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Morocco recalls its ambassador to Riyadh,
Mustafa Al-Mansouri (centre)

Moroccan-Saudi relations have continued to deteriorate and reached their nadir in early February when Rabat recalled its ambassador to Riyadh, Mustafa Al-Mansouri, ‘for consultations’.

This action was in response to a report on the Western Sahara which was aired on the Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya, television channel. The report — entitled ‘The territorial integrity of the Kingdom of Morocco’ — appeared to depart from Riyadh’s traditional stance on the territory and imply support for the Polisario Front’s independence campaign.

The documentary was itself retaliation for comments made by Morocco’s Foreign Minister, Nasser Bourita, to the Qatari-owned Al-Jazeera channel in which he stated that Rabat was reviewing its role in the Saudi-led alliance on Yemen. Bourita expressed his concern for the humanitarian situation in Yemen and revealed to the channel that Morocco had ‘changed the form and content of its participation in the Arab coalition after an assessment of developments on the ground.’ He also made clear that Rabat no longer takes part in military interventions or in ministerial meetings of the alliance.

His comments drew praise from the head of Yemen’s rebel Houthi movement, Abdel-Aziz Bin Habtour, who sent a message to Al-Othmani thanking the country for its stance.

Longstanding tensions

This latest eruption of anger between the two states comes after many months of bilateral tension which has prompted in no small part by Morocco’s decision to take a neutral stance in the Gulf crisis — pitting Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the UAE and Bahrain against Qatar — that flared up in 2017.

Riyadh was outraged that Morocco — which it had viewed as a traditional and even special ally — did not stand with Saudi Arabia in this conflict. It was even more infuriated when, following the blockade being imposed on Qatar, Rabat issued a statement announcing it would send a planeload of food assistance and offering to mediate in the crisis. King Mohamed VI even made an official visit to Doha in November 2017.

Saudi Arabia retaliated to this slight by failing to vote for Morocco’s bid to host the 2026 World Cup and instead choose to back North America instead. Shortly afterwards, Morocco announced it would not be taking part in a meeting of the Saudi-led Arab alliance on Yemen.

Rabat also refused to express support for the Saudi monarchy following the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was assassinated inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on 2 October 2018. This prompted Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman (MBS) to omit Morocco from his November 2018 tour of Arab states.

As this tit-for-tat conflict has escalated, Moroccan-Saudi relations have become ever more strained, and finally spilt over in this latest crisis.

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