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Morocco's Move in Mali
VISH SAKTHIVEL is a Next Generation Fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.See more by this author
At a meeting in Morocco last November, the foreign ministers of 19 states, including France, Libya, and Mali, agreed on a deal to create a joint border-security training facility, most likely in the Moroccan capital. Known as the Rabat Declaration, the agreement was the culmination of Morocco’s extensive efforts to assert itself in security and counterterrorism operations in North Africa. Its new foreign policy unfolded with the unrest over the last two years in Mali, which had, until recently, been the domain of Morocco’s much larger neighbor, Algeria.
In the throes of Mali’s crisis -- a tribal rebellion followed by a military coup and a militant uprising that prompted French intervention -- policymakers and pundits focused on Algeria’s opportunity to play a role in settling the conflict by wielding its considerable military and intelligence strength. But they were disappointed. Although the terrorist haven along the Mali-Algeria border is a legacy of the Algerian civil war in the 1990s, when armed Islamists were pushed from the country’s more populous areas toward its southern, desert border and into northern Mali, Algeria stayed out of Mali’s troubles, distracted by its own internal politics and interests. Algeria focused on securing its own borders against the spread of militant Islamism and on an ongoing internal power struggle between the powerful Department of Intelligence and Security, a longtime kingmaker, and the ruling elite of the FLN party, led by the septuagenarian president, Abdelaziz Bouteflika.
By contrast, Morocco quickly joined in the French-led intervention in Mali. By picking up the slack, Morocco was able to gain an advantage in its battle with Algeria for regional clout. Things that were previously unattainable -- such as exerting influence and establishing bilateral ties with states in the Sahel without the involvement of Algeria -- are now within Morocco’s grasp.
IN THE NAME OF THE KING