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September 12, 2011 8:58 am

Moroccan Ambassador Emphasizes Positive Jewish Relationship

avatar by Maxine Dovere

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Malcolm Hoenlein, Executive Vice Chairman of the Conference of President of Major Jewish Organizations joins Conference Chairman Richard Stone in the presentation of a farewell gift to H.E. Aziz Mekouar, retiring Ambassador of Morocco to the United States. Photo: Maxine Dovere.

A fond farewell was given to the retiring Ambassador of Morocco, H.E. Aziz Mekouar, at a luncheon hosted by the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.  His more than nine years of service as Moroccan Ambassador to the United States were recalled with warm reminisces, mutual expressions of gratitude and praise, and recognition of the importance of Jewish culture in the fabric of Moroccan society. The Ambassador included an update of current political events and pressures in North Africa and the Middle East arising from the “Arab Spring” movement that has significantly changed the political landscape of the region including countries like Tunisia, Libya and Egypt.

The new Moroccan constitution recognizes the Jewish community, and treats it as a “full dimension” of Moroccan culture, enjoying “just, normal, and fair treatment.” “Probably the biggest Jewish community in the Arab or Muslim world,” said H.E. Mekouar.  The Jews “are a vibrant and productive population, and will be in Morocco forever.”  Even those who have left the country form a proud diaspora, and remain “linked to homeland – a culmination of 2000 years of Jewish culture in Morocco.”

Malcolm Hoenlein, Conference of Presidents’ Executive Vice Chairman, expressed the feelings of the Conference and the diaspora Moroccan Jewish community saying “it is hard to think of a better friend of the Jewish people” than Morocco. He noted that the late King, Hassan VI, had recognized and protected the Jewish population, and that the current king, his son, Mohammed had fostered that relationship.  Hoenlein expressed his appreciation of the recent celebration of the Jewish community and establishment of a Jewish Museum in Morocco.

Hoenlein commented that representatives of the Conference of Presidents had been invited to pay respects during the mourning period for the late king and to meet the new king through the personal interest and friendship of the ambassador.  Noting Morocco’s unique and public support for Holocaust education through the Adin Foundation,  Hoenlein expressed his hope that the warmth of the relationship remain.

The Ambassador noted that the new king has continued the relationship (with both Israel and the Jews of Morocco) started by his late father and has “really delivered,” holding elections in 2002, 2007, and 2009.  “Normal” freedom of speech is enjoyed – witnessed by the open voice of Moroccan newspapers.

Asked about the possible spread of protests collectively known as the Arab Spring, the Ambassador said that “everything that Egypt’s protestors are seeking already exists in Morocco.”  He noted that through Facebook, “many young people had been encouraged to participate in demonstrations in Morocco in February, 2011.  The impact was limited: approximately 35, 000 came into the streets -“4-5 thousand per city – not a lot of traction,” he commented. “All kinds of people” came to the streets to protest about things that were not working and demanding government jobs.  “Basically, the country is doing well.”

In March, King Mohammed VI authorized the writing of a new constitution which laid out a framework for civil society, crafted by representatives of all segments of Moroccan society. It is, says the Ambassador “a top notch, democratic, constitution” and was adopted July 1, 2011 by popular referendum. 98 % of the people voted positively, a number that reflects the deep trust in which the king is held. According to Ambassador Mekouar, the overwhelming majority vote was “because the king said vote ‘Yes,” and the people “trust the king.”

Asked about the impact of the “Arab Winter” and Iranian influence in Morocco the Ambassador acknowledged that the “Iranians were, as usual, messing around, not only in the region, but in Morocco itself” Saying “there is no change at this time,” the Ambassador characterized Iran as “very problematic.”

Three regional countries – Tunisia, Libya, and Egypt – are in the process of regime change the outcomes of which remain “uncertain.” The Ambassador commented that he was “very optimistic,” with reasons to be hopeful.  Tunisia could be a “real success story,” he said, noting that the country has a “savvy intellectual class.”  In Libya, subjected to far greater violence, “the actions of Gaddafi and his followers were wrong…They have all kinds of resources and many excellent people.”

He was far more cautious about the possible Egypt outcome, saying that 85 million people are scared and afraid. “There is no single trend…It may get worse before it gets better.”  Not good news to the 10 million Egyptians whose income depends on the currently depressed tourism industry.

Asked by the Algemeiner to comment on what position Morocco, an Arab, Muslim country, would take should the Palestinian Authority bring a resolution for a Unilateral Declaration of Independence to the United Nations General Assembly, the experienced diplomat diplomatically responded that the “game is far from over,” The Moroccan Ambassador to the United Nations, Mohammed Loulichki, added that efforts to are underway to define “some kind of resolution that will not embarrass the US. All the efforts are aimed at finding a compromise.”

In subsequent conversation with the Algemeiner, Ambassador Mekouar identified other necessary characteristics:  “Being a diplomat in the Middle East,” he commented, “requires a significant component of optimism and a belief in possibilities.”

Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations' Chairman Richard Stone shares a moment of humor with H.E. Aziz Mekouar. Seated next to the Ambassador is David Dangoor, President of the American Sephardi Federation, and Gil Lainer, Consul for Public Affairs at the Israeli Consulate in New York. Photo: Maxine Dovere.

Malcolm Hoenlien, H.E. Aziz Mekouar, and Rabbi Raphael Benchimol, Senior Rabbi of the Manhattan Sephardic Congregation. Photo: Maxine Dovere.

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