Jan 30, 2020

Socio-Economic Development and Violent Extremism in Morocco

Morocco’s Regional Policy, Migration and (De-)Radicalization – Policy Briefs from the Region and Europe

Similar to many other countries in the region, violent extremist groups and ideologies pose a significant threat to Moroccan society and the stability of the country. In response, the government has pursued a highly security-based approach, which has resulted in the arrest of over 3,000 (alleged) jihadis and the dismantling of 186 terrorist cells between 2002 and 2018. While the root causes are multi- faceted, Morocco’s ongoing socio-economic challenges, which have reinforced economic and political grievances, have fueled radicalization. For this reason, some have demanded that the government prioritize greater domestic engagement instead of increasing investment in countries south of the Sahara.



Over the past years, Morocco has reoriented its regional foreign policy and accelerated its economic integration with Sub-Saharan Africa. In its efforts to champion itself as a regional leader and geostrategic hub, Morocco has not only increased its economic and diplomatic ties with its southern neighbors, but has also used its new migration policy as a soft diplomacy tool.

This edited volume brings together papers written by participants in the workshop series “Promotion of Think Tank Work on Violent Extremism in Morocco as well as Morocco’s Regional Policy in Sub-Sahara Africa and the MENA Region,” held in Berlin in December 2018 and Rabat in March 2019. The workshop was conducted as part of DGAP’s project on strengthening think tanks and similar institutions in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region and Europe. The authors analyze key aspects and challenges of Morocco’s strategy to prevent and counter violent extremism (P/CVE), and assess the different facets and implications of its regional policy in Sub-Sahara Africa and the MENA region. The volume offers recommendations for the Moroccan government as well as the EU and its member states.

Among the recommendations are the following: the Moroccan government should develop a more holistic approach to prevent and counter violent extremism that involves and empowers a broader range of actors. Measures should place greater emphasis on addressing the root causes of violent extremism and reintegration programs. More research should be conducted in order to better understand different drivers of radicalization and to develop tailor-made programs. In addition, religious associations and scholars should be trained to enhance their ability to counter extremist narratives. Overall, a better coordination between the various stakeholders is considered crucial in order to synergize their activities. While the potential of women as actors in P/CVE is increasingly recognized by the Moroccan state, their involvement should be expanded to penetrate all levels of P/CVE activities rather than being confined to a gendered approach.

In addition to targeted P/CVE programs, targeted policies to support socio-economic development would be essential to tackle radicalization. In this context, Morocco’s increasing economic cooperation with Sub-Saharan African countries could offer new opportunities. In order to alleviate concerns among politicians and private sector groups in some of those countries regarding the possible negative impact of Morocco’s integration into the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) on their domestic economies, the Moroccan government and its partner countries should engage more closely with private sector representatives.

Greater cooperation between Morocco and its southern neighbors could also benefit the EU and its member states. Expanding its cooperation with Morocco could allow the EU easier access to African markets. In addition, Morocco’s “soft” security approach, which relies on the religious authority of the King and Morocco’s Sufi tradition, to help Sub-Saharan African countries in the fight against extremist ideologies, could support the EU’s own security efforts in the region. Hence, the EU should adjust its assistance to the African Peace and Security Architecture (APSA) to encourage a more comprehensive “soft” security cooperation between Morocco and Sub-Saharan African countries. At the same time, the EU should ensure that safeguards are put in place to make sure that the possible authoritarian side-effects of Morocco’s strategy are kept in check.


Chapter I: Violent Extremism and Preventing/Countering Violent Extremism Strategies in Morocco

“Morocco’s Female Islamic State Migrants – A Neglected Aspect of the Foreign Fighter Problem”: Lisa Watanabe draws attention to the fact that the drivers of female migration to the Islamic State as well as the specific challenges related to their return remain understudied. She argues that more gender-conscious research is needed to enhance understanding of the dynamics and to develop counter-narratives, as well as de-radicalization and reintegration programs for female returnees.

Promoting the Agency of Women in Preventing and Countering Violent Extremism in Morocco”: Assessing the inclusion of women in P/CVE strategies in Morocco, Clarisse Anceau advocates for granting women a more prominent role in such programs and enhancing women’s agency. To this end, women in areas particularly affected by radicalization should be involved in the design and implementation of P/CVE programs. In addition, greater support should be extended to women’s organizations and cooperation with these actors should be increased.

Morocco’s Murshidat as Actors in Counter-Radicalization Policies”: Meriem El Haitami discusses the role of female religious leaders (murshidat) in Morocco’s strategy to counter and prevent violent extremism. While she highlights the contribution of murshidats to the state’s C/PVE approach, she warns against a gendered approach and emphasizes that the role of women should not only focus on prevention efforts. Rather, women should also be included in reconstruction and peacebuilding processes. Privileging the practice of independent reasoning (ijtihad) could allow murshidats to play an important role in advancing a more tolerant interpretation of Islam.

Official Islam’s Involvement in Preventing Violent Extremism – Critical Insights from Morocco”: Salim Hmimnat analyses the role of Morocco’s religious bureaucracy in the state’s strategy to prevent violent extremism. He argues that the creation of an intergovernmental body could facilitate better coordination of activities between different institutions and create new synergies. In addition, providing training for religious associations and scholars as well as evaluating the impact of activities based on assessment indicators could increase the effectiveness of Morocco’s PVE efforts.

Preventing and Countering Violent Extremism – The Role of Local Community Broadcasting”: Drawing on best practice examples of community radio programs in Morocco, Hamdi Echkaou emphasizes the importance and ability of community radio broadcasting to address social issues and positively serve communities by focusing on their particular needs. He advocates for the use of community radio broadcasting to prevent violent extremism. Such an approach would need to engender new attitudes of interaction that adapt to the nature of the topics aired and the community being targeted.

Chapter II: Morocco’s Regional Policy and Implications for EU-Morocco Relations

Streamlining Moroccan ‘Soft’ Security in Sub-Saharan Africa – Inclusion is Key”: Žilvinas Švedkauskas analyses the use of Sufism and Sufi networks in Morocco’s foreign policy strategy vis-à-vis Sub-Saharan Africa. He cautions that despite the international recognition for Morocco’s “soft” security approach, the authoritarian side-effects of Rabat’s efforts to transpose its approach southwards should not be overlooked. For this reason, the European Union and its member states should formulate a strategy that acknowledges the merits of Morocco’s regional engagement, while ensuring that safeguards against authoritarian exploitation exist.

Rethinking the Economics of Morocco’s Regional Policy”: Abdelouahed Eloufir assesses the economics of Morocco’s new regional policy, which has seen a shift towards increasing engagement with Sub-Saharan African countries. According to the author, Morocco and its Sub-Saharan African partner countries should engage more proactively with private sector representatives, who have voiced concern over Morocco’s integration into ECOWAS. In addition, European and African businesses could benefit from positive economic spillover effects if cooperation between Morocco and Algeria improved. Consequently, the EU and the African Union should increase efforts to mediate between the two sides and support regional economic integration.

Morocco’s South-South Cooperation Strategies – An Advantage for Existing North-South Partnerships”: Ingrid Heidlmayr-Chegdaly argues that Morocco’s growing engagement with its southern neighborhood presents an opportunity for European decision-makers. Morocco’s strategic position and relations with Sub-Saharan African countries could benefit the EU’s own Africa policy. Expanding cooperation with Morocco could improve the accessibility of African markets for the EU. At the same time, Morocco should use its own economic and political institutions in a more targeted way to better advance its agenda with the EU.

Morocco’s Migration Policy at Stake – Between Foreign Policy Gains and Human Rights Costs”: Tachfine Baida analyses the new Moroccan migration policy, which was adopted in the aftermath of the Arab Uprisings of 2011. He argues that while the policy has helped Morocco’s international image, it has only had limited success in facilitating the integration of migrants at home and protecting their rights. For this reason, an adjustment of the policy is needed. This includes the introduction of measures that protect migrants from violence, the adoption of a migration and asylum law in line with human rights standards, and an increase in funds for integration and protection programs.

About the workshop

The papers were written by participants of the workshop “Promotion of Think Tank Work on Violent Extremism and Morocco’s Regional Policy in Sub-Sahara Africa as well as the MENA Region” organized by the German Council on Foreign Relations’ Middle East and North Africa Program in the winter of 2018 and spring of 2019 in cooperation with the Rabat Social Studies Institute (RSSI). The workshop is part of the program’s project on the promotion of think tank work in the Middle East and North Africa, which aims to strengthen the scientific and technical capacities of civil society actors in the region and the EU who are engaged in research and policy analysis and advice. It is realized with the support of the German Federal Foreign Office and the Institute for Foreign Cultural Relations (ifa e.V.).

The content of the papers does not reflect the opinion of the DGAP. Responsibility for the information and views expressed herein lies entirely with the authors. The editorial closing date was March 31, 2019.


Clarisse Anceau, Tachfine Baida, Hamdi Echkaou, Meriem El Haitami, Abdelouahed Eloufir, Ingrid ­Heidlmayr-Chegdaly, Salim Hmimnat, Zilvinas Svedkauskas, and Lisa Watanabe

Edited by Laura Lale Kabis-Kechrid

Bibliographic data

Fakoussa-Behrens, Dina, and Laura Lale Kabis-Kechrid. “Socio-Economic Development and Violent Extremism in Morocco .” January 2020.

DGAP Report No. 4, January 2020 (first published in July 2019), 44 pp.