The King of Counterterrorism

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Last week, Morocco replaced Turkey as co-chair (along with the Netherlands) of the Global Counterterrorism Forum (GCTF).

Since 2014, King Mohammed VI of Morocco has visibly ramped up his country’s counterterrorism efforts. In accordance with the country’s “comprehensive strategy for countering violent extremism” (CVE), local and state police have increased their presence in the streets, investigations have benefitted from regional and international cooperation, and dozens of suspects have been captured and incarcerated. The effectiveness of these tactics was validated last week when Morocco replaced Turkey as co-chair of the Global Counterterrorism Forum (GCTF), a consortium of nations founded by the United States for combatting armed extremist groups.

Aside from law enforcement, the king has also enlisted rhetoric to aid his efforts. For example, he has relied on the Rabita Mohammadia, a center of Islamic scholarship, to debunk extremist views of Islam and train religious scholars (including female clerics) according to more moderate interpretations. Mohammed VI has also given various talks at conferences and other formal settings, including an international conference on Islam last week in Istanbul. There he called for international cooperation in fighting armed extremists and the “demons of sectarianism” that beset so many societies in the Middle East.

Of course no strategy is without its drawbacks, and Morocco’s is not an exception. The king’s talk last week in Istanbul, for example, was as much a chance to vaunt his own country’s success as it was a call for global collaboration. Domestically, critics of the king’s multilateral counterterrorism efforts point to a heightened sense of fear among the general populace, which goes along with broader questions about Morocco’s surveillance state apparatus. Also at issue is the perennial question of the Western Sahara, which compromises the kingdom’s integrity when it claims to be a cooperative partner in areas of international concern.

But it would be hard to deny the positive strides Morocco has made in counterterrorism strategy. Whether the king can reconcile those efforts with the Western Sahara question especially remains to be seen, but either way, Morocco will be a country to watch as these areas continue to develop.

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