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Morocco names woman former journalist as ambassador to France

By RFI
Morocco AFP - FADEL SENNA
FRI, 20 OCT 2023 LISTEN
AFP - FADEL SENNA

King Mohammed VI has named Samira Sitail as ambassador to France, filling a post that has laid empty for months amid a diplomatic crisis between Rabat and Paris.

The announcement of Samira Sitail's nomination on Thursday came as something of a surprise as she has no background in diplomacy.

The 59-year old was head of news then deputy director general at Moroccan public broadcasting channel 2M.

She takes over from Mohamed Benchaaboum whose duties were terminated on 19 January without a successor being named.

While Sitail's CV is very different from career diplomats, her high-level experience in the media could serve her in her new diplomatic role.

“It's an unusual nomination, but which most probably corresponds to a certain logic, because Morocco wants to make its voice in France more audible,” journalist and political scientist Abdellah Tourabi told Le Monde daily.

“She knows the media, knows how to talk to them and has a network in the press and culture that goes beyond the purely political sphere.”

Outspoken

Sitail was born in France and holds dual nationality, but is not well known here.

However she gained a certain notoriety for her comments following the 8 September earthquake in the region of Marrakech, which killed close to 3,000 people.

Interviewed by BFM television she slammed the suggestion by some French media that Morocco had rejected France's offer of help.

“It's very serious to say that Morocco refuses a country's help, it's even a call for Moroccan people to revolt" against their government and the monarchy, she said, underlying the kingdom's sovereignty.

Tense relations

Sitail takes over at a time when relations between Rabat and Paris are at a low point.

They've been under strain since Macron has tried to get closer to Algeria, which broke off diplomatic relations with Morocco in 2021, citing "hostile acts".

Morocco has criticised France for not following the US and Israel in recognising its sovereignty over the Western Sahara.

Relations have been soured through the Pegasus scandal claiming that Morocco's intelligence services had used Israeli cellphone software to spy on several French public figures, possibly including Macron.

Last year France slashed the number of visas granted to Moroccans by half and local media have reported that despite the resumption of consular services, people were still experiencing delays in appointments and visa applications rejected without justification.

In January, the European Parliament adopted a resolution calling on Moroccan authorities to “respect freedom of expression” having accused the kingdom of intimidating and harassing journalists and activists.

Morocco's political class, and some media, perceived French MEPs close to President Emmanuel Macron as helping orchestrate the Brussels initiative.

Sitail now has the hefty task of trying to rebuild confidence between Rabat and Paris, but at least she knows both countries well.

(with newswires)

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