The recent political rift between Morocco and Iran was long overdue. Morocco ‘stand, far from being reactive, is deliberate and pragmatic. It was based on clear indicators as to Iran’s malign intent vis-à-vis Morocco. Unlike other Arab nations, especially Middle Eastern ones which, by virtue of their geographic proximity to Iran, are compelled to deal with it, Morocco can afford to forgo relations with the Islamic republic. This is not the first time the two countries have an axe to grind with each other; in 1981, Tehran ceased its diplomatic relations with Rabat for hosting the deposed Iranian shah. It took a decade for relations to thaw.
The past few years saw an expansion in economic cooperation between the two countries; Morocco’s strategic geographic location provided Iran with a launching pad to European markets; still, trade between Morocco and Iran did not surpass $20 million; chump change in both countries’ international trade revenues.
Some Analysts speculated that Morocco severed its diplomatic relations with Iran in response to the latter’s irredentist claim against its neighbor Bahrain. The Moroccan government did send a missive to Bahrain reemphasizing its solidarity with the government of King Hamad bin Issa Al-Khalifa. The move angered Tehran which summoned the Moroccan chargé d’affaire to forcefully express its disapprobation.
Other analysts contend that Morocco is being used as a proxy by Saudi Arabia and other Arab Sunni Gulf countries to weaken Iran’s influence in Arab countries. Saudi Arabia has been competing with Iran for strategic leadership in the Gulf. Adherents to the Shiite ideology in Saudi Arabia constitute 20 per cent of the population and are a powerful influencing element for Iran. In February 2009, thousands of Saudi Shiites protested what they labeled discriminatory and anti-Shiite actions by the Saudi government. Such demonstrations were unprecedented in the Saudi kingdom. Saudi intelligence believes the demonstrations were fomented by Iran.
Morocco’s foreign minister, Taib Fassi Fihri, presented yet another explanation to Morocco’s cessation of its diplomatic relations with Iran. He stated that Iranian officials and their missionaries have been actively proselytizing in Morocco using cultural activities as a cover. Their campaign to spread the Shiite ideology reached beyond Morocco’s borders to target Moroccan immigrants in Europe. Morocco considers such activities undermining to its religious fundamentals and interfering with its internal affairs. Iranian foreign minister Monouchehr Mottaki denied the accusation and called Morocco’s reaction a setback to Muslim unity and erosive to Palestinian support.
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