Why Is Madrid Pandering to Morocco?

Published: 13/Mai/2022
Source: Foreign Policy (Washington DC)

Spain has traded five decades of neutrality on Western Sahara while getting nothing but a spyware scandal in return.

By Marcos Bartolomé, a Spain-based journalist and researcher.

Spain’s foreign policy strives to secure the country’s status as a relevant middle power with a voice in Latin America, Europe, and the Mediterranean Basin. In North Africa, however, Madrid is skating on thin ice.

Matters first turned sour following then-U.S. President Donald Trump’s recognition in December 2020 of Moroccan sovereignty over occupied Western Sahara—a former Spanish colony. Spain refused to follow suit and faced months of wrath from the Moroccan monarchy after authorities allowed Brahim Ghali—the leader of the Polisario Front, which resists Moroccan control of the territory—into a Spanish hospital for COVID-19 treatment. Rabat retaliated by recalling its ambassador.

The 15-month-long row included several spats in which Morocco weaponized thousands of people—including hundreds of its own underage nationals—as diplomatic ammunition. The kingdom repeatedly halted border patrols, letting dozens of migrant boatsreach the Spanish Canary Islands and allowing thousands of fence crossings into the Spanish exclaves Ceuta and Melilla, on Africa’s mainland.

In mid-2021, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez’s phone was twice hacked by the Israel-developed malware Pegasus; Morocco is the prime suspect, leading to fears Rabat is seeking to blackmail Madrid.


Eventually, Sánchez caved on the biggest issue of all—fearing the consequences of Rabat’s freeze in immigration deterrence and the economic asphyxia caused by the Moroccan border closures on the frontier with Ceuta and Melilla. In a letter to King Mohammed VI dated March 14, Sánchez dubbed the 2007 Moroccan proposal of Sahrawi autonomy under Rabat’s control in Western Sahara “the most serious, credible, and realistic basis” toward resolving the conflict. Four days later, the Moroccan palace leaked the diplomatic missive to the press.

The tilt toward Morocco undoes half a century of formal Spanish neutrality in the conflict between Morocco and the Polisario. Crucially, the new stance lands Madrid closer to Rabat’s position than either Berlin’s or Paris’s; both Germany and France have acknowledged the autonomy plan as merely “a contribution” but abstained from superlatives. After 10 months, the lights are on again in Morocco’s ambassadorial residence in Madrid. It hasn’t been cost-free.

Read further: https://foreignpolicy.com/2022/05/13/spain-sanchez-morocco-polisario-western-sahara-algeria/


Themes: Succession d'États
Regions: République Arabe Sahraouie Démocratique (Sahara Occidental)
Year: 2022
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