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06RABAT40 2006-01-09 17:11:00 UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY Embassy Rabat
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1. (SBU) As part of his January 2-5 visit to Morocco,
Congressman Lantos (D-CA) visited and toured the Moroccan
Parliament, met with Moroccan reformers, and discussed
recent political, social and religious reforms with the
Minister of Islamic Affairs. Lantos was accompanied by his
wife Annette Lantos; HIRC Democratic Staff Director Robert
King, HIRC Senior Professional Staff Member Alan Makovsky,
Professional Staff Member Mike Beard, and friends Philip
Friedman, Rosa Friedman, and Jeffrey Friedman. Ambassador
and Embassy staff also accompanied Congressman Lantos in his
meetings. At Parliament, both sides hailed the close USG-
GOM cooperation and expressed a desire for continued
exchanges with counterparts. Moroccan reformers praised
ongoing reforms, but delineated numerous challenges facing
Morocco, including a low level of political participation,
high unemployment and poverty rates, a continued high
illiteracy rate especially in rural areas, and a lack of
focus on the Amazigh (Berber) population. The Minister of
Islamic Affairs described Morocco's unique experience at
adapting Islamic religious values to modern political life
and discussed the Ministry's efforts to use information
technology to promote tolerant religious values. End

Visit to Parliament


2. (SBU) On January 4, Congressman Thomas Lantos,
accompanied by Ambassador and delegation, was received by
First Vice President of the Lower House Driss Sentissi
(Parliament President Abdulwahid Radi was on travel).
Sentissi summarized Morocco's recent achievements, stressing
that since 1999, parliament has been strengthened and
increasingly consulted on key issues. He emphasized that,
given the importance of the Free Trade Agreement with the
U.S., MPs worked hard to pass the agreement as a means of
reinforcing the bilateral relations between the two
countries. Sentissi expressed his desire to strengthen
relations between the U.S. Congress and the Moroccan
Parliament and thanked the Ambassador for giving the
opportunity to Moroccan MPs to exchange ideas with their
American counterparts. Lantos reaffirmed the U.S. Congress'
view that Morocco is a long-standing friend of America's and
an important partner on many international issues. He added
that "Morocco has consistently demonstrated a strong
commitment to peace, stability, and constitutional
democracy. As a tolerant, multi-racial and multi-ethnic
Islamic society, Morocco continues to stand as a bulwark
against the extremism prevalent in the region. Morocco is to
be particularly commended for working to resolve the
conflict in the Western Sahara through the efforts of the
United Nations."

3. (SBU) Following a tour of the Parliamentary chamber,
Lantos and delegation met with Foreign Affairs Committee
President Khadija Belftouh and Committee member Ahmed
Zarouf. Belftouh praised the historical Moroccan-American
relations and stressed the important role that King
Mohamed's vision, credibility, and commitment have played in
advancing prospects for regional peace. Zarouf described
Morocco's commitment to democracy and human rights as an
example for the region, citing Morocco as the first country
where an independent human rights entity (the Equity and
Reconciliation Commission) has publicly disclosed past human
rights violations. In the economic sphere, Morocco is
committed to free trade, privatization, a free market
economy and enhanced economic trade and investment with the
U.S. as witnessed by the FTA. Zarouf said Morocco sought
more investment and tourism from the US, and expressed
concern about the level of corruption in Morocco. Lantos
said that trade liberalization with Morocco will support the
U.S. Administration's commitment to promote more tolerant,
open, and prosperous Muslim societies. He explained that
economic and political reforms underway in Morocco will
certainly enhance the GOM's efforts to attract new trade and
investment, and promote sustainable development. Praising
Morocco for having chosen to work against extremism, Lantos
said that countries such as "the United States, Morocco,
Israel and others will stand against terrorism and promote
values of democracy, tolerance and coexistence."

4. (SBU) Noting that he had sat next to the Iraqi
Ambassador at a dinner the previous evening hosted by
Ambassador Riley, Lantos commented that Iraq had thrown off
the terror of Saddam Hussein and was now consolidating
itself as a free and open society. Lantos said the US was
grateful for Moroccan assistance to help Iraq become a more
stable, normal society. Zarouf commented that while there
was some progress in Iraq, "many people have been killed" in
the process, implying that the US bore some of the
responsibility. Lantos vigorously rejected any equivalence
between Saddam's "deliberate killing" and the accidental
casualties caused by US forces. Zarouf also made a plea for
the U.S. to help the world limit "state terrorism wherever
it exists."

5. (SBU) On the Western Sahara, Zarouf commented that
Morocco did not have the same propaganda machinery that
Algeria deployed to defend its position on the issue.
Zarouf said U.S. support on the Sahara was critical, noting
that it was ridiculous to contemplate creating a nation of
100,000 people in one corner of the Sahara when the Saharan
population numbered more than 4 million spread the width of

6. (SBU) Lantos and his delegation then met with five of the
eight Parliamentary caucus leaders representing the eight
committees in Parliament. Mr. Lantos described U.S. policy
in support of UN efforts to resolve the Western Sahara
issue. On behalf of the Caucus leaders, USFP Parliamentarian
Driss Lachgar reiterated the Moroccan parliament's desire to
continue working with all democratic forces around the globe
to fight extremist views and promote values of freedom of
expression and tolerance. In a reference to the Western
Sahara, Lachgar also described the ongoing threat of
terrorist networks in the Sahel and asked for USG assistance
to help the Maghreb countries overcome their differences to
better confront terrorist networks in the Sahel. Lachgar
praised the U.S. embassy for reaching out to Parliament, for
helping Morocco reduce poverty, and for supporting Morocco's
transition to democracy.
Meeting with Moroccan Reformers


7. (SBU) During a January 4 tea hosted by Ambassador for
Moroccan reformers including Istiqlal Party executive
committee member Nizar Baraka, NGO founder and former
parliamentarian Ali Belhaj, and president of the Amazigh
(Berber) Association Tamaynout Hassan Eid Belkacem, the
participants told Lantos that the reforms being undertaken
in Morocco were principally associated with its democratic
transition. Both Belhaj and Baraka agreed that the most
recent municipal and legislative elections demonstrated
fairness and transparency and represented an important step
in Morocco's democratization process. Baraka said that the
newly adopted political party bill was also critical for
restructuring political parties. Belhaj noted that Morocco
devoted important efforts to human rights issues and that,
despite existing shortcomings, press freedom had also
improved over the past five years.

8. (SBU) Nonetheless, Morocco still faces many challenges,
according to Baraka, including a low rate of political
participation (35% in cities and less in rural areas) and a
poverty rate of 14% in the cities and 40% in the rural
areas. Youth unemployment is another major issue as the
number of youth ready for employment is soaring and the
current growth rate is too low (4 percent) to absorb demand.
Belhaj explained that Morocco is the only country in the
world where unemployment for graduates is higher than that
of the uneducated population which results in a brain drain.
Other major challenges include the high rate of illiteracy
and low school attendance as eighty percent of rural women
are illiterate and two million children do not attend
school, despite the fact that 25% of the public budget is
allocated to education. Recent polls have shown that
Moroccan youth prefer to emigrate if given the choice.
Illiterate and unskilled youth opt for illegal emigration
whereas the skilled workforce chooses to migrate to Europe
or Canada. This demonstrates the failure of the education
system in preparing its youth for the labor market,
commented Belhaj.

9. (SBU) Morocco is facing these challenges by working to
speed up the economic transition through improving the
judicial and administrative system, according to Baraka.
There is also an urgent need for Morocco to open its market
to the Maghreb as a recent World Bank study indicated that
opening the border with Algeria could increase the Moroccan
GDP by two percentage points. However, with the current
high price of oil, any negotiations with Algeria now on the
Western Sahara issue will put Morocco at a disadvantage.

10. (SBU) Eid Belkacem raised his concern that while the
Berber population is the largest ethnic group in Morocco,
its language is not acknowledged as an official language in
the constitution. While he agreed that progress had been
made under King Mohamed VI in human rights, women's rights
and the recognition of the Amazigh (Berber) language, he
said that the system is too centralized, which makes
implementation of reforms difficult. While the recent
census may indicate that approximately 27 percent of the
population speaks Berber, Eid Belkacem said that he would
estimate that Berbers make up 40-50 percent of the
population. Being Berber in Morocco is not like being an
American Indian since Berber is still a living language and
culture and, in some areas, it is the only spoken language.
The fact that Arabic is the primary language taught in
schools is one of the main reasons for a low retention rate
in schools in rural Berber populated areas, according to

11. (SBU) Belhaj said that Morocco's problems are primarily
related to the lack of separation of powers and to the still-
weak parliament. The fact that the Prime Minister is not a
politician, but a technocrat is also an issue, and can serve
to discourage political participation.

12. (SBU) Lantos responded that the legislative branch is
oftentimes weak in emerging democracies. He noted that two
Congressmen had established a program to share the U.S.
experience and assist emerging parliamentary bodies and
offered to follow up on the possibility of including Morocco
in this program. Lantos said that because PM Jettou does
not represent a political party, he has the advantage of not
having to respond to specific political pressures. When
asked by Lantos what they would do if they were PM, Belhaj
opted to strengthen the separation of powers, Baraka said
that he would attempt to give political life more
credibility, and Eid Belkacem favored a democratic
constitution that would guarantee human dignity and the
right to equal distribution of resources.

Minister of Islamic Affairs


13. (SBU) In a January 4 meeting, Minister of Islamic
Affairs Ahmed Toufiq expressed his appreciation for
Congressman Lantos' visit, noting that it demonstrates the
interest shown by the U.S. in his Ministry's reform efforts.
When Toufiq meets with the ulemas (religious scholars), he
will tell them of the Lantos visit to emphasize this
interest to them. The Minister then described Morocco's
unique experience of attempting to integrate Islam's values
into the requirements of modern life, including democracy.
As such, Morocco could serve as a role model for the rest of
the world. (Embassy Note: Morocco and Kuwait signed an MOU
in late December aimed at promoting moderate Islam though IT
and the media. End Note). Through his Ministry, Morocco is
now working to use information technology - through the
establishment of a website, a new TV station inaugurated by
the King, and in the near future, an online network linking
1000 mosques which will allow imams to interact real-time
with each other and with the Ministry to receive religious
guidance and assistance. Of utmost importance is that a
distinction be made between Islam's true values and the
desecration that has been done in the name of Islam,
according to Toufiq.

14. (SBU) Lantos described how, as the U.S. enters the new
millennium, Americans are increasingly conscious of the
importance the Islamic faith plays in the world. Islam is
now the fastest growing religion in the U.S. Lantos noted
that Morocco has been a leader for generations in religious
tolerance and moderation, and, as a result, has a unique
role to play in the Islamic world. At a time when Islam is
being subverted by a minority, the U.S. looks to its friends
in Morocco and the Ministry of Islamic Affairs to teach the
followers of Islam the true meaning of the faith. A
commitment to tolerance and moderation is now more important
than ever. Lantos wished the Ministry the best of luck in
its reform efforts. The Ambassador also expressed his
appreciation for the important work being done by the

15. (SBU) Codel Lantos did not have the opportunity to clear
this cable.