Under the leadership of Nasser Bourita Morocco’s diplomatic activity has been much more dynamic, sometimes frenetic but evidently proactive on many issues that are considered national priorities in Rabat. For long time bogged down by the unresolved dispute with the Polisario Front, the foreign policy of the Alawite kingdom has been mainly aimed at extricating the Makhzen (the power’s palace in local political jargon) from the shifting sands of the Western Sahara, uplifting Morocco from the strict boundaries of the less integrated region in the world and elevating it to the global stage. The shift has never been more evident than during the announcement of a joint bid with Portugal and Spain to host the 2030 FIFA World Cup, made by the Moroccan Education and Sports Minister Chakib Benmoussa in Kigali, Rwanda on 14 March 2023.
Reading a letter by King Mohammed VI, Benmoussa presented the joint bid as a suggestive option that will bring together Africa and Europe, as well as the Arab world and the Mediterranean Sea. Taking advantage of the change of rules recently made by FIFA (which now allows for joint bids by members of different football confederations), Rabat clearly aims at succeeding where it has previously failed. Since 1994 the kingdom has always attempted to host the most prestigious competition in world football, almost scoring its goal in 2018, when its offer was defeated by United, the joint bid of Canada, Mexico and the US. At that time, the vote of the fellow Arab officials was particularly criticised in Rabat, where Saudi Arabia and the UAE’s support for United felt like a betrayal.
Times have changed since then. The first FIFA World Cup in the Arab world held in 2022 in Qatar showed how organizing the biggest sports tournament in the world provides the host country with an incredible soft power or sportswashing opportunity, according to different perspectives. It also took place in a region where détente and rapprochement seem now the new normal after years of middle powers competition between rival regional blocs. A case in point, the normalisation between Israel and Morocco is proceeding at full speed, especially in the defence sector with reports suggesting Rabat’s interests in the purchase of SPYDER short and medium range mobile air defence systems. A partnership with a distinctive hard power element that continues to worry neighbouring Algeria, whose President Abdelmajid Tebboune has recently warned that relations between Algiers and Rabat have reached the point of no return.
Tebboune also blamed Spain for the recent policy shift on Western Sahara that favours Rabat’s autonomy plan over an extremely unlikely referendum on independence. The new bromance across the Strait of Gibraltar (with reports of Spain ready to hand over air control over Western Sahara to Morocco) is obviously the conditio sine qua non for a successful 2030 FIFA World Cup joint bid. Alongside the normalisation with Israel, the Nigeria-Morocco Gas Pipeline (NMGS) and the Xlinks Morocco-UK Power Project (the longest undersea power cable in the world connecting Moroccan solar and wind farms to the UK, recently cited in an energy security plan published by the British government), it reinforces the impression of an outward-looking Morocco desperately trying to escape its geography and leave behind a divided and volatile Maghreb.
Associate Fellow for the Conflict, Security and Development Programme at the IISS and Maghreb Analyst for the NATO Defense College Foundation, he regularly publishes on issues such as political developments, security and terrorism in the North Africa region