The Atlantic Africa Initiative announced by Mohammed VI, as well as economic ties, have increased Morocco's influence, weakening Iranian expansion in the same way that it weakened Algeria's before

Morocco curbs Iran's expansion in Africa

Nasser Bourita, ministro de Asuntos Exteriores de Marruecos, durante su discurso en Addis Abeba, Eriopía, en la 37ª Cumbre de la Unión Africana - PHOTO/X/@MarocDiplmoatie
Moroccan Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita during his speech in Addis Ababa, Eriopia, at the 37th African Union Summit - PHOTO/X/@MarocDiplmoatie

Iran has long sought to expand its influence in Africa, consolidating its presence on the continent through the spread of Shi'ism and commercial and economic projects. However, Tehran's efforts and ambitions clash with Morocco's historical, cultural, religious and commercial presence in Africa. 

  1. The Atlantic Africa Initiative consolidates Moroccan influence 
  2. Iran's strategy in Africa  
  3. Turkey and Russia, other key players in Africa 

For this reason, the Kingdom is the main regional country that can confront Iran's influence and curb its expansion. Rabat is considered a spiritual reference point for the various Sufi movements on the continent, where its imams are already present. Morocco is also a regular meeting place for various political, religious and tribal leaders from across the Sahel region. 

For example, the International Forum of members of Sufi orders is organised annually in the Kingdom with the participation of 50 countries under the patronage of Moroccan King Mohammed VI. The event takes place in one of the main Sufi shrines - Sidi Shekar - near the city of Marrakech. 

Several Sufi zawiyas in Africa are linked to Sufi centres in Morocco. For example, the Tijaniya zawiya in Senegal holds Moroccan-style religious gatherings and commemorates the death of Moroccan kings, indicating the close connection between these zawiyas in Africa and Morocco. 

The Atlantic Africa Initiative consolidates Moroccan influence 

Analysts believe that the spread of Sufi culture will make it more difficult for Shi'ism to be preached as a political movement, which is Iran's aim in Africa. Mohammed Al-Tayyar, a Moroccan researcher in security and strategic studies, tells Al-Arab that "Iran tried to expand its sectarian influence in West African countries and in the Sahel and North African countries, but it clashed with Morocco's Sufi roots. "The old Moroccan religious authority is an obstacle to the expansion of Iranian Shi'ism," he adds.   

Al-Tayyar believes that, ideologically, 'Iran cannot keep pace with Morocco, which has renewed its relations with Sufi orders in Africa and is engaged in training African imams and guides in national religious institutes through the Mohammed VI Foundation for African Scholars'.  

Mohamed VI - PHOTO/FILE 

On the other hand, the Atlantic Africa Initiative announced by the Moroccan monarch, as well as the network of economic relations with many countries, has increased Moroccan influence, both economically and politically, weakening Iranian power in the same way that it weakened Algerian dominance before. 

Morocco announced last September that it was willing to develop 'port and rail infrastructures' at the disposal of landlocked Sahelian countries Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger and Chad. Moreover, the first three countries announced their withdrawal from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) at the end of January following coups d'état. 

Iran's strategy in Africa  

For his part, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi visited Kenya, Uganda and Zimbabwe in July, countries with which he promised to reach energy agreements, although he did not announce any clear projects. If these pacts have been signed, it is difficult to implement them due to US sanctions.   

This highlights how Iran is trying to enter Africa, benefiting from the networks it has managed to create in some important African countries such as Nigeria, as well as the networks established by its ally Hezbollah within the Lebanese community in Africa. 

El presidente argelino, Abdelmadjid Tebboune, recibe al presidente iraní, Ebrahim Raisi, en el Palacio El Mouradia, en Argel, Argelia, el 3 de marzo de 2024. Presidencia argelina/Handout via REUTERS ATENCIÓN EDITORES
Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune receives Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi at the El Mouradia Palace in Algiers, Algeria, on March 3, 2024 - Algerian Presidency/Handout via REUTERS 

Tehran seeks to build economic partnerships, however limited, to begin to consolidate its presence on the continent. Following this economic cooperation, Tehran could continue to expand by creating militias, training them and supplying them with weapons, as it has done in the Middle East with Hezbollah, Hamas, Yemen's Houthis and pro-Iranian militias in Iraq and Syria. 

In addition to economic cooperation, last October Tehran signed a series of partnership agreements with Burkina Faso in energy, urban planning, higher education and construction.  

Similarly, Tehran - which also produces combat drones - announced at the end of January the establishment of two universities in Mali, as well as the signing of a series of cooperation agreements. 

Turkey and Russia, other key players in Africa 

All of Iran's moves in Africa are based on a policy that is characterised by revolutionary language and an anti-imperialist, third-world logic. However, many of the agreements they sign are unsuccessful and their influence clashes, in the case of West or Central Africa, with Turkey, another nation that has redoubled its presence on the continent. 

Ankara has provided fighter jets and helicopters to countries such as Mali and Burkina Faso to fight jihadist groups, positioning itself as an alternative to Europe and Russia, another country that is expanding in the region to take advantage of France's withdrawal.