Interview with Hakima El Haite, President of the London-based Liberal International
The Istanbul FLEP Program was the occasion to talk with Hakima El Haite, who was its June 2023 speaker. The14th President of the Liberal International and former Minister of Environment of the Kingdom of Morocco, El Haite has tried to transform her values and ideals into concrete government action with encouraging results.
Thank you for your time, Mrs. El Haite. Freedom is a principle – formally – recognised. What are the priorities for Liberals today while the “free society” is criticised?
Hakima El Haite: In recent years, the concept of a “free society” has faced various threats and challenges worldwide. We have witnessed the backsliding of freedom, especially freedom of speech in many countries, including mature democracies.
We have seen in the past few years, and we have seen with the hit of the pandemic, that the liberal values we hold strong are under attack – by regimes, by authoritarians and by populists who provide simple solutions to complex problems. Central Europe is not different – witnessing the rise of authoritarian and Eurosceptic leaders is nothing short of concerning. And no one can fight these authoritarian surges as much as strong liberal parties can.
Our envisioned world order, the one where everyone can choose to be who they are, choose whom they love, practice their religion of choice, won’t face a penalty for practising free speech – a world where multilateralism and international trade uplifts communities from poverty, but at the same time with great respect for our environment and its limitations, is not something we should take for granted. We are, as liberal International, standing for these values every day.
What were the significant stages of your commitment as Minister of the Environment?
Hakima El Haite: As the former Minister of Environment for the Kingdom of Morocco, I updated the national legislative framework and harmonised it with international legislation. I led the realisation of the national strategy for sustainable development and introduced green growth into national solid waste management and industrial policies.
During my mandate as the Minister of Environment for the Kingdom of Morocco, I took significant actions to address environmental challenges. Some of the notable achievements include:
1. Securing Uncontrolled Dump Sites: I implemented initiatives to secure and control hundreds of uncontrolled dumpsites throughout the country. By addressing these sites, we aimed to prevent environmental pollution and protect public health.
2. Establishing Hazardous Waste Treatment Infrastructure: I spearheaded the establishment of the first hazardous waste treatment installation in Morocco. This facility ensures the safe and proper management of hazardous waste, mitigating its potential harm to the environment and human health.
3. Banning Plastic: Recognising the detrimental impact of plastic pollution, I initiated a ban on single-use plastics to combat their widespread use and encourage the adoption of more sustainable alternatives. This measure aims to reduce plastic waste and promote a cleaner environment.
4. Advancing Solid Waste Valorisation: To enhance waste management practices, I led the creation of 20 solid waste valorisation installations. These facilities focus on recycling, composting, and other forms of waste treatment, promoting sustainable waste management.
5. Launching Environmental Police: Recognizing the need for enforcement and compliance, I established an environmental police force dedicated to ensuring environmental laws and regulations are upheld. This initiative aims to prevent and address environmental offences to protect natural resources and maintain a clean environment.
6. Engaging with Schools: In a proactive effort to raise environmental awareness and education, I opened the doors of the Ministry to schools. By inviting students and teachers to learn about environmental issues and initiatives, we aimed to foster a culture of sustainability and inspire future generations’ commitment to environmental stewardship.
You have contributed a lot to global environmental goals.
Hakima El Haite: During my tenure as Minister of Environment for the Kingdom of Morocco, I participated as a negotiator for the framework of The Paris Agreement and was subsequently elected to the Vice Presidency of COP21. I played a major role in bringing COP22 to Morocco and was a central actor in its organization and implementation as one of the first two high-level champions for COP22. During COP22 I launched with the support of the UNFCCC the Marrakech Partnership, which brought together ministers, governmental negotiators, private sector actors, and civil society through seventy-five worldwide coalitions. We aimed to create a collaborative agenda for action, and with the support of the UNFCCC, we published the first yearbook documenting our progress.
After the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the need for self-sufficiency arose; moreover, there is the problem of the “social sustainability” of the transition. How can the need for a more sustainable model be reconciled with self-sufficiency?
Hakima El Haite: Indeed, the current global situation poses significant challenges in reconciling the need for a more sustainable model with the goal of self-sufficiency. To mitigate the negative impacts of the current disorder in the international system, nations need to come together and re-commit to multilateralism, cooperation, and shared responsibility. This will be crucial for effectively addressing sustainability and self-sufficiency while navigating the complexities of changing world order. I believe that no matter what we do, we are so interdependent that thinking we can be self-sufficient is a serious mistake. The decisions made by the powerful in this world affect everyone. The division we have witnessed at the end of the Russo-Ukrainian war does not bode well for a better world. The price paid in terms of human life, financial costs, and the consequences for energy security for some and food security for others, is far too great. We must learn from this.
Let’s take stock of female leadership with particular attention to the Arab world and Africa. Is this a “century for women”?
Hakima El Haite: It is important to acknowledge the progress that has been made in promoting female leadership in the Arab world and Africa while recognizing the existing challenges and opportunities for further advancement. While it may be premature to conclude whether it is indeed a “century for women” in these regions, significant strides have been made and positive trends have emerged.
In recent years, there has been increased recognition of the importance of female participation in leadership roles across various sectors. Efforts have been made to empower women politically, economically, and socially, aiming to bridge gender gaps and promote more inclusive societies.
Several countries in the Arab world and Africa have witnessed improvements in gender equality indicators, such as increased female representation in parliaments, cabinets, and leadership positions in both the public and private sectors. Numerous women have held ministerial and influential positions, serving as role models and catalysts for change.
Additionally, initiatives focused on female entrepreneurship and economic empowerment have gained momentum. Women-led businesses and start-ups have flourished, contributing to economic growth, and providing opportunities for women to become active participants in their respective economies.
However, challenges and gaps persist. Gender inequality, social norms, cultural barriers, and limited access to education and healthcare in some regions continue to hinder progress. Gender-based violence and discrimination also pose significant barriers to female leadership and participation.
It is crucial to continue addressing these challenges and promoting gender equality by implementing comprehensive policies, fostering an inclusive and supportive environment, and advocating for women’s rights at both local and international levels. Encouraging the participation of women in decision-making processes, providing mentorship opportunities, and investing in education and skills development are essential steps towards achieving true gender equality and unlocking the unparalleled potential of women in the Arab world and Africa.
While underdevelopment may be present in certain areas, it is important to view the regions of MENA (Middle East and North Africa) and Africa holistically, recognizing the diversity within these regions and the varying degrees of progress in female leadership. By continuing to work towards a more inclusive and equal society, these regions can build on the advances made and further unlock the talent and potential of women, contributing to their overall development and success.
Morocco is a state that has opened a lot and has drawn closer to the West (for example, with NATO). How do you rate your progress?
Hakima El Haite: I cannot provide a personal rating. However, I can provide some information on Morocco’s progress in opening and drawing closer to the West. Morocco has indeed taken significant steps to engage with the West and strengthen its international alliances. The country has pursued closer cooperation with Western countries, including partnerships in various areas such as trade, security, and cultural exchange. Morocco has a long history of diplomatic relations with Western countries, including those in Europe and North America. The country has actively pursued membership and collaboration with international organizations and alliances like NATO, which is aimed at further enhancing security cooperation.
In terms of trade, Morocco has sought to establish closer economic ties with Western nations by fostering trade agreements, such as the Morocco-European Union Association Agreement. These agreements aim to promote economic integration and have helped increase foreign investments and trade flows between Morocco and Western countries. Furthermore, Morocco has made strides in areas such as tourism, attracting visitors from Western countries who appreciate its rich cultural heritage, diverse landscapes, and hospitality.