Mohamed Ali withdrew from active politics in Ceuta a year ago, after two uninterrupted decades on the front line, leading the Ceuta Democratic Union (UDCE), integrated in the last stage as a candidate for the Caballas coalition. In January 2020, Ali starred in one of the toughest plenary sessions in the city Assembly. He responded to provocative comments from the Vox bench, which had just broken into Ceuta with force and the anger escalated until insults were launched — “cowards” or “fascists” on one side and “clown” from the other — and almost ended in fight. Last week, Ali learned that this plenary session will end up on trial, specifically, for a possible hate crime against far-right deputies.
What happened for him to go to trial accused of a hate crime against Vox?
I’m still stunned. Everything arises in a plenary session in which I am talking about the need for a good neighborly treaty with Morocco, given its proximity. I am interrupted by the Vox bench on several occasions, they insult me and thus a very risqué discussion arises. It was a plenary session after the publication of those famous WhatsApp of the Vox leadership in which he insulted and vilified the entire Muslim population of Ceuta. When I’m interrupted, everything I know in the videos happens.
Then we approved a joint declaration, also signed by Vox and all the groups in the assembly, in which they apologize for everything and bet on harmony. Everything was settled politically for me. Then I find myself surprised that Vox files a complaint in court, but it does so for threats and an attack, not for a hate crime. We testify in court and there are no signs of threats or attack. But the judge surprisingly says there may be a potential hate crime case. We appealed it, but finally everything has to be clarified in a trial. It is an initiative of the judge that Vox has now grabbed with all its might. It’s surreal. I don’t hate anyone, especially not for defending some ideas.
He called them cowards and fascists, among other things. What happened in plenary?
I felt a capital indignation. In addition to insulting the Muslim population of Ceuta on WhatsApp, on top of that they interrupt you in the sessions, insult you, make funny faces, gesticulate. It was unheard of. At that time, not now, Vox had an agreement with the Government of Ceuta, of the PP. That caused him to raise his tone more. I answered and repudiated the insults of the other bank and brought up all those comments. I only defended the need for a sanitary cordon and that Vox was not part of the city government. Because in Ceuta, cultures coexist, and spheres of power should not have a discourse that threatens that coexistence, which demonizes and makes half of the population foreign. That only causes a fracture in the city.
It is striking that the defendant for hate is you against the party that makes verbal violence its main strategy in politics.
Yes, now there is a lot of talk about verbal violence in politics, but in Ceuta Vox has made it common for a long time, it has normalized it. I have been out of politics for a year, but after that there were plenary sessions of equal or greater intensity. Some have had national significance, especially with Vox’s attacks on the deputy Fátima Hamed, but also against the president himself, Juan Vivas. Harsh accusations are made, not only against the Spanishness of Fátima Hamed or other Muslim deputies; also against the legitimacy of the institution, accusations of criminal activities that have never been proven against the PSOE or the PP. They say real nonsense. The president of the city has been accused of being pro-Moroccan and having interests in Rabat. Very strong things for which nothing happens or anything is prosecuted. It seems that I have been taken as the scapegoat. I just hope to prove at trial that we did not commit a hate crime.
Do you regret falling into the far-right game?
“If I could go back, I would avoid the tone and the forms”
If I could go back, I would avoid the tone and the forms that I had. But not forcefulness or standing up to them. You can’t give that up. They not only attack who is in front of them, but also against a large part of the city as a whole. But it is better to face from the calm, although firmly. You can’t give in one iota to real hate speech.
How has Ceuta changed since the arrival of the extreme right?
The Assembly has become a source of anger, a place where things more typical of a bar are said. No one can deny that there have been arid moments before, but since Vox has been here, anger has been the general trend, with a policy of firing at will. They have no qualms about saying any barbarity against any councilor of the parliamentary arch. This undermines the credibility of the institution and has a negative impact on citizens, both in Ceuta and at the national level.
Now the target is set on the Minister of Equality, Irene Montero. With her experience, what would she recommend when dealing with these attacks?
“The speeches of the ultra-right cannot be part of the political discussion”
With all the humility and distance, since she is a minister, it is easy to draw a parallel between the violence she suffers and what has been experienced in Ceuta. It is also verbal violence that threatens your identity and your belonging to this country. Here it is said with great joy that half of the population is not Spanish or that it does not feel Spanish. We are told that only for belonging to another religious confession other than Catholic, or for having different names and surnames. They do it with a virulence that hurts a lot. I perfectly understand the minister. Women have been and are besieged by a rampant machismo, and to be denied that to their faces when they stand up and say enough is enough… It is clear that it is violence. Perhaps what needs to be done is to look for spaces of understanding in which people understand that this type of ultra-right discourse cannot be part of the political discussion or ideological divergence. They are hate speech that generates confrontation. You have to go step by step, avoiding tension and without raising your tone so much, as has been my case.
Is the influence of that verbal violence that Vox has introduced visible at street level?
The impact is delicate and worrying. Many times negative. Polarization is generated and a debate is created that should not be part of people’s priorities. And many people take a position and speak out. Yes, there is also tension outside of politics. And it is harmful for coexistence in society.