Only a few days away from the third and final conference in the “Bringing the World Home Series,” and we’re still trying to manage several (ok, one) diplomatic crises.  This conference series, sponsored by AID and POMED (the Project on Middle East Democracy) very successful opened in Amman, Jordan, in mid-April.  Prince Hassan of Jordan and Boutros-Boutros Ghali were honored guests and speakers, participants engaged in productive, exciting dialogue, and the event got excellent pres (which is always nice!).  We then moved to Cairo in early May, where we welcomed Americans and Egyptians from around the world (as far as New Zealand, Bosnia, and Washington DC) as we hotly debated American foreign policy in the region, listened to experts, and ultimately enjoyed a dinner cruise on the Nile.

And then it was back across North Africa to Rabat, Morocco, (where I currently live) to finish up the preparations for the Rabat conference that is to take place May 25-26.  We have a great selection of panelists and qualified youth participants who represent a variety of viewpoints—always makes for interesting dialogue to say the least.  Our three panels are currently on “Talking about Democracy,” “US Democracy Promotion Projects in Morocco,” and “Conflict and Security.”  Recent developments at the US Embassy and Consulate in Morocco, however, may have doomed the appearance of the US Embassy representative scheduled for the third panel—whose presence is currently hanging by a thread—while my co-chair and I sit at the edge of our seats, biting our nails.  Without going into painful and obscure detail, the US Embassy is currently under much scrutiny after a political gaffe (did he misspeak? Or does he truly not recognize Moroccan claims to the Western Sahara) on the part of the American Ambassador in reference to contested territory in southern Morocco (which is a generally obscure conflict for all of the world with the exception of Morocco, Algeria, and the UN).  This coupled with the closing of the US Consulate in Casablanca following a suicide bombing last month, American Government officials in Rabat aren’t Morocco’s favorite people right now; American Government officials claim that the Consulate has yet to open due to security concerns, while many Moroccans have interpreted it as a symbolic statement against the Moroccan population.

In any event, what this means for us is that the Embassy has become very sensitive to media, and after hearing that Al Jazeera wanted to film portions of the conference, they’ve suddenly gotten cold feet.  Understandably.  Yet, we think it’s very important for both a Moroccan and an American Government official to be present to explain official policy.  So, the jury’s still out in regards to the appearance of our US Government official.  I’ll keep you posted.

Laurel Rapp
Rabat, Morocco
Written on May 22