The distance between Tehran and the Moroccan capital of Rabat is no less than 5200 kilometres and Morocco is the furthest Arab country away from Iran. Yet the Moroccan government has complained about Iranian interference. How has a country of such simple potential managed to spread so far? Are these simply political allegations that aim at defaming the Iranians or do the Iranians have some kind of project that does not stop in spite of the power and challenges that it faces?
The truth is that I cannot think of one reason why the Moroccans would fabricate a pretext to dispute with the Iranians to the extent that it would cut ties, which is the strongest form of diplomatic protest. Rabat had satisfactory relations with Tehran and the former avoided interfering in controversy over Iran’s positions and its practices in the region. In fact, Morocco participated in the Doha mini-summit that was boycotted by most Arab states because the Iranian president was invited to deliver a speech there. Before that, Morocco attended the Damascus summit in spite of the objections of various Arab states towards Damascus’ relations with Tehran.
Morocco is highly sensitive to religious propaganda no matter what the source. Morocco openly accused Iran of trying to convert its people to Shiism. The majority of Moroccans are Sunnis and follow the Maliki school of thought. The question here is: what has made such an open country, known for its protection of the freedom of thought, so angry that it cut diplomatic ties in response to religious and ideological activity? The answer is that the Iranian diplomatic mission in Rabat was implicated in what Morocco called practices that violate diplomatic norms.
It is wrong to accuse the Moroccans of being a part of a political smear campaign against Iran that aims to make Sunnis fear the Shia expansion as Morocco had previously launched a large campaign against an extremist Salafist campaign which it considered responsible for violence-related extremism. The campaign involved arrests and the confiscation of some Sunni books and [inflammatory] tapes by clerics from Saudi Arabia, Egypt and elsewhere.
The difference is that Salafist extremism is individual activity and is masterminded by non-government groups whereas the Shia expansion is part of the official Iranian institution, as confirmed by the Moroccans. Morocco also arrested a Moroccan cell and it was claimed that this cell had received training from Hezbollah in Lebanon. Officials said, “Some Moroccans abroad have been targeted by Iranian practices, which requires Morocco to be on full alert.”
The question once again is: why Shia expansion? I believe that it is because Iran has decided to launch an offensive against what it considers traditional and official religious institutions in Arab countries in general and in the countries it considers different politically in particular, including Morocco, even if it is not directly part of the dispute. Iran-affiliated groups are active in Europe, Africa and Australia, and they have a political and religious message to glorify Iran as the leader of the Islamic world. Everything will be done to make sure that this message reaches the hearts of Arab societies, which Iran considers strategic dimensions. It represents a political project rather than a religious one and it demonstrates its megalomania through the speeches of Tehran’s leadership. This is all at the expense of the Iranian people.