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Heads up – Embassy 18 – July/August 2009

A decade of development

On the eve of the 10th anniversary of HM King Mohammed VI’s accession to the throne, HH Princess Lalla Joumala Alaoui, Morocco’s recently-appointed Ambassador to London, tells Embassy about the changes the Kingdom has undergone over the past decade

How has Morocco changed over the past decade? What changes are in store for the next decade?
Since his accession, HM King Mohammed VI embarked his nation on a reform process, placing the Moroccan citizen and civil society at the heart of all His actions. The special relationship the King shares with his people has made this rapid progress possible.

The reforms have been carried out on several fronts including human rights, women’s empowerment, the fight against corruption, social reconciliation, the revision of the press code and the development of democracy, infrastructure, the economy and educational and religious reform, to mention but a few. Underlying all these home-grown reforms is the democratisation and modernisation of Morocco, continuing the initiative taken by the King’s late father King Hassan II.

Prominent among these reforms has been the setting up of the Equity and Reconciliation Commission designed to identify past human rights abuses, compensate victims and propose new rules to correct legal loopholes to ensure that these breaches are not repeated in the future.

This entity was reinforced by the prerogatives of the Advisory Council on Human Rights (CCDH), set up to consolidate human rights and reconcile Moroccan society.

The National Initiative for Human Development launched by the King in 2005 is a landmark programme designed for and by the Moroccan people to speed up socio-economic development by reintegrating the most marginalised members of society and to balance regional inequalities.

On the economic front, Morocco has implemented several reforms, most notably large infrastructure projects (harbours, airports, road and rail networks), as well as several sectoral strategies which include overhauling the tourism sector, modernising the industrial sector, upgrading domestic trade and transforming the country’s agriculture sector.

In particular, as a woman ambassador, how do you see women’s rights evolving in Morocco?
His Majesty King Mohammed VI made the promotion of women’s rights the cornerstone of His efforts to build a modern, democratic society.

Women’s participation in the management of public affairs has been enhanced; the representation of women in decision-making positions, and in parliament as well as central and local government, has increased significantly; and women’s community organisations have been invigorated. Today, we have seven female Ministers and eight female Ambassadors.

Morocco passed in 2003 a family law, (previously known as Moudawana) which introduced reforms aimed at achieving gender equality as well as family balance and mutual assistance. This law, the first of its kind in the Arab world, is firmly grounded in religious thought and at the same time, it is consistent with international convention on Human Rights.

This law could not be introduced without the personal involvement of His Majesty the King who, in His capacity as the Commander of the Faithful, could bring about a change to this sensitive issue, in full respect of the principles of Islam.

The review of the Citizenship Act now makes it possible for a Moroccan mother to pass on her nationality to her offspring, regardless of her husband’s nationality.

Morocco was also a pioneering country in the Arab-Muslim world in nominating female religious instructors (women Mursheedat) whose main mission is to raise female awareness against extremism.

Morocco has been a place of religious tolerance for centuries. Do you have contemporary examples of how Morocco is fostering tolerance, especially since Morocco has been a recent target of terrorism?
Tolerance, interfaith dialogue, mutual understanding and coexistence of different faiths have always been among the basic tenets of Moroccan Constitution and priorities for the Moroccan Monarchy. The Moroccan Jewish community enjoys the same rights as the Muslim community.

Morocco is well aware that the best way to fight against radicalism is to raise public awareness on this issue. In this regard, Morocco has accomplished a number of reforms in the religious field:
The Higher Council of Ulema (Islamic jurisprudence) was established to help people better understand the use of the Maliki rite (one of the four schools of religious law in Islam), which distinguishes itself by its openness, flexibility and moderation;
The introduction of women as religious instructors or Murshedat;
The training of theological leaders has been reformed with emphasis on the knowledge of other faiths, preferably presented by the practitioners of these faiths;
New Imam training programs, including knowledge of foreign languages and cultures, have been implemented;
The launch of in-service training programs for existing Imams to update their knowledge of the faiths, the world, and modern communication tools and techniques so that they are closer to and more effective with their audiences.

You set up the HM King Mohammed VI Fellowship on Moroccan and Mediterranean studies. Morocco has a long history in Europe. What are the prospects of closer cooperation with the EU and Nato?
Morocco and Nato are bound by relations that date back to the era before the fall of Berlin Wall which were cemented in 1995 when Morocco took part in the Mediterranean Dialogue. Morocco also participated in Nato peacekeeping operations in Bosnia Herzegovina and Kosovo, and was granted Nato Parliamentary Assembly Associate Status.

As a sign of its willingness to further consolidate its ties with Nato, Morocco signed a security agreement in 2005 as well as an agreement in 2008 to participate in maritime monitoring and patrolling operations in the Mediterranean sea, known as Active Endeavour Operation.

With regard to the EU, of course, with only nine miles separating us, our relations are a lot closer and our cooperation has been further strengthened over the last four decades to cover a wide range of sectors. In 1996, we concluded the Association Agreement which entered into force in 2000. This agreement provided a suitable framework to raise the relations to a new partnership, covering not only issues of economic, commercial, socio-cultural character but also political and security matters.

In October 2008, Morocco was the only North African and Mediterranean country to be granted the Advanced Status with the European Union, as a sign of appreciation and recognition of the progress made in all fields. This status which, far beyond the constraining framework of an Association Agreement, constitutes the core of an ever closer privileged partnership between Morocco and the EU.

The only stumbling block to greater regional cooperation seems to be the issue of Moroccan [Western] Sahara. However, there seems to be positive movement on that front. Could you update our readers?
Morocco proposed the autonomy initiative for the southern provinces, which seeks to reach a consensual solution to settle the Sahara issue under the auspices of the United Nations and within the framework of Morocco’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

This autonomy proposal is the result of a large process of consultations that were held both at the local and governmental levels and welcomed by the international community.

Christopher Ross who was recently appointed as the Personal Envoy of the UN Secretary-General for the Sahara will continue his mission on the basis of the action of the UN, the achievements made during recent years and the momentum created by Morocco’s autonomy initiative.

His action falls “within the framework of a well defined mission” that aims to implement the last resolution of the UN Security Council which calls for entering in substantial negotiations, based on the sense of realism and compromise and taking into account the serious and credible efforts made by Morocco since 2006.

The UN Security Council decided to hold a fifth round of talks on the Sahara following one or several informal meetings to create the best climate possible for a successful fifth round.

Morocco will spare no effort to ensure a positive settlement of this issue that hampers the development and integration of the Maghreb region.

Morocco shares a long history of bilateral relations with Britain, dating back to the Elizabethan era. What aspects of the contemporary bilateral relationship will you be concentrating on in your present posting?
My mission in the UK will be to introduce Morocco of today, a democratic country that is undergoing change and dealing with the future with serenity and confidence.

As far as bilateral relations are concerned, I will endeavour to enhance political relations through increased exchange of information and expertise, more particularly regarding anti-extremism issues. I will also strive to intensify the opportunities of British business and investment in Morocco and vice versa.

HH Princess Lalla Joumala Alaoui

A graduate of the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) with a degree in Politics and History, HH Princess Lalla Joumala Alaoui has a broad knowledge of Britain and its long bilateral history with Morocco.

As President of the Moroccan-British Society, she has worked to revitalise Moroccan-British ties through setting up HM King Mohammed VI Fellowship on Moroccan and Mediterreanean Studies with Oxford University; organising the SACRED Exhibition of manuscripts of the three religions of The Book with the British Library; and co-organising with the Centre for Middle East Studies at Oxford a conference on Reforms in the Arab World in which the strength, limitations and prospects for reform in Morocco were discussed.

Her Highness is also a sponsor of Lalla Hasnaâ Orphanage in Casablanca and was an executive at Bank Al Maghrib.

HH Princess Lalla Joumala Alaoui

Did you know?

In 1213 English King John despatched envoys seeking an alliance with the Moroccan King Mohammed El-Nasir – who refused the overtures of the weak English king. As a result King John’s barons forced him to sign the Magna Carta, thought to be the first bill of rights in the world.

Merzouk Rais, the Moroccan envoy to the Court of Elizabeth I in 1589 is thought to be the inspiration for Shakespeare’s Othello.

Morocco’s second Ambassador to London, Kaid Mohammed Ben Hadu Ottur, appointed in 1682, caused a stir in London society because of his exotic dress, his courtesy and his horsemanship and was painted by celebrated English painter Sir Godfrey Kneller.

Two successive British Consuls-General, Edward Drummond-Hay (1829-45) and his son Sir John Drummond-Hay (1845-86) mediated on Morocco’s behalf during the 1840s with other European powers and they arranged for the Royal Navy to transport the Sultan’s sons to Mecca for the Hajj.

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