Libya’s Freeing of Nurses Did Not Play Well in Maghreb

RABAT, Morocco — Getting people on the streets and in the cafés to talk about today’s elections in Rabat has been difficult. Nobody seems to have strong opinions about the candidates; and fewer than I expected planned to go to the polls. Perhaps it is the fact that true power rest with the king, no matter what the parliament looks like.

Suprisingly though, about half of the people I talked with over the past couple of days here have been very eager to talk about politics in Libya. It seems that the freeing of the Belgian nurses did not
play well in the Maghreb. Nobody I spoke with would entertain the idea that the nurses might be innocent of the charges of infecting hundreds of children with HIV. They would only believe that the West protected the nurses from the death penalty; despite the evidence to the contrary.

There was a blood drive yesterday on the main street in town, Ave Mohammed V, but few were participating. After I realized what it was, I asked some people if they would give blood. There were no takers.

The discussions got me thinking about how the belief that the Belgian nurses were guilty could affect Morocco’s relations with Washington. The idea that the West is only looking out for its own probably drives many people into the arms of those who are percieved to be standing up to Western bullies. Here, this largely means Islamist groups.

In today’s elections, those that did vote are suspected of voting in large numbers for an Islamic party. The PJD is moderate in its positions on domestic affairs, but is quite anti-American in its announced foreign policies. Although today’s vote will probably not affect relations very much — after all the King still controls Morocco’s foreign policy — the PJD could make it tough for Washington.

In the long term; if the country moves toward a more empowered parliament, Washington may loose a very important partner in the region.

UPDATE: See Adam Wolfe’s election post-mortem here.

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