Time is the most precious resource when it comes to disaster relief, and yet French teams have been left waiting for Morocco's approval for their aid. Looking at recent tensions might explain why the country is hesitating on accepting help in a time of such dire need.
Updated September 12, 2023 at 1:20 p.m.
PARIS — Major humanitarian disasters can sometimes provide an opportunity to overcome hostilities between nations – but they can also be missed opportunities.
The earthquake that struck Morocco on Friday night has had a significant impact in France, not only due to the large Franco-Moroccan community here, but also because of the longstanding human connection between France and its former Maghreb protectorate.
Yet 72 hours after the disaster, the offers of assistance from the French government, including those from Emmanuel Macron himself, had still not received a response from Rabat. Meanwhile, Morocco had given the green light to relief efforts from Qatar, Tunisia and Spain. Spain is the only European country with 56 military rescuers already on the ground.
France possesses undeniable expertise and resources in the field of emergency relief, and if there is one area where every minute counts, it is the search for survivors. By Tuesday, the death toll had topped 2,800. Yet French teams, including search dogs and equipment, are still awaiting clearance to deploy from French soil. The Americans find themselves in a similar situation.
Downplaying the issue
French officials are attempting to downplay the issue; they mention Morocco's concern about avoiding an overload of international aid and argue that only a few countries have been requested to assist. But on Sunday, while in New Delhi for the G20, Emmanuel Macron stated that "the moment this aid is requested, it will be deployed, and we stand ready." Hours have passed without such a request being made.
It's known that relations between Rabat and Paris have been strained for some time.
There comes a point where the explanation begins to take on a political dimension. It's known that relations between Rabat and Paris have been strained for some time. An example of this was seen in March when Macron declared that his relations with King Mohammed VI were friendly. Rabat immediately retorted, "Relations are neither friendly nor good, not between the two governments nor between the royal palace and the Elysée." It's hard to be more blunt than this.
On Friday, just hours before the earthquake, a well-connected Moroccan website was trying to be positive about the Franco-Moroccan relationship. But the earthquake didn't leave any time for these hopes to materialize.
In friendlier times, the Macrons welcomes King Mohammed VI of Morocco and his son Crown Prince Moulay Hassan at the Elysee Palace ahead of a ceremony to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I
Mikhail Metzel/TASS via ZUMA
The King's visit
The article was about King Mohammed VI's private visit to France, and indeed, the Moroccan sovereign was in France when the earthquake hit. The article suggested that a phone call or meeting between the king and the French president could resolve misunderstandings. The king and the president did have a conversation, but with no apparent results.
It should be noted that the article set conditions that still seem impossible for Paris to meet: it demanded recognition of Morocco's sovereignty over the former Spanish Sahara, an international dispute that dates back to the 1970s. Both the United States and Spain have succumbed to Moroccan pressure, but France does not want to take a step that would be seen as a declaration of war against Algeria.
The other issue is more straightforward—the matter of visa restrictions for France. Macron publicly acknowledged that this policy, inspired by the Interior Ministry, has been counterproductive. He hinted at a new accord.
However, the king's visit abruptly ended without the anticipated breakthrough. By not promptly accepting France's offer of assistance, has Morocco genuinely suffered from organizational difficulties? Or has it chosen to demonstrate its independence from its former colonial ruler? With the search for survivors the sole priority, there will always be time for reconciliation later.