His Excellency Ambassador Aziz Mekouar, Embassy of Morocco

Summary

The George Washington University’s Homeland Security Policy Institute (HSPI) hosted Aziz Mekouar, Morocco’s ambassador to the US, on May 15th, 2007 for a roundtable discussion on Morocco’s experience in combating terrorism.

Morocco is no stranger to terrorism. Though many Moroccans once thought their country immune to the threat faced by many other countries, Ambassador Mekouar described a series of terrorist attacks in recent years that have brought the threat home. From suicide attacks in 2003, to a man who blew himself up in a Casablanca Internet café in March, to a series of suicide bombings in April, Morocco has been the target of its own radicalized citizens. Arguing against a “Clash of Civilizations” that would see Morocco and the US on opposing sides of this conflict, Ambassador Mekouar cited these examples as proof that Morocco and the US are on the same side against violent extremists. Both have a mutual enemy and a shared interest to cooperate against terrorism. “We are all in the same boat,” he said. “There is no Muslim world, no Western world, just one boat.” Frank Cilluffo, director of HSPI, agreed with the ambassador, pointing out that the majority of victims of terrorism are Muslims.

Ambassador Mekouar described the multi-dimensional counterstrategy Morocco has implemented to combat terrorists. The Moroccan government has undertaken a number of reforms in education, family law, urban planning, and criminal law; holding free elections and lifting restrictions on the media; and promoting judicial independence, literacy, and poverty reduction. These measures are intended to reduce the political, economic, and social grievances that can catalyze the radicalization process. Popular support for government counterterrorism policies is also vital, he argued, because almost all intelligence on extremist groups in Morocco comes from the people themselves. The ambassador also touched on crop substitution programs to combat the drug trade, which is a major source of funding for terrorist groups in the region. Spanish and French intelligence services have reported that the explosives used in the Madrid bombings of 2004, for example, were traded for hashish produced in Morocco.

Among the reforms described by Ambassador Mekouar, he placed special emphasis on reforms in religious laws. Poor religious education and inadequate knowledge of Islam, the Ambassador said, were identified as significant contributors to radicalization in Morocco. The government is now promoting religious education, has started a program under which Moroccans with questions about Islam can call religious scholars (including a number of women scholars), and now requires that all religious sermons receive government approval. Ambassador Mekouar argued that though religion is a private matter, it has a social component, and that religious instruction cannot be left to extremists. In this, the ambassador believes, Morocco has been fortunate in that the King is widely popular and respected, allowing him to use his position as “Commander of the Faithful” to promote religious toleration and moderation. The ambassador also warned that Morocco’s efforts, while demonstrating success at home, might not translate easily to other countries also facing radicalization, and stated that each country must tailor its policies to local conditions.

In addition to domestic policies, Morocco has pursued regional and international cooperation against terrorism. Morocco has been active in the Arab Maghreb Union, the “Five Plus Five” framework (five North African states and five southern EU members), and other regional initiatives. In particular, these initiatives have focused on bringing law and order to the vast uninhabited expanses and unpatrolled borders of the Sahara Desert that often serve as a refuge for extremist groups. Ambassador Mekouar also endorsed greater cooperation with the EU, including outreach programs to Moroccan communities in Europe and possible expansion of the EU into North Africa. In the end, the ambassador reiterated the need for all countries facing terrorism to come together to pool their knowledge and resources, and to recognize that countries like the US and Morocco have far more to unite them than to divide them.

Frank Cilluffo and HSPI were very happy to host Ambassador Mekouar, who provided a wealth of information on, and an important perspective from, a vital region of the world. Mr. Cilluffo highlighted Morocco’s long friendship with the US, as Morocco was the first country to recognize officially the independence of the US in 1777, and looks forward to building on this important relationship.


Ambassador Aziz Mekouar

Aziz Mekouar became Ambassador of Morocco to the United States on June 19, 2002. Before his current assignment, Ambassador Mekouar served as ambassador to Italy (1999-2002). He was elected Independent Chairman of the Council of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in November 2001 and re-elected in 2003. He had previously been appointed ambassador to Portugal (1993-1999) and to Angola (1986-1993). Ambassador Mekouar has also served as minister plenipotentiary at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation in Morocco (1985-1986), permanent representative of Morocco to the International Bureau for Information Technology (1978-1985), and first counselor and deputy chief of mission at the Embassy of Morocco in Rome (1977-1985). He attended the French High School Charles Lepierre in Lisbon, Portugal, and obtained a graduate degree from the Higher School of Commerce (HEC) in Paris, France, in 1974. Ambassador Mekouar is fluent in Arabic, English, French, Italian, Portuguese, and Spanish.


The Ambassadors Roundtable Series is designed to provide Ambassadors to the United States and their key diplomatic staff with a forum to discuss current and future counterterrorism and counterinsurgency efforts on a regional or country-specific basis. In an effort to draw upon various insights and experiences, the Ambassadors Roundtable Series builds upon and institutionalizes efforts over the past two years to engage in a dialogue with members of the international community, policy makers, and practitioners.