- The Washington Times - Friday, April 19, 2002

When Morocco's King Mohammed VI arrives in Washington this weekend, he will not be received as the dashing "king of hearts" as during his first state visit nearly two years ago.

This time, the young North African monarch comes in the wake of massive government-backed demonstrations in support of the Palestinians, and against the United States, that coincided with Secretary of State Colin L. Powell's recent visit.

During a public appearance, the king demonstratively reprimanded the U.S. envoy for not heading straight to Jerusalem.

However, King Mohammed's public stance against what is termed "Israeli crimes in the occupied territories" in Morocco, comes at a time when his government is battling a threat from Islamic radicals.

During Mr. Powell's visit, the government permitted all main political parties to bus demonstrators from various parts of the country to participate in a massive rally in the capital of Rabat where some burned American flags.

Historically, Morocco has played a role as a peacemaker in the Middle East and has been a loyal friend of the United States. Morocco also has historical ties with Israel; several prominent Israelis were born in Morocco.

But like in many Arab nations, the legitimacy of Morocco's monarchy is being challenged by radical Islamists.

Illiteracy, high unemployment and widespread poverty are in sharp contrast to the lavish lifestyles of those connected with the royal family. Furthermore, Islamists cast doubt on the monarch's claim to religious authority.

Moreover, the king has to balance widespread public support for the Palestinian cause and condemnation of Israel's policies with his need for U.S. backing in the smoldering conflict in his back yard.

One of the main goals for the Moroccan monarch's visit to Washington is to garner U.S. support for Morocco's continued claim over Western Sahara, annexed shortly after former colonial power Spain pulled out in 1976.

For decades, the Algerian-based militant Polisario Front has waged a guerrilla war in this region, fighting for independence of the phosphate-rich strip of land.

Former Secretary of State James Baker, the U.N. special envoy to Western Sahara, has thus far not succeeded in negotiating a settlement for the beleaguered land.

U.N. efforts to organize a referendum on whether the territory should belong to Morocco or become an independent nation have continuously been frustrated by disputes about who is eligible to vote.

Like his father, the late King Hassan II, King Mohammed has shown no sign of relinquishing Morocco's claim over the disputed region.

Since September 11, tourism, a major foreign investment earner, has dramatically declined and the need for economic aid is becoming ever more crucial.

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