Spain-Morocco Relationship in Crisis: Madrid Slammed for Combating Separatism at Home but Encouraging It Nextdoor

Written by | Friday, June 11th, 2021

When the 71-year-old leader Western Saharan rebel leader Brahim Ghali was admitted to a Spanish hospital in April to be treated for COVID-19, having reportedly arrived in the country under a false name and with an Algerian passport, few could have anticipated the far-reaching repercussions for the Spain-Morocco relationship. But after two months, the two neighbouring countries have now been trading accusations in a tense diplomatic row that led last month to a migration crisis in Spain’s enclave Ceuta in northern Morocco and that seem to be spinning out of control. “In diplomatic terms, we are looking at the most delicate Spanish-Moroccan crisis since […] 1975,” noted a Spanish political commentator Joaquín Luna, who also warns that “Madrid has everything to lose”.
Irked by Spanish authorities hoping to keep the Polisario Front leader’s stay quiet and admitting him for medical treatment without informing Rabat, Morocco, which regards Western Sahara as part of its own territory, said through its foreign ministry that the case of Ghali “revealed the hostile attitudes and harmful strategies of Spain regarding the Moroccan Sahara.” Rabat also reminded Madrid that it has cooperated with Spanish authorities in curbing migrant flows and in countering terrorism, which it said helped foil 82 militant attacks in Spain. Therefore, the foreign ministry stressed that it was Spain that violated good neighbourliness and mutual trust and that migration was actually not an issue. Meanwhile, Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez has seemingly embarked on a damage control exercise when he sought to assure Rabat that it “has no better ally within the EU than Spain.” Sánchez also said he wanted to convey a constructive attitude toward Morocco but insisted that border security was paramount. “Remember that neighbourliness … must be based on respect and confidence,” he said.
Pointing out an apparent hypocrisy on the part of Spanish government, Morocco’s foreign ministry, Nasser Bourita noted that Madrid simply “cannot combat separatism at home and promote it in its neighbour,” by which it drew parallels between the issues of Western Sahara and Spain’s Catalonia region with its own vibrant independence movement. To that end, Rabat noted its support for Madrid against the Catalan independence push, while contrasting it with Spain’s “hostile” stance with regard to Western Sahara that has led to the breaking of “mutual trust and respect”. “Morocco has not chosen neutrality” on the issue of Catalan independence movement, Rabat reminded, but it rather displayed a “clear and firm” support for the “territorial integrity and national unity” of the Spanish state. In recent years, Rabat has, at Spain’s request, refused to receive Catalan leaders “at the highest level”, according to Morocco’s foreign ministry‘s statement. It went on to question “how, in this context, can Morocco trust Spain again?”
“I am wondering how is it possible that the authorities of Spain allow the illegal entry with a false identity of a person Brahim Ghali accused of having committed acts of rape, especially against women? This is against our values and principles,” Tomas Zdechovsky, a Czech MEP said in a tweet, adding to the voices who denounced the Spanish decision to let in the Polisario leader. Zdechovsky also warned that “Madrid is doing everything to destabilise the only stable and peaceful country in the region”. The Sanchez government by pushing aggressively for adoption of an EP resolution against Morocco which only seeks to hide its successive mistakes, involving the EU in this dangerous path.“ Also the Sahraoui rights group ASADEDH and ACAVITE, which represents 300 workers and fishermen from the Canary Islands assassinated by the Polisario, are urging the Spanish judiciary to enforce the law and arrest Ghali. Meanwhile, RT, a Russian state-affiliated international TV network, questioned “what did Spain expect from Morocco, which sees its neighbour hosting the head of a group that took up arms against the kingdom?“

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