Morocco has taken a small step for Islam and a giant leap for Islamic women by prohibiting the sale of burqas and niqabs.
The measure comes as a complete surprise to the entire world.
Without further explanation the government has taken these historic precautions as a “safety measurement.”
It’s not yet clear wether the ban on selling traditional veils also means a total public ban on burqas and niqabs. If so, it would be an unprecedented step for an Islamic country.
Even though wearing burqas and niqabs is on the rise in Europe’s closest African neighbouring country, the Moroccan authorities consider the clothing as an expression religious fundamentalism and a violation of human rights.
Morocco is an associated country of the European Union. The relations between the two are framed in the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) and the Union for the Mediterranean.
Among the ENP countries, Morocco has been recognised an advanced status, opening up to high levels of political cooperation.
The main legal ties between Morocco and the EU are set by the 2000 Association Agreement. Several other agreement cover sectoral issues, including the 2006 EU-Morocco Fisheries Partnership Agreement and the 2006 Open Skies agreement.
Diplomatic relations between Morocco and the European Union date back to 1960, when a commercial agreement was concluded. In 1976 a first co-operation agreement was signed.
At the 1995 Barcelona conference the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership was inaugurated, establishing a policy with ambitious and long-term objectives in the fields of the political and security partnership,the economic and financial partnership and cooperation in social, cultural and human affairs.
The beginning of King Mohammed VI’s reign marked a major shift toward more cooperation, comprehension and partnership. To develop the Euro-Mediterranean Cooperation, the Union and Morocco have set up the EU-Morocco Association Agreement. This document, dated 1 March 2000, is the legal basis for relations between Morocco and the EU.
With the inauguration of the European Neighbourhood Policy and of the Union for the Mediterranean, Morocco and the EU have drafted and adopted an ENP Action Plan in July 2005, delineating the next steps of cooperation. Under the Neighbourhood Action Plan Morocco has embarked on a major effort to align itself on the legislation and standards of the EU. This should enable it to gradually exploit the possibilities offered by the Neighbourhood Policy, and in particular progress beyond the existing relations towards a significant degree of integration; this includes allowing Morocco to participate in the internal market and taking part gradually in EU programmes. This will require a great effort by Morocco to create the necessary legislative and institutional conditions. This ambition is reflected in Morocco’s advanced status with the EU which is “more than association, less than accession”.
With the Advanced Status granted to Morocco on 13 October 2008, the partnership acquired a high-level political cooperation level.
Morocco applied to join the European Communities on 20 July 1987, a precursor to the European Union. The application was rejected by Community foreign ministers as they did not consider Morocco to be a European country and hence could not join. The rejection was expected as the King had sent feelers two years prior who received such a response.
Immigration and terrorism
Illegal immigration and terrorism have already replaced issues on the agenda that were important before, such as trade (i.e. agriculture and fishing) and drug trafficking. Starting in 2000, Moroccan and EU authorities have been keen to work together more closer with intelligence sharing and border control cooperation.
Human rights was an issue that curved Morocco–EU relationships for decades. Now, many European officials have lauded the efforts Morocco has made in the human rights field.
Another hot issue concerns territorial disputes. In July 2002, there was a skirmish between Spain and Morocco during the Perejil incident. Though tensions have eased since the coming of the Spanish Socialist party to power, the two Spanish exclaves of Ceuta and Melilla are still an obstacle between the two neighbouring countries. In October 2006 a diplomatic controversy was sparked between Morocco and Spain when Morocco had denied entry from Ceuta of a Spanish aid package consisting of 150 patrol vehicles to fight illegal immigration. This was later resolved by delivering the goods 50 km off Tangier’s coast.
The Western Sahara conflict has always been on the agenda. Morocco has long been seeking a formal European recognition of its claimed rights over the disputed territory.