Morocco-Sweden ties change course

Friday 22/01/2016
Turning a page. A file picture shows Moroccans shouting slogans during a demonstration in front of the Swedish embassy in Rabat, last October.

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.”