2018/03/05 – In an incisive talk here in New Delhi (February 28) on Morocco’s security strategy to prevent terrorism and counter extremism, Dr Assia BenSalah Alaoui, ambassador at large of King Mohammed VI, put forth an excellent presentation on behalf of the North African nation. It will be recalled that despite turbulent winds sweeping through the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region in the wake of the 2011 Arab Spring movement, Morocco has remained an island of stability in this part of the world. Meanwhile, Morocco’s regional neighbours including Tunisia – which experienced a painful democratic transition – Egypt – whicha saw a series of violent protests and counter-protests with the army finally gaining control – and Libya – where all institutions were destroyed with the country being overrun by a plethora of militias – have truly suffered. This has created dangerous security threats in the region, forcing Morocco to adapt and put in place systems to counter the twin scourges of terrorism and extremisms.
In fact, there is a direct link between the Arab Spring upheavals and the rise of neo-Islamist terrorism as manifested in events in Iraq and Syria as well as in Europe. The Arab Spring demolished or considerably weakened the pre-existing security architecture in countries like Libya and Syria. This in turn gave a huge impetus to Islamist forces in the region who were now flushed with weapons, money and added motivation to realise their dream of a so-called Islamic Caliphate. This is preciously how the Islamic State terror group rose to prominence in 2014, attracting footsoldiers from across the MENA region as well as from European countries.
It is against this backdrop that Morocco has had to reconfigure its security strategy. And according to Dr Alaoui this new strategy rests on six pillars. First, the ambition to fight terrorism within the rule of law. Second, the adoption of a holistic, multi-dimensional approach to the problem with special emphasis on prevention. Third, the promotion of moderate Islam. Fourth, the promotion of South-South cooperation with sister African nations and other partners. Fifth, the critical input of a steady, dynamic leadership. And sixth, addressing the issue of the Moroccan Sahara through the regionalisation process and the Autonomy Plan.
Put together, these measures have not only helped Morocco cut down major terror incidents – more than 350 terror attempts have been pre-empted and neutralised since 2002 – but also become a reliable partner in the current global security architecture. Expounding on these measures further, Dr Alaoui detailed the Moroccan security strategy on the ground. This she said was based on the restructuring of the police force under one single command, involving citizens in their own security, adopting a zero-tolerance policy towards any terror plot, enhancing accountability throughout the security chain and creating an elite unit – the Central Bureau of Judicial Investigation – which has been described as the Moroccan FBI.
While these steps represent the active security arm of the Moroccan state, the promotion of moderate Islam represents the long-term security vision to counter the root of radicalism. Focussed on preserving the moderate Sunni Maliki school of Islamic jurisprudence, the effort includes control and homogenisation of fatwas and Friday sermons through a religious scholastic council. Morocco has also been training foreign imams and female preachers, and has even opened an institution – the Mohammed VI Institute for Training of Imams in Rabat – where candidates from sister African nations and Europe come to immerse themselves in the true, peaceful tenets of Islam that are totally compatible with modern democratic values. Additionally, the Mohammedan League focusses on Islamic research and dissemination to counter misinterpretation of Islamic precepts by extremists. And finally, the Mohammed VI Foundation for African Ulema seeks to be a platform for African Islamic scholars to research, coordinate and provide the right guidance to Islam in Africa.
The third crucial aspect is Morocco’s policy towards the Moroccan Sahara. I have written before about the status of this region and how an artificial dispute has been sustained here by a separatist group called the Polisario Front. But the Sahara is Morocco’s land bridge to the rest of continental Africa. In order to secure this region, the Moroccan government has invested billions of dollars in the development of the Sahara provinces. Despite geographical challenges, the fisheries industry has been developed, agriculture has received a crucial helping hand, high-speed internet infrastructure has been put down and incentives have been given to businesses to relocate here through a zero-tax scheme. Besides, many other projects related to education, tourism and renewable energy are already in the works. Again, this follows the pattern of the Moroccan security approach that investing in people is the best guarantee of security. And through the Sahara, Morocco can share the fruits of its development with the rest of Africa.
All of these show that Morocco is a net security enhancer in North Africa with significant positive spillover for Europe and continental Africa. That said, Dr Alaoui was also candid about the challenges that Morocco faces. Corruption and inequality continue to be big problems in Morocco that allow extremist forces to fish in troubled waters. Thus, the Moroccan state under the guidance and direction of King Mohammed VI has launched a serious campaign to tackle corruption in public administration. Simultaneously, there is a push to boost investments in Morocco with the aim of creating jobs for the significant number of educated-unemployed. For, only when people have jobs will they be less susceptible to the allure of extremists. Lastly, the Sahel region in Africa is becoming a security challenge with intelligence coming in that the remnants of the Islamic State terror group have taken shelter in countries with relatively weaker security apparatus. According to Dr Alaoui, this makes securing the Moroccan Sahara even more imperative.
All in all, Morocco has provided an excellent example of how to tackle modern security challenges. As Dr Alaoui says, investing in comprehensive security today is like buying insurance — it is expensive and the trickle down effect isn’t immediate. But it is absolutely necessary to stay ahead of destructive forces that have become even more virulent in this technological age. Thus, it makes sense for countries to partner with Morocco to enhance overall global security.
Source: The Times of India