The first nation to extend formal diplomatic recognition to the fledgling young United States was not France, or Prussia or any other Christian power of Europe. It was the Muslim Kingdom of Morocco, and the recognition was extended in 1777, when America’s independence was little more than a matter of wishful thinking. One of the first diplomatic representations the United States opened in the world was the legation in Tangiers, opened in 1786. The U.S.-Moroccan relationship has been long and a decidedly two-sided affair. At the end of World War II, when Morocco was under a very soft de facto American occupation (an occupation, I should add, that was welcomed by much of the population), the Truman administration used its clout to insist that French and Spanish colonial rule over Morocco be brought to a rapid conclusion and that the sovereignty of the king be restored. (There had, of course, been some unpleasant experiences in U.S.-Moroccan relations, especially under Teddy Roosevelt, but on that score, forgiveness was in order.)
I grew up as a young boy in Morocco, and my first memories as a child were scenes from the street life of Rabat, Meknes and Fez – walking through the markets, and waiving to a neighbor from the roof of our house in the rue de Bucharest, near the black sand beaches of the Atlantic. I remember a multi-ethnic country where Americans were held in high regard – as friends. To a certain extent even as liberators, who had driven away the Germans and then ensured a quick end to the aspirations of the colonial powers – without having any colonial aspirations of their own. The Algerian war was raging next door, and Moroccans were thankful of having been spared this. But things have changed, and America’s reputation has suffered a series of hard blows in the country that was once its oldest and firmest ally in the Arabic-speaking world.
Now the United States is introducing a tough visa regime for Moroccans, transparently designed to make it more difficult for Moroccans to travel to the United States. At the same time the old consulate in Casablanca has been closed. (This was the post where back in my day a young diplomat named Ed Djerejian held sway – a legendary diplomat who later emerged as the right-hand man to Secretary of State Baker).
The Moroccans are understandably in a state of consternation about this, and I can’t deny being completely in their corner. They deserve better. L’Opinion of Rabat on June 15, 2007:
It’s perfectly understandable that the American authorities take security measures and establish certain conditions for the granting of visas. But to oblige Moroccan citizens desirous of visiting the United States to submit their requests to American consulates in Europe or Tunis not only constitutes an unacceptable humiliation for Moroccans as a whole; it amounts to bad publicity that damages both our country’s image and the friendly, secular relations it has never ceased to maintain with the United States since Morocco became one of the first to recognize its independence .
Morocco, contrary to what Americans might think, is a safe, secure country that has succeeded in thwarting the plans of the terrorist organizations, thanks to the vigilance of its police force and the high degree of responsibility and public-spiritedness of its citizens, who are unanimous in their condemnation of terrorism and extremism.
No one is better placed than Americans to know that the security and stability of Morocco is guaranteed, and that no one can call into question the determination of the Moroccan people to fight those who resist human progress and who would attack the interests of Morocco and its international reputation. The United States, which considers Morocco a favored ally, cannot afford to commit such an error of judgment and must renounce these measures concerning the granting of visas.