Morocco-Sweden ties change course
Casablanca - After a stormy 2015 between Morocco and Sweden over the Western Sahara issue, Stockholm has renounced a plan to recognise the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), dealing a heavy blow to the Algerian-backed Polisario Front.
The renunciation announced on January 15th by Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom put an end to a bitter diplomatic crisis.
“Recognition would not help this process,” Wallstrom said. “The situation in Western Sahara differs from that of other states that Sweden has recognised in the past.
“As a result, the government has chosen not to recognise Western Sahara and rather to support the assessment of earlier governments on this matter.”
Morocco applauded the decision and noted that analysis conducted by the Swedish government for 18 months led to the conclusion that the SADR cannot be recognised, a government statement said.
This position is in line with the international law and consistent with the process conducted within the UN framework with a view to achieving a just, lasting and mutually acceptable settlement, it added.
Morocco said it was convinced that the Swedish government’s position would promote the peaceful and substantial development of bilateral relations.
Political analyst Younes Dafqir said Sweden’s decision came after clarification given by Morocco’s leftist parties to Swedish officials. “I think these elements made Sweden reconsider the facts upon which it based its draft bill,” said Dafqir, adding that Stockholm moved from the party concept to the logic of the nation. Morocco annexed Western Sahara, a former Spanish territory, in 1975. The Polisario Front separatists took up arms to fight for an independent state until the United Nations brokered a ceasefire in 1991.
The North African kingdom has proposed wide autonomy for Western Sahara. The Polisario Front rejects the proposal and insists on the right of the Sahrawi people to determine their own future.
The diplomatic crisis between Rabat and Stockholm erupted after a draft law was submitted by the Swedish Social Democratic Party in the parliament on the recognition of the SADR. The move prompted the Moroccan government to consider a boycott of Swedish products and companies.
Rabat cancelled the grand opening of an IKEA store in Casablanca that was planned for September 30, 2015, after the government said the Swedish furniture retailer lacked a “conformity permit”. However, Sweden’s plan to recognise SADR was likely behind the Moroccan authorities’ decision.
“We are heading towards a boycott of Swedish companies according to the principle of reciprocity after similar campaigns in Sweden to boycott Moroccan companies,” Mustapha Khalfi, Morocco’s government spokesman and communication minister, said in October.
Morocco then sent a delegation from major political parties to Sweden following a visit of leftist parties led by leader of the United Social Party (PSU) Nabila Mounib in a bid to defuse the political stalemate between the two countries.
Four months of diplomatic efforts bore fruit. Stockholm’s announcement came just days before a visit by the president of the Chamber of Moroccan Representatives, Rachid Talbi Alami, to Sweden during which he was to meet his Swedish counterpart and top officials.
The reinforcement of Morocco’s parliamentary ties with Sweden and other Nordic countries, the promotion of investment in the North African kingdom, issues related to immigration and security, the situation of minors of Moroccan origin in Sweden, as well as developments in the Western Sahara are part of the agenda.
In December, Sweden sent a positive signal to Morocco in its dispute with the European Union on an agriculture and fishing agreement, which was annulled by the European Court of Justice because it illegally involved Western Sahara. Stockholm backed the European Union in its decision to appeal the verdict.
Morocco is a strategic partner of the European bloc, especially on immigration and security issues. The North African kingdom gave France intelligence about the whereabouts of Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the suspected architect of the November 13th Paris attacks that left 130 people dead.
“Sweden may also have taken into account Morocco’s important role in the stability of the North African region amid a growing threat from extremists in both the Sahara and Sahel,” said Dafqir. “Establishing a country in Tindouf would be a serious threat to the region’s security and probably to Europe because the Islamic State and al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) control some large swathes in the region.
“There are also reports from think-tanks that there are links between terror networks and the Polisario Front.”
A 2013 study by the International Centre for Terrorism Studies (ICTS) recommended closing Polisario Front refugee camps near Tindouf, because they were recruiting grounds for terrorists, traffickers and other criminal enterprises. The study also revealed that AQIM also “has links to Latin cartels for ‘drugs-for-arms’ smuggling into Europe through terrorist-trafficking networks in the Sahel that include members of the Polisario.”