Saturday, April 15, 2006

Morocco and American Evangelicals

It should come as no surprise that the recent Ten Commandments miniseries was filmed in Morocco. Dozens of 'ancient' (Gladiator, Alexander) and 'medieval' (Kingdom of Heaven), even contemporary (Mummy, Blackhawk Down), films have been staged in Morocco, especially around the Ouarzazate region, which offers everything from snow-covered mountains to bleak desert-scapes. Labor and extras come very cheap, with recent movies taking advantage of the 'ancient' terrain and readily available workforce. Filmakers, like those that made the new Commandments, also take advantage of Morocco's cultural background to make up for their lack of imagination. In his controversial The Last Temptation of Christ, Martin Scorsese appropriated (perverted?) Moroccan Arab and Berber elements for his portrayal of ancient Palestine; the Peter Gabriel soundtrack even used Moroccan music from the filming.

So it’s not very interesting that the new Ten Commandments was done in Morocco.

What is interesting is that Morocco has allowed the press to make a big deal about it. For example, "
Morocco plays Egypt in 'Ten Commandments' miniseries" from CNN. Do a Google news search for Morocco and Ten Commandments and see all the hits.

Think about it. Is there any Middle Eastern country in the world that would feel comfortable letting this happen on their soil? Putting aside the fact that few Middle Eastern countries are secure enough to allow filming, which ones would want to boast that they’re the backdrop? That the lazy movie-makers (mis)appropriated a Muslim culture’s articles and artifacts as props? I wonder what Morocco’s majority Islamic movement thinks about all this -- letting Western film companies paint their historical fantasies on the canvas of Islamic Moroccan culture? Morocco’s monarchical regime, however, probably considers this a feather in its cap.

As repression in Western Sahara has increased since last May, and as Rabat has faced more pressure to cooperate with the peace process, Morocco is desperately pressing every button in Washington. The biggest one: American evangelicals.

It seems like an unlikely alliance: A conservative, centuries-old Islamic Monarchy and the religious base of the U.S. far right. But there’s a saying in Washington: All roads lead to Tel Aviv. Morocco has never hid its close relations with Israel, whether acting as a backchannel for Camp David (1979) or, now, as one of its closest allies. Even though it has cost MOrocco on the street, where Islamists now hold sway with the population, Morocco's regime is looks to Washington and Paris for its survival, not to its population. (Western Sahara has also estranged Morocco from Africa, where it is the only African state not to be a part of the African Union.)

Being close to Evangelicals and Israel earns points where it matters most: in the White House. For Morocco, the State Department is filled with too many career officers who actually know the history of the Western Sahara conflict, and are thus sympathetic to Polisario. The White House, on the other hand, is obviously filled with ideologically driven neo-conservatives, with one foot in Evangelical churches and one foot in the Machiavellian philosophy of Leo Strauss. A Moroccan alliance with American Evangelicals accomplishes both by it showing Rabat’s commitment to the neo-conservative agenda.

Let’s take, for example, the website,, which is as sadly propagandistic as it is poorly designed. Ethics and aesthetics aside, the National Clergy Council founded the website. A 'a growing and dynamic nationwide network of church leaders from every Christian tradition,' the National Clergy Council recently held a series of luncheons 'to focus attention on the little-known and unresolved humanitarian crisis in the Western Sahara region of North Africa.' Sounds good, right? Wait to you see the way the free meals were framed:

'Attendees will learn about the abuse of tens of thousands of refugees and the forced abductions of their children as recruits for a once Cuban-backed Marxist revolution in the region. Many of these children, now adults, remain separated from their families. The program will include a visiting delegation from the Western Sahara. Members will tell their own compelling stories. Attendees will also learn of the extraordinary invitation to American church leaders to assist in a non-financial way in resolving this conflict and relieving the suffering of massive numbers of victims.' (
(Associated with this anti-Polisario smear campaign is Michael Kirtley, of rhe 501c3 non-profit “Friendship Caravan” (, which is all about evangelical missions to Morocco. Kirtley’s web-designer is Tim Resch, who runs 'Friends of Morocco', a non-profit association of returned Peace Corps volunteers that makes no qualms about its close cooperation with the Moroccan government.)

Something of this sort could only be put on with the help of the Moroccan government (e.g., to fly in Polisario's 'victims'). Though it was probably the brainchild of one of seven lobbies Rabat has working for it in Washington.

Another noted effort of the pro-Moroccan lobby,, has focused on the now defunct issue of Moroccan POWs held by Polisario. Though it tries to look like some humanitarian initiative, that website was registered by a David White of the powerful Edelman lobbying firm.

Those lobbies (and evangelicals),
detailed in Le Journal, also include many former U.S. diplomats who now stump for Rabat.

Chasli, in his blog, Western Sahara Endgame, has
recently commented on the activities of former U.S. diplomat turned pro-Moroccan lobbyist Robert Holley. Holly's organization, the Moroccan-American Center for Policy (MACP, or Mac-Pee as the folks on the Hill and in State say), is funded by the Moroccan government and has had some recent success raising the profile of the Western Sahara conflict in Washington -- albeit in Morocco's favor. Chasli seems to think it’s unprincipled that Holley went from criticizing Morocco to sucking from its Royal teet. I would argue that if Holley had a principled bone in his body, he probably would have found it hard to work for State Department in Rabat, where U.S. hypocrisy in the Middle East is at its finest.

However, there’s another reason why Morocco is working so hard to recruit evangelicals to its side of the Western Sahara conflict. It’s actually a counter-recruitment effort.

For years, Polisario has been cultivating solidarity among church groups in the United States, including evangelicals. Each year dozens of Sahrawis from the refugee camps visit U.S. families for the summer, trips organized through churches. And, in turn, dozens of church goers visit the camps, along with congressional staffers and the occasional elected official. See the website of Homeland International, which makes the pro-Moroccan sites look pretty shabby.

Perhaps the biggest sign of Polisario's success on this front is that Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma favors a referendum in Western Sahara. Okalahoma is the home of Kerr-McGee, which has a contract with Morocco to illegally look for oil in the occupied Western Sahara. It is also the home of a church group that is very active on the issue. Though Inhofe got more money from “energy/natural resources” contributions in 2002 than any other, he has strangely become one of Polisario’s main supporters among congressional conservatives.

What Morocco fears most is that people in the United States, like those church activists in Oklahoma, will pressure their government into adopting a new policy on Western Sahara. Morocco’s ham-fisted efforts not only seek to give it more clout in the White House’s National Security Council, but also among a grassroots network that is very influential these days -- one that is trending in favor of self-determination for Western Sahara.

But if I were a Moroccan I'd wonder why my government is spending millions on lobbies while my country is
drowning in poverty.



Anonymous said...

Sahara is Moroccan.

and movie makers are more than welcome to bring their well appreciated work to Morocco.

Please don't be mistaken; Moroccans do support their King and their Army.
We marched at 350,000 to chase off the colonialist Spaniards, but we still march at 30 million to protect our integrity and heritage
This is the history of the nation in the (re)making after the colonial disintegration.
This is not some fashionable political or human right issue in need of leftists sympathy. Please learn more about the region's history, ethnic diversity, geostrategy and religion to understand better what is at stake for Spain, Algeria and Morocco.
Our Sahrawi brothers on the other side of the border can come live free in Morocco or continue to live hostage to a mirage of independance created by Algeria and its contractor, Polisario

Anonymous said...

thankyoufor doing this, sahara watch. it is all about people.. regims are corrupt any way..
yesterday, the moroccan king released 48 saharaoui prisoners. acording to a soudi sponsonred tv, al-arabiya after having started the council of saharaoui afairs 'cheif-ed' by former minister of saharaoui afairs khellihena ould rachid.. i wonder where are the others. 33 years of oppression in the western sahara brought more than 48 prisoners to the camps f consentration in morocco. agdez and kellaat magouna has hundreds of prisoners.. we are not talking about the dead. there are hundreds of people that we totally lost track of . we do not know where they are.