Madrid ratchets up accusations, evades responsibility over crisis with Rabat

Academic and political analyst Hicham Moatadhed said Considering Ceuta part of Europe is “a dangerous position and a politically unacceptable transgression against Rabat and the Moroccan people in terms of diplomatic rhetoric.”

Friday 21/05/2021
Moroccan Security forces stand guard as migrants walk past a fence separating the Moroccan and Spanish side of the border near the enclave of Ceuta, May 19, 2021. (AP)
Moroccan Security forces stand guard as migrants walk past a fence separating the Moroccan and Spanish side of the border near the enclave of Ceuta, May 19, 2021. (AP)

RABAT – At a time when most of the would-be illegal migrants have been already returned to Morocco, Spanish officials continued to ratchet up their rhetoric against Rabat while eschewing the issues at the root of the crisis, analysts said.

More than 6,000 out of the 8,000 migrants who reached the Spanish North African enclave of Ceuta haeve been repatriated to Morocco, Spanish authorities said.

Spanish Defence Minister Margarita Robles said Morocco’s actions were “an aggression of Spanish borders and of the borders of the European Union.”

The Spanish minister of defence repeated what European Commission Vice President Margaritis Schinas had earlier said about the Ceuta crisis when he stated that “Ceuta is Europe. That border is a European border and what happens there, what has been happening there is not a problem for Madrid, it is a problem for everyone”.

Academic and political analyst Hicham Moatadhed commented on the latest developments, saying, “Considering Ceuta and its borders as part of Europe is a dangerous stance and a politically unacceptable transgression against Rabat and the Moroccan people in terms of diplomatic rhetoric”.

“European officials who were politically unable to understand the recent developments in occupied Ceuta, by failing to place the city within its natural and regional fold, chose to adopt a colonial vision and a political expression that transgresses  history and geography,” Moatadhed told The Arab Weekly.

In statements to show solidarity with the Spanish defence minister, Foreign Minister Arancha Gonzalez Laya said her country will be “firm in the defence of its territorial integrity and its borders,” stressing that the migrant influx that Ceuta has witnessed over the past few days was a deliberate response from the kingdom to Spain’s decision to receive Polisario Front chief Ibrahim Ghali for treatment.

The border dispute between Spain and Morocco comes during heightened tensions over Madrid’s decision to provide medical treatment for Ghali, who has COVID-19.

Laya also noted that her country will not back down from its position on the Western Sahara conflict.

Spanish sources warned that “unforgivable mistakes” by the Madrid government will risk harming relations with Morocco and having severe repercussions in the future.

Laya, however, turned a deaf ear to such warnings, saying that her country only admitted Ghali was for medical treatment, suggesting that the government won’t facilitate his immediate departure.

“If he has pending matters with Spain’s justice, he will have to appear (before the court),” she told Spain’s public radio.

The crisis has so far affected coordination between Morocco and Spain in many areas, including combating illegal immigration.

Some analysts say Morocco is seeking to put diplomatic pressure on Spain to recognise its sovereignty over Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony mainly under Moroccan control.

Moroccan Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita confirmed the roots of the crisis as he told the official MAP news agency, “the true source of the crisis is the welcome Madrid gave to the Polisario separatist militia leader under a false identity.”

Madrid has received EU support, with European Commission Vice-President Margaritis Schinas warning that Europe “won’t let itself be intimidated by anyone on the issue of migration” in a veiled allusion to Morocco.

Rabat responded with a flurry of angry dispatches through the MAP news agency, saying “Morocco is a sovereign country” and “is not the police of Europe.”

In a briefing to Morocco’s news agency MAP, Moroccan Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita warned on Thursday that Rabat would take a more assertive stance than in the past, saying “today’s Morocco is not that of the past and Spain needs to understand this”.

Rabat withdrew its ambassador to Madrid this week over Spain’s decision to hospitalise Ghali, letting him into the country with what Morocco said was an Algerian passport in a false name.

Karima Benaish, the Morocco’s ambassador in Spain, confirmed in a press statement that, “in state-to-state relations, some actions have consequences that must be borne,” referring to Spain’s decision to receive Ghali and not provide Morocco with convincing answers after that.

The Spanish minister of foreign affairs, however, sought to absolve the Spanish government from any responsibility, saying the ball is in Rabat’s court and insisting that her country “did not start this escalation.”

In a statement to The Arab Weekly, Moatadhed said the statements of the Spanish government’s foreign and defence ministers contradicted the moves of Madrid on the ground. The Spanish authorities are fully aware of the importance of security and strategic cooperation with Morocco, especially since Madrid needs Rabat politically more than ever before.

Observers of Moroccan-Spanish relations say Madrid has shown a level of arrogance in its dealing with the Ghali issue. They added that Spain is well aware that there is no point in pressuring Morocco through the institutions of the European Union.

Europe’s need for cooperation with Morocco is seen as crucial on combating terrorism and irregular migration, the observers added.

The Spanish government seemingly tried to involve Europe in the migrants’ dispute to evade its legal, human rights and political responsibility when it comes to the issue of migration and the mishandling of Ghali’s case, they added.

Calm seemingly returned to Ceuta on Thursday after Madrid moved quickly to deploy reinforcements and send most of the migrants back to Morocco.

Streets were deserted in the nearby Moroccan border town of Fnideq, where thousands had gathered earlier in the week to try to cross to Spain.

Moroccan authorities had chartered buses to return people to different cities in Morocco from where they had come , with sources saying around 3,000 had been transported away by late Thursday.

A police source said, “Spain and Morocco have reached an agreement formalising what is happening in practice and since last night adults who entered Ceuta are being returned in groups.”