In 2009, Morocco cut off its diplomatic ties with Iran, accusing it of seeking “to change the religious foundations of the Kingdom" and of "intolerable interference in the internal affairs of the Kingdom." One of the primary concerns of Moroccan security authorities behind the decision was Iran’s efforts to proselytize among Moroccan diaspora communities in Europe, particularly in Belgium, where an estimated 30,000 mostly second and third-generation Moroccan immigrants have converted to Shi’ism. Iran’s proselytization activities in Belgium center around the ‘Rida mosque and Islamic Association in Anderlecht, the Centre Islamique Culturel Chiite – Ahlou al Bayt in Brussels, and the ‘Alzahraa Center in Antwerp.
In spite of Iran’s efforts at ideological expansion throughout Western Europe, the region has largely steered clear of the sectarian tensions plaguing the Middle East and burgeoning in Africa. Belgium, however, has emerged as a zone of contestation, with Salafi and Iranian elements vying for influence among the nation’s Moroccan immigrants, leading to growing Islamist extremism. Morocco, whose state version of Islam is a tolerant form of Maliki Sunnism, has viewed the growing extremism in Belgium with concern. In 2013, a Salafist carried out an arson attack on the al-Rida mosque while shouting about issues related to the civil war in Syria, killing the mosque’s imam. The attack underscored the dangers of Iran’s Middle Eastern meddling reverberating into sectarian tensions elsewhere around the globe.