Earthquake in Morocco: international aid becomes a question of politics

by MMC
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After last Friday’s earthquake in Morocco, several thousand survivors found themselves homeless, without food or medical assistance. But their government has ignored offers of help from all but Spain, Britain, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.

For what?

Why we wrote this

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Aid donors often attach political conditions to their aid. However, it is rare for an aid recipient to refuse aid for political reasons. This is what Morocco seems to be doing following the recent earthquake.

For officials in the Moroccan capital, Rabat, it’s a question of logistics; If they accepted every offer of help, they say, it would cause chaos at Marrakech’s airport and badly damaged roads.

But politics also seems to play an important role. The four approved aid donors have all either recognized Moroccan sovereignty over the disputed territory of Western Sahara or – like Britain – offered encouraging words.

France, a former colonial power, has clearly not recognized Morocco’s annexation of the territory in 1979, which violated international law. French President Emmanuel Macron has recently sought closer ties with Algeria, Morocco’s arch-enemy, which has also tarnished his reputation in Rabat.

The Moroccan government is “trying to score diplomatic points in the future,” says Zine Ghebouli, an expert on the Maghreb region at the European Council on Foreign Relations in Paris. “Innocent people are dying as authorities uncover their political maneuvers. »

Sixty years ago, shortly before midnight on February 29, 1960, a magnitude 5.8 earthquake struck the Moroccan coastal city of Agadir. At least 15,000 people were killed, a third of the city’s population. French and American military planes were quick to bring relief to the newly independent country.

Now, in the wake of what could turn out to be Morocco’s deadliest earthquake ever recorded – 2,800 people have been killed and thousands are missing – Paris and Washington have again offered help. But this time they were rebuffed.

Moroccan non-governmental organizations joined European humanitarian organizations in search and rescue efforts, and Moroccan military helicopters began dropping aid packages into isolated villages in the Atlas Mountains, the epicenter of the earthquake. But so far the government has allowed only four countries – Spain, Britain, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates – to provide official aid.

Why we wrote this

A story centered on

Aid donors often attach political conditions to their aid. However, it is rare for an aid recipient to refuse aid for political reasons. This is what Morocco seems to be doing following the recent earthquake.

As people in isolated mountainous areas struggle to get help, with some saying they feel abandoned, Morocco clearly needs help. So why is he being so discerning in asking?

“Morocco says it’s very difficult to coordinate aid, and I’m sure it’s very intimidating. … But everything is politics in this region, and I think Morocco will prioritize help from strong and reliable partners,” says Zine Ghebouli, visiting researcher for the Middle East and North Africa program at the European Council foreign relations.

“They are trying to filter partnerships, to score diplomatic points in the future,” he adds. “Innocent people are dying as authorities uncover their political maneuvers. »

Mosa’ab Elshamy/AP

Rescuers try to recover the body of a woman killed by the earthquake, in the town of Imi N’tala, Morocco, September 12, 2023.

In Morocco to choose

The Moroccan authorities explained their choice by a logistical choice, in order to avoid chaos at Marrakech airport and on the seriously damaged roads. In a video message to the Moroccan public on Tuesday, French President Emmanuel Macron said that while “we have the possibility of providing direct humanitarian aid,” it was up to Rabat to organize international support.

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