The recent development of the Moroccan government opposing the US-led initiative to extend the directive of UN peacekeepers in the Western Sahara to human rights monitoring has caused friction between Moroccans and Americans. This spat threatens to harm a relationship which has been based in mutual respect and cooperation for over 240 years.
When George Washington, the first president of the United States, was leading a nearly defeated American army in 1777, Morocco’s Sultan Sidi Muhammad ben Abdallah was the first non-American to come to his aide. Upon learning of Washington’s conflict, Abdallah listed the newly independent United States as a country whose trading ships would be welcome in the ports of Morocco, a move which offered the potential for much-needed supplies to be shipped to Washington’s army.
Abdallah’s support for Washington and his fledgling country culminated in Congress signing the Treaty of Marrakech. Thomas Barclay, a diplomat at the American Consulate in Paris, wrote that Abdallah “acted in a manner most gracious” in negotiating the Treaty. He added, “I really believe the Americans possess as much of his respect and regards as does any Christian nation whatsoever.” For Barclay, Abdallah was a “just man, according to this idea of justice, of great personal courage… a lover of his people, [and] stern.”
Washington’s friendship with Abdallah was reaffirmed in a personal letter, dated 1 December 1789, which he sent directly to the Sultan’s court. Not only did Washington write of their “peace and friendship,” but he stated that Americans would “gradually become useful to [their] friends,” the Moroccans. In the same letter Washington stated Americans would “not cease to promote every Measure that may conduct to the Friendship and Harmony, which so happily subsist between [Moroccans] and [Americans].”
Abdallah passed away in 1790, but the Treaty of Marrakech was validated by Morocco’s new sultan, Moulay Suliman, who made it clear in a letter to the American consulate in Gibraltor that “we are at peace, tranquility and friendship with you in the same manner as you were with our father who is in glory.” Suliman added that “the Americans, I find, are the Christian nation my father most esteemed… I am the same with them, as my father and I trust they will be so with me… With good relations thus reaffirmed.”
Today Moroccans and Americans should be careful not to allow their enemies in the Western Sahara to alter a historic alliance which was created by some of Morocco’s and America’s most revered figures. Both countries should remain in harmony and continue to be worthy companions as they embark on stabilizing a region in which they both have security interests. To show each other the utmost respect and to work in communion is the best way for Moroccans and Americans to pay respect to their historic past.
By Craig Considine
Craig Considine is a doctoral candidate at the Department of Sociology at Trinity College Dublin