Trump’s Camaraderie with King Mohammed VI: the US Recognizes Moroccan Sovereignty over Western Sahara

  • President Donald Trump recognizes Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara.
  • The agreement is in exchange for Morocco’s normalization of ties with Israel. 
  • This deal follows a new trend in US diplomacy, where negotiations between Arab states in the Middle East and Africa have proven to benefit all parties. 

Why is Trump friendly with Mohammed, the King of Morocco? 

Answer: Trump recognizes Morocco’s claims over Western Sahara in exchange for Morocco’s agreement to begin normalizing ties with Israel. 

Western Sahara is a former Spanish colony located in northwest Africa. After Spain withdrew from the region in 1976, it resulted in the partition of the area between Morocco and Mauritania. Morocco has controlled around 80% of Western Sahara. Although initially, the Kingdom had agreed to an independence referendum for the Sahrawis, the main ethnic group in the region, King Mohammed VI never carried it out. 

(Former) President Donald Trump in December 2020 recognized Morocco’s sovereignty over Western Sahara. In one of his infamous Twitter posts, Donald Trump Tweeted, “Morocco recognized the United States in 1777. It is thus fitting we recognize their sovereignty over Western Sahara.” However, this was not the reason for recognizing Morocco’s claims over Western Sahara. Trump made the deal in exchange for Morocco’s agreement to normalize ties with Israel, becoming the fifth Arab nation to do so. 

Trump has essentially recognized Morocco’s sovereignty over Western Sahara, igniting tensions in an autonomous region that demands self-determination. Many could argue that this is unlawful territorial expansion, something that a country as powerful and influential as the US should not approve of. 

What does Trump want? 

Answer: Trump officially wants cooperation and stability between Morocco and Israel but unofficially wants American businesses to expand and flourish in the Kingdom. 

The deal was primarily made to facilitate diplomatic relations between Morocco and Israel, a longstanding ally of the United States. Israel and Morocco have, therefore, established diplomatic ties that will pave the way for liaison offices in the respective countries and direct flights. Officially, Donald Trump’s motives for the agreement were to support expanding economic and cultural ties that will advance regional stability. With this agreement, American firms now face less business risk in Morocco, and relations between them have improved. 

A wave of normalization of relations between Israel and Arab states began with the Abraham Accords. The diplomatic recognition of Israel by Arab countries under this accord constituted a significant shift in regional alliances. The UAE, Israel, and Bahrain have common enemies, including Shia Iran and Sunni Islamic extremist groups. All three countries see Iran and terrorist groups as significant threats to regional stability, which has aligned the Middle Eastern states’ interests. The Trump administration had much to gain from the accords. Stability and peace in the Middle East was a significant accomplishment for Donald Trump in the scope of the US presidential elections. This diplomatic breakthrough characterized US foreign policy under (Former) President Donald Trump, revolving around “bargain diplomacy.” The wave of normalization spread to Morocco, where American foreign policy extended its influence to Arab states in far west Africa. 

Jared Kushner, Donald Trump’s son-in-law, confirmed that the decision to recognize Morocco’s sovereignty over Western Sahara had to do with the normalization of relations between Israel and Morocco. He also, however, claimed that the recognition of Morocco’s claim over Western Sahara was because of the President’s desire for the Sahrawi people “to live a better life” under the Moroccan government. 

What does Mohammed VI, the King of Morocco, want? 

Answer: King Mohammed VI wants complete control over Western Sahara.

The Moroccan government, specifically under King Mohammed VI, insists that the territory is inherently part of Morocco and that independence is not an option for the Sahrawis. They embrace a distinct history, dialect, and culture from the mainland. Initially, Morocco’s king claimed that they had already given all they could provide to the Polisario Front, in the form of autonomy rather than independence. In 2015 he listed several projects aiming to improve infrastructure in the territory, attempting to prove that Morocco would provide more for the region than the Polisario Front. With the recognition of their claim over Western Sahara, Morocco will be encouraged to pursue its war effort against the Polisario Front rebels. 

For Mohammed VI, Western Sahara represents power, both economic and political. Morocco’s primary threat is the state of Algeria, which sponsors the Polisario Front. Algeria’s military is more significant in size, and it also exceeds Morocco in civilian workforce and strategic depth. Algeria continues to support the self-determination efforts of the Sahrawis in Western Sahara, so much so that the country hosts over 100,000 Sahrawi refugees. A combination of Algeria’s strength and their support for the Sahrawi rebel national liberation movement poses a threat to Morocco’s regional influence and claim over Western Sahara. Morocco, without the Sahara, is relatively poorly endowed with natural resources in contrast to their Algerian counterparts. Western Sahara provides Morocco with large phosphate deposits, iron, titanium, and uranium. The Kingdom also receives most of its oil and gas deposits from Western Sahara

The King hopes that US recognition means international recognition, however, the UN is very much divided on this point, so it is improbable. Although Donald Trump’s recognition legitimizes Morocco’s claim, it does not equate to international recognition and acceptance. Recognition could lead to further tensions between the Polisario Front and Morocco now that the King has official US recognition. The agreement between Israel and Morocco and the peace program could be negatively affected now that Donald Trump no longer holds office

What is King Mohammed VI doing? 

Answer: He is thanking the US for supporting Morocco’s claims over Western Sahara. 

The King expressed his gratitude towards US former President Donald Trump for supporting his claim over Western Sahara. For Mohammed VI, US recognition was a key first step in persuading other major international powers, including the European Union, Russia, and China, to also recognize Morocco’s sovereignty over Western Sahara

After the agreement took place, public opinion on the King in Morocco was very much divided. Many Moroccans are concerned about what normalization of relations would mean for Muslims living in Palestine. The Royal Cabinet, however, reassured the public that these newfound relations would not affect the position that the government has in particular with the status of Jerusalem which has significance to the Muslim community. 

King Mohammed VI took advantage of this new style of American diplomacy under Donald Trump to reach a mutually beneficial agreement, prioritizing individual interests- sovereignty over Western Sahara for the Morrocan King and extension of the Abraham Accords amidst the 2020 US presidential election for the American president. By agreeing to normalize relations with Israel, King Mohammed VI was able to substantially benefit from the negotiations. The Abraham Accords and Sudan-Israel Agreement set a precedent for Arab states establishing diplomatic relations with Israel in the 21st century, meaning that Morocco’s deal with Israel would not be as controversial domestically and internationally as if it was the first of its kind. As such, King Mohammed VI could use normalization as a bargaining chip with the US, presenting relations with Israel as a bigger concession than it really is following the Abraham Accords. The outgoing Trump administration broke with the US’s traditional stance on Western Sahara, considering that normalization of Arab states with Israel was more important than regional security in Northern Africa. 

Who is winning, and what about you?

Answer: King Mohammed VI is winning territory and the hearts of the Moroccan people.

King Mohammed VI could not be more delighted with this key step towards international recognition of Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara as it means access to more natural resources for the country. Not only this, but the King was also able to get away with the broken promise of granting the Sahrawis an independence referendum. 

If you are European or part of the international community, you have to consider that the United Nations, the World Court, the African Union, and other international players recognize Western Sahara as a non-self-governing territory that must be allowed an act of self-determination. Freedom House ranked Moroccan-occupied Western Sahara as among the “worst of the worst” in terms of political and civil suppression of liberties and rights. This should be concerning for the international community, where political and social freedoms should be held paramount. 

If you are Moroccan, the recognition of Western Sahara as Moroccan from the US is a victory. On the other hand, if you are Sahrawi seeking independence, this is a massive blow to your chances of becoming independent after years of occupation and oppression. 

If you are Palestinian, this alliance could be detrimental to the Palestinian cause. With the Trump administration recognizing Jerusalem as the Capital of Israel in late 2017 and a diplomatic breakthrough between Morocco, Arab nations, and Israel, the Palestinian cause could seem interminable.