Moroccan King Mohammed VI passes Republican Guards as he prepares to meet French President Francois Hollande. Paris, France, February 9, 2015. (Alain Jocard/AFP/Getty Images)

Moroccan King Mohammed VI passes Republican Guards as he prepares to meet French President Francois Hollande. Paris, France, February 9, 2015. (Alain Jocard/AFP/Getty Images)

Moroccan King Mohammed VI’s diplomatic snub of Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan ahead of the Nigerian election came in stark contrast to the North African ruler’s recent efforts to reach out to other West African leaders. What then does the king’s chilly relationship with Nigeria suggest about his foreign policy? And what role does religion play in shaping the kingdom’s diplomatic relations?

On March 6, Nigerian authorities requested a phone call with Mohammed VI. According to the Moroccan Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the request was denied for three reasons. First, the king viewed the call as an attempt by Jonathan to gain an electoral advantage in the upcoming Nigerian presidential elections scheduled for March 28. Presumably, the Ministry expected that a call with the Moroccan monarch might curry favor among Muslim voters in the country’s north, who are expected to vote for opposition candidate Muhammadu Buhari.

Second, the king felt the call may have suggested a warming of relations between the two countries, a sign that he apparently did not want to send. Third, and relatedly, the king regarded Nigeria’s position vis-à-vis “sacred national and Arab-Muslim causes”—namely, Morocco’s territorial dispute with the Polisario Front independence movement in the Western Sahara—to be untenable. Nigeria is aligned with Algeria and South Africa, which support the Polisario cause. Nigeria is also a major player in the African Union, an organization of which Morocco is not a member, having left the AU’s predecessor, the Organization of African Unity, in 1984 after it also recognized the Polisario. Morocco is unlikely to strengthen relations with the “Giant of Africa” in the absence of a reversal of its positions in these two areas. Read more