Ruler of cash-strapped Morocco plans Gulf Arab tour
KUWAIT/RABAT (Reuters) - Morocco's King Mohammed is to make a rare official tour of Gulf Arab countries later this year as his cash-strapped government seeks alternatives to its crisis-hit European trade partners.
Kuwait's Foreign Ministry Undersecretary Khaled al-Jarallah told Reuters the monarch would discuss investment and bilateral relations. "He is going on a tour in the Gulf countries," said Jarallah, noting that the king was expected to visit Kuwait in October or November.
The monarch will also travel to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar and Oman, Jarallah said.
A Saudi official who declined to be named under briefing rules told Reuters King Mohammed planned to visit Saudi Arabia after the haj, the Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca which is expected to run from October 24 to 29 this year.
A spokesman for the Moroccan king's cabinet declined to comment.
A tour of fellow Gulf monarchies by King Mohammed would be important diplomatically and financially for Morocco, which is ruled by the Arab world's longest-serving dynasty but lacks the oil riches of the younger Gulf monarchies.
Since his enthronement in 1999, King Mohammed has kept his distance from Gulf Arab monarchies, with far fewer official visits than under his late father King Hassan. Some of the Gulf's most influential rulers, including Saudi King Abdullah, regularly visit Morocco but mostly for medical or other private reasons.
Morocco's $90-billion economy is heavily exposed to the euro zone, whose troubles have hit tourism revenues, migrant remittances and foreign investment this year.
The king urged his government in July to tap financing from Gulf sovereign wealth funds in what was widely seen as an instruction to give Gulf investors more access to investment opportunities traditionally dominated by European and local firms.
An invitation last year for Arab kingdoms Morocco and Jordan to join the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) signaled that monarchies in the region were trying to strengthen links in the face of the "Arab Spring" uprisings.
Morocco largely escaped last year's Arab Spring unrest but it has little cash to improve living standards amid heavy domestic pressure for jobs and measures to cut poverty.
"It will be a roadshow ... an opportunity to market fresh investment opportunities Moroccan has to offer," said an official Moroccan source.
Rabat hopes Gulf institutional investors will buy heavily into a $1-billion-plus sovereign bond later this year. King Mohammed is also expected to meet firms interested in the planned sale by Vivendi of its majority stake in Maroc Telecom.
Morocco is drafting a new banking law that should open the door to Islamic lenders. Rabat may also discuss partnerships between its state-run airline Royal Air Maroc and a major Gulf airline, after low-cost carriers have reduced their business in Morocco due to lower European demand.
Rabat wants billions of dollars to fund ambitious solar and wind energy development plans as well as resort developments.
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