For years, the special status that Morocco was ordained by the EU, was hailed as a great triumph. But when top officials from EU countries treat the kingdom like a cheap girlfriend to use when it wants, then some might call it abusive and neo-colonial.
Is the EU about to bring about a new Arab Spring in Morocco?
Should you beat your wife? Or should you simply refrain from talking about beating her? This seems to be the conundrum that the British ambassador had on my twitter timeline when he responded to a scandal I tweeted about in Morocco recently when a celebrity talked about beating his own spouse on TV. The abysmal reply message from Thomas Reilly, Britain’s ambassador to Morocco, seemed to be that it was not okay to talk about it, i.e. but it was still acceptable to do it. Surely a gaffe?
One of many more to follow, Moroccan diplomatic figures note, during what appears in recent weeks to be an upbeat pace of relations between London and Rabat, preparing for Brexit.
Yet Reilly’s comment resonates still now months later as he becomes Rabat’s diplomatic buffoon and continues to draw a baptism of fire from Morocco’s diplo circles over his more recent threat if Morocco were to develop relations with Gibraltar – a reckless comment on radio which resulted in the minister on ‘The Rock’ complaining directly to London about Reilly’s ‘delusions of adequacy’ moment.
How dare Morocco decide that it wants to improve relations with a neighbor without London’s approval! Who do these people think they are?
The Moroccan elite in Rabat are stunned by the warning made by the British ambassador who is often in the news for his more trifling spasms of pitiful insecurity or vanity, ranging from having a sock crisis during a royal visit – where he actually imagines his socks are human beings with feelings – to his sad attempts to gentrify himself via polo lessons when he’s not occupied with twitter tantrums.
However, this time the bed-wetting Reilly has gone too far and the foreign office in London might consider ending his Morocco term earlier, as the veiled Gibraltar threat to Rabat was a serious diplo gaffe during a period where Mr. Reilly had insulted the Moroccans with his racist comments about how dirty the country is (in parts) and how badly people drive. Mr. Reilly comes across as someone who has delusional, colonial ideas about who he is and the role that Britain, a once colonial power, wields over a poor country like Morocco. Put bluntly, he’s an elitist living a dream, where he believes ambassadors are important and relevant when the rest of the world knows that they’re a dime a dozen.
Or in Reilly’s case, a dime for two dozen.
Given that the UK and Morocco are trying their hardest to ramp up relations so that a post Brexit trade relationship can shift gear, it’s hard to imagine how the King of Morocco will see the latest “threat” from London – especially given that even the chief minister of Gibraltar – a senior British civil servant – questions Reilly’s ability to carry out his job as a British ambassador and is calling for Reilly be fired by the UK foreign office, saying his comments were “unacceptable”.
According to the Moroccan press, Fabian Picardo contacted the UK foreign office immediately saying that the role of an ambassador is to “develop positive relations” between the country he represents and the host country.
“This is not to indirectly discourage trade and economic relations between them on the basis of a possible reaction from a third party,” protested Picardo, according to Euroweekly News.
But his call, in diplo-talk for Mr. Reilly to be fired will fall on deaf ears. Mr. Reilly’s boss in London has gone to remarkable lengths to defend his previous gaffes – even his tantrums with journalists who he blocks on twitter when they upset him – such is how corrupt the British civil service has become.
Special relationship with Brussels?
The debacle that his ramblings have created though have thrown a spotlight on a really poignant question, which is simply how can Morocco benefit from a new post Brexit relationship and capitalize on its ‘special status’ that the EU unveiled in Rabat in 2008?
Who could forget October of that year and that immortalized photograph of the King of Morocco and Nicholas Sarkozy sharing a joke? Perhaps they were laughing about the accolade which Brussels had rolled out for Rabat which some were calling ‘Ukraine Status’. The foreign minister at the time told me that it was a huge deal for Morocco in an interview with Euronews.
“This European commitment on the advanced status is first and foremost the testimony of a confidence”, in “Morocco’s effort in terms of political reforms, consolidation of the rule of law, better justice, reforms economic cohesion, social cohesion and the fight against poverty,” Moroccan Foreign Minister Taieb Fassi Fihri told a few journalists, in the same week.
But what is that special relationship? Is it like beating your wife, barely days after being married, now that the practical proximity allows it? Does bringing Morocco closer to the EU, allow Brussels – or France and the UK for that matter – the right to abuse it?
Reilly’s almost racist, in not colonial attitude towards Morocco seems to be contagious. Days after he made the Gibraltar threat, a French minister who visited Morocco also threatened Rabat with removing from the country a car factory and returning it to France, if Paris did not get awarded a major contract it was gunning for.
France often operates as though it represents the EU. But where was Brussels to defend Morocco, its “special” partner? Nowhere to be seen or heard. Perhaps Brussels was trying to keep out of the press with regards to Morocco as it was ducking another media faux pas, when it transpires that the EU has bungled its own aid package to Morocco, leaving Rabat short of hundreds of millions of euros it needs to compensate the poor here for the eurozone countries recession, which has hit tourism and foreign investment hard.
British and French governments’ diplomats standing tall on their high horses and cracking a whip at the poor Moroccans – and the EU holding back vital re-structuring aid to make up the deficit while Rabat bites the bullet on social reforms – doesn’t sound like a special relationship. In fact it sounds like something which might have been appropriate in 1943 when Churchill and Roosevelt held an important conference in the Anfa Hotel in Casablanca when Morocco was told more or less the role it was going to play to keep those super powers in their place. Master and servant.
Does Morocco now have to beg for the aid it’s owed?
Is Rabat now to become the penniless mistress of the EU as it provides a guilt-edged intelligence service to Europe on terrorism while adopting all the EU rules which Brussels requires of it? And while we’re on the brilliant job Morocco does nailing terror groups which plan attacks in Europe, how is it that the UK can issue a terror warning in December to Brits intending to travel to Morocco? Is part of a new, special relationship with Britain, that London destroys what’s left of Morocco ailing tourist industry?
As an Arab Spring of some kind appears to be coming Morocco’s way, as the poor appear to be getting poorer, despite the huge projects of the business elite doing quite nicely, thank you very much, the history writers might scribe a note or two about France and Britain’s role and the deplorably anachronistic, if not plain colonial, attitude of its khaki clad senior figures who think they are playing a role in an Evelyn Waugh novel as they work on their chukkas.
Presumably, the thin-skinned Mr. Reilly is too busy with polo lessons and managing his twitter account to help the Moroccans with their anti-terror campaign. More poverty equals more terrorists. Any half wit in the foreign office knows that. Morocco needs more support from the UK here, obviously. And the UK needs more arms contracts to protect jobs.
Protests are coming to Morocco. Whether those protests remain relatively peaceful (following the Lebanese model) or turn ugly, as in Iraq presently, might be determined on Morocco’s special relationship with both Old Europe and the European institutions in Brussels which have only shown, since 2008, stick but given no carrot. The only thing special about the special relationship is the word ‘special’ itself. When Mike Pompeo jetted in to visit the Rabat establishment, his arrival was preceded with fake news by the Israeli propaganda apparatus that he was there to usher in a new relationship between Morocco and Israel. This lie was quickly dispatched once he touched the tarmac and did the ‘grin-n-shake’ for the cameras. Morocco doesn’t get bulled by anyone in the Middle East, let alone the Israelis, so why does it allow itself to be kicked about like a football in a pub car park by the Europeans? And how is it that Mr Reilly, a vain, over-sensitive man who fails so spectacularly to represent Britain’s interests in Morocco, while reveling in his role as a colonial clown delivering his paternal tutelage to His Majesty Mohammed VI, still has a job? Ask the socks. Before he blocks you on twitter.