Sahara: What if Morocco used the solidarity of Gulf countries?

Moroccans have been puzzled and taken aback by the unprecedented decision made by the US administration to present a draft resolution to the UN Security Council to push for the inclusion of a human rights monitoring system in the Sahara. Following this announcement, laymen, experts and analysts in Morocco and elsewhere started wondering what are the weapons that Morocco can use in order to thwart this proposal and counterbalance the lobbying of Algeria among a number of US congressmen. Many argue that what matters for the US is not its long-standing friendship with Morocco or its alignment with its policies since the early 1960’s. What matters more for the US are its interests, especially when what is at stake is oil and gas.


Based on this analysis, they reach the conclusion that Morocco has no leverage to use with the United States and that the only means at its disposal to abort the US draft resolution is to convince France, its main backer in the Security Council and strategic ally, to lobby for watering down the language of the draft resolution that keeps the spirit of consensus that has marked the issue in the Council over the past 15 years.


A factor that many analysts have missed, and which could play in favor of Morocco is the solidarity of the Gulf countries, which are major oil-exporting countries. While it is true that Algeria is a gas and oil-exporting country, its importance on the world oil map does not even match that of the State of Qatar, considered a minor oil-producing country, let alone that of the other Gulf countries.


A quick review of the importance of these countries in the world oil map and their importance for the stability of oil prices can give us an idea of their importance for the United States and why they could be a factor in favor of Morocco, if it uses its excellent long-standing relations with them in order to influence the American administration.


It is no secret that one of the tenets of the US administration has been to secure places of production and routes of transportation of oil and gas. That explains why the US has a heavy presence in the major transshipment canals: the Strait of Hormoz, the Strait of Bab El Mandeb, the Strait of Malacca and others. Since the end of World War II, the main concern of the US has been to maintain a smooth and secure flow of oil in a way that would not disturb the world economy. In this regard, the Gulf States, especially Saudi Arabia have always played a key role in US foreign policy.


Some can argue that since 9/11 the US has lowered its reliance on Saudi oil and is looking for more reliable suppliers. While this is true, what is also true and more important for US policy-makers is that Saudi Arabia plays a key and indispensable role in the stability of oil prices. U.S. leaders are well aware that the world oil market cannot do without the oil of the region.


Any reduction of oil production in this country or other Gulf countries can have destabilizing effects on the world economy, as we would witness a rise of prices. For long, the US has resorted to and pressured Saudi leaders to increase their oil production every time there was a sharp increase in prices.


The prominent place occupied by this country on the world oil map stems from the fact that it is the only world producer that has a large production capacity in reserve, allowing it to increase its exports in the event of a crisis. It is thanks to this reserve capacity that during the Gulf War of 1991, Saudi Arabia was able to compensate for the absence of the Iraqi and Kuwaiti oil on the world market and thus avoid for the global economy an oil shock comparable to those of 1973-1974 and 1979-1980.


While Saudi Arabia plays a pivotal role in the oil equation, Algeria is considered a minor supplier. In this regard, it should be noted that while Saudi Arabia’s proven oil reserves are 265 billion barrels, Algeria’s reserves don’t exceed 12.2 billion, according to the United States Energy Information Administration.


Based on the foregoing, and taking into account the role that oil plays in US policies, Morocco could well benefit from the influence of Saudi Arabia dissuading the US administration from going forward with a draft resolution that does not only go against Morocco’s interest in this conflict, but could also jeopardize its stability and that of the whole Maghreb and Sahel regions.


The possibility of seeing Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Qatar interfering in favor of Morocco, is all the more likely especially if we take into account the long-standing relations of brotherhood and friendship between the Moroccan ruling family and the heads of states of these Gulf countries.


In international relations, human relations are of paramount importance and can play a prominent role in influencing the choices of decision-makers. It is this factor that pushed the Doha-based Al Jazeera to start using a map where Morocco appears with the entirety of its territory, including the Sahara.


Bearing in mind the excellent relations that Morocco’s King Mohammed VI enjoys with the King of Saudi Arabia, the Emir of the State of Qatar, the Emir of Kuwait and the Emir of the United Arab Emirates, there is a high chance that they would be willing to play an important role in convincing the United States to water down its draft resolution in a way that would not harm Morocco’s interests in preserving its sovereignty over the Sahara.


Moreover, it is not only in the interest of Morocco that its Gulf allies interfere in its favor. It is also in their favor, for the US shift regarding the Sahara signals that Washington can at any moment sacrifice one of its allies. A US administration that turns its back to Morocco, might just as likely retract its support towards one of the Gulf countries tomorrow.


In this hypothesis, Bahrain can be one of the new victims of the US shifting policies in light of the alleged human rights abuses purportedly committed against the Shia’a majority. Therefore, the Gulf countries should reunite their efforts, leverage their weight on the world oil market and signal to the Washington that it has to respect the strategic interests of its allies and steer away from any politicization of human rights no matter how heavy the pressure is put on it by human rights watchdogs.


The importance of Saudi Arabia and its neighboring countries in the world oil market allows them to have even more leverage with China, another Security Council veto-wielding country and the second largest consumer of oil. Because of its soaring demand of oil and its reliance of imports, China can also be pressured by these countries to use its influence in the Security Council and oppose the tabling of the current draft resolution.


This latest twist regarding the Sahara must be a warning for the Moroccan authorities that the time of rhetoric and dreams of a united Maghreb are no longer valid with the existence of an Algerian leadership that is bent on promoting instability in the region and dreams of being its major player.


Morocco must benefit from the excellent relations it enjoys with the Gulf countries and create an axis that will be likely to counterbalance that of Algeria-South Africa-Nigeria-Venezuela-Cuba, which has long been lobbying on behalf of the Polisario and doing much harm to Morocco’s position on the Sahara conflict.

 By Samir Bennis

Samir Bennis is a political analyst. He received a Ph.D. in international relations from the University of Provence in France. His areas of academic interest include, relations between Morocco and Spain and between the Muslim world and the West, as well as the global politics of oil. He has published over a 150 articles in Arabic, French, English and Spanish, and authored Les Relations Politiques, Economiques et Culturelles Entre le Maroc et l’Espagne: 1956-2005, which was published in French in 2008. He is the co-founder and editor-in-chief of Morocco World News. You can follow him on Twitter @SamirBennis