Ihe Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez is received this Thursday, April 7 in Rabat by the King of Morocco Mohammed VI, an official visit intended to mark the end of a diplomatic crisis which has lasted for almost a year. On the program of this visit, immediately confirmed by the Moroccan Royal Palace, official talks with King Mohammed VI, this Thursday, before an invitation in the evening for Iftar, the “breaking of the fast of Ramadan”, in this month sacred to Muslims which began on April 3 in the kingdom. From Madrid, this invitation to break the fast is seen as “a very strong sign of friendship”. The visit of the head of the Spanish government must continue until Friday.
Almost a year of crisis
Displaying its neutrality so far, Madrid publicly announced on March 18, to everyone’s surprise, its support for the Moroccan autonomy plan, which it now considers “the most serious, realistic and credible basis for the resolution of this dispute”. This gesture expected by Rabat made it possible to put an end to almost a year of major diplomatic crisis with Madrid, caused by the reception in Spain in April of Brahim Ghali, leader of the Sahrawi separatists of the Polisario Front, sworn enemy of Rabat, for be treated there for Covid-19.
The news had sparked Rabat’s anger and culminated in the arrival in mid-May 2021 of more than 10,000 migrants in the Spanish enclave of Ceuta thanks to a relaxation of controls on the Moroccan side. Madrid then denounced “blackmail” and “aggression” on the part of Rabat, which for its part had recalled its ambassador to Spain, who only returned there on March 20.
A few days after the normalization of relations between the two neighbors, made possible by Spain’s decision to publicly support on March 18 the Moroccan autonomy plan for Western Sahara, a vast desert territory rich in phosphates and with waters full of fish. .
Rabat, which controls nearly 80% of this territory, proposes an autonomy plan under its sovereignty while the Polisario calls for a self-determination referendum, planned when a ceasefire was signed in 1991 but never materialized. .
Diplomatic tensions between Algiers and Madrid
By supporting the Moroccan plan, the Socialist Prime Minister put an end to decades of Spain’s neutrality on this issue, drawing the wrath of his left-wing allies, the right-wing opposition and Algiers, the support of the Sahrawi separatists from the Polisario Front but also a gas supplier to Spain. In this context of growing tensions, the Algerian public oil and gas group Sonatrach has indicated that it does not rule out a “recalculation” of the price of gas delivered to Spain. “Since the beginning of the crisis in Ukraine, gas and oil prices have exploded. Algeria has decided to maintain, for all of its customers, relatively correct contractual prices. However, it is not excluded to carry out a price recalculation with our Spanish client”, declared its CEO Toufik Hakkar, to the official agency APS. If the decision is taken, it will have major repercussions, while Europe is looking for alternatives to Russian gas and must therefore convince Algeria to increase its delivery capacities. Although it should be noted that Spain has recently reduced its dependence on Algerian gas via imports of liquefied natural gas (LNG) due to the shutdown by Algiers of a gas pipeline passing through Morocco, on crisis between the two Maghreb countries.
Pedro Sanchez, however, defends himself from any reversal and assured last week that this decision should rather be seen as an “additional step” in order to put an end to a “conflict encysted for four decades”. But his opponents, and in particular the radical left of Podemos, an ally of the socialists within the coalition in power and favorable to the self-determination of the Sahrawis, accuse him of not having sought a consensus and of having taken this decision alone. ‘importance.
Desde Bruselas, con la cause Saharaui. Our country has a historical responsibility for the que que fue una provincia española. Hay que acabar con décadas de incumplimiento con el Sáhara Occidental aplicando el derecho internacional y las resolutions de Naciones Unidas. pic.twitter.com/bQoz0L2LAx
—Paco (@pakogracia) April 1, 2022
The leader of the Polisario, Brahim Ghali, denounced a “radical turn” and affirmed that Spain was “abandoning” the Sahrawis to “their fate” as when he left in 1975.
For Madrid, the main purpose of normalizing relations with Rabat is to ensure its “cooperation” in the control of illegal immigration while Morocco, from where the majority of migrants leave for Spain, has been regularly accused by many observers of using them as a means of pressure on Spain. The Spanish government also hopes that Rabat will tone down its claim to the enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla.
But many analysts warn against the absence of real guarantees obtained by Spain. Indeed, strong with American support, and that of Berlin, Morocco is determined to settle in its favor the interminable conflict of Western Sahara which opposes it to the Sahrawi separatists supported by Algeria, even at the cost of a falling out with its allies, say analysts. Everything has changed, since the recognition of the “Moroccanness” of Western Sahara by Washington in December 2020, in return for the resumption of its relations with Israel, Rabat urges the international community to follow the American example.
Thus, after receiving his American counterpart Antony Blinken, the head of Moroccan diplomacy, Nasser Bourita, invited Europe to “get out of its comfort zone” and, like Spain, to endorse the plan autonomy. This call is coupled with a warning “to those who display vague or ambivalent positions”. In a speech to the nation in November, Mohammed VI warned that “Morocco would not engage with them in any economic or commercial approach that would exclude the Moroccan Sahara”. In the kingdom, the question of the Sahara is consensus. The former Spanish colony – which he calls his “southern provinces” – has historically been part of his territory, an “immutable truth” which “will never be on the agenda of any negotiation”, has hammered King Mohammed VI. If for observers the tireless mobilization of Moroccan diplomacy has just paid off, in the eyes of Maghreb historian Pierre Vermeren, “Moroccans have learned the lessons of current geopolitics perfectly. The balance of power has become the norm to the detriment of international law, ”he analyzed with Agence France-Presse.
If proof was needed of the kingdom’s desire to free itself from all tutelage in the name of its interests, Morocco did not participate in the two votes of the UN General Assembly condemning Moscow for the invasion of Ukraine, so as not to alienate Russia, a member of the UN Security Council, according to analysts. A position which has “strongly disappointed” its partners, according to a Western diplomatic source, quoted by AFP, “in view of the seriousness of Russian aggression and in respect of its traditional alliances with Western countries, to which it has preferred a rapprochement with Russia, which is nevertheless favorable to the Polisario Front”. In reaction, the Ukrainian President, Volodymyr Zelensky, decided to recall his ambassador to Morocco, Oksana Vassilieva, judging that she was “wasting her time” in Rabat.