Opinion: what’s behind Rabat’s latest spat with Madrid?

Abdelhak Bassou, a senior researcher at The Policy Center of the New South, a Moroccan think tank specializing in pan-African…

Abdelhak Bassou, a senior researcher at The Policy Center of the New South, a Moroccan think tank specializing in pan-African issues, gives an opinion on the current spat between Rabat and Madrid following the admission in a Spanish clinic of the Algeria-backed Polisario front leader Brahim Ghali.By Lemine Ould M. Salem

Ghali’s admission a few days ago to a Spanish medical facility apparently under a false Algerian identity infuriated Moroccans for the following reasons.

Instead of anger, it is more of an outrage, coupled with a feeling of surprise and disappointment. 

Spain is reputed as a country known for its respect for the rule of law and its international commitments. 

The Polisario leader, a separatist movement created, funded and backed by Algeria to prevent Morocco from exercising its sovereignty over all of its territory, was admitted to a hospital with clearly illegal procedures, forgery and usurpation of identity.

Brahmi Ghali arrived in Spain with fake documents and an identity that is not his. 

At the same time he is the subject of torture complaints in front of Iberian justice. 

The Spanish authorities were well aware of the fact that behind this false identity with which he arrived in the country, was a person in hiding, being the subject of prosecution in the Spanish courts.

At this stage of the case, no one knows for sure that the Spanish courts knew about it, but the political authorities were certainly privy to the case. 

Morocco is therefore outraged to see state officials conceal the identity of a person who is the subject of complaints by Moroccans to the Spanish courts, in order to shield him from the usual procedures in such cases.

Moroccans are astonished and disappointed that Spain, a neighbor, an important partner and a friendly country, concealed the identity of a man accused by Moroccan citizens of serious crimes of torture.

By accepting the presence of the Polisario leader under a false identity, Spain shows Morocco that it despises the victims and condones the crimes of torture of which the Polisario leader is accused. 

Never in Morocco would anyone have thought that Spain, a country with which Rabat cooperates very closely and sincerely on many sensitive issues, could act in this manner.

Better, Morocco would never have believed that Spain was thus fooled by Algeria, which provided the false identity to Brahim Ghali.

Moreover, the Algerian authorities must not ignore that this case was going to come to light and that Ghali would end up being questioned and even arrested, considering the serious charges and evidence against him. 

Sending him to Spain, to another country, was most likely to have him arrested, so they could get rid of him, because obviously his presence at the head of the Polisario no longer suits their agenda against Morocco. 

The Algerian military, who are the real masters of the country in favor of a pseudo civilian government, are now aware that the hot-tempered operation in which they recently used Brahim Ghali has failed.

Morocco has been firm and harsh in its response to the maneuvers of the Algerians and the Polisario in the east of the defense wall protecting the Moroccan Saharan provinces from possible incursions from Algeria, where the Polisario separatist movement is based. 

Rabat has made the enemies of its territorial integrity pay dearly for the machinations they had engaged in last year in the area. 

Algeria is now forced to change tactics and therefore presumably to change the leadership of the Polisario. 

This is probably why Brahim Ghali was sent to Spain, where there are good chances he will end up being arrested for the alleged crimes against him before the Spanish judiciary.

Spain, which is the former colonial power of the then Western Sahara, knows the “sacredness” of this territory in Morocco. 

How could Madrid not anticipate the indignation of its neighbour Morocco?

Relations between Morocco and Spain are overall good. 

But from time to time, they experience difficult periods that do not reach freezing points and their disputes that never lead to breaking off of diplomatic relations.

In the relations between Spain and Morocco, politics and history have always been conflicting parts: modern time politics, which dictate cooperation and friendship for good neighborliness and the safeguard of common interests and certain reminiscences of the history that resurface psychologically. 

On the one hand, there is the period of Youssef Ibn Tachfin, the great Almoravid conqueror and Andalusia, and on the other hand, the colonization of northern Morocco and the Moroccan Sahara by Spain. 

This historic aspect sometimes returns to instill mistrust and blur the lines between political decision-makers.

I believe Madrid knew Morocco would not appreciate what Spain did in this case. It may have wanted to please Algeria, which supplies the kingdom with gas; but Madrid has gone a little far and in a bad way. 

It may have wanted to sanction Morocco for measures to safeguard its economy by putting an end to the smuggling that was rampant in Ceuta, the enclave located in the north of Morocco, still occupied by Spain with that of Melilla.

Spain also probably wanted to intimidate Morocco in the delimitation of the continental shelf on the side of the Spanish Canary Islands which lie opposite the Atlantic coast of Morocco, but did it in an awkward way. 

These are questions that can be resolved diplomatically, legally, in peace and friendship.

What are the risks that this affair could pose in relations between Rabat and Madrid? What are the possible retaliatory measures that Morocco could take?

Relations between Morocco and Spain are strong and solid. 

Their nature is governed by neighborliness and a common destiny. 

Geopolitical considerations dictate that the two countries behave well towards each other. 

They are geopolitically fated to live together. 

Both are the gateways to their continents. 

Africa benefits from Morocco’s good relations with Spain and Europe benefits from Spain’s good relations with Morocco. 

The stake goes beyond the two countries and plays out on their respective continents.

When Morocco takes all measures to fight terrorism and truthfully cooperates with Spain, it is not only Madrid that it defends but all of Europe. 

When it regulates illegal migration to Europe, it helps all of Europe to resolve an issue that is of concern to the entire European Union. 

Morocco wants its relations with Spain to be as good as ever and to be the best that we can establish, but Spain must also respect at least neutrality in Moroccan affairs, especially that of its territorial integrity, embodied by the Sahara issue.

This issue involving the Polisario leader will probably be soon resolved by Brahim Ghali’s arrest and the legal consequences that will result from the investigation into the case. 

If he is arrested, it would serve the Moroccan plaintiffs who would finally see justice rendered. 

It would also allow Algeria to get rid of an aging proxy and find among the other members of the Polisario new shoes to suit its new feet. 

After the failure of the return to war policy, Algeria is certainly preparing another strategy for which it will need another leader for the Polisario.

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