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Tensions ran high with Algeria over Western Sahara. In virtual Non-Aligned Movement meeting, Algerian FM Ramtane Lamamra 14 July called on UN to accelerate appointment of UN envoy for Western Sahara; in response, Morocco’s Permanent Representative to UN Omar Hilale same day called for Algeria’s Amazigh-speaking Kabylia region “to fully enjoy their right to self-determination”, prompting Algiers 18 July to recall its ambassador to Morocco. Meanwhile, Spanish PM Pedro Sánchez 10 July sacked FM Arancha Gonzalez Laya in apparent good-will gesture toward Morocco following sharp deterioration of bilateral relations since April hospitalisation in Spain of Western Sahara independence movement leader Brahim Ghali. UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders Mary Lawlor 1 July urged Morocco to stop criminalising human rights activists, notably those working on issues related to Western Sahara, denounced “cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment and torture” of imprisoned activists (see Western Sahara).
Tensions remained high between Morocco and Spain over Western Sahara. European Parliament 10 June approved resolution condemning Rabat’s use of migrants, including unaccompanied minors, as tool of political pressure on Spain; Moroccan authorities in May had let thousands of migrants enter Spanish enclave of Ceuta in apparent protest at hospitalisation in Spain of Polisario Front independence movement leader Brahim Ghali. Moroccan FM Nasser Bourita 9 June accused Spain of “europeanising bilateral crisis”. Ahead of holiday season, Rabat early June launched annual transit plan for its diaspora; scheme excludes all sea links via Spain, inflicting considerable economic damage on several Spanish transportation companies.
Rabat continued to take increasingly confrontational stance vis-à-vis European partners over Western Sahara. Around 8,000 Moroccans and sub-Saharan Africans 17-18 May entered Spanish enclave of Ceuta. In following days, tensions ran high between Morocco and Spain, with both sides trading accusations. Hours after Spanish foreign ministry 18 May summoned Morocco’s ambassador to Spain Karima Benyaich, Rabat recalled her for consultations. Morocco’s Human Rights Minister Mustapha Ramid same day linked relaxation of border controls to Polisario Front independence movement leader Brahim Ghali’s hospitalisation in Spain since April (see Western Sahara); Spanish Defence Minister Margarita Robles 20 May denounced “blackmail” and Morocco’s “aggression of Spanish borders”. Rabat 6 May recalled its ambassador to Germany in protest at Berlin’s alleged “destructive attitude” on Western Sahara; move comes after Morocco early March suspended relations with Berlin, citing “profound misunderstandings […] on fundamental issues”. Meanwhile, Morocco by month’s end had not responded to UN Sec-Gen Guterres’ proposal of Italian-Swedish diplomat Staffan de Mistura as next personal envoy to Western Sahara.
Authorities continued to build on normalisation deal with Israel, while tensions persisted in Western Sahara territory. U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan 23 Jan said new U.S. administration under President Biden will build on Morocco-Israel normalisation agreement, in exchange for which U.S. last Dec recognised Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara. Israeli govt 24 Jan approved normalisation agreement and 26 Jan reopened diplomatic mission in capital Rabat after govts 21 Jan signed agreement allowing direct flights between two countries; new agreement forms part of provisions of Joint Declaration signed by Morocco and Israel 22 Dec. Meanwhile, tensions persisted in Western Sahara region; Algeria 17-18 Jan held large-scale military exercise in Tindouf area near border with Morocco (see Western Sahara).
Govt resumed diplomatic relations with Israel and scored major diplomatic victory in dispute over Western Sahara. U.S. President Trump 10 Dec announced resumption of diplomatic relations between Morocco and Israel, including immediate reopening of liaison offices in Tel Aviv and Rabat – shut in 2000 – and eventual opening of embassies; as part of deal, U.S. recognised Moroccan sovereignty over disputed Western Sahara. Polisario Front independence movement same day condemned U.S. stance on Western Sahara as “blatant violation” of international law (see Western Sahara). Algerian govt 12 Dec rejected U.S. recognition of Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara, said it undermined efforts to end the decades-long conflict (see Algeria). Israeli National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat and Trump’s senior adviser Jared Kushner 22 Dec met with King Mohammed VI in capital Rabat to expand U.S.-brokered deal; Morocco and Israel signed four agreements covering direct flights, visa waivers for diplomats, investment and financial facilitations, and water management.
Following Côte d’Ivoire in June and Comoros in Dec, Gambia, Guinea, Gabon and São Tomé and Príncipe opened consulates to Morocco in Dakhla and Laayoune in Western Sahara in Jan, thereby recognising Morocco’s claims over disputed territory. Parliament 22 Jan passed two laws integrating waters off coast of Western Sahara into its maritime territory.
Police 14 Dec arrested suspected Islamic State (ISIS) militant in Meknes in north and said he was planning suicide attack. Parliament’s foreign affairs committee 16 Dec approved two bills extending Rabat’s maritime boundaries over Western Sahara’s territorial water.
Security forces 17 Nov arrested two individuals suspected of links to Islamic State (ISIS) in capital Rabat. Appeals court in Rabat 30 Oct confirmed death sentences for three main suspects in killing of two female Scandinavian tourists near Imlil village in Atlas Mountains in Dec 2018 and sentenced fourth one, originally sentenced to life imprisonment, to death.
PM Othmani 9 Oct presented new govt of 23 ministers (reduced from 39), after King Mohammed VI urged cabinet reshuffle in July. Mohammed VI 16 Oct pardoned journalist Hajar Raissouni, sentenced late Sept to one year in jail for alleged abortion and sex outside marriage; her fiancé and doctor were also pardoned. Security forces 25 Oct arrested seven suspected members of Islamic State (ISIS)-linked cell in Casablanca and northern towns of Chefchaouen and Ouazzane.
Hundreds protested outside court in capital Rabat at opening of trial of female journalist Hajar Raissouni, arrested in Rabat 31 Aug for alleged abortion and sex before marriage, protesters demanded her release. Court 30 Sept sentenced Raissouni to one year in jail for “illegal abortion” and sexual relations outside marriage; her fiancé was also sentenced to one year in prison and her gynaecologist for two years. Defence lawyers said they would appeal.
On occasion of twenty year anniversary of his rule, King Mohammed VI 29 July urged cabinet reshuffle, said he would pardon 4,764 prisoners, including eight activists of Hirak protest movement that formed in Rif region in north in late 2016. Security forces 27 July arrested five suspected Islamic State (ISIS) militants in Tangiers. Court in Salé near capital Rabat 18 July sentenced to death three main suspects in killing of two Scandinavian tourists near Imlil village in Atlas Mountains in Dec 2018.
On occasion of Eid al-Fitr, marking end of holy month of Ramadan 5 June, King Mohammed VI pardoned 107 activists of Hirak protest movement that formed in Rif region in north in late 2016 to demand jobs and denounce state corruption and repression. Court of appeal of Salé near capital Rabat 21 June closed hearing of 24 defendants suspected of involvement in killing of two Scandinavian tourists near Imlil village in Atlas Mountains in Dec 2018, prosecutor 27 June sought death sentence for three main suspects.
Casablanca appeals court 5 April upheld sentence of 42 activists of Hirak protest movement that formed in Rif region in north in late 2016 to demand jobs and denounce state corruption and repression; court confirmed 20-year prison sentences for Hirak leader Nasser Zefzafi and three other activists for threatening state security; also confirmed other sentences ranging from one to fifteen years. Thousands demonstrated 21 April in capital Rabat to demand release of Hirak activists. Police 25 April used water cannon to disperse some one thousand teachers protesting in capital. Authorities 23 April arrested seven suspected Islamic State members in Salé, near Rabat.
Police 23 March fired water cannon to disperse some 15,000 teachers protesting low-wage temporary contracts outside parliament in capital Rabat in continuation of month-long protest movement; thousands demonstrated again next day. Govt took part in second round of talks with Western Sahara’s Polisario Front independence movement 21-22 March under UN auspices in Geneva, in presence of Algeria and Mauritania. UN envoy for Western Sahara Horst Köhler said parties had agreed to continue discussions, but there was “still a lot of work ahead”.
Protests and strikes continued. 42 members of Hirak protest movement that formed in Rif region in north in late 2016 to demand jobs and denounce state corruption and repression 15 Feb boycotted hearing before Casablanca court of appeal for first time since appeal trial started 17 Dec, citing lack of conditions for impartial trial. Thousands demonstrated in Brussels 16 Feb to call for release of Hirak movement activists. Thousands of public school teachers 20 Feb went on strike and demonstrated in capital Rabat against poor working conditions; police intervened to disperse protesters.
Security forces 23 Jan arrested thirteen suspected Islamist militants reportedly linked to Islamic State (ISIS) in several cities including economic capital Casablanca. Civil society organisation Racines 15 Jan said it would appeal Casablanca court’s dissolution order issued 26 Dec after Racines in Aug 2018 hosted recording of talk show critical of king. Civil servants and municipal workers went on strike 17 Jan to demand better working conditions. European Parliament 16 Jan voted to extend preferential tariffs to Western Sahara as part of EU-Morocco trade agreement, despite 2016 ruling by EU Court of Justice that no trade agreement could cover Western Sahara unless inhabitants of territory consented to it. UN Envoy for Western Sahara Horst Köhler late Jan said he planned new round of talks between Morocco and Polisario Front independence movement in March (see Western Sahara).
Two women, one Danish and one Norwegian, were found dead 17 Dec near Imlil village in Atlas Mountains south of Marrakech, one had been beheaded. Security forces arrested one suspect 18 Dec and three others 20 Dec. Govt 20 Dec said it suspected terrorist motive. Danish intelligence services 20 Dec said they had authenticated video circulating on social media that appeared to show murder of one of the women.
As numbers of people trying to reach Europe illegally through Morocco rise, security forces’ efforts to stop them led to casualties. After security forces 25 Sept opened fire on boat carrying 25 Moroccan illegal migrants, killing one Moroccan woman, court in Tétouan in north 17 Oct sentenced to two years in prison man who protested on social media. Security forces night of 9-10 Oct opened fire on another boat carrying about 50 Moroccan migrants, injuring sixteen-year-old boy. Army 21 Oct clashed with illegal migrants in Melilla, Spanish enclave in Morocco, as about 300 tried to cross border fence from Morocco into Melilla, one migrant killed.
Cabinet 20 Aug approved law reinstating compulsory twelve-month military service for men and women aged 19-25, scrapped in 2006. King Mohammed VI late Aug pardoned 889 detainees, including 188 people detained for taking part in demonstrations in Rif region in north to demand development and denounce corruption.
Govt and EU officials 24 July in capital Rabat signed new fisheries agreement: EU to give Morocco €52mn per year for allowing boats from EU to fish in Morocco’s waters, including waters off Western Sahara. Spanish police in Ceuta, Spain’s enclave in Morocco, 26 July clashed with migrants from sub-Saharan Africa as some 800 stormed border fence between Morocco and Ceuta, about 150 people injured including 132 migrants and at least sixteen police officers.
Court 27 June sentenced four leaders of Hirak protest movement in Rif region in north to twenty years in prison, sparking protests in Hoceima in north and Casablanca.
Morocco cut ties with Iran 1 May, accused Tehran and Lebanese Shiite movement Hizbollah of training and providing advanced weaponry to Western Sahara independence movement Polisario Front, govt 14 May said Algeria supported Hizbollah in backing Polisario Front. Govt condemned Polisario Front’s 45th anniversary celebrations in Western Sahara’s Tifariti area east of separation wall 20 May as “provocation” and “violation of ceasefire”, and said it had alerted UN. UN 19 May called on parties to avoid action “which may constitute a change to the status quo”.
Govt 1 April said Polisario Front independence movement had entered UN-monitored buffer zones in Western Sahara from Algeria, threatened to take control of area (see Western Sahara).
Protests to demand development and jobs in Jerada in north east, initially sparked by death of two brothers trying to extract coal from abandoned mines in Dec, escalated following arrest of movement leaders 10 March. Protesters clashed with police 14 March, at least nine arrested, several protesters and security forces wounded. Thousands marched again 16 March. Opposition leaders 30 March denounced repression, said 70 protesters had been arrested in Jerada since mid-March.
After months of protests to demand jobs, denounce corruption and repression in al-Hoceima in Rif region, King Mohammed VI 24 Oct dismissed several ministers and other high-ranking officials for failing to implement development plan for region. Protestors called for release of 21 opposition supporters on trial over protests, after 24 Oct initial hearing trial adjourned to 31 Oct. Authorities 14 Oct dismantled Islamic State (ISIS) cell reportedly active in eight towns and planning terrorist attacks. After Algerian FM 21 Oct accused Moroccan banks of laundering drug money, Morocco recalled its ambassador to Algeria.
King pardoned 415 prisoners 19 Aug, including thirteen convicted in terrorism cases, but no-one who took part in protests to demand jobs, denounce corruption and repression in al-Hoceima in Rif region in north since Oct 2016.
Police in northern town al-Hoceima in Rif region 20 July fired tear gas to disperse hundreds of protesters defying govt ban to demand jobs, denounce corruption and repression.
Protests to demand jobs and against corruption continued throughout month in northern town al-Hoceima in Rif region, epicentre of protest movement since Oct 2016. Protesters and security forces clashed there 8 June, at least one policeman and one protestor wounded and several arrested; clashes erupted again 14-15 June after al-Hoceima court 14 June sentenced 25 protestors to eighteen months in prison. Police said more than 10,000 demonstrated in Rabat 11 June in solidarity with al-Hoceima protests. Govt said four suspected members of jihadist cell linked to Islamic State (ISIS) planning major attacks arrested 22 June in city of Essaouira in west. Govt 25 June recalled ambassador to Netherlands after criticising Dutch authorities for failing to take action against former Moroccan parliamentarian and Dutch national Said Chaaou accused of funding civil unrest. Chaaou arrested in Netherlands 29 June after Morocco gave guarantee he could serve any sentence in Netherlands.
Authorities 8 May said they and Spanish counterparts dismantled three-man jihadist cell linked to Islamic State (ISIS) in Tangier in north and Badalona and Salou in Spain. Thousands marched to demand jobs and protest against injustice and corruption 18 May in northern town al-Hoceima where death of fishmonger crushed in rubbish compactor trying to retrieve fish confiscated by police sparked protests in several cities in Oct 2016. Interior minister and seven other cabinet members 22 May toured city to calm tensions. Protests escalated 26-27 May after govt ordered arrest of protest movement leader Nasser Zafzafi; at least 40 protesters arrested over next few days including Zafzafi. Solidarity protests and rallies began in other cities, including Casablanca, Tangier and Rabat 27 May.
Govt 12 April said security forces had dismantled seven-member cell linked to Islamic State (ISIS) in Fez and Moulay Yacoub in north. King Mohammed VI 5 April named six-party coalition govt led by PM Saad-Eddine El Othmani from Islamist Justice and Development Party (PJD); PJD lost key ministries including justice, despite winning Oct parliamentary elections.
King Mohammed VI 17 March dismissed incumbent PM Benkirane after five months of post-election deadlock over creation of new govt, and tasked Saad-Eddine El Othmani, former FM and head of Islamist Justice and Development Party (PJD)’s parliamentary group, to form new govt. Othmani 21 March started negotiations, 25 March said agreement reached to form six-party coalition; new govt expected to take office early April. MP from Constitutional Union (UC) liberal party killed in Casablanca 7 March; suspect arrested next day. AU expressed “regret” that Morocco did not attend AU’s Peace and Security Council meeting on Western Sahara 20 March. Conference of African finance ministers due to start 27 March in Senegal co-hosted by AU and UN Economic Commission for Africa postponed 25 March after Morocco demanded exclusion of Western Sahara, AU member, but not UN member state.
Hundreds of migrants 17 Feb crossed border from Morocco into Ceuta, Spain’s North African enclave, after Moroccan govt said it would no longer control migration into enclave because of Dec 2016 European Court of Justice ruling on Morocco-EU trade agreement that said deal did not include Western Sahara. Interior ministry 9 Feb filed lawsuit against Independent Party (PI) Sec Gen Hamid Chabat following his accusations that “deep state” murdered two politicians.
PM Benkirane 8 Jan broke off talks on creation of new coalition govt with two potential members, National Rally of Independence (RNI) and Popular Movement, explaining that RNI leader Aziz Akhannouch had replied to his proposal in collaboration with two other parties which Benkirane had not invited to join. Security forces 27 Jan dismantled seven-member cell allegedly linked to Islamic State. AU at summit 30 Jan admitted Morocco as member after it left predecessor Organisation of African Unity in 1984 over body’s recognition of Western Sahara.
Security forces 1 Dec arrested eight people with suspected links to Islamic State during raids in Fez and Tangier (north). Consultations on govt line-up remained stuck reportedly due to inter-party disagreements. European Court of Justice 21 Dec ruled two political and trade deals with EU were valid but did not apply to Western Sahara (see Western Sahara). Opposition Istiqlal party 24 Dec said Mauritania was Moroccan territory, raising tensions between countries.
Security forces 4 Nov arrested five suspected members of Islamic State-affiliated cell in Tétouan (north) allegedly planning attacks in country.
Islamist Justice and Development Party (PJD) won 7 Oct parliamentary elections with 125 of 395 seats, while secular Authenticity and Modernity Party (PAM) took 102. PM Benkirane 12 Oct started consultations with party leaders of current ruling majority on formation of new cabinet. Govt 3 Oct said security forces dismantled suspected Islamic State cell operating in several regions, arrested ten women suspected of planning attacks. Death of fish seller 28 Oct in northern town al-Hoceima after police threw his swordfish into rubbish compactor since catching it at this time of year is prohibited and he jumped in to retrieve it, sparked protests in several cities 30 Oct calling for police accountability and end to “state contempt”.
Govt 7 Sept said it dismantled terrorist cell linked to Islamic State (IS) planning attacks in north; 22 Sept said police arrested one suspected IS-linked militant in Meknes 21 Sept and three in Tangiers and M’diq 16 Sept. Tensions rose between royal palace and Islamist Justice and Development Party and its allies ahead of Oct parliamentary elections; politicians accused palace of seeking to influence elections and staging 18 Sept anti-Islamist march in Casablanca. Govt 22 Sept submitted request to rejoin AU 32 years after leaving.
Govt 16 Aug said it had arrested four suspected Islamic State members allegedly planning attacks in Casablanca. Govt anti-smuggling operation in southern Western Sahara that began 14 Aug sparked protests by Polisario Front independence movement and Mauritania (see Western Sahara and Mauritania).
Govt 15 July said security services previous day dismantled terrorist cell in several cities planning attack and linked to Islamic State (IS) in Libya. Govt 27 July said 52 suspected IS militants arrested 19 July.
Security services 2 June arrested six suspected Islamic State (IS)- affiliated militants, allegedly dismantling cell operating in Tétouan and Martil in north and Casablanca in NW; 8 June arrested at Oujda airport in north Italian suspected of ties to IS and of planning to carry out attacks in Morocco.
Security services 2 May arrested suspected Islamic State (IS)-affiliated militant in Saidia in east; suspected accomplice arrested 3 May in Sidi Bennour in west; authorities 13 May arrested Chadian suspected IS militant in Tangier, reportedly foiling plot to attack Western diplomatic buildings and tourist sites.
Govt 3 April said two suspected militants linked to Islamic State (IS)’s Libyan branch arrested 1-2 April in Casablanca and neighbouring Had Soualem after it dismantled terror cell late March. Security services 29 April dismantled three-member IS-linked terror cell in Nador.
Govt 7 and 24 March said two suspected Islamic State (IS)-affiliated cells dismantled. Tensions between Morocco and UN over Western Sahara spiked (see Western Sahara).
Govt 19 Feb said ten suspected militants linked to Islamic State including French citizen arrested after 18 Feb raids in Essaouira, Meknes and Sidi Kacem.
Security forces 8 Jan arrested seven suspected militants linked to Islamic State (IS) near Casablanca. Interior ministry 18 Jan announced arrest of Belgian-Moroccan national reportedly linked to IS and Nov 2015 Paris attacks. Veteran independent journalist Ali al-Nouzla 25 Jan said he will face trial in Feb for “undermining territorial integrity” after he said Western Sahara one of three “red lines” in Morocco media (others being monarchy and Islam).
Moroccan authorities 11 Dec announced “terrorist cell” reportedly linked to Islamic State dismantled, nine arrested in several Moroccan towns.
Trial of seven journalists and activists charged with threatening national security and failing to disclose foreign funding began mid-Nov. Authorities 16 Nov said four militants with suspected links to Islamic State (IS) arrested in Beni Mellal; police 28 Nov arrested three including two Turkish nationals suspected of ties to IS. Thousands 1 Nov protested in Tangier against high utility prices. King Mohammed 5 Nov pardoned 4,215 prisoners to mark 40th anniversary of “Green March”.
Ruling Islamist Justice and Development party (PJD) 4 Sept won several major cities in local elections, though rival Authenticity and Modernity Party (PAM) won majority of local seats due to strong performance in rural areas.
Fourteen suspected of forming Islamic State (IS) recruitment network arrested 25 Aug in several cities including Fez and Casablanca, and near Madrid in joint operation with Spanish authorities.
Authorities 13 April reported militant cell near northern city Nador loyal to Islamic State and planning attacks in Morocco and Netherlands dismantled.
Security services 22 March announced terrorist cell dismantled, weapons seized in Agadir.
King Mohammed visited France early Feb, met with President Hollande to discuss terrorism, security cooperation after year-long chill in bilateral relations, suspension in counter-terrorism cooperation. Flights to and from Libya suspended mid-Feb due to security concerns. Three suspected of seeking to join Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIL) militants in Libya arrested 20 Feb in Casablanca and Oujda, near Algerian border.
Authorities 17 Jan announced Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIL) recruiting cell dismantled, 25 Jan announced Algerian suspect linked to Sept killing of French tourist in Algiers arrested near Algerian border.
Five arrested 15 Nov in Marrakech on suspicion of seeking to join militant Islamist group Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIL). Burkina Faso’s ex-President Compaoré reportedly arrived as exile late Nov.