Morocco cuts ties with Iran over Bahrain
By Lamine Ghanmi
RABAT (Reuters) - Morocco has cut diplomatic links with Iran, the Moroccan Foreign Ministry said Friday, after an outcry in the Sunni Muslim world over a statement by an Iranian official questioning Sunni-ruled Bahrain's sovereignty.
Rabat also criticized Iran for its efforts to spread its Shi'ite brand of Islam in Morocco, a move the ministry said it saw as threat to the North African country's moderate Sunni religious identity.
"The Kingdom of Morocco has decided to break its diplomatic relations with the Islamic Republic of Iran beginning this Friday," the ministry said.
Sunni scholars in Morocco and elsewhere have denounced what they see as Iran's efforts to convert Sunni Muslims to Shi'ism, arguing the drive would create strife similar to the often bloody Shi'ite-Sunni divides in Iraq and Pakistan.
According to media reports, Ali Akbar Nateq-Nouri, an adviser to Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said last month Shi'ite Iran had sovereignty over Bahrain.
In response Morocco's King Mohammed sent the Bahraini monarch, King Hamad Bin Isa al-Khalifa, a message of support, calling the Iranian remarks "absurd" and a contradiction of international law.
Iran says its relations with Bahrain are based on mutual respect and denies having claims over the island, which has a sizeable Shi'ite population.
On February 25, Rabat recalled its envoy to Iran to protest what Foreign Minister Taieb Fassi Fihri said was "inappropriate language" directed against Morocco in a communique reported by the Iranian news agency IRNA.
Morocco had asked Tehran for an explanation as to why it had singled out Rabat in the statement but Iran ignored the request made one week ago, the ministry added in a statement.
The foreign ministry said this was "unacceptable" and accused Iranian representatives in Morocco of seeking to alter "the kingdom's religious fundamentals," it said in reference to Iran's alleged state-backed drive to expand Shi'ism in Morocco.
SUNNI MOROCCO FELT UNDER THREAT
Religion is a highly sensitive issue in Morocco because King Mohamed is the only Islamic leader who jointly holds the title of Amir al Mouminine (Commander of the Faithful) and head of the state.
The ministry said efforts by Iran to spread Shi'ite Islam threatened Morocco's Islamic unity and its identity built from the foundations of the moderate Sunni Malekite faith.
"This kind of organised and sustained actions constitute an intolerable interference in the kingdom's domestic affairs and are contrary to the rules and ethics of diplomatic action," the ministry said.
Morocco, which enjoyed warm ties with Iran under the Shah until he was deposed in 1979, only normalised its relations with Iran by exchanging envoys in the late 1990s.
The government has always been concerned over Iran's role in the Sunni world since its Shi'ite Islamic revolution toppled the monarchy in Tehran.
Religious figures have warned of what they call the menace against the country's spiritual security by Shi'ite conversion among Morocco's 30 million people.
Political sources in Morocco say Shi'ite activists numbered several hundreds but they were making steady progress because of the popularity of radical Islamic groups backed by Iran like Hizbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza.
(Editing by Dominic Evans)