Morocco: The West’s Gateway to Africa?


Casablanca. A bustling and modern city

“There isn’t much to actually do in Dakhla, but it’s a beautiful place to just be.” This aphorism came from a middle-aged Moroccan woman seated next to me as we flew into the small coastal city in the Western Sahara. She was right that Dakhla is gorgeous, but if the Moroccan government sees its vision come to pass, there will soon be much more than beaches and dunes to attract people to the city, and much more to do.

The small metropolis of 170,000 barely existed a decade a ago, but after millions of dollars of investment it now boasts greatly expanded infrastructure, housing, business activity, and stands ready to play an important role at the front lines of Morocco’s plan to become a platform for access to the greater African continent. The continually expanding port now supplies over three quarters of the seafood in Morocco in addition to growing exports to Europe, Asia, and Latin America. Meanwhile, the last ten years have seen the creation of over 3,000 small and medium sized businesses in the area. And this growth is no accident. Now that the violence between the Polisario Front and the Moroccan government is in the distant past and a final negotiated settlement appears eventually inevitable — the government believes that Dakhla and the greater south are positioned to be one of the first success stories of the new economic regionalization plan and can serve as a springboard for investments from international corporations interested in serving larger markets in west and central Africa.

Since the uprisings of the Arab Spring, the Kingdom of Morocco has fared far better than many of its neighbors, with a new constitution ushering in several years of reform rather than revolution. This has allowed the country to set itself apart from some regional competitors and left it prepared to leverage its significant advantages in banking, location, and stability — key considerations for succeeding on a continent that is quickly becoming harder and harder for corporations to ignore. Africa already represents more consumer spending than Russia with a larger GDP than Brazil and Russia combined. Over the next decade those numbers are projected to grow tremendously as 17% of the world’s population will call Africa their home by 2020 and rapid urbanization and economic growth will continue to expand the middle class.

It is often said in Morocco that Tangier is their gateway to the north while Dakhla is their gateway to the south. With free trade agreements in place with the United States, EU, Turkey, and several Arab countries, the government appears to have the international structures in place that can compliment their long term investments in education and governance — critical to realizing their vision of becoming a regional platform and keeping those doors wide open. When King Mohammed VI visits Washington, DC this week to there will surely be discussions about security cooperation and cultural dialogue. But rest assured that the delegation will also be looking to put on their best business-friendly face as they roll out the welcome mats to potential investors. At a time when stable governments in the region seem scarce and economic diplomacy has become the norm rather than the exception, the Moroccans are likely to find a warm reception.


Event Video: The End of Power with Moises Naim

Renowned thinker and writer Moises Naim joined us at NDN to discuss the future of power and the international political landscape. He unpacked some of the themes of his latest book, The End of Power, and presented a vision that drew a through-line between the events of the Arab Spring and many other emerging global trends.

This wide-ranging conversation was moderated by NDN’s Simon Rosenberg and explored economic and institutional challenges that are coming to define our globalized world. You can watch the full video below and pick up a copy of his new book here.

OpEd in The Hill: Time for GOP to Move Beyond Benghazi

The Hill


Time for GOP to Move Beyond Benghazi

by Bradley Bosserman

After 11 congressional hearings, an independent review and the release of 100 pages of relevant interagency emails about Benghazi, all serious questions about the attacks on our diplomatic facilities in Libya have been answered. Only political grandstanding remains — and the stakes in the Middle East and North Africa are far too high for the American people to tolerate point-scoring in lieu of genuine action.

In his May address at the National Defense University, President Obama observed that moving forward in the region will require not only a new strategy, but also a new politics. Republican members of Congress have been doggedly focused on perceived shortcomings of U.S. policy in Middle East, but they should now apply that vigor to serious bipartisan efforts to aid the democratic transitions throughout the Arab world, protect American personnel abroad, secure US interests and give our government the tools it needs to plan and execute a real, long-term Middle East strategy. Congressional Republicans can show that they are serious about these goals by pursuing at least these three critical policies:

Continue reading

MENA Chat Webcast – Reforming Aid To Egypt

MENA Aid To Egypt Spreecast jpegIn this latest MENA Chat webcast, Bradley Bosserman explores the strategy and challenges that underlie U.S. democracy assistance in the Middle East. He is joined by Dr. Sarah Bush, whose recent research provides important insights on possible reforms. Rebecca Abou-Chedid is also featured.  Drawing on her experience in Cairo she discusses some of the ways these dynamics play out in Egypt. Follow this link to view the webcast.

As background — Secretary Kerry, following his first Middle East trip at the helm of the  State Department, approved the release of $250 million in aid to the young Egyptian government. While Egypt’s economy remains on the brink and in desperate need of foreign assistance, the move is not without controversy. Republican Senator Marco Rubio last week proposed legislation that would place new conditions on further aid disbursement, while some activists remain critical of funding the government without assurances that they are committed to making real progress toward more democratic institutions and protecting key political and civil rights.

Dr. Sarah Bush is an expert on foreign aid strategy and Assistant Professor of Political Science at Temple University. She recently published “Confront or Conform? Rethinking U.S. Democracy Assistance” for the Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED).

Rebecca Abou-Chedid is a Fellow at the Truman National Security Project, Co-Chair of the Board for Just Vision, and former National Political Director for the Arab American Institute.

A Tragedy in Tunis

NDN’s MENA Initiative welcomes this latest essay from guest contributor Tristan Dreisbach. Tristan is a Middle East specialist who recently traded in his perch at a think tank in New York City in order to conduct field work in Tunis. He blogs at and lives on Twitter as @theonlytristan. We will be running some of his writings periodically.

Photo by FETHI BELAID via Global Post

Photo by FETHI BELAID via Global Post

On the morning of Wednesday, February 6th, everything changed in Tunisia. Anti-Islamist opposition leader Shokry Belaid was gunned down outside his home in Tunis, introducing brutal political violence to an already tense environment. While much remains unclear, including identities and affiliations of the assassins, the dynamics of a new phase for post-revolutionary Tunisia seem to be taking shape.

Continue reading

New Report: Recommendations on US Policy Toward the Middle East

POMED ReportThe Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED) last week issued a new report full of recommendations on ways that President Obama could adjust his Middle East policy in his second term. In “Moving Beyond Rhetoric,” POMED collected the succinct and varied suggestions of 15 ideologically diverse MENA experts which, when taken together, offer a vision of a more bold, engaged, and robust approach to the region. POMED Executive Director Stephen McInerney summarized the report’s common conclusions as three central take-aways:

Take Bold Steps: Avoid the timidity, caution, and “tinkering around the margins” that have thus far characterized the U.S. response to dramatic and historic changes.  Take assertive steps to help influence the outcomes of transitions at this critical moment.

Engage More Broadly: Reverse the longstanding tendency of relying primarily on narrow, government-to-government relationships.  Strengthen relationships with a diverse set of actors across the region—not just the new faces in power.

Use Leverage and Incentives: Demonstrate a willingness to use leverage and offer concrete incentives to positively influence the actions of key actors in the region, including U.S. allies.  Don’t just declare a desire or an expectation that governments will take constructive steps—clearly identify rewards and consequences to encourage such actions.

The full report is available for download on their website, and it’s a must-read for anyone interested in the near-term future of US policy in the region.

Tunis After Two Years – A View From The Ground

NDN’s MENA Initiative welcomes the following essay from guest contributor Tristan Dreisbach. Tristan is a Middle East specialist who recently traded in his perch at a think tank in New York City in order to conduct field work in Tunis. He blogs at and lives on Twitter as @theonlytristan. We will be printing some of his writings periodically.



Arriving in Tunisia almost exactly two years after the revolution, it’s hard to imagine that political speech here had been suppressed for decades. Every Tunisian I meet effuses political opinions and fascinating new perspectives on the state of affairs, and my understanding of the country’s post-revolutionary journey changes, often drastically, with each conversation. Where there had been a handful of media outlets walking in lock-step with the president, there is now a ballooning number of television stations, newspapers, and websites providing an immense public space for political discourse. To someone brought up with a thoroughly American sense of the hallowed role of free expression in a vibrant democratic republic, it would seem that things are on the right track.

Continue reading