France Offers Aid for Morocco Earthquake Despite Chilly Diplomatic Ties

France’s Foreign Minister, Catherine Colonna, has expressed readiness to provide assistance to Morocco in the wake of its deadliest earthquake in over six decades, with a pledge of €5 million (£4.3 million) allocated to aid organizations operating in the affected regions. Colonna emphasized that it is Morocco’s sovereign decision to determine the nature of assistance it requires, refraining from engaging in any diplomatic disputes amidst the crisis.

Diplomatic relations between France and Morocco have remained strained for an extended period, and Morocco’s acceptance of aid from only four countries—namely, the UK, Spain, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates—reflects both a political rift and personal tensions between President Emmanuel Macron and King Mohammed VI. Colonna dismissed the controversy surrounding the issue, emphasizing the urgency of helping the suffering population.

France’s offer of €5 million will be channeled to existing non-governmental organizations operating in the disaster-affected areas. Despite President Macron expressing France’s willingness to assist Morocco multiple times since the earthquake struck, Morocco has not provided an official response.

One of the central points of contention in the strained Franco-Moroccan relationship is France’s perceived lack of support for Morocco’s sovereignty claim over Western Sahara, a cause of national importance to Morocco. This dispute has been exacerbated by Algeria’s support for the Polisario Front, a group seeking independence for the Western Sahara.

The cooling of relations began in 2017 when Macron chose to make Morocco, a former French protectorate, his first North African state visit instead of Algeria. Relations further soured in 2021 when France announced visa restrictions for Moroccans, Algerians, and Tunisians unless they agreed to accept back migrants, a move seen as a deliberate affront.

In the same year, France accused Morocco of attempting to spy on President Macron through his mobile phone, a charge denied by King Mohammed VI. Tensions escalated in 2023 when Morocco accused France of backing a European Parliament vote condemning threats to press freedom in Morocco, leading both countries to recall their ambassadors.

Responding to Macron’s characterization of his relationship with the Moroccan king as “friendly,” Rabat retorted that relations between the governments and the royal palace and the Élysée were “neither friendly nor good.”

Efforts to provide aid from France have faced obstacles, with Moroccan authorities reportedly preventing French rescue teams from entering the country, despite volunteers from cities like Nice, Lyon, and Saint-Étienne being prepared to offer emergency assistance.

France has a significant expatriate community in Morocco, with over 51,000 French citizens residing there, along with a Moroccan diaspora of about 1.5 million people, including 670,000 dual nationals. French Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin characterized Morocco as a “brotherly” country and asserted its capability to manage the rescue efforts independently.

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