By Jean-Jacques Cornish
Of course King Mohamed VI and his Moroccan officials will say that their record-breaking five-time losing quest to host the football World Cup has nothing to do with his father annexing the Western Sahara 42 years ago. They would, wouldn’t they?
The late King Hassan refused to acknowledge that his illegal occupation of the former Spanish colony put Morocco beyond the pale of international respectability. He jailed any of his subjects who dared even to suggest this.
Whatever he says about presiding over a more liberal system, his successor, known as M6, has enforced this official myopia with equal vigour and cruelty.
I recall attending an editorial conference of a so-called independent Moroccan newspaper.
“Could you possibly conceive of ever publishing the views of a respected academic arguing for granting the Saharawi people self-determination?” I asked.
The meeting ended right there as the terrified editor and journalists left the room.
I am curious to see how the Moroccan media explains the harsh reality that the country’s defiance of international opinion caused no fewer than 11 African countries – nearly a fifth of the continent – to vote against the kingdom’s bid when Fifa took the decision in Moscow on Wednesday about who should host the 2026 football World Cup.
South Africa, Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe were open about rejecting the last colonial vestige in Africa and their support for the occupied Saharawi people.
Others said it was a straightforward business decision: the so-called united bid by the United States, Canada and Mexico guarantee a profit of $11 billion for Fifa. That is money that will trickle down to them.
Morocco indicated it would make $5 billion, which is more than Brazil earned from its 2014 World Cup and certainly more than South Africa raked in for World Cup 2010.
The point not being made by the sporting diplomats is that Morocco has shown time and again that it cannot be taken at its word.
It has lied internationally with promises such as allowing the Saharawi people a referendum to determine their own future.
And it has lied to its own people about economic plans that have done nothing to reduce unemployment and spur economic growth.
Meanwhile, it spends billions keeping 120,000 soldiers guarding the 2,700 km sand wall, or berm, between the occupied and liberated zones of Western Shara.
Morocco can barely maintain this. It relies on financial support from France and the United State who hold their noses about Morocco’s lamentable human rights record because they see it as a bastion against militant Islam in North Africa.
Nevertheless, Morocco has actually become one of the most dangerous breeding grounds for Islamist terrorists.
So how could the country that relies on aid, tourism (particularly European sex tourism), exploiting the dagga trade, growing oranges and raking in profits from stolen Saharawi phosphates, possibly afford to stage a World Cup?
The Rabat authorities managed to cobble together a pitch, but Morocco’s neighbours and fellow Africans clearly did not believe it.
If M6 and his men really plan to make yet another bid in 2030, they have their work cut out if they wish to avoid another humiliation.
Ending their occupation of Western Sahara would be an excellent start. But that is all it would be: a start.