- The Washington Times - Monday, November 25, 2013

Officials from Morocco, which has avoided the chaos of the Arab Spring, told their U.S. counterparts over the weekend that the North African kingdom’s “human-centered” approach to counterterrorism and security could be a model for the Middle East and all of Africa.

“Our multidimensional approach to fighting [Islamic] extremism and focusing on human development can be a solution” for other countries, Moroccan Deputy Foreign Minister Mbarka Bouiada told The Washington Times.

Ms. Bouaida said she and other members of the Moroccan delegation headed by King Muhammad VI told U.S. policymakers that they should urge other nations in the region to “adopt our approach.”

“We can be a model. We can export our reforms and our vision,” she said, noting that Morocco is helping Mali, where a French-led African military force booted extremists from the country’s northern desert this year.

Mali asked Morocco for assistance in promoting the kingdom’s more spiritually orientated, politically moderate and tolerant brand of Islam, known as the Sufi-Maliki tradition, as an alternative to the extremist Salafi-Wahabi strand promoted by al Qaeda and militant groups.

Morocco already has begun to train as many as 500 imams selected by the Malian government, said Edward M. Gabriel, former U.S. ambassador to the kingdom.

“It’s a form of Islam that’s tolerant, open to change and reform-minded,” Mr. Gabriel said of Sufi-Maliki Islam.

Morocco also will offer training and other forms of support for next year’s parliamentary elections in Mali, Ms. Bouaida said.

Morocco says it was the first country to recognize the independence of the United States in 1777, Mr. Gabriel said, adding that King Muhammad and his forefathers have ruled the nation since the 1630s.

“There’s a connection [the king] has to a tradition of moderate Islam that’s really important in the Arab world,” said Mr. Gabriel, now an adviser to the Moroccan-American Center.

As part of its campaign against extremism, according to the Congressional Research Service, Morocco has closed unregulated mosques, introduced amnesty and rehabilitation programs for those convicted of terrorist crimes who renounce their ideology, modernized the teaching of Islam and begun promoting moderate religious values on television and radio.

Ms. Bouaida said what Morocco is offering to the region is a security approach “based on our traditions and shared values.”

It was “a security package based on human development — spiritual, economic and social,” she said. “Solutions for poverty and ignorance can make the region safer.”

King Muhammad met President Obama at the White House on Friday, the first official visit by the Moroccan head of state in a decade.

In addition to discussing Morocco’s role in regional security and its continued counterterrorism cooperation with the U.S., the two leaders discussed the Western Sahara — a huge swath of desert that has for years been the site of a separatist insurgency.

“President Obama reaffirmed his support for the autonomy plan” proposed by Morocco, Mr. Gabriel said.

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