We interviewed H.E. Mrs. Karima Kabbaj, Ambassador of Morocco to Hungary, about Hungarian-Moroccan relations, the Sahara, the Council of Arab Ambassadors and much more.
Daily News Hungary (DNH): There are many places in Budapest that attract tourists, but what attractions would you recommend to Moroccans when they come to Hungary?
H.E. Mrs. Karima Kabbaj: Hungary is a country filled with history. Its sophisticated and diverse architecture is breath-taking and the landscapes it offers are stunning.
Since the country offers so much, it will be hard for me to choose the recommendations. The Parliament building, the museums, mainly the national museum and fine art museum, Buda castle and Fisherman’s Bastion as well as the opera are places that I would say are a must-see when in Budapest.
Also, I would suggest that they seize the opportunity they are in Budapest, the city of arts, and to attend concerts of classical music, especially at the well-known Franz Liszt Academy and the Opera House.
I will also add to enjoy the beauty of the Danube, which reminds me of the Bou Regreg river which divides two cities in Morocco, Rabat, the capital and Sale, the city of the historic ochre-colored walls. Experiencing the thermal baths, enjoying Hungarian cuisine, and exploring the city is the best way to get to discover Hungarian culture.
DNH: Tourism is what many of us think of when we think of Morocco. What are three things Hungarian tourists should definitely visit in your country? Related to this, is there any chance of a regular flight between the two capitals again?
H.E. Mrs. Karima Kabbaj: Indeed, Morocco is one of the best tourists’ destinations in the world. The sector of tourism in Morocco is considered strategic as it generates about 7% of the country’s GDP. In 2022 and despite the effect of the outbreak of COVID-19, Morocco was able to recover and attracted over 10.9 billion tourists.
Morocco is a colorful country, we even have some specific colored cities, such as, Marrakech, the Red city, Tangier, the White Pearl of the North as well as Chefchaouen, a hidden Blue Gem and Fes the Yellow city.
It is also a vibrant country, which offers dazzling diversity, not only culturally but also in terms of landscapes, mountains, different beaches (Atlantic and Mediterranean), Sahara Desert and mostly the warmth and hospitality of its people, which I have experienced and felt with the Hungarian people, whom kindness always reminds me of people at home.
I would suggest to take the imperial cities tour that allows you to visit the most important heritage sites and the history of the Moroccan dynasties. The itinerary will let you discover different regions and cities of Morocco, such as Marrakech, famously one of the best destinations for tourism in the world. Fes, the spiritual capital of Morocco, where throughout history, Muslims, Jewish and Christians lived in harmony. The city is also home to the oldest still-functioning university in the world “al-Qarawiyyin” established in 857-859. From there, the trip will head to Rabat, the city of light, a city where history and modernity blend together. It has been recently featured in Time Magazine as “World’s greatest place for this year”.
My suggestion will also be to dive into the beauty of the Sahara region, like enjoying Dakhla for its spectacular lagoons and golden sand. Dakhla is also known as one of the important destinations for international amateurs and professionals in sliding sports.
With regard to your question on direct flights between Hungary and Morocco, the discussion is undergoing for the time being without a specified calendar. However, Morocco is reachable from mostly everywhere within a couple of hours.
DNH: Few people in Hungary know that Sahara is a major source of conflict between Morocco and its neighbor. Could you explain what is at the heart of the conflict and what peaceful solutions you see in this matter?
H.E. Mrs. Karima Kabbaj: The regional dispute over the Moroccan Sahara, which is an existential issue for the Moroccan Nation as a whole, remains one of the oldest regional conflicts in the world.
To gain independence, Morocco had to negotiate, in stages, the retrocession of different parts of its national territory, in accordance with the UN Charter. The same process had been applied to recover the Sahara region which was under the Spanish administration. In this regard, The General Assembly resolution urged the Spanish administrative power, in 1965, to take necessary measures for the liberation of the rest of the Spanish Sahara. Accordingly, Tarfaya and Sidi Ifni recovered respectively in 1958 and 1969. In 1975, and after long negotiations, an agreement was signed with Spain, the “Madrid Agreement” duly registered at the UN, according to its dispositions, Morocco should recover the rest of its southern provinces by peaceful means. After that, the Green March was organized and which was a momentum that marked our history. Unfortunately, the changes in the context of Spain, the Maghreb and at the international level, made the complete recuperation of the Sahara region complicated.
In addition, Polisario, the separatist armed group, who are maliciously and falsely claimed rights to represent the Sahrawi population, did not exist during the colonial period, and is not recognized at the international level as “a liberation movement” and even less as “sole legitimate representative” of the Sahrawi people. This separatist group holds no legal or popular base, or even any democratic legitimacy to aspire to represent the population of Sahrawi origin. This is also reflected by the withdrawal of recognition by the international community, of the self-proclaimed “republic” of the Polisario. Today, only 31 countries out of 193 states members in the UN recognize the fallacious and illusionary “republic”.
This same separatist group has also proven, to the whole international community, to have direct connections with terrorism in the Sahel region. For example, the infamous terrorist Adnan Abu Walid was a member of the Polisario before becoming the head of the terrorist group “Islamic State in the greater Sahara” who used to seek refuge in the Tindouf camps, run by the Polisario, and which became a hub for financing terrorism in the Sahel, through the illicit transfer of funds.
Regarding Tindouf camp, which is not on Moroccan territory, is subject to daily repression, excessive use of power, enforced disappearances, arrests and torture, resulting in several casualties among the inhabitants of the camps, as well as the restrictions on freedom of expression and mobility imposed by the Polisario, not to mention the embezzlement of the humanitarian aid.
According to different reports, notably the one presented by the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF), on the food aid provided by the EU Member States, revealed that much of the international humanitarian aid to Tindouf camps is embezzled and sold in an organized way in favor of polisario officials, leaving the rest of the people in the camp suffering from hunger, malnutrition and different diseases.
It is worth underlining that the Polisario is insisting on the organization of the Referendum as the only solution to achieve self-determination, while the mechanism has proven to be inapplicable in the case of the Sahara, due to the tribal and nomadic aspects of the Sahrawi population, which made the identification process for the referendum impossible and indecisive.
Therefore, and since 2004, the Security Council, no longer invokes the organization of a referendum and has continuously called upon the parties to “put an end to the impasse and move towards a final political solution mutually accepted and of compromise” to the regional dispute over the Moroccan Sahara.
In response, the Kingdom of Morocco submitted an Autonomy initiative, in April 2007, that is substantial, innovative and in accordance with international law. This proposal gained support from many countries and created a new dynamic within the SC.
Since then, all the SC Resolutions adopted on the regional dispute over the Sahara, have confirmed the pre-eminence of the Autonomy Plan, and recognized its credibility and its seriousness.
Hungary, a country that has also suffered similar challenges with the adoption of the Trianon Treaty in 1920, is aware of the sensitivity of the issue and is one of pioneer European countries that always supported the territorial integrity of Morocco and praised the autonomy plan presented by Morocco and the efforts carried out under the exclusive auspices of the United Nations to achieve a realistic, pragmatic, lasting, political and compromise-based solution to the regional dispute over the Moroccan Sahara.
This dynamic in favor of the Moroccan territorial integrity has been also expressed by more than 27 countries who have established their General Consulates in the Southern provinces of Morocco, in Laayoune and Dakhla, reflecting their full support to the territorial integrity and Sovereignty of the Kingdom over its Sahara.
Therefore, Morocco’s sovereignty over its Sahara is a historical fact, legal legitimacy and a cause of a nation, which is fully reflected by the Moroccan Initiative for Autonomy, in all its human, social, political, cultural, and economic components.
DNH: Hungary used to have a kingdom, but you still have one. Could you briefly talk about the Monarchy?
H.E. Mrs. Karima Kabbaj: Morocco is one of the oldest Monarchies in the world. It dates back to 791 when the empire/state of Morocco was founded. Only a few monarchies can claim that much history.
The strength of the Moroccan monarchy rises from its spiritual influence, meaning that the Monarch holds the Title of Amir Al-Mouminine, the Commander of All Faithful, making of Morocco a country of religious and spiritual tolerance as demonstrated by the harmonious coexistence of the religions and their symbols, such as mosques, churches and synagogues throughout the national territory.
Its historic context relies on the fact of continuity that also offers stability. In other words, the current ruling is Alaouite, dates back to the 17th century, which inherited its reigning from several dynasties before, such as Almoravid, Almohad, Marinid, Wattasid, and Saadi.
Therefore, the Moroccan Monarchy as a system has accumulated rich and diverse national and international experiences which have been passed from one King to the next.
And lastly, its symbolic meaning as the Monarchs of Morocco are the Symbols of Unity and Stability, who aspire to protect citizens’ religion, security, public order, justice, and dignity. That is why you can witness the strong bond between the Moroccans and their Monarchs, which sometimes extends even beyond the borders of the Kingdom.
DNH: What are the political relations like between Morocco and Hungary? And what are the business links between the two countries? What kind of Moroccan goods can Hungarian customers find and what kind of Hungarian companies are successful in your country?
H.E. Mrs. Karima Kabbaj: The Kingdom of Morocco and Hungary celebrates, this year, 64 years since the establishment of their diplomatic relations.
The bilateral relations between the two parties, which recently knew important dynamics, are governed by wide range of agreements that cover several and diverse areas of cooperation namely, agriculture, industry, education, culture, sport, transport, scientific research, judicial cooperation and in the field of archives.
The growing pace of exchanges of high-level visits on both sides in recent years has given a new dynamic to bilateral relations between the two sides and allowed the establishment of regular political dialogue at the Governmental level. Both countries also enjoy mutual support within international and regional organizations, such as the European parliament, the Council of Europe and also within the United Nations’ different bodies.
The growth of the relations can also be witnessed at the parliamentary level. in recent years, there has been a regular exchange of meetings between the Speakers of the Parliaments of Hungary and Morocco. Also, we have recently renewed the Parliamentary friendship group between Hungary and Morocco, and we are planning to conduct a visit to Morocco soon.
Moreover, the relations are extended to a mutual interest in developing sectorial cooperation, notably in terms of renewable energies, digitalization, water and waste-water management as well as Academic and scientific research field.
Regarding Academic cooperation,
I would like to thank the Hungarian authorities for the great opportunity they offer to Moroccan students, through Stipendium Hungaricum program, that was renewed and signed last January and which was the occasion to increase the number of scholarships offered to 165 yearly, with a vision to even further grow the number of the beneficiaries.
This is very important because these Moroccan students who benefit from the SH programs, are later becoming envoys that promote inter-human connections, and hence contribute significantly to enhancing the cooperation between both countries.
I would say that the historic relationship between Morocco and Hungary relies on friendship, mutual respect and a shared interest in peace and prosperity with a joint vision and will to even further deepen the excellent relations that exist already.
DNH: One of the Embassy’s main tasks is to make Morocco better known to Hungarians. What were the main events of the last six months and what events are planned for the near future?
H.E. Mrs. Karima Kabbaj: The Embassy organizes different events to promote Morocco, culturally, politically and economically.
For instance, a couple of weeks ago the Embassy organized in collaboration with the Institute of Foreign Affairs and Trade of Hungary as well as with Corvinus University, two lectures on the role of Morocco in Africa, as well as the contribution of Morocco to the stability of the region.
We have also participated in the Arab Cultural Day, organised by the Council of Arab Ambassadors, which was an opportunity to show our Hungarian friends the diversified cultural heritage of Morocco and other Arab countries. (read also: Arab Cultural Day in Budapest: a great cultural and diplomatic event – PHOTOS) We took part in the famous diplomatic fair as well, which was an occasion to showcase different cosmetic products from Morocco, which are made of local ingredients such as argan oil. We also participated in the “Week of Francophonie”, with a Moroccan movie called “Queens”, which surprisingly was full house during the two days when it was screened at the famous Urania National Film Theatre. Besides, the guests were also able to taste and enjoy various delicacies of the Moroccan cuisine.
Different activities are in the pipeline. This year, we are planning to organise a joint exhibition and a lecture, with the Hapsburg Foundation and the Archives of Morocco, to commemorate the deep relations that exist between Hungary and Morocco.
Recently a group of Hungarian businessmen visited Morocco to explore ways of enhancing the business cooperation.
Therefore, we are looking at organising a joint Business Forum to boost bilateral trade and investment.
To highlight the importance of the harmonious coexistence of religion in Morocco, the Embassy will soon organise an exhibition celebrating the cohabitation of Muslims, Jewish and Christians in Morocco throughout history.
DNH: You are also the head of both, the Council of Arab Ambassadors and the African Group. Could you tell us about these two groups? Where can we attend their events?
H.E. Mrs. Karima Kabbaj: It has been an honour and privilege for me to hold the deanship of two important informal groups representing the Arab and African countries. It is also an opportunity for me to engage more actively with the Hungarian authorities and to properly present and promote the African and Arab cultures and interests in our host country, Hungary. It also offers a platform of dialogue for the Arab and African Ambassadors to share and discuss opportunities and initiatives that contribute to enhancing the cooperation between Hungary and the Arab and African countries represented in the capital.
Aside from the events organised by the Embassy, we also set up joint activities with the embassies’ members to the two mentioned groups.
For instance, we participated in the Arab Culture Day, as I have mentioned previously. We also celebrate jointly the African Day held each year on the 25th of May.
Within Ramadan festivities, the holy month when Muslims around the world fast and are more spiritually engaged, the Council of Arab Ambassadors is organising a friendly football tournament between the Arab embassies in Budapest.
We are also discussing the organisation of an Arab Movie week, which will be an occasion to promote and bring the cultures of different Arab countries to the Hungarian people.
All our events are promoted through the social media platforms of the Embassy, mainly on Twitter and Facebook. Therefore, I would suggest that you follow us to be updated on coming events.
DNH: What are your favorite Hungarian dishes and are there any that you can prepare yourself?
H.E. Mrs. Karima Kabbaj: I very much enjoy Hungarian gastronomy. It reminds me a lot of the Moroccan cuisine, especially when it comes to using paprika and spices when preparing savory dishes. I have also noticed that Hungarian cuisine is rich in marzipan-flavoured pastries. In Morocco, where sweets are essential, we also commonly use almonds paste and honey. These types of desserts are usually accompanied by Moroccan mint tea.
As for my favourite Hungarian dishes, it will be tricky to choose since I enjoy most of them. For example, I like the Goulash soup, the taste is very similar to the Moroccan vegetable soup that we usually prepare either with chicken or beef.
I also like famous Hungarian dishes such as duck leg and duck liver, which are not commonly used in Moroccan cuisine. For dessert, my favorite is the túrógombóc (sweet cottage cheese dumplings).
I think what is important is that both Moroccan and Hungarian cuisines offer endless choices, reflecting the richness of the two cultures and the influences they had throughout history.
When Morroco bark, it means that he is in pain….The proverb “The caravan passes by and dogs bark” apply completely to this representative.