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Hearing of the Middle East and North Africa Subcommittee of the House Foreign Relations Committee - U.S. Policy Towards Morocco


Location: Washington, DC

U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), Chairman of the , made the following statement during a subcommittee hearing titled: "U.S. Policy Towards Morocco." Statement by Ros-Lehtinen:

"With all of the upheaval, instability, and social unrest in the wake of the Arab Spring, Morocco is designated as a major non-MATO ally and is working toward a political transition and instituting democratic reforms.

Three years ago, King Mohammed proposed Constitutional reforms that would push Morocco toward democracy and reform, shifting some power that was centralized in the Monarchy to the people. This new Constitution was ratified a few months later, and was succeeded by parliamentary elections that saw a new government formed, complete with a new Prime Minister from an opposition party with a mandate to have more power to govern. Of course the political situation in Morocco is still not perfect but it is important for us to recognize the positive steps forward.

On the issue of the Western Sahara, longstanding U.S. policy, which I support, advocates for a solution based on a formula of autonomy under Moroccan sovereignty. While I recognize the advancements that the Kingdom has made when it comes to human rights, certainly more can still be done.

According to the 2013 State Department Human Rights Report on the Western Sahara: "The most important human rights problem specific to the territory was Moroccan government restrictions on the civil liberties and political rights of pro-independence advocates." Morocco has made strides in expanding women's rights and has created the National Council on Human Rights to evaluate human rights issues.

As allies, we should work together as partners to accelerate their plans to implement the constitutional reforms that urged gender equality and parity. Since becoming the very first nation to formally recognize the newly independent United States of America, Morocco and the United States have shared a strategic and bilateral relationship.

It is one that has continued to strengthen over the past few years, as we have just seen Secretary Kerry return from a trip in which he took part in the second round of the U.S.-Morocco Strategic Dialogue aimed at deepening our bilateral cooperation on a variety of issues. Our nations signed and implemented a Free Trade Agreement nearly ten years ago, and there is certainly room to grow both the Moroccan and U.S. economies through U.S. commercial investment and expansion of American business in the Maghreb.

Last year Morocco successfully completed a 5 year Millennium Challenge Corporation compact, in which the U.S. helped Morocco increase productivity, employment prospects, investments and economic growth. MCC concluded that the results on the compact were impressive given the complexity of the endeavor, with tens of thousands -- mostly women -- learning to read and write through the literacy program.

So the political transition toward democracy is being paralleled by Morocco's economic transition which is underway. But that is contingent upon Morocco remaining a safe and stable country -- and that is yet another area in which our two nations collaborate closely.

While the rest of the region struggles to cope with radicalization and Islamic fundamentalism, Morocco is working to foster and spread a more moderate from of Islam in the Muslim Kingdom. One way Morocco promotes religious moderation and tolerance is through its nearly ten-year old program in which it trains women in Islamic theology right alongside their male counterparts -- an idea that would not only be taboo in many other countries in the region, but would likely be highly illegal.

While the Kingdom has not been immune to the threat of homegrown extremism, Morocco is on the front lines of fighting terrorism throughout the region; our two nations work closely in this regard, and Morocco has proven to be an important ally. One important counterterrorism effort that we work closely with Morocco on is through the Trans Saharan Counter Terrorism Program, which aims to address the potential terrorist and security threats in North-West Africa and the Sahel region, but we can and must do more.

The Administration must continue to see Morocco as the potential for what other North African transitional countries can do, and we must look to glean the best practices from its approach and see how they can be implemented in neighboring countries as well."

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