Geopolitics of Morocco and the Western Sahara

Morocco map
The map of the Kingdom of Morocco (Credits: JRC (ECHO, EC), CC BY 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

Geopolitical Report ISSN 2785-2598 Volume 42 Issue 14
Author: Silvia Boltuc

Executive Summary

Morocco’s geopolitical landscape has undergone a substantial transformation in recent years, driven by assertive foreign policy measures and strategic alliances with global powers such as the United States and Israel.

These alliances have enhanced Rabat’s defence capabilities and fortified its international stature. Concurrently, Morocco has pursued significant domestic development initiatives, emphasising economic modernisation and renewable energy investments.

The Western Sahara dispute continues to be a prominent geopolitical matter, as Morocco’s attempts to assimilate the disputed territory and to contrast the Polisario Front’s pursuit of independence and Algeria’s regional aspirations.

This report explores the geopolitical context, risk scenarios, and strategic implications of Morocco’s actions and the Western Sahara conflict.

Morocco: Geopolitical Context

Morocco’s strategic location at the crossroads of Europe, Africa, and the Middle East further enhances its geopolitical significance. The country’s extensive coastline and proximity to major maritime routes make it a crucial player in global trade networks. By investing in infrastructure and modernising its ports, the Kingdom aims to become a key logistics hub for transcontinental trade.

Morocco’s strategic alliances with the United States and Israel have become cornerstones of its foreign policy. These relationships have facilitated extensive military cooperation, including aid, training programmes, and access to advanced military technologies.

This has considerably improved the country’s defence stance and its capability to safeguard national interests. The enhancement of military capabilities shows Morocco’s commitment to asserting its sovereignty and promoting regional stability. These alliances have provided Rabat with a diplomatic edge, enabling it to leverage international support in contentious issues such as the Western Sahara dispute.

Morocco commits itself to economic modernisation domestically and positions itself for a Green Revolution. Efforts to extend its continental shelf to the Tropic Seamount aim to unlock resources critical for emerging industries, such as electric vehicles and solar energy.

Investments in renewable energy, particularly solar and wind, are central to Rabat’s strategy to reduce dependence on fossil fuels and address environmental concerns. The Ouarzazate Solar Power Station, one of the largest in the world, exemplifies the Kingdom’s ambitious renewable energy agenda.

Morocco’s political stability under a constitutional monarchy provides a stable governance framework, although social unrest occasionally surfaces because of high unemployment and poverty.

King Mohammed VI’s reign has seen significant political reforms aimed at decentralising power and promoting economic liberalisation. However, the centralisation of political power and constraints on civil liberties remain points of contention. Despite these difficulties, the Moroccan government has upheld a level of relative stability, which is of utmost importance in attracting foreign investment and ensuring economic growth.

The economy’s diversification across sectors like tourism, agriculture, manufacturing, and phosphate mining reduces its vulnerability to sector-specific shocks.

Morocco’s tourism sector, in particular, has been a major catalyst for economic expansion, capitalising on the country’s diverse cultural heritage and stunning natural scenery. The manufacturing sector, including automotive and aerospace industries, has also seen substantial growth, bolstered by foreign direct investment and government incentives.

The Dakhla Atlantic Port, the country’s most significant infrastructure project, exemplifies its strategic initiatives. Originating as part of the National Port’s Strategy, the port aims to enhance economic activities in the region and establish Morocco as a regional trade hub.

This is in line with the New Development Model for the Southern Province of the Kingdom, which aims to tackle economic vulnerabilities and stimulate diversification in the Western Sahara area. The port should enhance regional integration and economic cooperation by facilitating trade, not only for Morocco but also for landlocked Sahel countries.

Morocco, Dakhla, Silvia Boltuc
Silvia Boltuc, SpecialEurasia Managing Director, during her meeting with Mounir Houari, the General Manager of the Regional Investment Center of Dakhla Oued Eddahab (Credits: SpecialEurasia)

Read also | The Dakhla Atlantic Port: Challenges and Opportunities in Western Sahara

Risk Scenarios

One major risk scenario involves terrorism and security threats. Despite robust anti-terrorism measures, Morocco remains susceptible to domestic and regional terrorism, posing risks to public safety, tourism, and investor confidence.

Given its geographical proximity to volatile areas like the Sahel and its strategic position as a transit point for migration to Europe, the country faces an increased vulnerability to extremist activities. The Moroccan government has implemented comprehensive counter-terrorism strategies, including intelligence sharing with international partners, to mitigate these threats.

Regional instability, particularly tensions with the Polisario Front and Algeria over Western Sahara, could escalate into broader conflicts, disrupting stability and economic activities. The Western Sahara conflict remains a protracted and unresolved issue, with both Morocco and the Polisario Front maintaining entrenched positions.

The involvement of Algeria in supporting the Polisario Front adds a layer of complexity to the situation, as it introduces a regional aspect to the conflict. Any escalation could lead to military confrontations, disrupting trade routes and investment flows, and destabilising the broader Maghreb region.

Climate change presents another significant threat. The Kingdom’s agricultural sector, which is vital for the livelihoods of many, is highly susceptible to climatic fluctuations. The potential consequences of droughts, floods, and other natural disasters on agricultural productivity and infrastructure are significant, causing extensive adaptation measures.

The agricultural sector’s reliance on rain-fed farming exacerbates its vulnerability to climatic variations. The government has started various programmes to improve water management and promote sustainable agricultural practices, but the scale of the challenge remains significant.

Economic vulnerabilities also pose risks. External factors such as global commodity prices, trade disruptions, and fluctuations in tourism demand could adversely affect Morocco’s economy, exacerbating fiscal deficits and debt burdens.

The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the economy’s susceptibility to external shocks, with significant effects on tourism and export revenues. Diversifying the economy and building resilience against global market fluctuations are critical for long-term stability.

Governance challenges persist despite political reforms. The presence of endemic corruption, political centralisation, and limited civil liberties have a detrimental effect on social cohesion and inhibits inclusive development efforts.

Corruption in various sectors deters foreign investment and erodes public trust in government institutions. Continuing activities to address corruption involve legal reforms and heightened transparency, although progress has been sluggish. The centralisation of political power in the monarchy limits the effectiveness of elected bodies, constraining democratic governance and civil liberties.

The Western Sahara conflict remains a focal point of geopolitical tension. Rabat’s integration efforts, including infrastructure projects and attracting investments, aim to merge its control over the region. However, the Polisario Front continues to push for an UN-supervised referendum on self-determination, maintaining international pressure on the Kingdom.

The international community remains divided on the issue, with some countries supporting Morocco’s autonomy plan and others advocating for the Sahrawi people’s right to self-determination. The lack of a definitive resolution perpetuates instability and poses a significant challenge to Morocco’s geopolitical ambitions.


Strategic alliances, economic modernisation, and efforts to assert control over Western Sahara characterise Morocco’s geopolitical landscape.

The Western Sahara conflict remains a significant geopolitical issue. Morocco’s efforts to integrate the region through large-scale infrastructure projects and attracting investments aim to solidify its control. However, the ongoing dispute with the Polisario Front and the region’s complex political dynamics continue to pose challenges.

In summary, Morocco’s strategic initiatives and geopolitical manoeuvres reflect a multifaceted approach to strengthening its position both domestically and internationally. The outcomes of these efforts, particularly regarding the Western Sahara conflict, will significantly influence Morocco’s future geopolitical landscape and its role in regional and global affairs.

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