
welcoming then-Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres
for an official visit in 1986, and King Mohammed VI
could play a similar supportive role in the future.
King Mohammed VI chairs the Organization of the
Islamic Conference's (OIC's) Jerusalem Committee and
has lobbied hard against any efforts to change the
historically Islamic and Arab characteristics of the
city, including residence demolitions.

Morocco's Terrorism Challenges

12. (SBU) A relative lull following the 2003
Casablanca bombings, which targeted Jewish and
Western interests and killed 45 people, was shaken
in the spring of 2007 by a series of suicide
bombings centered in Casablanca, and by another
bombing in Meknes in August of that year.
Throughout 2007, 2008 and 2009, the Government of
Morocco (GOM) continued to dismantle, in a
preemptive fashion, terrorist and foreign-fighter
cells within the Kingdom. Characteristics of
attacks and disrupted cells in recent years support
previous analysis that Morocco continues to be
threatened by numerous small "grassroots" Salafi
Jihadia groups willing to commit violent acts
against the state, foreigners and innocent
civilians. Morocco's primary external terrorism
threat is the Algeria- and Mali-based al-Qa'ida in
the Lands of the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) terrorist
group, which is known to be training Moroccans.
Morocco is also combating the recruitment and
movement of extremists willing to attack coalition
forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Morocco's Counterterrorism Approach

13. (SBU) The GOM's implementation of a
comprehensive counterterrorism (CT) strategy
emphasizing security measures, counter-
radicalization policies, and international
cooperation has been largely successful in
containing the threat. As "Commander of the
Faithful," King Mohammed VI has moved to standardize
religious doctrine and consolidate control over
religious schools. The GOM also continues to
implement internal reforms aimed at ameliorating
socio-economic factors that contribute indirectly to
extremism. The National Initiative for Human
Development, launched by the King in 2005, is a USD
1.2 billion program designed to generate employment,
combat poverty, and improve infrastructure. The GOM
also emphasized adherence to human rights, improved
investigative standards, and increased judicial
transparency as part of its strategy. The vast
majority of the population rejects the radicals,
which has made the government's vigilant security
efforts more effective.

Military Reform

14. (SBU) The Royal Armed Forces of Morocco (FAR)
are modernizing but remain burdened by corruption,
inefficient bureaucracy, and political
marginalization. The U.S. enjoys a positive and
robust military relationship with Morocco, as
evidenced by increased U.S.-Moroccan military
training exercises and Morocco's recent USD 2.5
billion purchase of sophisticated weapons from the
U.S., to include 24 F-16s -- an apparent counter to
an earlier Algerian purchase of advanced aircraft
from Russia in 2007. These decisions suggest the
potential for military reform and increasing
prospects for closer U.S. engagement.

15. This message has been cleared with Embassy Rabat.

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