France insists Morocco’s reluctance to accept aid in the wake of Friday’s devastating earthquake is no concern, even if it comes at a time of growing tensions between Rabat and the former colonial power.
Along with the United States, France was conspicuously absent from a list of four countries from which Morocco seeks help. These include Britain, Qatar, Spain and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
Rabat’s apparent refusal to appeal to Paris has caused surprise among some aid groups, given that the widespread use of French in Morocco may facilitate diffusion and France’s well-known technical expertise in the sector should also be taken into account.
Almost 2,500 have already died due to the earthquake in Morocco. The 6.8 magnitude earthquake struck southwest of the city of Marrakesh in Morocco on Friday.
Arnaud Fraisse, head of the organization Secouristes sans Frontieres (Emergency Responders Without Borders), says that aid workers were hoping to catch a flight to Morocco on Sunday.
“Unfortunately, we still do not have the green light from the Moroccan government,” says Fraisse. “I also don’t understand the reason why we are not allowed to go and help.”
France’s relationship with Morocco is not nearly as fractured as with neighboring Algeria. But as in any post-colonial relationship, Morocco, which gained independence in 1956, has its grievances with France.
Catherine Colonna, the minister of foreign affairs in Morocco, says five million euros (about R101 million) have been promised to aid organizations already operating in Morocco.
Asked why Morocco accepted additional aid and support from the four countries on the list, but not from France, Colonna said “this debate is inappropriate”.
“Morocco is sovereign and alone entitled to determine what its needs are,” she said.
“People are suffering. People need help.”
King Mohammed VI’s diplomacy
But for Pierre Vermeren, French historian and professor at the Sorbonne University, it is a “clear political sign”.
“We know the diplomacy of King Mohammed VI,” he told AFP. “He makes it clear when he’s angry.”
Mohammed VI was in France, a country he often visits, when the earthquake hit Morocco late on September 8. He was already back in the country by Saturday to hold an emergency meeting about the disaster.
A planned visit by the French president, Emmanuel Macron, to Morocco has yet to be confirmed. Morocco’s ambassador post in France has been vacant for months.
The most immediate point of contention was a decision by France at the end of 2021 to halve the number of entry visas granted to Moroccans annually.
Pres. Macron’s decision to seek rapprochement with Algeria also upset Rabat, which has long viewed its giant neighbor as its main regional rival.
The conflict in Western Sahara – which has pitted Morocco against Sahrawi independence fighters from the Algeria-backed Polisario Front for more than 40 years – has also fueled tensions.
Lasting build-up of tension
Rabat wants France to recognize Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara, like the United States, but France’s position has not changed – much to Rabat’s chagrin.
The former French foreign minister and prime minister, Dominique de Villepin, said the earthquake occurred at a time of “strong tension” between France and Morocco and that relations between the two countries are “difficult”.
“We have never experienced such a lasting buildup of tension,” he said.
“We must be humble. It is important for France to put its flag in its pocket and offer help.”
Vermeren said that the earthquake tragedy could be a chance for Paris and Rabat to “find a common language” so that the “quarrel does not last another four years”.