Morocco denies reports of strained relations with Riyadh

Bourita said reports claiming that Morocco had withdrawn its envoys from Saudi Arabia and the UAE were untrue.
Saturday 16/02/2019
Moroccan Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita attends a news conference after a roundtable on Western Sahara at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, December 6, 2018. (Reuters)
Moroccan Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita attends a news conference after a roundtable on Western Sahara at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, December 6, 2018. (Reuters)

LONDON - Moroccan Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita has dismissed reports alleging strained relations between Morocco and Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

In an interview with Russia’s state-sponsored news agency Sputnik, Bourita said reports claiming that Morocco had withdrawn its envoys from Saudi Arabia and the UAE were untrue.

“The news is inaccurate and has not come from an official,” he said. “The history of Moroccan diplomacy shows that it expresses its positions through its own outlets not through a US news agency.”

Bourita was referring to an Associated Press report that cited unidentified Moroccan government officials as saying that Morocco suspended its participation in the Saudi-led Arab coalition fighting Houthi rebels in Yemen and had recalled its ambassador to Saudi Arabia.

Bourita’s Sputnik interview came one day after Moroccan and Arab media outlets affiliated with Qatar reported that Morocco had recalled its ambassador to the United Arab Emirates amid rising tension with some Gulf states.

Moroccan news site Achkayen cited a “well-informed” source in saying it had confirmed Rabat had recalled Moroccan Ambassador to the UAE Mohammed Ayat wa Ali “for consultation.” The source also claimed the departure of Morocco’s ambassador to Saudi Arabia.

Al Jazeera TV reported the recall of the Moroccan envoy from the UAE.

However, the Pan Arab daily Asharq Al-Awsat, quoting an unidentified diplomatic source, said Ali had been in Rabat since the beginning of February to attend to administrative affairs and his absence from Abu Dhabi had nothing to do with Moroccan-Emirati relations.

“These relations have never been severed and they continue to be steadfast and impossible to rupture,” the source said.

Moroccan Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Mustapha Mansouri was quoted as saying he had been recalled from Saudi Arabia to “consult” on bilateral relations but that it was only a “passing” issue between the two kingdoms, the privately owned Le360 website reported.

“Matters will soon return to their normal state,” Mansouri told Le360.

Many reports supported suspicions of cooling relations between Morocco and the Gulf countries stemmed from a documentary shown on Dubai-based, Saudi-funded Al Arabiya TV.

Officials in Morocco were reportedly upset over a claim in the documentary that Morocco invaded the disputed Western Sahara region, which Morocco claims as its own, after the departure of Spanish colonisers in 1975.

The airing of the documentary was preceded by an interview on Al Jazeera in January with Bourita in which he said that “on the basis of developments” in Yemen, “there was a change in the form and the content” of Morocco’s participation.

Al Arabiya reported that, in the interview, Bourita said: “Rabat had serious reservations” about Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz’s recent tour of Arab countries, including Algeria, Tunisia, Mauritania, Jordan, Egypt, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates.”

Other reports in Morocco attributed the suspected strain in relations to Rabat refusing to join the boycott of Qatar. In 2017, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt broke relations with Doha over its ties to the Muslim Brotherhood and Iran.

The outlets attributed the lack of support for the boycott as a reason that Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates did not support Morocco’s bid for the 2026 World Cup. It was unmentioned that Jordan, Lebanon, Bahrain, Iraq and Kuwait also did not support the bid.

Credit rating agency Fitch, in a January report, said strained short-term relations between Rabat and Riyadh could “negatively affect Morocco’s access to aid and investment from Saudi Arabia and its closest allies in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).”

The report said that weaker support from the GCC could lead to accelerated efforts to gain aid and development funding from the European Union.

“Nevertheless, in the longer term, our core expectation is for tensions with Saudi Arabia to ease, as mutual policy priorities encourage closer cooperation,” the report stated.