Will Egyptian-Moroccan Relations Improve Amid Morocco’s Return to The African Union?

Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry met with his Moroccan counterpart Salaheddine Mezouar during Paris Peace Conference.

According to Ahmed Abu Zeid, Egypt’s official Foreign Ministry spokesperson, both foreign ministers discussed the bilateral relations between both countries as well as the common coordination on different regional issues.

In fact, Egypt was among 38 African countries that agreed on Morocco’s return to the African Union.

The Moroccan Kingdom has formally submitted a request to re-join the continental body, thus starting a process that may lead to its readmission at the next A.U. summit in Addis Ababa which is scheduled for January (22-31) 2017.

In 1984, Morocco left the former Organization of African Unity (A.U.’s predecessor), to protest the seating of the Polisario Front as representatives of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), a former Spanish colony west of the Sahara that Morocco considers part of its territory.

SADR disputes Morocco’s position, and 30 years later the dispute remains unresolved.

In explaining Morocco’s current decision to join the A.U., the Moroccan king said, “When a body is sick, it is treated more effectively from the inside than from the outside.”

It is worth to mention that the Egyptian Moroccan relations have soared last November when a delegation of Western Sahara’s Polisario separatist movement were allowed to take part in the joint Arab-African parliamentary congress in Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt.

The five-member Polisario delegation participated in the celebrations for the 150th anniversary of the Egyptian parliament, which coincided with a joint session of the Arab Parliamentary Union and the African Parliamentary Union, a Polisario source was cited by al-Masry al-Youm. an Egyptian independent newspaper.

The Polisario delegation was headed by Khatri Addouh, chairperson of the Sahrawi National Council and Suilma Hay Emhamed al-Kaid, vice-president of the Pan-African Parliament.

The delegation met with heads of Arab and African parliaments, including an unofficial meeting with Egypt’s speaker of parliament, Ali Abdel Aal, the source added.

Moreover, al-Sisi participated  in the fourth Arab-African summit in the capital of Equatorial Guinea, Malabo, last November while nine Arab countries announced their withdrawal from in solidarity with Morocco, which protested the insistence of the African Union on the participation of a delegation of the “Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic”- that was unilaterally declared by the “Polisario Front” in 1976 – in the summit.

The Arab countries that pulled out are: Morocco, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Qatar, Yemen, Oman, Somalia and Jordan.

As a result, Egypt’s stance has caused a tremendous anger from the Moroccan media that interpreted Egypt’s action as an explicit departure from supporting Morocco in preserving its territorial integrity.

In this context, Morocco’s Hespress news website said that hosting the delegation at the conference, which was attended by Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, was “provocative”, as reported by al-Arabi al-Jadeed.

It said, “Egypt has once again taken a hostile stance against Morocco,” adding that the move was likely to raise tensions between the two countries

Moreover, Al Jazeera’s prominent Moroccan anchor Abdessamad Nacir has criticized Egypt’s move, also describing it as “provocative”.

He wrote on Twitter, “I look forward to Morocco’s response to Sisi’s Egypt hosting a Polisario Front delegation at the Arab-African parliamentary congress.”

He also said in another Tweet, “It is now clear to everyone that Sisi has betrayed all Arabs. He betrayed Saudi Arabia in Yemen by helping the Houthis, and here he is now betraying Morocco.”

According to many observers, since al-Sisi reached power in military coup in 2013, Egypt’s foreign policy toward Morocco was marked with contradictions.

During the unprecedented tension between Rabat and the United Nations Secretariat in March, following Ban Ki-moon’s statement describing Morocco’s presence in the Western Sahara as “occupation.”

Within this crisis and the negotiations that preceded the adoption of Security Council Resolution 2285 to renew the mandate of the UN Mission in the Western Sahara (MINURSO), Egypt, alongside Spain, Senegal and France, played a prominent role in preventing the Security Council from siding with Ban Ki-moon.

In addition, Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry repeated the same position of support to Morocco in a meeting with a delegation of Moroccan media professionals in Egypt in May.

However, Egypt’s stance during the 27th summit of the African Union indicates that its support for Morocco is not as fixed as it claims.

In July, when King Mohammed VI sent a letter to the AU summit held in Kigali, 28 countries submitted a motion to the AU secretariat calling for the suspension of Polisario’s membership as a first step to enable Morocco’s return to the organization.

Egypt withdrew away from signing this motion although it supported Morocco a few months ago.

In a search for a clear justification for Egypt’s contradiction, the Moroccan media widely commented on that abstention, with many observers expressing their incomprehension of Egypt’s position on the Western Sahara.

In al-Arabi al-Jadeed, Samir Bennis wrote in his article titled: “Why Morocco should be suspicious of al-Sisi regime,” that the move is reminiscent of Egypt’s gesticulations in 2014. “While Morocco had adopted a neutral stance regarding Sisi’s rise to power, and issued a statement to recognize him as Egyptian President, it was the target of an unprecedented wave of attacks from the Egyptian media.”

During this time, Egyptian media close to al-Sisi labelled Morocco as the “hub of sorcery, prostitution, as well as among the countries affected by HIV.” He added, “To add insult to injury, al-Azhar said the day of Eid El Fitr in Morocco was invalid.”

But Egypt took an initiative to ease the tensions between both countries when Abdel Fattah al-Sisi sent a letter to King Mohammed VI in January 2015, and sent his Foreign Minister, Sameh Shoukry to Rabat. During the meeting, the Egyptian Minister renewed his country’s support for Morocco’s territorial integrity.

“However, it seems that this statement was neither sincere nor rooted in a consistent foreign policy orientation. The presence of a Polisario delegation on Egyptian soil indicates that Cairo’s support for Morocco is contingent on several factors that have to do with Morocco’s domestic policy and its positioning on the regional and global stages,” according to Samir Bennis.

In this context, although Egypt supported officially the return of Morocco to the African Union,but the Egyptian Moroccan relations will still remain vague in the light of al-Sisi ambiguous policy.