Hollande visit ushers in Morocco-France thaw
CASABLANCA - French President François Hollande said at the end of a two-day visit to Morocco that strains in relations with the kingdom had been resolved.
“The difficulties between the two countries are not only erased, overcome, but mostly surpassed,” Hollande said in Tangier on September 20th.
Morocco suspended judicial cooperation with France in February 2014 after French authorities attempted to question the head of Morocco’s domestic intelligence service, Abdellatif Hammouchi, over torture allegations. French- Moroccan activists had filed complaints against Hammouchi for complicity in torture.
France and Morocco, however, resumed judicial cooperation in February 2015.
“French and Moroccan intelligence services maintain intensive cooperation to ensure the security of Moroccans like the French and beyond,” Hollande said, highlighting the importance of security cooperation.
His visit came after French journalists Catherine Graciet and Eric Laurent were accused of threatening to publish a damaging book about Moroccan King Mohammed VI unless they were paid 3 million euros ($3.4 million). The pair deny any wrongdoing.
When asked about the issue, Hollande reiterated France’s commitment to the basic principles of press freedom and independence of justice.
But Jack Lang, former minister and current president of the Arab World Institute, a Paris-based group devoted to art of the Arab world, said, “Moroccan authorities do not doubt for a second that we are with the king in rejecting such behaviour.”
Hollande was clearly intent on opening a new chapter with Morocco.
In August 2014, France launched Operation Barkhane in sub-Saharan Africa to fight Islamist groups linked to al-Qaeda.
Nine French soldiers were killed in Mali. King Mohammed VI was instrumental in facilitating peace talks between the Malian government and armed groups, which culminated in an agreement in June that halted years of fighting in northern Mali.
The French and Moroccans also share a common interest in ending Libya’s civil strife.
Among the announcements during Hollande’s visit was one that called for cooperation in training imams since the radicalisation of young Muslims is a major concern for France.
About 50 French imams a year are to be trained at the Mohammed VI Institute in Rabat. The institute is part of Morocco’s attempts to promote religious moderation and tolerance.
France seeks to once again become Morocco’s leading economic partner after being overtaken by Spain in recent years. A delegation of French business leaders accompanied Hollande to Morocco and at least 750 French companies operate in the North African country in various sectors, including automotive, aerospace and transportation.