The US Presidential Proclamation on Moroccan Sahara

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Edited by:

Mourad Hasbaoui

Member of the Board of Trustees of World Affairs Council of South Texas

“ NOW, THEREFORE, I, DONALD J. TRUMP, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim that, the United States recognizes that the entire Western Sahara territory is part of the Kingdom of Morocco.”

This is an excerpt of the official substantive Proclamation 10126 published on December 15th, 2020, in which Donald Trump recognized the sovereignty of the Kingdom of Morocco Over the Western Sahara. Presidential proclamations are official announcements of policy from the president. There are honorary or ceremonial, but some do carry the weight of legislations, if they fall within the scope of the presidential authority. The presidential proclamations are often dismissed as a practical tool for policy making, because they are largely ceremonial or symbolic. Yet, this proclamation is considered a huge victory for the Moroccan Diplomacy lead by his Majesty Mohammed VI.

Some would argue that the Trump’s proclamation has no political gravity or a substantial impact, as it came in the form of a presidential proclamation rather than an executive order. Yet, it still carries fundamental meanings and messages.

There are many examples of American Presidential Proclamations which turned to be a law. We may cite:

  • Proclamation of Neutrality: In 1793, George Washington issued a proclamation declaring the neutrality of the United States in the conflict between England and France. It called on the Americans to avoid acts that would disrupt the American neutrality. It also withdrew the protection of the United States from any American citizen that committed, aided, or abetted hostilities, or carried contraband. In June 1794, Congress passed the Neutrality Act.
  • The Emancipation Proclamation: In 1863, Abraham Lincoln issued the landmark Emancipation Proclamation, which freed approximately three million slaves held in Confederate territory. It did not apply to border states or parts of Louisiana still loyal to the Union. Lincoln relied on his authority as Commander in Chief of the military to issue the proclamation and justified his actions as necessary to the Union’s war efforts. The Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, ratified in 1865, permanently ended slavery in the United States of America.

The weight of a presidential proclamation

The House government Operations Committee underlines that, “executive orders and proclamations are directives or actions by the President. When they are founded on the authority of the President derived from the Constitution or statute, they may have the force and effect of law.” 

The presidential proclamations or executive orders fall within with the president’s scope of authority. In compliance with the check and balance powers between the executive and legislative branches of government, Congress can reverse presidential proclamations adopted outside the powers of the president(https://cmdi.ma/en/the-separation-of-power-in-the-us-system-checks-balances). The recognition of foreign governments and opening of diplomatic missions are within the presidential powers as defined in the Article II of the United States Constitution. It is not worthy to mention that the Congress has reversed several presidential proclamations and executive decisions in the past. However, there were related to domestic policy.

Whether the Proc.10126 will stand after Biden’s inauguration is difficult to foretell. Nonetheless, if the new administration perpetuates the new proclamation, it will have noteworthy implications. It may even push other countries to recognize Morocco’s rightful sovereignty over the Western Sahara. It is true that Biden has announced during his presidential campaign that he will reverse many of President Trump’s decisions, notably the decisions to withdraw from the Paris Climate Change Agreement and the World Health Organization (WHO),as well as The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).Yet, it is more likely he will not reverse the proclamation for three reasons:

First, Morocco enjoys great support from both political parties within the Congress, what makes it unlikely that Biden will repeal Trump’s decision is his cavernous knowledge of Morocco’s position and its expectations regarding the US. He is also aware that Morocco submitted the autonomy proposal to the Security Council at the suggestion of former President Bill Clinton. 

Second, President- elect Biden’s track record – from his election as senator of Delaware in 1973 to his presidency of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and his incumbency  as a  vice president during President Obama’s term – suggests he will have no personal or political incentive or gain  to overturn the proclamation. Biden is aware of the quality of relations between the two countries and is unlikely to jeopardize them(https://cmdi.ma/en/every-opportunity-counts).

Third, the President- elect Joe Biden has more priorities to deal with it. From Covid 19, to revive the economy. He must invest his energy in the domestic issues. The 2022 United States elections will be held on Tuesday, November 8, 2022. During this mid-term election, all 435 seats in the United States House of Representatives and 34 of the 100 seats in the United States Senate will be contested. The Democrats and Joe Biden cannot afford to lose seats in either chambers.

Recently, a coordinate media campaign has been building up against Morocco, led by former US officials, such John Bolton, and Jim Inhofe. They clearly are biased against Morocco and have a tremendous empathy toward Algeria and Polisario. If Morocco does not move quickly to thwart their views, it will have negative ramifications. The worst possible outcome is the reverse of the Trump’s proclamation by Joe Biden. While this is a dubious scenario, it is not beyond the sphere of possibility.  We should not over exalt, luxuriate, and believe that the Western Sahara issue is on the right trail towards a final solution. The US recognition of Morocco’s sovereignty over Western Sahara is only a huge step to an ultimate solution of the conflict. Certainly, there is more that needed to be done. Morocco has won a very important diplomatic battle, but its diplomatic, political, and media conflict with Algeria will not only continue but intensify.

 

 

 

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