Morocco: Western Sahara at the heart of the mission of the new ambassador to the EU

Morocco: Western Sahara at the heart of the mission of the new ambassador to the EU

After having been ambassador in countries considered hostile to Morocco, Youssef Amrani is now posted in Brussels, where he must defend the Moroccan autonomy plan for Western Sahara, his specialty since the 1990s.

Since the recognition by the US of Morocco’s sovereignty over Western Sahara, in exchange for the normalization of its relations with Israel, the kingdom has been leading an all-out diplomatic offensive to encourage other powers to take the plunge. Particularly its main European partners. Appointed Moroccan Ambassador to the EU in October, Youssef Amrani is one of the faces that embody this strategy. With more than 30 years spent in various positions within the MFA, this diplomat is considered a specialist in one of the most sensitive issues in North Africa: that of Western Sahara. The question of Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony considered a « non-autonomous territory » by the UN, has for decades pitted Morocco against POLISARIO Front, supported by Algiers, which broke diplomatic relations with Algeria in August 2021. Rabat. On Sunday January 30, a senior Algerian official accused Morocco of “murdering” civilians “outside internationally recognized borders” and using “sophisticated weapons”, referring to the use of drones. Recruited in 1978 as Secretary of Foreign Affairs, the diplomat has climbed from all levels of Moroccan diplomacy: consul, ambassador, secretary general of the MFA, minister delegate to the same department, project manager in the royal cabinet… with the common thread is the Western Sahara file. An “unusual” profile insofar as his predecessors had very different backgrounds. This is the case, for example, of Ahmed Rahhou who, before presiding over the destinies of this strategic embassy between 2019 and 2021, had been appointed head of a bank and could not claim any experience in diplomacy. But the choice of Youssef Amrani would be dictated in particular « by the tensions with certain European countries around the question of the Sahara and by the need to defend the interests linked to it in Brussels », confides to Middle East Eye a fine connoisseur of Moroccan diplomacy.

“He has already maneuvered in more hostile terrain”

Former general manager of Microsoft in North and West Africa and former Minister of Industry, Ahmed Reda Chami, the predecessor of Ahmed Rahhou, had never gravitated in the diplomatic universe either before taking the reins. of this embassy in 2016. Amrani’s choice is also dictated by the context. In a diplomatic dispute with Spain, because of the hospitalization in April 2021 of Brahim Ghali, the leader of POLISARIO, in a hospital in Logroño after complications linked to his contamination with COVID-19, Morocco had recalled its ambassador to Madrid and cut all diplomatic ties with its largest trading partner in Europe. Since then, the kingdom has been maneuvering so that its European neighbor adopts a more frank position in favor of the autonomy plan it is proposing for the settlement of the conflict. Morocco had also suspended, in March 2021, all its diplomatic relations with Germany, accusing it of « antagonic activism » the day after the recognition by the US of Morocco’s sovereignty over Western Sahara. Berlin then requested a closed session of the UNSC devoted to the decision taken by Donald Trump. “Our diplomacy now requires frankness from its partners. Amrani’s mission, which perfectly masters this file, is to help obtain recognition of Morocco’s sovereignty over the Sahara from European countries. Knowing that he has already maneuvered in more hostile terrain”, decrypts our source. The diplomat had indeed been ambassador to Colombia, Ecuador, and Panama with residence in Bogota from 1996 to 1999, then to Chile until 2001, before being appointed to Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Belize, territories which were – and still are for some – hostile to the autonomy initiative presented by Morocco. Before his appointment as ambassador to the EU, Amrani was also posted in South Africa, a country with which Morocco had completely cut off its diplomatic relations in 2004 following its recognition of SADR. “His posting to Pretoria in 2018 took place a few months before South Africa joined the UNSC for two years. His role was then to rally South African personalities and institutions to the autonomy plan. It was difficult given Pretoria’s position, but he managed to defend the Moroccan position through publications and interventions in the South African media, » a former diplomat told MEE.

No trade partnership without Western Sahara

A former member of the Istiqlal, a nationalist party whose Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara has been a pivot since the country’s independence, the ambassador now has the mission of applying a new doctrine: no commercial partnerships that do not would not include the territory of Western Sahara. This is essentially the watchword given by King Mohammed VI on November 6 on the occasion of the 46th anniversary of the Green March, a great march towards the Western Sahara, then under Spanish occupation, launched by King Hassan II in the aim of recovering it: “We would like to express our consideration to the countries and groups which are linked to Morocco by conventions and partnerships and for which our southern provinces constitute an integral part of the national territory. On the other hand, to those who display vague or ambivalent positions, we declare that Morocco will not engage with them in any economic or commercial approach that would exclude the Moroccan Sahara”. A thinly veiled warning against Bruxelles, whose ECJ had just canceled two trade agreements relating to agricultural products and fisheries from Western Sahara between Morocco and the 27. The cancellation, pronounced on September 29, followed an appeal lodged by POLISARIO. A snub that Rabat did not digest, although the EU appealed the decision on November 19 to maintain the agreements. “There is a clear change of course. While Ahmed Rahhou had missions of an essentially economic nature, such as removing Morocco from the gray list of tax havens, or even migration and climate change, Youssef Amrani has the mission of strengthening Morocco’s relations with the ‘Europe without yielding anything on the Sahara file’, summarizes the former diplomat.

Middle East Eye, 21/02/2022

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