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Despite strained diplomatic relations, France expresses its willingness to assist Morocco in the wake of the earthquake.
A devastating 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck Morocco on September 11, 2023, killing over 2,500 people and injuring thousands more. As Morocco reels from its deadliest seismic disaster in decades, the international community has stepped up to offer relief aid and condolences. Surprisingly, this includes France - despite years of simmering animosity between French and Moroccan leadership.
Overview of Moroccan Earthquake Tragedy
The powerful quake hit in the early morning hours of September 11, centered in the High Atlas Mountains just south of Marrakech. Violent shaking collapsed buildings across southern Morocco, from the mountain villages to the major city of Marrakech. Historical architectural marvels like the 12th century Koutoubia Mosque were partially ruined.
With a death toll already over 2,500 and expected to rise further, Morocco has suffered its worst natural disaster since the 1960 Agadir earthquake that killed 15,000 people. Due to lack of earthquake-resistant infrastructure, this rare but severe seismic event proved catastrophic. Aftershocks continue rattling cities like Marrakech, causing terror as residents avoid returning indoors.
As the mountainous epicenter area has been extremely difficult for rescuers to access, the full scope of the damage has yet to be determined. But it is clear Morocco faces a monumental rebuilding challenge in the months and years ahead.
France and Morocco's Strained Political Relations
France and Morocco have a deeply intertwined history dating back to France's colonial era rule of Morocco from 1912 to 1956. But in recent years, diplomatic relations between these influential European and North African neighbors have steadily deteriorated:
- 2017 - France threatens visa restrictions on Moroccans, angering Rabat.
- 2021 - Morocco's King Mohammed VI is implicated in the Pegasus spyware scandal, further chilling relations with France's President Emmanuel Macron. Both countries withdraw ambassadors in protest.
- 2022 - Morocco harshly criticizes France's stance on the Western Sahara independence dispute, accusing France of favoring rival Algeria over Moroccan claims to the territory.
Additionally, personality conflicts seem to exist between Macron and King Mohammed. Morocco has rebuked the French President for prioritizing friendship with Algeria. Against this backdrop of mistrust and animosity, Morocco's willingness to accept French disaster aid is surprising.
France's Offer of Earthquake Assistance
Within days of the earthquake, France announced a pledge of €5 million euros to Moroccan relief through non-governmental aid organizations. The foreign ministry also stated France's readiness to provide additional rescue workers, equipment, and resources if requested by Morocco.
Given longstanding tensions between Rabat and Paris, Morocco has so far declined to take France up on these offers of direct governmental assistance. But nevertheless, France has persisted seeking opportunities to aid its North African neighbor in recovering from the earthquake.
Motivations Behind France's Aid Offer
- Humanitarian - As a powerful, prosperous European nation, France has a moral imperative to help disaster victims in the region.
- Ex-colonial ties - France likely feels some lingering obligation to its former colonial holding, regardless of current relations.
- Moroccan diaspora - Over 1.5 million people of Moroccan descent live in France, pressuring the government to act.
- Regional stability - France benefits from a stable, friendly Morocco and likely wants to use the crisis as an opening to mend relations.
Morocco's Earthquake Aid Politics
Morocco has seemingly declined French assistance for political reasons, instead accepting relief from the UK, Spain, Qatar and UAE. This allows Morocco to make a subtle diplomatic protest while still benefiting from European aid through Spain/UK.
But refusing all French aid would seem callous and vindictive given the Moroccan public's urgent needs. Hence, Morocco is allowing French NGOs to provide earthquake relief, just not direct governmental assistance.
Potential Positive Impacts on Relations
France's persistent offers of earthquake aid, despite being rebuffed, represent an olive branch that could slowly rebuild trust between Rabat and Paris. As Morocco focuses on earthquake recovery in the years ahead, France has an opportunity to gently normalize relations by:
- Making friendly diplomatic gestures
- Providing development/infrastructure aid
- Avoiding tensions over issues like Western Sahara
- Pursuing a state visit to reset relations
While years of disagreements cannot be instantly forgotten, the shared trauma of Morocco's 2023 earthquake could put France and Morocco on the path toward reconciliation. countries. Both parties seem to recognize that past divisions are insignificant compared to cooperating on Morocco's reconstruction. If France continues acting benevolently in the earthquake aftermath, it may lead to renewed warm Moroccan-French ties.
The devastation of the Morocco earthquake transcends politics, requiring collective global assistance with recovery regardless of old disputes. France is seizing this moment to take the high road and extend an olive branch through generous aid offerings. Although Morocco remains cautious about accepting French governmental aid, groups within both societies are aligned on providing vital relief to Moroccan earthquake victims. Going forward, France would be wise to keep diplomatic channels open and continue looking for ways to reconcile with Morocco during this window of disaster diplomacy. With time and sustained goodwill gestures, France may eventually regain Morocco's trust.
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