By Karima Rhanem | Morocco TIMES 4/12/2005 | 5:09 pm
Liz Cheney, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs and daughter of the US vice president Dick Cheney, has ended a three day official visit to Morocco, where she discussed with Moroccan officials about the importance of reforms Morocco has recently undertaken. In an exclusive interview with Morocco Times, Liz Cheney praised King Mohammed VI for putting the country on the path of modernization while respecting Morocco's culture and traditions.
What's the purpose of your visit to Morocco?
Morocco is the first country I have visited since I have been in my new job at the State Department. I wanted to come to Morocco first because of the importance of our relationship. Morocco was the first country to recognize the US when we became a nation. There is a very long history of cooperation and support between American and Moroccan people.
There is also a very important change under way in Morocco. King Mohammed VI has put the country on the path of modernization while respecting Morocco's culture and traditions. I think Morocco could be a model for countries of the region as they see the important challenges.
What are the major points you have discussed with Moroccan officials?
We have talked about several issues. These included Morocco's recent reforms; the new family law (the Mudawana); the implementation of the law; the micro-enterprise and its importance in supporting giving small loans to people to finance houses or businesses. We have also discussed the new political parties' laws and the new press code, which is before the parliament.
Our talks also included education, especially girls' education and schooling; English language training and scholarships. In another words, our programmes focused on how to support and assist Morocco in this regard.
We know that you have recently been appointed Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs. Could you give us a general idea about the duties of this bureau?
The Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs covers all the countries in the Arab World and Israel. It is the office of the US Department of State which is responsible for coordinating our relations with other countries. We work on a number of issues including the peace process between the Palestinians and the Israelis.
We also work with the Iraqi people and their government, who are going to have a new constitution later this year. We are absolutely working on issues with each country and its relations with others in the rest of the region.
Regarding your programmes in Morocco, you have granted USD 2 million programme to raise awareness of the new Mudawana. You have also granted USD 6 million to assist Morocco in the framework of the US-Moroccan FTA. What other areas and fields you cover in Morocco?
Well, we are doing several things. Effectively, these are two important programmes. I have met with students on Tuesday to discuss a new scholarship programme which provides nine months' English language training for students. This programme will be organized in AMIDEAST offices in Morocco.
We are looking at ways to increase our scholarships' funding. It is very important for us to assist Moroccan students; it is also important for them to get to know America little bit better.
We also have programmes focusing on micro-enterprise lending. When I was in Casablanca on Sunday, we signed a guarantee for a grant that will provide small loans to people living in Casablanca shanty towns of who want to expand or build new houses. We are trying to be supportive of these programmes and making sure they touch people at the grassroots' level.
Concerning the Mudawana, in what way your financial assistance will be implemented?
Well, I think we are relying very much on the creative ideas that Moroccan NGOs are developing. For example, we have funded a group that has a theatre production, travelling around Morocco to rural areas, to raise awareness, among women and men, of the new Mudawana and its implications. So we will not design programmes, because the people who know how to do this are the Moroccan people.
We are here to provide support for them and help them define how to expand knowledge. The other programmes designed for women include training for judges and other court officials to implement the new family code.
Regarding the FTA, we would like to know more about the MEPI assistance.
We have programmed to help Moroccan farmers, including planting trees to give them alternative sources of income. We also provide technical assistance as the government look at the reforms they need to implement once we have the FTA.
The US Ambassador to Morocco has just come back from a trip to the US with Moroccan companies, looking at ways to introduce Moroccan businesses to American investors and basically expose Americans to the investment opportunities in Morocco, having people becoming interested in making partnerships. I think there are a lot of ways that we can help, but we need the FTA to be implemented.
Morocco hosted the first forum for the future last December, which witnessed an important representation of the civil society, which initiated reform programs. Could you tell us about the follow up of these programmes?
We will hold the second Forum for the Future next November in Bahrain. We are currently working with the Moroccan, the Bahraini, the British and the Jordanian governments for the Forum's follow-up.
There is a different number of activities that we would like to announce at the next forum. We want that the forum look back at everything happened in the last 12 months, and to have countries and the civil society report on changes and the progress being made and what not been done. I think it will be a good opportunity to give a voice to the civil society for the government to hear their concerns.
Many consider initiatives like MEPI as programmes that are imposing reforms on peoples of the region. One of the recommendations of the Forum for the Future is that reforms should come from inside. What's your comment?
I think reforms are absolutely coming from the inside. Morocco is the model for the whole region in this regard. The purpose of programmes like MEPI is to support the reforms coming from people themselves and from the government. I heard this stereotype about MEPI, which is not true. Moreover, it doesn't work to try to impose the system from the outside.
That's not what America is trying to do. MEPI and other programmes support universal values including the right to education, the right to vote, the right to have a job... etc. These are a whole range of issues to which we will respond with our resources to the changes that are coming from people who live in each individual country.
Do you think reforms would be relevant, taking into consideration current political crises in the Middle East, namely the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, the war in Iraq, and the Lebanese-Syrian crisis? Don't you think that the peoples of the region need stability first before initiating reforms?
I have a different view of what's happening in the Middle East today. Concerning the Lebanese- Syrian crisis, the Lebanese have made it clear that they want to be free and have control over their country. In turn, the international community has said the Syrians should get out of Lebanon. I think that this is a very positive development, that the Syrian troops and intelligence forces have left from the country, and that the Lebanese can have elections and can determine their own future.
Concerning Palestine, after the successful Jan. 9 elections, Abu Mazen is working hard to reform the security services and to end corruption, and to make sure the Palestinian Authority is responsive to the needs of the Palestinians people.
Concerning Iraq, we have seen that Iraqis risked their lives to go to vote in the Jan. 30 elections. We are all inspired by that. Iraqis were brave at standing up against the terrorists who do not want to see a free and independent Iraq.
I believe there is something positive happening across the MENA region. People in many countries are having a lessening of fear. When you see the Lebanese standing at Martyr Square demanding to be free, you can feel that people are becoming braver in defending their causes, and we want to help support that however we can.
While reinforcing democratic reforms in the region, do you take into consideration the specificities of each country, because every country has a different perspective of democracy.
Certainly, each country and its government will look at certain things differently. I think for the international community or any donor to be effective, the programme designed for countries of the region needs to be tailored to meet the needs of the individual countries. We shall not talk about all countries as one group, because as you said each country is different. Of course, there are universal values that everybody shares.