One crisis closes and another opens. The Moroccan ambassador in Madrid, Karima Benyaich, has returned to Spain almost a year after she was called for consultation by Rabat. A day earlier, Algeria decided to call its ambassador to Spain, Said Musi, for consultations “immediately”. The trigger for these two movements is the new position of the Spanish Government on Western Sahara. The rapprochement between Madrid and Rabat has caused, at the same time, the “surprise” of Algiers for what it qualifies as a “sudden change of position” on the former Spanish colony.
“It is a pleasure to return to work in Madrid and strengthen relations between Spain and Morocco, as our respective countries have determined,” said Benyaich after landing in Madrid, Efe collects. His return is a new step towards diplomatic reconciliation and de-escalation between the two countries on either side of the strait after almost a year of conflict. Relations deteriorated after the arrival of the leader of the Polisario Front at a hospital in La Rioja in April 2021, and the entry into Ceuta, in May, of more than 10,000 people who crossed from Morocco.
Added to this gesture by the North African country is the visit scheduled for before April 2 by the Spanish Foreign Minister, José Manuel Albares, to Rabat. The President of the Spanish Government, Pedro Sánchez, is also scheduled to land in Rabat in the coming months to open what the two countries have defined as a “new stage”.
On Friday afternoon it emerged that Sánchez had sent a letter to the Moroccan monarch, Mohamed VI, in which he described Morocco’s proposal for autonomy for Western Sahara as the “most serious, realistic and credible” option to find a way out of the conflict. A gesture that has been widely applauded by the Moroccan authorities: Rabat has long demanded that Spain be clear about its position on Western Sahara.
Algeria expresses its “surprise”
The historical enmity between Algeria and Morocco has complicated the integration of the region, and Spain’s rapprochement with one of the two Maghreb powers is viewed with suspicion by the other. So far, Algiers has expressed its “surprise” at Spain’s rapprochement with the Moroccan position on the Sahara, in addition to calling its ambassador in Madrid for consultations.
An official source told the local media TSA that this act is a “second historical betrayal of the Saharawi people by Madrid after the disastrous agreement of 1975″, referring to the pact by which Spain withdrew from the Sahara. In addition, he defended that his country had not been notified before Sánchez would send the letter to Mohamed VI. A version that shocks with the Spanish: Moncloa has defended that it did previously inform Algiers of its decision.
Historically, Algeria has been the main ally of the Polisario Front, which also has its main base near the Algerian city of Tindouf. The country’s authorities have always defended a self-determination referendum for Western Sahara. This position has been one of the main reasons for the historical conflict between Algiers and Rabat. Another reason is the struggle for hegemony in the region.
In recent decades, Algeria has been the main supplier of gas to Spain. After these latest movements, analysts have set their sights on whether the change in Spanish position on Western Sahara could have consequences on the arrival of this hydrocarbon in Spain, especially at a delicate moment such as the current one caused by the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Morocco scores a diplomatic victory
The Moroccan media have interpreted Sánchez’s letter as a victory for his diplomacy. “Spain returned to the right path in the Sahara”, the newspaper ‘Assabah’, one of the most widely read in the country, wrote this weekend. “From Washington to Madrid, passing through Berlin, Paris and other important capitals on the international scene, the solution of autonomy for the Sahara gains notoriety and Moroccan diplomacy gains in stature and leadership”, defends an article published by the MAP, the Moroccan news agency.
The return of the Moroccan ambassador to Madrid represents the closure of one of the several open fronts that both countries maintain. But others need to be specified, for example, in the situation in Ceuta and Melilla. Two years ago the borders to these two autonomous cities are closedand for now there is no official information that opens the door to reopening. A situation similar to what happens with the maritime connections between the two countries through the Strait of Gibraltarwhich have been stopped since the start of the pandemic.
The Polisario highlights that Spain’s turn does not change that Western Sahara is a territory to be decolonized
The Polisario Front recalled this Sunday that Spain’s support for the Moroccan autonomy plan does not change the fact that, from the point of view of International Law, Western Sahara continues to be a non-autonomous territory for which a decolonization process must be completed.
President Pedro Sánchez’s message to Mohamed VI “does not change the legal status of Western Sahara, considered a non-autonomous territory” and “the will of the Saharawi people to build an independent state in all the occupied territories does not change either”highlighted the spokeswoman for the presidency of the self-proclaimed Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), Nana Labat Rachid, in statements to the Algerian press.
In addition, Rachid has pointed to the “division” in the Spanish political scene in the face of Sánchez’s “unilateral decision” and has warned that the Prime Minister will have to “be accountable” before Parliament, where the Saharawi cause has support.
The Saharawi leader has attributed the change in position to “blackmail” of Morocco and its “constant threat to flood Madrid with illegal immigrants”. “It seems that Moroccan blackmail is more important than the law in Spain,” he said, according to the Algerian news agency APS.
For his part, the Saharawi representative to the EU, Abi Bucharaya al Bashir, has warned that Spain “cannot unilaterally evade its responsibilities and commitments derived from its unique relationship” with the Saharawi people after eight decades of colonization.
In addition, Al Bashir has highlighted the “unanimous condemnation of the vast majority of political parties in Spain” although he acknowledges that it has served to “reestablish relations between Spain and the Kingdom of Morocco after more than three years of tension”.
In any case, Spain “is no longer in a position to play any credible role in the search for a political agreement for the conflict (…) because it has publicly adopted the position of one of the parties,” reports Europa Press.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.