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Amid loud complaints by American evangelical organizations back home, Kaplan took the U.S. government’s protests to the Moroccan Interior minister. The expulsions ended; the crisis was averted.
“The significance of that event,” Sam Kaplan said, “is that it was the only time I spoke critically of the Moroccan government in public.”
In the Kaplans’ view, the Moroccan king’s willingness to bend could have been an important factor in limiting the impact of the Arab Spring protests that overthrew repressive regimes in Tunis, Cairo and Tripoli. In Morocco, King Mohammed immediately went on television and offered political concessions, constitutional reforms, and greater civil rights.
“Moroccans are very cautious people,” Sam Kaplan said. “In the first place, they love their king, and they also like stability. We never felt Morocco was on the brink of revolution.”
The Kaplans say the upheavals they’ve seen throughout the rest of the Middle East have given them a deeper appreciation for American-style politics, gridlock, polarization and all.
“As bad as the Democrats and Republicans are, it’s a wonderful system,” the ex-ambassador said. “It was a great honor to serve over there, but it was also wonderful to see America from afar, to see how extraordinary it is.”
‘Protocol is a dance’
The couple also left with a deeper appreciation for America’s challenge in the streets of the Arab world, even after Obama’s overtures in his 2009 Cairo address, shortly before he dispatched the Kaplans to Morocco. “Notwithstanding the enormous support that America gives to the Palestinian territories, America is seen as a pro-Israel ally and is deeply resented as a result,” Sam Kaplan said.
The Kaplans, however, say they felt accepted in Morocco, even if they sometimes struggled to navigate the Byzantine nuances of diplomatic protocol. “Protocol is a dance,” Sylvia Kaplan said, “you never know if you’re doing all the steps exactly right.”
The most tangible reward for their efforts is a 22-month-old yellow lab, a present they couldn’t refuse from a general of the Royal Gendarmerie, an integral part of the nation’s security forces. Raised among Moroccan butlers and servants, “Sonny Boy” is now getting used to being just a regular American dog.
“He’s very much the focus of our household,” said Sam Kaplan.
“He’s defining my life,” said Sylvia Kaplan.
Follow Kevin Diaz on Twitter at StribDiaz.