Our diplomatic relations are marked by a strong friendship, shared views on issues of common interest, a willingness to coordinate positions in international bodies and, most importantly, our common understanding with regard to national sovereignty and the defence of the territorial integrity of our two nations ~ Mohammed Amine BELHAJ
On the occasion of the commemoration marking the 65th anniversary of the establishing of diplomatic relations, 2022 “will be the Year of Morocco in Serbia and the Year of Serbia in Morocco”, says Ambassador Mohammed Amine Belhaj. The two countries have been recording progress in economic cooperation, while new space for collaboration is emerging in the fields of the military industry, agriculture, tourism, the processing industry etc. The celebration of this important anniversary will also provide an opportunity to shift the focus to also encompass cooperation in the field of culture, which is why Novi Sad will have a special role to play, as the 2022 European Capital of Culture.
Your Excellency, this year marks the 65th anniversary of the establishing of diplomatic relations between Serbia and Morocco. How do you plan to commemorate this jubilee?
Allow me first to express my great satisfaction regarding the momentum that bilateral relations between our two countries are enjoying at this moment. Our diplomatic relations are marked by a strong friendship, a convergence of views on issues of common interest, a willingness to coordinate positions in international bodies and, most importantly, our common understanding with regard to national sovereignty and the defence of the territorial integrity of our two nations.
Indeed, 1st March 2022 marks the 65th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Morocco and Serbia. During his official visit to Morocco in May 2021, Serbian Minister of Foreign Affairs H.E Nikola Selaković and his Moroccan Counterpart, H.E Nasser Bourita, decided that 2022 will be the Year of Morocco in Serbia and the Year of Serbia in Morocco.
Consequently, the Embassy – in collaboration with both Serbian and Moroccan partners – elaborated an extensive programme to mark this important jubilee, with a special focus on culture and art, harmonised with the fact that Novi Sad is this year’s European Capital of Culture.
In line with this, the Embassy aims to organise a forum, in collaboration with Novi Sad City Hall, to allow economic actors specialising in traditional goods, such as interior designers, craftsmen, traditional shops and e-commerce platforms from both countries, to share their expertise and best practices. Moreover, our mission is to devise plans for a literary conference, as well as music concerts in both Novi Sad and Belgrade. In addition to that, we will screen a range of Moroccan films with Serbian subtitles in many cities, with the objective of introducing a large number of Serbian people to Moroccan cinema.
Other projects that the Embassy is preparing to celebrate this event include the issuance of a joint postal stamp highlighting the establishment of diplomatic relations between our two countries and the signing of a memorandum of understanding between the Archives of Morocco and the Archives of Yugoslavia.
During his visit to Morocco last year, Serbian Foreign Minister Nikola Selaković extended an invitation for your country’s top officials to visit Serbia to mark the anniversary of bilateral relations. Are such visits planned?
During his last visit to Morocco, H.E. Minister Nikola Selaković agreed with his counterpart, H.E. Nasser Bourita, to intensify political consultations between the two countries’ top officials. In this regard, the Embassy is liaising closely with the Serbian Ministry of Foreign Affairs on the holding of the third Joint Economic Commission in Belgrade this year, which will be led by the two ministers who are in charge of the economy, finances and commerce in Morocco and Serbia, as soon as sanitary conditions enable that.
On the other hand, the Speaker of the Serbian National Assembly, H.E. Ivica Dačić, visited Morocco last June together with members of the Serbian-Moroccan Parliamentary Friendship Committee and held fruitful discussions with his Moroccan counterpart.
We are currently working closely with the cabinet of Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Culture and Information Maja Gojković on preparations for her official visit to Morocco, during which some important agreements will be signed.
It is certain that no country can recover from the pandemic alone, which is why Morocco believes that NAM members should think of innovative ways to breathe new life into the Movement and use it for the greater good of its people and humanity in general
We are still living under limitations imposed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and late last year saw the new Omicron variant force Morocco to introduce more rigorous preventative measures. To what extent do existing epidemiological measures impact diplomacy?
Unfortunately, we still have to endure more time with this unprecedented pandemic that has hit the whole world. Morocco’s response to this sanitary crisis is considered as being a positive example for the whole of the African continent, as my country has achieved one of the highest vaccination rates in the world, with nearly 70% of the population jabbed. Furthermore, Morocco will this year start producing COVID-19 vaccines that will initially be exported to African countries.
There’s no doubt that the new variant forced most countries, including Morocco, to reinstate some restrictive measures related to international travel and major public gatherings, but the situation is under control overall.
Finally, I believe that diplomacy, like many other activities, was severely affected by this pandemic, however I choose to look at the glass as being half full and to focus more on the opportunities created by this sudden change in our lifestyles and habits. The use of virtual platforms to connect people from all over the world, without the need for mobility, accelerated the integrating of such technology into diplomatic work, and since then we have seen many important summits and conferences taking place fully virtually or under a hybrid format.
You participated, together with a Moroccan delegation, in last year’s gathering in Belgrade to mark the 60th anniversary of the founding of the Non-Aligned Movement. What were your impressions of that event?
With total honesty, I consider the organisation of the 60th anniversary of the founding of the NAM in Belgrade a complete success, and all delegations were very pleased with the professionalism and efficiency of the Serbian Authorities, who succeeded in hosting a huge number of delegations under the conditions of a global pandemic. This celebration, on the one hand, allowed some light to be shed on the great role that was played by the former Yugoslavia with regard to supporting emerging independent countries, especially in Africa.
On the other hand, it presented Serbia with an opportunity to emerge as the successor of that great nation.
The NAM gathering provided an occasion to launch new talks on the reach of the Move ment today, i.e., discussion of whether it is even possible to pursue any policy that is outside the interests of the great powers. How do you view that geopolitical reality?
The Kingdom of Morocco is a firm believer that the NAM still has an important role to play regarding the coordination and harmonisation of the political views of its members. This Movement offers a unique platform that can bring together many emerging countries to discuss and find solutions to common challenges that they face, while always respecting the founding principles of Bandung.
During this crisis, the world saw first-hand the paramount importance of multilateralism in our current international system and recognised the need to preserve and reinforce it. It is certain that no country can recover from the pandemic alone, which is why Morocco believes that NAM members should think of innovative ways to breathe new life into the Movement and use it for the greater good of its people and humanity in general.
The situation in the Moroccan Sahara is very calm and safe, and the fake news and misleading announcements being spread by other parties, about imaginary “battles” that are not mentioned by any of the UN reports, will not change the reality unfolding on the ground
The members of the Moroccan delegation used the opportunity provided by their visit to Belgrade to discuss with partners in Serbia the challenges facing today’s bilateral relations. Given that you are very well acquainted with Serbia, where do you see room to further advance cooperation?
Indeed, for the first time we had a Moroccan military delegation that participated in the International Fair of Armament and Military Equipment “Partner 2021”, which was held in parallel to the NAM conference. This participation comes after the signing of a Military Cooperation Agreement between our two countries in May 2021.
Other fields of cooperation that we believe are of great importance to both our countries include agriculture, tourism, manufacturing and ICTs. The Moroccan and Serbian economies are quite complementary, which makes a win-win kind of partnership a mere reality.
In this regard, I had the pleasure of attending the first meeting between the co-chairs of the Moroccan-Serbian Business Forum, which was held virtually last December. The meeting placed an emphasis on the need to devise a clear roadmap in order to elevate our economic cooperation.
I am pleased that the commercial exchange between our two counties has tripled during the last few years, reaching a record high of 84 million USD, despite the negative impact of the pandemic. We nevertheless still see huge opportunities for new investment and partnerships in that field.
You suggested a ‘twinning’ project during one visit to Novi Pazar, stating that your wish is for a Moroccan city to build fraternal relations with Novi Pazar, in order to intensify “academic and cultural cooperation”. Will you be able to implement such a plan?
Indeed, it was during my last visit to Novi Pazar that I proposed a twinning agreement to both the local Novi Pazar City authorities and the Moroccan city of Martil. I am thrilled to say that both Serbian and Moroccan parties were very responsive and happy to launch this kind of decentralised cooperation.
I was delighted to meet, as well, with the Director of the National Library “Dositej Obradovic” and I seized this opportunity to kick-start cultural and academic cooperation with this institution by donating more than 50 books on various themes related to Morocco, in particular its history, culture and rich civilisational heritage, which enabled the creation of a Moroccan corner.
Unfortunately, I must admit that the pandemic has negatively affected the programme of mutual visits that we were preparing, but I am confident that the will is still there and that we will conclude this agreement within this new year of 2022.
Serbia and Morocco support each other mutually when it comes to preserving territorial integrity. Is Morocco maintaining its stance of non-recognition when it comes to Kosovo’s unilateral declaration of independence?
The Kingdom of Morocco’s position regarding the issue of Kosovo and Metohija is a principled stance. My country does not support separatism and stands against all attempts to threaten the national unity and integrity of states. As such, Morocco considers Kosovo as being part of Serbia. Furthermore, my country supports and encourages the political dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina that’s being led by Brussels with the aim of finding a permanent peaceful settlement to this issue.
In that context, it is worth noting that the Republic of Serbia, sharing the same principles, considers the Moroccan Autonomy Initiative, under the Moroccan sovereignty, as a serious and credible solution to the Moroccan Sahara issue.
Following a period of calm, last year saw tensions rise again in the Sahara Province, where a breakaway movement is seeking independence from Morocco. Could these tensions escalate into more serious conflict?
Last year, the Kingdom of Morocco – in respect of its attributions and in full compliance with international law – restored the free movement of people and goods, in a peaceful manner, at the El Guergarate crossing with Mauritania. This operation put an end to the unacceptable behaviour of the “militias of Polisario”, which carried out acts of banditry and continually harassed the military observers of the UN peacekeeping mission. Furthermore, Morocco announced that it will respect the ceasefire agreement and will remain fully engaged in the United Nations-led process to find a realistic, practical, enduring and mutually acceptable political solution for the region that’s based on compromise.
Moreover, my country welcomed the nomination of the UN Secretary General’s Personal Envoy for the Moroccan Sahara, Mr Staffan de Mistura, and reiterated its full commitment to the resumption of the political process, led under the exclusive auspices of the UN, to reach a political solution based on the Moroccan Autonomy Initiative, as part of the roundtable process and in the presence of the four participants, in accordance with the last Security Council Resolution 2602, adopted on 29th October, 2021.
On the other hand, the socioeconomic development of Morocco’s Southern Provinces, thanks to the farsightedness of H.M. King Mohammed VI, made of it a real driver of local, regional and continental development, particularly since the 2015 launch of the New Development Model, with a budget exceeding eight billion dollars. Since then, hundreds of structuring projects have been initiated, including the building of road, maritime and health infrastructure, industrial hubs, the Atlantic-Dakhla port, wind farms, agricultural and ecotourism development, the promotion of research and training, as well as the desalination plant for water irrigation and the Tiznit-Laayoune-Dakhla Expressway project.
So, the situation in the Moroccan Sahara is very calm and safe, and the fake news and misleading announcements being spread by other parties, about imaginary “battles” that are not mentioned by any of the UN reports, will not change the reality unfolding on the ground.
The Southern Provinces are today witnessing an economic and social flourishing that is attracting numerous foreign direct investments and enabling it to host many high-level international sporting competitions. In addition, the opening of dozens of consulates of countries from all over the globe provides a clear indication of support for the sovereignty of Morocco over its Sahara.
The Jewish component is one of the main sources of the centuries-old Moroccan identity, and the restoring of diplomatic relations between Morocco and Israel allowed more than a million Israelis of Moroccan origin to reacquaint with their heritage and visit the land where their ancestors lived in peace and harmony, under the protection of the Moroccan monarchs
Great media attention was attracted late last year by what was widely reported as the first visit of an Israeli defence minister to an Arab country and that country’s signing, with Morocco, of a “landmark agreement that lays the foundation for security cooperation, intelligence sharing and future arms sales”. Does this equate to that full realisation of the normalisation of relations that was agreed upon in December 2020?
Last December saw Morocco, together with the United States and Israel, celebrate the 1st anniversary of the Joint Trilateral Declaration, which was a trigger for bringing our nations closer and strengthening the long-standing bonds that have always existed between our peoples.
The Jewish component is one of the main sources of the centuries-old Moroccan identity, and the restoring of diplomatic relations between Morocco and Israel allowed more than a million Israelis of Moroccan origin to reacquaint with their heritage and visit the land where their ancestors lived in peace and harmony, under the protection of the Moroccan monarchs.
The last visit of the Israeli Minister of Defence to Morocco comes within this context and constitutes another clear indication regarding the vast potential for cooperation in different fields and sectors of importance to the two countries, such as IT, agriculture, tourism and renewable energies, as well as defence and security cooperation. Consequently, direct flights between Morocco and Israel were launched to promote tourism, trade and economic cooperation, and the Israel-Morocco Business Council successfully concluded its first virtual conference, with the aim of promoting investment in Morocco.
On the other hand, Morocco will continue its endeavours to support a just, lasting and equitable peace based on the two-state solution: the State of Israel and an independent Palestinian state, within the borders of 4th June, 1967, both living side-by-side in peace and security. Moreover, as Chairman of the Al Quds Committee, H.M. King Mohammed VI is calling for the preservation of the “unique and sacred character of Al-Quds Acharif, and its spiritual significance and special vocation as a city of peace”.
Morocco will this year start producing COVID-19 vaccines that will initially be exported to African countries
The Kingdom of Morocco is a firm believer that the NAM still has an important role to play regarding the coordination and harmonisation of the political views of its members
I am pleased that the commercial exchange between our two counties has tripled during the last few years, reaching a record high of 84 million USD, despite the negative impact of the pandemic