The bilateral relationship with Morocco, the great headache of Pedro Sánchez

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Morocco. It is perhaps one of the most mentioned countries, if not the most, in recent months within state politics. Especially since last March 18. That day, a Friday afternoon, the Royal House of the neighboring country announced the existence of a letter sent by the President of the Government, Pedro Sanchezto the Moroccan king, Mohammed VI. A new stage began thanks to a shift in the Spanish position on the Occidental Sahara. The political earthquake was sounded. The consequences, too. And the bilateral relations with the Alaouite kingdom they continue to be a great headache for Moncloa.

The focus on Morocco has been brought back to the fore for a week by a humanitarian tragedy in the Melilla fence. Dozens of migrants died there among complaints of ill-treatment towards the Moroccan police. Their gendarmes also crossed the border to act, as reported by Public in exclusive. In his first words, Sánchez congratulated the gendarmes of the neighboring country and said that the action had been “well resolved.” Days later he admitted that he had not seen the images and that he would not have said that if he had seen them before.

Moncloa’s discomfort with this matter has been patent. In addition, it has coincided with two key moments: the presentation of the second anti-crisis decree and the NATO summit. A fact that has clouded a part of both events. The press conference last Tuesday after the Council of Ministers evidenced the difficulties and internal tensions due to the position of United We Can in this regard. Asking Morocco for explanations has been avoided at all times for police action and it will be the Ombudsman and the Prosecutor’s Office who investigate to clarify what happened. The UN has also asked to investigate. The socialist wing of the government has mainly blamed “the mafias”.

Moncloa sources this week asked for “understanding” in the face of a “complex” matter with many diplomatic implications. “The relationship with Morocco is key,” the members of the Executive insist. But The critics How the matter has been managed has come both from his government partners and from the right and other usual allies in Congress.

Among the pending issues that should be finalized after the bilateral agreement signed by Sánchez and Mohamed VI, the negotiations over territorial waters. An issue that especially affects and worries the Canary Islands. The opening of commercial customs in Ceuta and Melilla must also be specified. The borders did open in May after being closed for almost two years and Operation Crossing the Strait was also resumed.

In short, despite Sánchez’s trip to Rabat, the letter and agreement “for a new partnership”, the issues with Morocco will continue to be of the utmost importance. The crisis with the Alaouite kingdom, which Moncloa considers closed, has had a series of proper names and significant episodes since practically the beginning of the term of the coalition government.

Cancellation of the High Level Meeting

The tensions between the Government of Sánchez and Morocco began in December 2020. In the midst of the pandemic, a High Level Meeting (RAN) was scheduled to be held in the neighboring country. The official version of the postponement was the health crisis. But at the bottom of the matter was also Moroccan discomfort with some statements by members of the UP in the Government, such as former Vice President Pablo Iglesias. His position, basically based on defending the right to self-determination that the UN has promulgated, was not liked by the neighboring country. Shortly before, in addition, the war had broken out in the territory after decades of ceasefire.

Brahim Ghali

Western Sahara, a latent conflict but with not much public attention, returned to the headlines due to this war between Morocco and the Polisario Front. And, in addition, by a proper name. Brahim Ghali, Secretary General of the Polisario and President of the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR). The Saharawi leader was received in a humanitarian way in April 2021 (and in secret) by the Government so that he could be treated in a hospital in Logroño due to covid-19. The affair unleashed a judicial, political and diplomatic firestorm with few precedents in bilateral relations.

Ceuta crisis, migratory blackmail

The visible consequences of Morocco’s anger were not long in coming. In May 2021, the Alaouite kingdom facilitated the sudden arrival of 8,000 Moroccan migrant civilians in Ceuta, many of them minors. As recognized by the Moroccan ambassador in Madrid, Karim Benyaich, the problem was not Ghali’s presence in a Spanish hospital, but the Spanish position on the Sahara. This was later corroborated by Rabat’s Foreign Minister, Nasser Bourita, who did not hesitate to remark that the Sahara is for Morocco what Catalonia is for Spain. In this way, he denied the colonial condition of the Saharawi conflict. Sánchez was forceful in his response: “It is unacceptable that our borders be attacked due to disagreements in foreign policy.”

Albares enters, González Laya leaves

Other proper names in the relationships are Arancha González Laya and José Manuel Albares. The first served as Foreign Minister during the reception of Ghali and a judicial investigation was opened that was recently archived. But her management had been very affected and in the month of July she was replaced by José Manuel Albares, former ambassador in Paris and very close to Sánchez. The challenge was to recover bilateral relations that did not exist at that time.

The letter to Mohamed VI, the Sahara and its consequences

The new Foreign Office got down to work. Discreetly, yes. Because there were no indications until that mentioned March 18 that there were relevant news. In that letter, Sánchez enshrined autonomy as “the most serious, realistic and credible basis” for resolving the conflict. Spain thus abandoned its historical neutrality and clearly opted for the option defended by Morocco. Moncloa has justified this shift by the similar positions held by countries such as the US, Germany or France.

Algeria and the Polisario

We must not forget other names of total relevance in this matter. On the one hand, the Polisario Front itself, an organization that acts as the legitimate representative of the Saharawi people before the UN. Their position is clear: they only accept a self-determination referendum. The organization announced that it was breaking relations with the Government of Sánchez due to this decision. On the other hand, Algeria. The North African country is a historical ally of the Saharawis. In fact, in its territory it has given them shelter for almost five decades in the refugee population camps of Tindouf. Relations with the Algerians have been frozen since Sánchez’s decision. The ambassador in our country was withdrawn and commercial exchanges have suffered despite, in principle, the gas supply not being in danger.

pegasus

The espionage and the call pegasus case It is another of the proper names to take into account. Despite the fact that there is no evidence of who is behind the intrusion into the cell phones of the Prime Minister, the Minister of Defense and the Minister of the Interior, the temporal relationship between the two events is evident. In addition, different international media have already published that Morocco had used against other people the software Pegasus. In fact, it has been published that González Laya’s phone was also spied on, further fueling suspicions. But this latest intrusion has not wanted to be confirmed by Moncloa.

Ceuta, Melilla and NATO

Morocco has also been indirectly involved in the NATO summit. The Government had set among its main objectives to include in the agenda of the Atlantic alliance the situation of the two autonomous cities and their relationship of protection. Moncloa managed to introduce a semantic nuance in the strategic concept to “clear up any possible doubts” about whether or not Ceuta and Melilla are under the NATO umbrella. The neighboring country has always had annexationist aspirations over both cities and in fact in different media and political forums they are called “occupied cities”.

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