The Australian newspaper “The Australian” reckons that Morocco is the most important country in North Africa, with which Australia should improve its political and economic ties. The article adds that Morocco is facing a separatist movement which is supported by Algeria and is equally involved with the well known terrorist movement Al- Qaeda. Knowing that Morocco is one of the main countries directly involved with the western world in terms of fighting against terrorism.
Full text of the Article which appeared recently in the Australian newspaper “The Australian”
I have just been to two countries that boldly and publicly support Australia's bid for election to a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council. These are Israel and Morocco.
Israel's support is understandable. Australia is a very staunch friend of Israel.
Morocco's case is perhaps even more interesting. It's a fair bet you don't know much about Morocco. Bizarrely, Australia does not even have an embassy there. Yet Morocco has an embassy in Canberra. Australia's only embassy in North Africa is in Cairo. Yet a slew of North African countries - Morocco, Algeria, Syria, Libya - have embassies in Canberra.
Of these countries, by far the most interesting, and the most important, is Morocco.
The Australian ambassador in faraway Paris is accredited to the Moroccan capital, Rabat.
This is intensely sub-optimal, to put it mildly, in terms of Australia's national interests.
I saw an example of this at first hand. An Australian delegation of six senior federal politicians, as well as business figures and a few journalists, just spent several days in Morocco. They met senior political leaders, government ministers, advisers to the King, businesspeople and regional officials.
The Australian politicians were constantly interviewed by Moroccan television and newspapers. They had a higher media profile than any Australian group in Morocco in many years. Indeed, they were probably the largest delegation of their type ever to visit Morocco. Yet the Australian embassy in Paris involved itself in their visit not at all.
It didn't brief the politicians, it didn't leverage their extraordinary access for its own purposes. Nothing at all was done to co-ordinate, or integrate, a coherent Australian approach.
This, sadly, reflects the pathetically diminished status and resources of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Starved of resources for the life of the Howard government, DFAT has received no significant increase in resources under Labor. No other country of our size and wealth has such a paltry diplomatic representation. Morocco, with only a tiny fraction of our wealth, has much wider diplomatic representation than Australia.
This makes a complete mockery, by the way, of our claims to have anything of significance to say to the wider world about issues such as the Middle East peace process, nuclear non-proliferation or. more broadly, relations between Islam and the West. It is one of the many reasons we are likely to fail in our bid for a Security Council seat. It's fairly difficult to convince a country that you take its interests and views seriously if you can't even be bothered maintaining an embassy in its capital.
This is a foolish mistake by Australia and reflects grossly flawed priorities. Our foreign aid budget is ballooning into the billions of dollars. Much of it, long after it's out of Australian hands, will inevitably be wasted in corruption, consultants and counterproductive policies. A portion of this money should be redirected to establishing new embassies and consulates. In itself, their establishment would contribute to the economies of the countries involved, many of which, like Morocco, we would like to help. But such embassies and consulates, by promoting trade and, even more significantly, by promoting wider political and human links with Australia, would also have much more diverse beneficial effects.
If we were interested in doing the maximum amount to help and also optimising our influence and serving our interests most effectively, that's what we'd be doing. But so much of Australian foreign policy is posture, and posturing about the foreign aid budget is no exception. Similarly, a very bad dynamic has developed in Australian diplomacy during the past decade and a half. It's all about the personal appearances and media coverage of the prime minister and foreign minister, as though coherent foreign policy has no other expression.
The absurd neglect of Morocco is a telling indictment of our national slackness in foreign policy, beyond our core traditional interests in North America, Asia and Europe (though even in these three areas there are huge gaps).
Morocco is determinedly on the side of the friendship with the West, and on the side of moderation. It co-operates closely on security with the US and the European Union.
Several years ago there were a very few terrorist bombings in Casablanca. Al-Qa'ida in the Maghreb has tried hard to infiltrate Morocco, but without great success. The government in Rabat is dealing with a desultory ethnic separatist movement in the Western Sahara, led by the Polisario Front, which is backed by Algeria and has links with al-Qa'ida.
Morocco, unlike most of its neighbours, has no known reserves of oil, though it is highly prospective and Australian mining companies are interested in conducting exploration there. It survived the global financial crisis relatively well, with annual economic growth of about 4 per cent. But like most of the Arab world it has a high birthrate, a young population and a tremendous need for new jobs. Four per cent growth is not too bad, but Morocco needs a higher rate than that to absorb all the new entrants to the labour market each year.
It is avowedly market-friendly and hungry for foreign investment. The big cities I visited, Casablanca and Rabat, are pretty clean and orderly, and though there are parts you certainly wouldn't visit after dark, I didn't feel any uneasiness on the street.
Morocco is intensely proud that it didn't persecute its Jewish minority during World War II. It is proud that there is still a functioning and active Jewish Moroccan community.
In all of this, if ever there were a state in North Africa that Australia ought to be developing an economic and political relationship with, it's Morocco. We can learn things from Morocco about the state of Islam in the Middle East and there are surely areas where our national genius, such as it is, could make a constructive contribution to Morocco's fortunes.
But we are, on this as on most things, fast asleep, fat and happy on our mineral wealth, taking a holiday from our own reform, taking a holiday, it seems, from history itself. This is very dumb, both in the specifics of Morocco and more generally. For while we may not be interested in history, history, I fear, is very interested in us.
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