Brahim Fassi Fihri

Ibrahim Fassi Fihri is the founder of the Amadeus Institute, a prestigious Moroccan consultative brand that is gaining more ground as an agenda-setter with regards to international issues. He recently had a sit-and-talk with the Morocco World News, where he offered his views on the potential effects of the new UN resolution on Western Sahara, as well as the “Africannes of Morocco.”

When asked about the implications of Resolution 2468, Fihri chose to be optimistic but cautious.  However, he was adamant with regards to the Africanness of Morocco, maintaining that Africa and the cultural and historical identity are two inseparable entities.

You will recall that in the aftermath of the UNSC’s adoption of its latest Western Sahara Resolution, Omar Hilale, the Moroccan ambassador to the UN was somewhat proud and jubilant about the development.  Hilale appears to paint the development as an outright victory for the Moroccan diplomacy, stating that it was not short of what Morocco had expected.

A similar reaction was received from Nasser Bourita, the Moroccan Foreign Minister, who was clear in his acclamation of the resolution 2468 as one of the good news Morocco had received since the start of the Western Sahara tussle.  He also confirmed that the resolution was an indirect acknowledgement of the country’s historical claim over the West Sahara.

So, it is safe to say that every Moroccan reaction justified and welcomed the Resolution 2468.  For Morocco and Moroccans, this development shows that the international community now understands the main political issues driving the age-long Western Sahara conflict. Even in the face of fierce lobbying from South Africa, the resolution is widely regarded as a diplomatic triumph for Morocco, as well as pointer to the possible adoption of a politically-driven settlement over a referendum-based solution the Polisario backers are pushing for.

For Fihri, however, pitches his tent with the Moroccan diplomats, welcoming the significant achievement and identifying with the general enthusiasm trailing the resolution.  Baring his mind to the MWN, Fihri said he believes that the current development is a “watershed moment.”  He warned that “much history and ideology” is involved in the whole situation, hence, expecting that the “new momentum” – the current political process in Western Sahara being moderated by Horst Kohler – would develop into a sealed agreement soon is unrealistic.

From his answers, Fihri showed optimism all though, as well as a strong faith in the potentials of the Moroccan diplomacy.  Fihri was highly instrumental to the successful turn of Morocco towards Africa, with his Medays Platform becoming a revered platform for the discussion of South-South Cooperation and international affairs.  Hence, he has been involved all along in the increasing appeal of Morocco’s South-South Cooperation agenda.

The Sahrawi nationalism narrative sponsored by the Polisario has continued to depict Morocco as the villain in the whole picture.  While King Mohammed VI has continuously urged the parties to come together to work out a compromise, Fihri believed this move has been unproductive so far.  With so much narratives and ideology entangled in history, it is becoming increasingly difficult to get the Morocco-Algeria-Polisario peacekeeping working.

Although the developments over the past months have suggested the possibility of a paradigm shift, especially with the exponential improvement in the status of Morocco.  Since joining the African Union (AU) two years ago, Morocco’s has enjoyed a change in fortune with regards to the continental discourse on Western Sahara.

It also appears that the African momentum is favoring Morocco, especially in the Western Sahara and similar regional matters.  Fassi-Fihri cited the closer relationship Morocco now enjoy with Nigeria. Furthermore, the AU has now stopped dismissing the UN’s Western Sahara agenda, while dissociating itself from a parallel Western Saharan agenda.  The re-admission of Morocco into the AU has continued to raise questions in certain samples, but the country has continued to maintain its African roots just like other African nations.

So, what would be the eventual result of the current optimism surrounding the Horst Koehler’s moderation of the Sahara conflict? What are the chances of the pan-African and South-south inclined Moroccan diplomatic activism bringing significant results in Morocco’s Western Sahara mission?

Here is a transcript of Brahim Fassi Fihri’s interview with MWN (Source: Morocco News Network – MWN)

MWN: UN diplomats working on the Western Sahara question are rather optimistic these days. They seem to believe that things will work out this time. Spurred by what they now call “the new momentum,” their general mood is that, despite the existing profound divergences between Morocco and the Polisario Front, Horst Kohler’s moderation has much higher chances of culminating in something conclusive. Do you share that enthusiasm? Are you as optimistic?

Fassi Fihri: I do not know if after 45 years of hostility expressions like optimism and enthusiasm can be used to shed insights into this regional conflict that has been going on for far too long. On the other hand, the latest developments, both at the UN and the pan-African levels, have shown that a spirit of realism and pragmatism is gradually but strongly taking shape in how the Sahara question is discussed. We are undoubtedly witnessing a watershed moment, something that reminds me of 2007, when Morocco was given preeminence as the UN nodded to the autonomy plan for our southern provinces.

It appears today that consensus is building up at the international level about the fact that ideological options of the past, things like referendum and independence, are totally unrealistic.

But one should definitely welcome the new momentum resulting from the two Geneva roundtable discussions…. However, it begs reminding Horst Kohler that it would be totally pointless and counterproductive that the spirit of the Geneva meetings be detached from the roadmap drawn in Resolution 2468.

This means discussions should be based on realism, compromise, and the mutually acceptable solution framework, which is what King Mohammed VI highlighted in his November 6, 2017 speech. And as Nasser Bourita pointed out after the second Geneva meeting, Morocco is not participating in the UN-led political process for the sake of participation.

The kingdom has shown its good faith, but it is not willing to partake in negotiations where other parties cage themselves in obsolete proposals that the international community has already rejected in most of the latest resolutions on Western Sahara. Geneva must reflect and uphold the language and recommendations of the Security Council.

MWN: In both its formulation and recommendations, Resolution 2468 is a victory for Morocco, some analysts have asserted. Are you of the same opinion? How is this even a victory?

Fassi Fihri: This is without doubt: Resolution 2468 is globally positive for Morocco. I believe it is the most Morocco-friendly resolution since Resolution 1754 of April 2007 that gave the upper hand to Morocco’s autonomy plan. In fact, since then, most resolutions have been in favor of Morocco.

I can cite a number of satisfactory points for Morocco in the latest resolution. First of all the text mentions Algeria 5 times, which means that Algeria is now considered as an integral part to this artificial conflict. This places Algeria on equal footing with Morocco and Polisario.

Morocco has fought for years for Algeria to be considered in UN texts as the stepping stone to any political solution, since successive Algerian regimes have trained, financed, and equipped the Polisario Front.

Secondly, more than all preceding resolutions, this one puts a particular emphasis on pragmatism during the political process. In fact, the text mentions “compromise” 5 times and refers to “realism” 4 times; these two words are the pillars of Morocco’s autonomy plan, underpinned by the desire to push for a mutually acceptable solution within the parameters of chapter VI of the UN charter.

Finally, the resolution definitely ignores the notion of referendum whereas the principle of self-determination is barely mentioned.

MWN: No sooner had the resolution been adopted than dissenting voices have pounced at the opportunity to question its legitimacy. I am particularly thinking of South Africa, whose ambassador to the UN has said of the resolution that it biased and “unbalanced. “

For South Africa, Resolution 2468 is another illustration of the outside world imposing its agenda on African, deciding African issues without consulting Africans. What do you make of that sort of reference to the supposed colonial hegemony of others, non-Africans? And what do you think should be the response of Moroccan diplomats?

Fassi Fihri: True, it is a pity that this resolution was not unanimously voted by UNSC members. But there is a caveat here: Russian and South African abstentions have very different motives. For Russia, it was more about the length of MINURSO’s mandate.

In abstaining, Russia wished to express dissatisfaction with a six-month-long renewal of the MINURSO mission. Russia had advocated for a one-year extension, and so their abstention is only a sense of unease with the extension length rather than with the driving principles of the content of the resolution.

South Africa’s abstention, on the other hand, is political, ideological even. What is ironic in the statement from the South African ambassador is that his country is acknowledging that this whole thing sounds like a Moroccan victory. Recently, countries opposing Morocco’s territorial integrity have increasingly, pointedly been feeling isolated.

But there is something more profound at play here: I think there is a need to remind our South African friends, especially our friends from the ANC, that they do not have monopoly on pan-Africanism. By referring to others, non-Africans’ supposed colonial hegemony, South Africa is blatantly ridiculing Africans and African institutions.

It is sad and extremely dangerous that a country preparing to take over the AU presidency next year is willingly dismissing African conventions. It is sad that South Africa failed to mention the July 2018 AU summit in Nouakchott, Mauritania, where AU leaders decided to commit to the UN-led process and respect all decisions by the UNSC on the Sahara dossier.

In Mauritania, African governments agreed that the Western Sahara question should be the exclusive responsibility of the UNSC. But South Africa visibly can’t accept to abide by African rules.

More interesting still, despite losing all credibility on the Sahara question, South Africa, patent in its dismissal of AU directives, went on to organize its Pretoria Conference in March this year.

But there again they lost. More African countries showed up at the Marrakech conference. 38 African countries attended the Marrakech conference and reiterated their unwavering commitment to the decisions made in Nouakchott.

MWN: Speaking of the success of Moroccan diplomacy, Rabat appears to have made significant breakthroughs in recent years. In Africa, for example, the dramatic return to the AU seems to be given back to Morocco the legitimacy (although regularly questioned) of its Africanness. But still, some see in Morocco’s African diplomacy a sort of singing-to-the-choir diplomacy.

The criticism is that instead of engaging in strenuous diplomatic battles to convince hostile African countries, Morocco is taking the safest route, further befriending countries that have already shown commitment to Moroccan interests. Is the criticism legitimate? Should Morocco invest more in convincing Polisario-friendly African blocs or should it rather focus its energy on getting the nod of the heavy weights (especially the 5 permanent members of the UNSC) of the international community?

Fassi Fihri: Morocco does not have to prove its Africanness. Morocco’s Africanness is not only institutional. Morocco’s African identity is part of its everyday life experience. It is rooted in our history. Most countries in West and Central Africa know and acknowledge Morocco’s Africanness.

I do concede that the kingdom is lucky enough to count on a bloc of brother countries and friends that have always supported its territorial integrity. Moreover, King Mohammed VI’s vision for Africa does not distinguish between friendly and hostile African countries.

We have all witnessed the royal visits in 2016 and 2017 in Anglophone, mostly East African countries with which we shared very little in terms of diplomatic ties. These visits opened a new chapter between Morocco and other African giants not traditionally known for sympathizing with Moroccan causes. I am thinking especially of Nigeria, Ethiopia, and Rwanda.

Today, Morocco and Nigeria have established strategic ties currently culminating in a trailblazer continental project: the Morocco-Nigeria pipeline. Africa has become the center of gravity of Moroccan diplomacy, and this is done with zero regard to who likes us more or less.

That is why since January 2017, when Morocco joined the AU, we’ve seen that many countries that used to berate Morocco on its Western Sahara position are now reassessing their own views and policies on the question. The Nouakchott declaration is a case in point.

The devotion of Moroccan diplomats to the cause of national integrity is a comprehensive and undying devotion, looking in all directions to make a compelling case for Moroccan integrity. I really want to pay tribute to the Moroccan diplomacy which, through its activism, dynamism, perseverance, and effectiveness has made possible a number of important diplomatic victories in the last couples of years.

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