It has been six years since we began our ambassadorial odyssey in Morocco. Two weeks after the swearing in as the U.S. ambassador to the Kingdom of Morocco, in September 2009, we were greeted at the Rabat airport by our 10-person Moroccan security team and a host of senior diplomatic officers who would become our friends, colleagues and allies over the next three and a half years. We were welcomed with tea and cookies — a ceremony that would become for us part of life in Morocco, happening before every meeting and every encounter. It was an important symbol of the hospitality and generosity that would define our stay in that beautiful country.
A day does not pass when we are not increasingly mindful of the uniqueness of our long-standing ally, the Kingdom of Morocco. So many of the countries of the Middle East and North Africa are confronting turbulence. Their citizens live or flee in terror because of instability and disorder in their countries.
Life in Morocco is significantly different. It is not a country of affluence and material comfort for all of its people; there are genuine problems that need to be addressed. Still, it should be remembered that ordinary people in Morocco have lives of normality and relative comfort; they do not live with fear.
Morocco continues to be a haven of stability, which seems in short supply for many of the peoples of the world. King Mohammed VI, a descendant of the prophet Mohammed, is revered by his people. He, in turn, provides thoughtful and effective leadership as Morocco moves toward reform of its government, a system that is a bastion of religious, social and political moderation.
Make no mistake, his majesty is and will continue to be the most powerful force in Morocco, but he has long recognized the need for change. He understands that confronting the challenges of the educational and judicial systems is critical to a country genuinely interested in reform.
Our embassy worked intensively to deepen the already substantial economic relationship between our two countries. The free trade agreement between Morocco and the U.S. (a rarity in that part of the world) has helped to energize a growing Moroccan economy. Morocco’s economy is strengthened by its having the largest reserves of phosphate in the world. Coupled with developing alternative energy systems and supporting newly created high-tech companies, this ensures that economic growth moves very much in the right direction.
Morocco is one of America’s most reliable allies in combating terrorist threats. With American know-how and equipment, it is a highly sophisticated and effective partner. Africa Lion, the annual joint military exercise between our military and Morocco’s, brings together thousands of members of the armed forces in the largest joint military activity in Africa.
We particularly enjoyed, while living at the ambassador’s residence in Rabat, the opportunity to host large numbers of friends, relatives, business and community leaders, and political representatives. It was our pleasure to share our own experiences at the embassy and the excitement and satisfaction of the larger diplomatic world with our guests. We were also happy to hear and learn about their travels in the country, and how much they basked in the pleasure of its wonderful welcoming quality. Morocco never failed to live up to its reputation as a magical place to visit. Its hospitality is unbounded, and it is no surprise that tourism remains a major industry.
People often ask if in any way we felt discriminated against because we are Jewish. We say that while it is true that Morocco is a 98.5 percent Islamic country, there never was a single moment when we felt there was a problem because of our religion. Our Christian friends also felt free to practice their faith.
Israel aside, Morocco is the only Middle Eastern or North African country that has a viable Jewish community.
Although relatively small, the Jewish community of Morocco is, in every respect, fully supported by the king. Their synagogues were full this past week in celebration of Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year for the Jews of the world.
Sam and Sylvia Kaplan live in Minneapolis. Sam Kaplan was U.S. ambassador to Morocco from 2009 to 2013.