International Reserach Group for Transregional & Emerging Area Studies
The International Reserach Group for Transregional & Emerging Area Studies is a non-partisan and multidisciplinary Think-Tank Organization.
16:27 - 15 December 2014

The Alchemy of counter-Terrorism in Morocco

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By Kei Nakagawa

Visiting Professor at Meiji Institute for Global Affairs(MIGA), Meiji University

Professor at Hagoromo University of International Studies


Since the terrorist attacks on the September 11th 2001 in the United States, the world was striving for “war on terror”. But today, there is not a single day when you do not hear the news of terrorist attacks in various parts of the world.

According to the summary of the consortium of the United States on the study for counter-terrorism measures and terrorism in the United States, the number of terrorist attacks around the world in 2013 was more than 8500, and about 15,500 people were dead because of these attacks. The number, compared to that of 2011, increased by respectively 69% and  89%. Both of them are the highest record until now.

Speaking of measures for counter-terrorism, the mainstream has been the actions taken by security authorities after the incidents actually occurred, and improvement of social and economic problems such as unemployment or poverty, which have been considered to be a breeding ground for terrorism. It is needless to say that such kinds of measures must be continued to be carried out in the future. Nevertheless, the efforts to reduce the wrong “sympathy” felt by youths in any environment to extremism and to prevent the youth to have been motivated to participate in terrorist groups are required.


As one of such cases, it emerges greatly  the efforts of Morocco in not only in the fighting against terrorist groups, but in draining its resources, and reducing all non-physical impetuses that might motivate young people to adopt the doctrines  of terrorist violence.

By reviewing the Moroccan political scene, it seems that this approach finds founded in its initial guidance in most orientations and speeches of the Moroccan monarch the King Mohammed VI,since his enthronement,  reiterating the need to focus on socio-economic issues,  such as unemployment problem, regional development gaps between centers and peripheral areas, and  the promotion of the culture of democracy, dialogue and tolerance.

This trend  has been reinforced after the terrorist attack occurred in Casablanca on the March 16th, 2003. 12 youths from the district of Sidi Moumen, poor suburb of Casablanca, attacked the five a luxury hotel, the Jewish community center, and a Spanish restaurant full of foreign tourists. More than 30 people, including eight Europeans, were dead, and more than 100 people were injured. Salafiya –Jihadiya, one of the Moroccan terrorist groups, is said to be involved.  Immediately after this incident  King Mohammed VI himself visited the crime scene, and people in Casablanca marched swearing their unity of the anti-terrorism.  In April of the same year, suspects of this attack were arrested and the trial was started. Since then, measures by the Moroccan security authorities for preventing terrorist activities are ongoing increased.


In fact, these terrorist attacks which targeted symbolic sites in Casablanca were taken as a “warning signal on the relationship between domestic and international terrorist network,” and brought to light “the warlike intentions of Al Qaeda and its franchises towards the Kingdom, notably Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).”

Since then, Morocco adopted an integrative approach, targeting the reform of security sector, promoting cohesive developmental panel “National Human Development Initiative” (2006-2007).

The INDH initiative was announced by the King himself. The main objectives of this initiative were to reduce the poverty and the social alienation. Primarily it was the 5 year project with the budget of about 140 billion yen, however it continues until now.

Furthermore, in addition to these anti-terrorism measures generally seen in other countries, Morocco started its unique reform in the religious field; the education of Imams. The objective of this reform is to prevent youth to have wrong “ sympathy”  to extremism; If Imams preach the moderate Islam in all the mosques in Morocco, then young Moroccans will understand that the “ sympathy “to Islam of the extremists are wrong but the moderate Islam is correct. Moroccan authority arranged the occasion for Imams of learning Sunni Maliki jurisprudence and Achari theology on which Islam in Morocco has been founded traditionally and historically, and also promoted the program of literacy classes in mosques in nationwide to raise the general educational levels of Moroccan people.

The efforts of Morocco in religious field were highly appreciated by countries in North and West Africa, and several bilateral agreements have been concluded.

  Those agreements concluded in September 2013 between Mali and Morocco mentions the education of 500 Malian Imams in Morocco, and also the foundation of Christian educational center for Catholic and Protestant in Rabat, the capital of Morocco, with target of Christian church leaders in Africa.

        The possibility to embody the inter-state cooperation through training programs of Imam was mentioned when the king visited Côte d’Ivoire in March 2013. In addition, Tunisia, Libya, Guinea, also from Burkina Faso, requested Morocco to share Moroccan experiences on education of Imams, and the cooperation agreements have been concluded.

In Tunisia, almost 1100 mosques of 5100 nationwide became out of control for the government since the “Jasmin” Revolution in 2011. Tunisian government tries to get back the control of mosques fell into the hands of fundamentalists, organizing the joint committee of ministries of religion, interior and justice, and appointing newly Imams whom Ministry of Religious Affairs has approved.

The majority of fundamentalist Imams were Tunisians who were radicalized under the suppression by the Ben Ali regime, or educated in foreign countries such as Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan. The Tunisian moderate Islam was marginalized pushed by the extremism which was empowered in the political and social turmoil in the post revolutionary period.

Another agreement concluded between Morocco and Tunisia in March 2014 was a part of supporting the Tunisian reform in the religious field. The main activity mentioned in this agreement was the education of Tunisian Imams in Morocco.

Libya did not make an exception. Morocco has been supporting the education and supervision of Imans and management of mosques by the government of Libya.

  In Guinea, Côte d’Ivoire, Senegal similar terms of cooperation were initiated between the religious authorities of morocco and those countries

Notwithstanding the fact of being one of the founding members of Organization of African Unity, the predecessor of the African Union (AU), Morocco left AU in 1984 over Western Sahara issue. Since then Morocco has been the only African country that is not a member of AU. However, Morocco has put the great importance on its diplomacy with African countries since 2000.

The cooperation in the religious field is one of the most important pillars of the Moroccan diplomacy in Africa as well as the multilateral cooperation for the stability of Maghreb region and the recovery of the security of Sahel region.


       The King in Morocco is not only the “secular” head of state but also “Amir al Mouminin( Commander of the faithful) ” in the “ religious” field. So if Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary Ambassadors to foreign countries represent the Head of State “Jalalat al Malik”, the Imams in mosques in Morocco represent symbolically  the “ Amir al Mouminin”. In the case of the MENA republics such as Egypt or Syria, the presidents hold only the position of the Head of the State in a secular sense. In the case of Kingdoms such as Jordan, the religious position of the King is not mentioned in its constitution. But Morocco is likewise different from the case of Iran founded on the governance by the Islamic scholars, or in Saudia Arabia, where religious Power of “Khadim al Haramayn” (it is referring to those responsible for the upkeep of mosques and holy sites within Mecca and Medina and protection of pilgrims on the hajj.) is linked to the Sacred space and not to the prophetic lineage.


This Moroccan approach in fighting against terrorism in its security, religious and socio-economic aspects, was highlighted late September 2014 at the United Nations during a high-level meeting of the UN Security Council’s Counter-Terrorism Committee (CTC)The Moroccan approach was presented during a high-level meeting on “Countering incitement to terrorist acts motivated by extremism or intolerance: Morocco’s approach and experiences of other African states” which was marked by the presence of the members of the Security Council and other UN member states.

In this occasion, Moroccan Minister of Habous and Islamic Affairs Ahmed Toufik underlined in his presentation Morocco’s “experience in fighting against terrorism” and the role of the institution of the “Commander of the faithful which cuts off the way to terrorism.”

“Concerning the management of religious affairs, Morocco’s policy draws on the nature of the Moroccan regime itself which has been based, over ten centuries, on the fact that the Head of State, currently King Mohammed VI, derives legitimacy from his capacity as Commander of the Faithful,” the minister has stressed.

The institution of the Commander of the Faithful which is solely responsible for protecting religion and managing religious affairs along with the logic of allegiance leave no room for any political project based on religion, Toufik pointed out.

At the security level, Mohamed Yassine Mansouri, the General Director of Studies and Documentation (DGED), has deeply illuminated Moroccan efforts for multilateral and bilateral cooperation at fighting against terrorism in all its forms.

Highlighting the multidimensional approach of Morocco on counter-terrorism, Mohammed Yassine Mansouri has noted that this approach is not solely based on the security aspect, but goes beyond it to include a successful religious and spiritual strategy meant to promote an Islam version that extols the values of tolerance, otherness and moderation as well as a socio-economic aspect aimed at ensuring inclusive development which places the individual at the heart of all concerns.

Morocco’s growing intelligence network and partnerships with neighboring countries, in addition to the proactive operations in fighting internal terrorist threats are all significant in the international efforts against Terrorism. Mainly through the sharing of intelligence, as a foremost steps for the conservation of international security


Following deteriorated security situation worldwide (Syria, Iraq, Libya, Yemen, Ukraine, Nigeria, Mali ,Egypt, etc.)  Could have significant implications for all countries, and might lead to numerous changes in DOD plans and programs either in the European, Middle Eastern, African or American agendas.

But since all security agencies worldwide give the impression that they are not able to make a clear diagnostic of ISIL, the greatest potential significance of Moroccan model in counter-terrorism can be widely shared and adapted in current overall terms of debate on international security.

Many indicators signpost that several international forums such as G4, G20 and other global forums are serious focusing their attention on international cooperation in the fighting against terrorism and intend to invite expertise from countries with successful stories in fighting extremism

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