In the last Arab-African Summit held in Malabo Equatorial Guinea, the presence of a flag representing the secessionist movement known as the “Polisario Front”, which threatens the territorial integrity of Morocco, created a vast discontent among the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries that were present. As a result, eight Arab countries decided to withdraw from the summit in solidarity with Morocco. However, Kuwait and Egypt were not among them.
Kuwait’s decision not to withdraw from the Arab-African Summit is surprising and raises many questions, not the least of which is: why was it the only country from the Gulf Cooperation Council to keep its seat near the Polisario, a group that is not allowed to attend joint international meetings involving other regional organizations? Given Kuwait’s status as president of the summit, its decision to continue chairing the meeting with the participation of an entity unrecognized by either the United Nations or most countries is deplorable and calls for a thorough analysis of its real significance with regard to the current geopolitical reconfiguration going on throughout the MENA region.
Kuwait has put itself in a very embarrassing situation with respect to Morocco, a long time strategic ally which supported the recovery of Kuwait’s territorial integrity after the Iraqi invasion in 1990, and with whom it has had strong relations and historical links. Morocco has always proven its strength and steadfastness in defending the national security and strategic interests of Kuwait. The confusion engendered by Kuwait’s decision is heightened by the lack of respect for the “joint strategic document”, as well as the common defense manifesto that resulted from the Riyadh Final Declaration of the first Moroccan GCC summit held in April 2016, that recognized the mutual determination and reciprocal unity of destiny.
Given the current reconfiguration of the Middle East and the Maghreb geopolitical map, many observers may be tempted to interpret Kuwait’s position as a deliberate signal of obedience to the Iranian-Algerian axis. Looking from a realist perspective, however, it is more likely that this position reflects rather a diplomatic deficiency which has impeded Kuwaiti officials from figuring out the gravity of the secessionist entity’s presence in the summit, and Kuwait has failed to link this situation with breaching the rules embodied in the Arab-African Summit’s codes of conduct. The breach is even more serious with respect to the international norms and charters governing the joint institutional work in international law which prevent entities unrecognized by the United Nations from being involved in joint inter-regionalmeetings.
From the perspective of Kuwait’s geopolitical and strategic interests, one cannot easily assess this unexpected position without evaluating the untold calculations that could be behind it. In other words, and in light of the current balance of power and the repercussions of widespread wars in the region, particularly with respect to the homeland security and sovereignty of states, it is precipitous to interpret Kuwait’s decision to remain in the Summit as a sign of animosity toward Morocco.
Such interpretation would not accord with diplomatic logic, because it does not reflect Kuwait’s deliberate rapprochement towards the axis of Algiers-Teheran. Kuwait has many other diplomatic options to send hostile messages to Saudi Arabia and to other GCC countries if it intends to. One should ask the following question: What would be the hidden interest of Kuwait to court a country which directly threatens Kuwait’s values of unity and territorial integrity and national security, the same values that derive from the Moroccan-Gulf strategic partnership. The answer is obvious: Kuwait would not harm its own values and interests.
On the other hand, Egypt’s vacillating position is nothing new. Historically, Egypt has never been explicitly in favor of Moroccan territorial integrity. The country has often been characterized as neutral with respect to its mediation attempts between Morocco and Algeria. However, since the beginning of Al Sissi’s presidency, and after a period of harmony with Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states motivated by some vested interests linked to Egypt’s economic and financial needs, a reorientation of Egypt’s diplomatic intentions toward the new axis of Algeria-Tehran-the Syrian regime has become apparent in the last few months.
Last month, Egypt hosted a delegation of the so-called “Saharaoui Republic” which attended meetings of Arab and African parliaments, marking a radical change in Egyptian alliances justified by looking to Algeria as an alternative to cover Egypt’s energy needs instead of the Gulf allies, notably Saudi Arabia. Egypt’s reversal was apparent when the Egyptian President maintained Egypt’s presence in the Arab-African Summit held two weeks ago in Equatorial Guinea, despite the withdrawal of eight other Arab countries. Therefore, no doubts remain concerning Egypt’s intentions to engage in the Algerian-Iranian-Syrian Regime axis given the high visibility of the Egypt’s courtship of Algeria.
From this perspective, the best strategy for Moroccan diplomacy to counter the volatility of Egypt’s positions is to use all the available options and diplomatic cards to increase the cost of such unfriendly behavior in comparison to its potential benefits. To be sure, the support of Egypt, or at least its neutrality regarding the Sahara question is an important issue on the horizon of the forthcoming diplomatic battle in which Morocco will be engaged from within the African Union to expel the secessionist movement “Polisario” from the organization. This perspective will not only be good news for Morocco, but it will correct an illegal situation that undermines the coherence of The African Union and its relations with other regional organizations.
Paradoxically, this episode reveals the shortness of options available to the hostile countries to counter the African strategy of Morocco, notably following the capacity of Moroccan diplomacy to reach Eastern and Anglo saxon african countries. The reflection of soft power through economic partnership and high strategic projects targeting the needs of african people makes Morocco a major player in Africa. As a consequence, other major powers in Africa like South Africa and Nigeria will probably react to balance the influence gained by Morocco, but rationality may push them to adopt a less hostile positions.