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MOROCCO: Rabat tells Iranians to back off

March 18, 2009 |  9:41 am


Rivalry between Iran and the Arab states on both sides of the Persian Gulf makes sense. After all, they share the same cramped quarters.

But one could wonder why Morocco, an Arab kingdom located in northwest Africa thousands of miles away from the Islamic Republic, would engage in a heated row with the Iranians.

Some are wondering whether Morocco is assuming the role of a proxy for the epicenter of Sunni Islam, Saudi Arabia, which for decades has been competing for power in the region with Shiite Iran.

Nowadays Moroccans are officially accusing Tehran of trying to spread Shiite Muslim ideology in their country under the guise of cultural activities. 

Morocco's foreign minister, Taieb Fassi Fihri, lambasted Iran for its “activism” in the North African kingdom, in interview with the French news agency AFP:

Morocco cannot accept activities of this type, whether ordered directly or indirectly, or via so-called NGOs. Supposed cultural activities cannot take this form because they are a restriction of fundamental Moroccan [rights].

This came nine days after Morocco cut its diplomatic relations with Tehran.

Morocco was reportedly reacting to Iran’s infringement on the sovereignty of its smaller neighbor Bahrain, which hosts the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet in the Gulf.

But the small Sunni-ruled but mostly Shiite-populated island did not even go as far as severing its diplomatic ties with Iran following comments last month by some Iranian figures that Bahrain was an Iranian province.

That row was defused quickly after Tehran stated out loud that it fully respected its neighbor’s sovereignty. The two sides kissed and made up and salvaged a big gas deal.

But the Moroccans are seemingly still angry about something.

An op-ed piece in the Abu Dhabi-based publication The National argued that Morocco might be acting as a "verbal proxy" for the U.S.-backed "moderate" Arab states' ongoing tension with Iran:

Morocco’s move is tied directly to Rabat’s ties to Riyadh. Saudi Arabia’s relationship with Morocco is based on a shared outlook regarding Iran as well the close relationship between the ruling royals. Saudi royals spend a large amount of time in Morocco either working, vacationing, or convalescing. There are also military ties that are being boosted in joint co-operation projects. In addition, both Saudi Arabia and Morocco are concerned about Iran exerting its efforts to convert Sunni Muslims to Shiism out of its diplomatic offices.

Saudi Arabia is reportedly pressuring Arab countries to unite and stand firm against the threat that a nuclear Iran would pose on the region.

Meanwhile, Iran sees the real enemy as being elsewhere.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said that the recent tension with Arab states is the making of a nasty plot by "the enemy," which most probably refers to the United States. He told state-run television earlier this month:

We also advise our friends in foreign countries to be careful of the mischief [by the enemy]. After all, I visited all Muslim countries. We shook hands to be brothers and analyzed the enemy's plots. We should all be careful.

-- Raed Rafei in Beirut

Photo: The Iranian embassy in Rabat, Morocco, which has decided to sever ties with Iran. Credit: Oughanemi / AFP/Getty Images

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