Absolute monarchy…? Rigged Constitution…? Tortured political prisoners…? Never mind, Washington lobbying firms receive big bucks to sugarcoat the narrative. Free Arabs reveals who pays whom, and how much.
Here’s what the Moroccan crown wants you to think: After protests broke out across the country one year ago, the kingdom reacted more receptive to the demands of its people, as opposed to the crumbling dictatorships elsewhere in North Africa. King Mohamed VI instituted sweeping reforms, most notably a strikingly liberal constitution, approved in an entirely unsuspicious referendum by a whopping 98 percent of Moroccans. Sure, the country still has problems -- notably, the ongoing friction between an Islamist-leaning elected government and the monarchy -- but by and large, in Morocco’s version of the Arab Uprisings, the people chose reform over revolution.
It’s a narrative that the monarchy is willing to pay handsomely to advance in Washington’s corridors of power. Through the help of lobbying and PR firms, subsidized junkets, and panel discussions composed entirely of pro-regime analysts, the Moroccan regime has solidified its presence in the U.S. capital and successfully shaped public opinion in its favor.
Beneath this façade, however, the regime is grappling with a disgruntled populace. Little by way of reforms has changed. Additionally, the familiar faces of cronyism and corruption from the previous government reappeared as royal advisers, appointed by the king himself. Throughout social media, calls for anti-regime protests on January 13 proliferated, drawing sizeable crowds, which were of course met with police truncheons and arrests. Aside from political dissent, demands for economic reform and employment opportunities remain, as unemployed graduates march on a regular basis in the streets of Rabat. The king himself was even the target of both political and economic dissent as crowds gathered in Rabat denouncing the palace budget.
The kingdom’s spin doctors may try to paint Morocco as a land of tranquility, but all conditions point toward more unrest in the country’s future.
Morocco has advanced its message through organizations with anodyne names, such as the Moroccan American Cultural Center, Moroccan American Trade and Investment Council, and the Moroccan American Center for Policy, all of which are offshoots of the Moroccan American Center. The Moroccan American Center is a nonprofit funded and supervised by the Moroccan government. While these may sound like a cultural organization or an independent think tank, they are actually a vehicle for advancing the Moroccan regime’s interests.
Public records available on the Department of Justice’s Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) site show the Moroccan American Center for Policy (MACP) has been actively lobbying U.S. policymakers immediately since its registration in 2004, in support of the priorities of the Moroccan regime.
MACP’s latest supplemental statement also shows a long list of contacts with Congressmen and members of the media. It also includes a breakdown of MACP’s expenses, showing that the organization spent $648,590 on consultants and another $183,279 on advertising and public relations -- from May to October 2012.
Right after the kingdom was shaken by street protests in 2011, a Washington-based NGO funded by the Moroccan government spent $650,000 on consultants and another $180,000 on advertising and public relations.
MACP pushes the regime’s agenda on a wide array of issues, notably its territorial claims over the Western Sahara and its bilateral relationship with the United States. The policy section on MACP’s website lays out Morocco’s position on the Western Sahara dispute, linking to a 2009 letter sent to President Barack Obama by 233 Congressmen that warns of the emergence of al Qaeda in the region, and claims, “The single greatest obstacle impeding the security cooperation necessary to combat this transnational threat is the unresolved territorial dispute over the Western Sahara.” Direct Al Qaeda involvement with the Polisario remains a speculation, one peddled by proponents of Morocco’s autonomy plan.
None of this is illegal, and such activism has gotten results for the Moroccan kingdom. On Dec. 23, 2011, for the first time, Congress and the president approved the use of U.S. aid money to Morocco in the Western Sahara.
MACP has also employed the public relations firm Beckerman to advance its message, according to FARA records. A 2007 letter by the managing director of MACP to Avalanche Strategic Communications (ASC), which was acquired by Beckerman in 2009, states that ASC “will focus on strategic and programming services related to the media, news and policy makers…outreach to the Jewish community and media, and other groups and individuals that impact US foreign policy.”
Between March 2011 and September 2011, Beckerman billed MACP a total of $106,136.73 in costs detailed as “professional services,” reimbursements, and travel expenses. Midge Decter, senior vice president of Beckerman, is publicly registered as a foreign agent to conduct media relations for MACP. Decter links the Moroccan monarchy with the pro-Israel right-wing of American politics: She is the daughter of neo-conservative journalist Midge Decter and sister of Rachel Decter Abrams, who is married to former deputy National Security Advisor Elliott Abrams. Rachel Abrams was also involved in a controversy with Washington Post blogger, Jennifer Rubin, whose posts on Morocco have constantly spoken highly of the regime’s “reforms.” FARA records also note that MACP has previously met with Rubin, discussing topics that include “women’s rights, extremis, and Morocco.”