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Why isn’t Morocco accepting more help?

A woman reacts near the rubble of a building in the aftermath of a deadly earthquake in Talat N'yaaqoub, Morocco, September 11, 2023.

A woman reacts near the rubble of a building in the aftermath of a deadly earthquake in Talat N'yaaqoub, Morocco, September 11, 2023.

Hannah McKay, TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY via Reuters

Rescue teams organized by the Moroccan government began reaching remote villages in the Atlas Mountains yesterday, three days after the most devastating earthquake to strike the region in a century. Hopes for survivors grow slimmer by the minute, and the death count is approaching 3,000 at time of writing.


Faced with criticism about the apparent sluggishness of the government’s response, Rabat has begun pushing back. Government spokesperson Mustapha Baitas said the government had deployed military and civilian assets in a “swift and effective intervention to rescue the victims and recover the bodies” following the “instructions of His Royal Majesty.”

Don’t overlook that last bit: King Mohammed VI has worked hard to establish an image of himself as connected to the Moroccan public, and has played a central role in managing the emergency response due to his command of the military and control of foreign policy. Officials reluctant to preempt any royal statements may have contributed to some of the perceptions of a mismanaged response, according to Eurasia Group senior analyst Omar Monieb.

Rabat also took flak for only accepting aid from four countries, the United Kingdom, Spain, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar, even though more neighbors and partners offered to step in. Monieb said there is a pragmatic element – too many crews attempting to use damaged infrastructure can hamper rescue operations – but politics played a role as well.

“Spain is a close ally of Morocco, and relations have improved significantly over the past couple of years, especially with the position that Spain has taken recently on the Sahara,” he said, referring to Madrid’s recent recognition of Moroccan claims over the former Spanish colony known as Western Sahara. The U.A.E. and Qatar have both long recognized Rabat’s claims. While the U.K.’s position is more circumspect, a senior Conservative Party MP recently backed Morocco’s position as the “only possible option” after visiting the region.

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