The Syrian Rapprochement With The Arab World Is Far From Complete
Despite the official "consensus" by Arab League nations to welcome Syria back to the organization after 12 years of suspension, several key countries were opposed on principal — including key questions still open in North Africa.
ALGIERS — Algerian diplomacy may appear strengthened by the Arab League's recent decision to reintegrate Syria. Yet neighboring Morocco conversely finds itself in an uncomfortable position.
After mirroring Saudi Arabia's position on nearly all regional issues, Morocco was caught off guard when the country decided to support Syria's reintegration.
On May 7 in Cairo, foreign ministers of Arab League nations agreed to welcome Syria back to the organization after 12 years of suspension.
This reinstatement will be subject to certain conditions imposed on Syria, including the return of refugees, facilitating the passage of international humanitarian aid across borders and working on preparations to hold elections.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is expected to attend the Arab summit scheduled in Saudi Arabia on May 19.
The decision was made by consensus, meaning it was accepted by all member countries, including those, like Morocco, who vehemently opposed this option just a few weeks ago.
On April 22, the Wall Street Journal reported the countries opposed to Syria's return: Morocco, Qatar, Kuwait and Yemen. The newspaper reported that Morocco agreed to support Syria's return to the Arab League on the condition that Syria abandon its support for the Sahrawi people in their struggle for self-determination in Western Sahara.
The latest discussions on Syria's return took place in Amman, Jordan, without these four countries, but none of them contested the decision later made in Cairo to reintegrate Syria. They even saluted it, albeit with some discomfort.
In Morocco, Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita praised the "efforts exerted by Saudi Arabia," and said that Syria's reintegration will make the upcoming Arab summit "an opportunity for the reunification of Arab ranks."
A break with Saudi Arabia
Aligning with Saudi Arabia's positions has become almost a constant in Moroccan diplomacy, with the exception of the embargo imposed on Qatar in 2017.
Morocco has no choice but to backtrack.
This has been particularly evident in the Syrian conflict, the crisis with Iran and the military intervention in Yemen. Each time, the same scenario repeats: Saudi Arabia takes the initiative for reconciliation alone, and Morocco has no choice but to backtrack.
The Syrian issue highlights the "insignificant dimension" of Moroccan diplomacy,” an Algerian diplomat says. With Iran, Morocco's relations have been troubled since the Islamic revolution of 1979 and Moroccan King Hassan II's decision to grant asylum to the deposed Shah.
Relations between the two countries were severed in 1980, 2009 and again in 2018, and still have not been restored. The latest rupture of relations was decided by Rabat, which accused Iran of using Hezbollah to support the Sahrawi rebel movement Polisario Front. In fact, Morocco wanted to capitalize on the animosity between Riyadh and Tehran and the standoff between Iran and the West over the Iranian nuclear issue.
With Israel, its new ally since 2020, Morocco attempted to demonize Algeria in the crisis with Iran when the Israeli Foreign Minister expressed "concerns" from Moroccan territory in Aug. 2021 about the alleged "reconciliation" between Algiers and Tehran.
By repeatedly stating that Algeria maintained strategic relations with Iran, Morocco sought to vilify its eastern neighbor, with whom diplomatic relations are severed, designating it as Israel's enemy in the Maghreb.
Morocco sought to apply the Israeli method with the Gulf countries, presenting Iran as the greatest threat to their security while offering them protection.
Syria Takes Part in Arab League Meetin
Resurgence of Saudi Arabia
In the context of tensions with Iran, Israel, with the support of then-President Donald Trump in the U.S., signed the Abraham Accords with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Morocco, among others. But in March 2023, Moroccans, and even Israelis, learned through the press about the surprising reconciliation agreement between Saudi Arabia and Iran, concluded in Beijing.
The two countries agreed to reopen their respective embassies within two months.
The two countries agreed to reopen their respective embassies within two months. Moroccan diplomacy, in great discomfort, refrained from commenting too much on the agreement, which, nevertheless, constitutes a major event that could reshuffle the cards of regional geopolitics.
The resurgence of Saudi Arabia puts a stop to these agreements and revives the Arab Peace Plan with Israel, which was adopted in 2002. This plan is expected to be at the center of the Arab summit in Riyadh on May 19. In the near future, Morocco, uneasy about the rapprochement between Tehran and Riyadh, may find itself compelled to independently initiate the process of reestablishing its relations with Iran.
And it's not over, as the signs of a change in Saudi Arabia's approach in Yemen are becoming increasingly apparent. In 2015, Morocco was one of eight Arab countries that joined the coalition formed by Riyadh to fight the Houthi rebels, who are close to Iran.
The Maghreb Kingdom deployed its air force to support the coalition. The crisis with Yemen will come to an end at the initiative of Saudi Arabia, just like those with Iran and Syria, and Morocco will have only collected more animosities and failures.