Mohammed Amine Belhaj, Ambassador of the Kingdom of Morocco to Serbia

Dialogue And Not A Clash Of Civilisations

The terrorist threat is a global phenomenon that Morocco is addressing within a comprehensive and inclusive strategy of concrete political, institutional, economic, social, cultural, religious and media measures, while in parallel it is fighting against extremism, poverty, social exclusion and illiteracy through the development and strengthening of the rule of law – says H.E. Mohammed Amine Belhaj

Ambasador Maroka

Terrorism has no identity, no nation and no religion, emphasises Moroccan Ambassador to Serbia H.E. Mohammed Amine Belhaj, speaking about the global threats that Morocco has an active role in the fighting, as the country which, together with the Netherlands, is co-chairing the Global Counter-Terrorism Forum until 2018. In that struggle, he adds, it is unwise to indulge in simplified interpretations like that of the inevitable clash of civilisations.

Ambassador Belhaj arrived in Serbia six months ago, just in time to commemorate with Serbian officials the 60th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Serbia and Morocco.

In this interview for CorD magazine, he says that political relations between the two countries are excellent and based on mutual respect. At the same time, he adds, economic cooperation has not reached the targeted goals, despite the possibilities being great.

Your Excellency, this year marks the 60th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Morocco and Serbia. Do you plan to commemorate this anniversary?

– Moroccan-Serbian diplomatic relations are seen by both parties as being excellent, and to mark their 60th anniversary the Embassy has prepared, in conjunction with several Serbian institutions, a festive programme to celebrate those six decades of friendship and cooperation, such as a photo exhibition in July, which will focus on the historical visits of the leaders of both countries during the early 1960s, within the framework of the Non- Aligned Movement. We are also planning an important Moroccan cultural and economic week in Belgrade, to be held during September.

Indeed, Morocco and Serbia share historical and cultural values, while Morocco has for centuries constituted an important bridge between the African and European continents.

These harmonious relations will be made more tangible with an exchange of high-level visits, at both governmental and parliamentarian levels, as well as expected visits of economic and business delegations, providing a new impetus for economic and trade exchanges, which remain below the potential of the two countries. There is also a need to enhance cultural ties and interaction through the human dimension, as one of the main goals of our bilateral cooperation.

Given the friendly relations between Serbia and Morocco, both sides assess bilateral economic cooperation as being insufficient. Do you agree with this assessment and how could this cooperation be strengthened?

– Currently, trade flows do not reflect the strong political ties between our two countries. Nevertheless, efforts are being made to boost economic cooperation. Serbia and Morocco have large potential that should be taken advantage of fully.

Morocco has been acknowledged for its political stability and friendly business environment. It is a gateway to the rest of Africa, with which the Kingdom of Morocco has strong economic ties. In fact, Morocco is the second biggest investor in Africa and its fifth strongest economy, and is able to use its network and knowledge of the market in order to work together with Serbian enterprises that wish to explore “the continent of hope and the future”, either at the bilateral level or within a win-win triangular cooperation format.

I would like to add that, according to Ernst &Young’s latest Africa Attractiveness Survey, Morocco ranked 1st for foreign investors in 2017, while it is ranked 2nd in terms of infrastructure quality according to the World Economic Forum’s 2016-17 Global Competitiveness Index.

On the other hand, Serbia – as a key player in the Western Balkans – offers a platform for Moroccan businesses, thanks to the significant political and economic reforms implemented by the government that have improved the business environment and made Serbia more attractive for foreign investments.

In order to further strengthen bilateral trade, both business communities need to come together to identify sectors of common interest and further cooperation. This is why the Embassy of the Kingdom of Morocco is working on a programme of meetings between relevant government ministries and agencies responsible for commerce and trade in both Morocco and Serbia, as well as their chambers of commerce. A delegation of Moroccan businessmen is expected to arrive in Belgrade before the end of this year. That visit is likely to provide a new impetus to economic relations.

The potential of Morocco and Serbia offers a wide array of areas for cooperation. The agriculture, textiles, pharmaceuticals and cosmetics industries remain important for both countries, but there are also other promising fields to explore. Here I am thinking of the aeronautics and automotive industries in particular, where Morocco has acquired considerable expertise over previous years.

I would also like to mention other areas where Morocco can bring valuable experience and expertise, such as renewable energies and environmental protection.

In this respect, and with an awareness of the negative impact of global warming and the need to protect the environment, Morocco has set up a national renewable energy programme that will increase the share of installed electrical power from renewable energy sources to 42 per cent by 2020 and 52 per cent by 2030. The Kingdom also boasts the largest solar plant in the world, named “Noor” [light in Arabic], which, upon completion in 2018, will have a capacity of 582MW.

Morocco’s efforts in this regard were crowned in Washington DC on 9th May 2017, when His Majesty King Mohammed VI received the ‘Energy Efficiency Visionary Award’ from the Energy Efficiency Global Forum.

Currently trade flows do not reflect the existing potential ties between our two countries. Nevertheless, efforts are being made to boost economic cooperation. Serbia and Morocco have large potential that should be taken advantage of fully

The Intergovernmental Commission of Morocco and Serbia met four years ago in Belgrade, with that event assessed as the first significant step towards strengthening cooperation. What effects did that meeting have and when could the next such meeting be organised?

– The holding of the first Intergovernmental Commission in Belgrade, in June 2013, will remain a turning point in the reinforcement of cooperation and the legal framework between Morocco and Serbia, with the conclusion of five agreements on cooperation in business, science, finance and veterinary medicine.

Following this meeting, many visits are scheduled to take place this year that will involve Moroccan authorities and experts and which will explore business and investment opportunities in different sectors of interest. With the aim of reinforcing cooperation relations, we are also currently working on scheduling the second session of the Intergovernmental Commission, to be held in Rabat.

Thanks to the rich history and culture of your country, Serbian citizens are familiar with Morocco. How familiar are Moroccans with Serbia, and could the two countries cooperate in the field of tourism?

– Morocco has developed strong tourist industry and offers a diversified product to fit all budgets and tastes: cultural and historical tourism, mountains and beach tourism etc.

Noticing a genuine craze for Morocco among Serbs, our Embassy organises occasional exploratory tours for journalists and travel agents to discover our 3,500km of coastline, the snow-capped Atlas Mountains, the finest gastronomy, medieval medinas and amazing fauna and flora that extends from Tangier in the North to Lagouira in the South. This programme aims to promote the Kingdom of Morocco as a touristic destination among Serbs.

Morocco receives around 10 million tourists annually, mainly from Western Europe. Serbian tourists account for only a few thousand.

Awaiting the establishment of a direct air connection, the Embassy is trying to find some adapted formulas like charters during spring and summer seasons combining Serbia and other Balkan destinations such as Montenegro, given the particular interest shown by Moroccans to this part of Europe.

Morocco did not support the initiative for Kosovo to be admitted into UNESCO. Has this stance encountered misunderstanding among your partners in the international community, and has pressure been applied for you to change it?

– Our relations with Serbia are marked by a convergence of views on several issues, and in compliance with international law as regards the principles of defence of sovereignty and the territorial integrity of a state, and the rejecting of any kind of unilateral decisions.

As such, Morocco did not recognise the self-proclaimed independence of Kosovo, while it encourages the pursuit of normalisation negotiations led by the European Union, in line with the Brussels Agreement.

After Morocco’s return to the African Union in January 2017, how do you see the country’s contribution to the future of the continent?

– As you may already know, Morocco reintegrated into its natural African family during the 28th Summit of the African Union on 30th January 2017 in Addis Ababa (Ethiopia), following the support of an overwhelming majority of African countries, as a result of the proactive and sustained policy of His Majesty the King Mohammed VI and his vision concerning the development of South-South Cooperation and win-win partnerships.

The ambitions of this “coming back home” stress Morocco’s commitment towards Africa, to contribute positively to the principles of unity and development policies, in the fields of peace and security, infrastructure, investment, education, culture, healthcare and gender equality etc., in addition to an overall economic take-off of the continent, comprising trade, tourism and agriculture.

In the same move, Morocco is willing to join the Economic Community of West African States, as a full member of this regional grouping, as a culmination of Morocco’s “strong political, humanitarian, historical, religious and economic ties” with the countries of West Africa.

To avoid any misunderstanding between different cultures, Morocco, as a peace-loving and multicultural nation, promotes dialogue among civilisations as a positive practise in creating an environment of peaceful coexistence, and it remains open to interreligious reflection and dialogue

The Kingdom of Morocco is also facing challenges in its Southern provinces. What are the latest developments in the Sahara issue?

– The Moroccan Sahara is being dealt with at the United Nations’ Security Council, to find a lasting political solution based on the Moroccan Autonomy Initiative and in full respect of Moroccan sovereignty and territorial integrity.

In this respect UN Resolution 2351, which was adopted unanimously by the Security Council last April, serves to reaffirm the parameters of the political process defined as of 2007, and also hailed the “serious and credible” efforts of Morocco regarding the Autonomy Plan, while insisting on the prerequisites of negotiations, with “realism and an open spirit of compromise”, towards a final settlement of this artificial regional conflict around the Moroccan Sahara.

The policy led by His Majesty is yielding results, with 35 African countries having withdrawn their recognition of the separatist entity, the latest of which is the Republic of Malawi, while it has never been recognised by an Arab country.

The Southern provinces are an integrated part of the new 2016-2025 development model. Some 600 projects, with a budget of €7.7 billion, are being carried out to create a dignified living environment for inhabitants, involving the setting up of a development engine, accompanying the production sector, human development, promoting the Hassani culture, innovative financing, sustainable management of natural resources and the improvement of territorial connection, as well as the digital transition.

How would you comment on global instability, the strengthening of terrorism and the thesis of the clash of civilisations or religions, which are supposedly inevitable in the future?

– First of all, I would like to point out that the phenomenon of terrorism has no identity, no nation and no religion. Thus, it seems unwise for it either to fall into any amalgam or to conceive this scourge, in a simplistic way, as any clash between religions or civilisations.

To avoid any misunderstanding between different cultures, Morocco, as a peace-loving and multicultural nation, promotes dialogue among civilisations as a positive practice in creating an environment of peaceful coexistence, and it remains open to interreligious reflection and dialogue.

The terrorist threat is a global phenomenon, and Morocco is addressing it within a comprehensive and inclusive strategy. The Moroccan strategy consists of concrete political, institutional, economic, social, cultural, religious and media measures, while it in parallel fights against extremism, poverty, exclusion, instability and illiteracy through the development and strengthening of the rule of law.

Morocco’s management of religious affairs targets the prevention of radicalisation and the abuse of religion for other purposes, with an emphasis on religious education towards a moderate understanding through institutionalised authorities, thereby protecting against any potential influence of extremism.

In this respect, Morocco established the Mohammed VI Institute for the Training of Imams, (religious preachers) in 2015, aimed at creating an authentic, tolerant and open Islam, as an integrated strategy to inculcate the values of moderate Islam, as it has always been practised in Morocco.

Morocco is co-chairing, together with the Netherlands, the Global Counter-Terrorism Forum for a two-year term (2016-2018), with the aim of further developing the vision of this Forum, which gathers 30 members among those who are most committed to this struggle internationally.

The migration policy that was initiated by His Majesty King Mohammed VI in 2013 is authentic, humanist and solidarity-based towards migrants within a global and comprehensive framework that incorporates development, security, education, health and the preservation of human dignity

How do you see the problem of large scale migrations to Europe; what is the new Moroccan Migration Policy?

– The migrant crisis has soared since 2015, and the Balkans has become a transit zone for illegal migrants and refugees.

Morocco also experiences increasing flows from sub-Saharan Africa to Europe. The migration policy that was initiated by His Majesty King Mohammed VI in 2013 is authentic, humanist and solidarity-based towards migrants within a global and comprehensive framework that incorporates development, security, education, health and the preservation of human dignity.

The first phase of regularisation began in 2014 and enabled the regularisation of 25,000 undocumented migrants from Syria and sub-Saharan countries. The second phase was launched in 2016. This humanitarian policy earned Morocco the honour of co-chairing, alongside Germany, the Global Forum on Migration and Development for 2017-2018.