UAE to open first Arab consulate in Western Sahara, in ‘historic decision’

The Emirati consulate would be in Western Sahara’s largest city, Laayoune.
Wednesday 28/10/2020
A 2015 file picture shows Moroccan King Mohammed VI (R) and Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi (2L) at the Royal Palace in Casablanca. (AFP)
A 2015 file picture shows Moroccan King Mohammed VI (R) and Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi (2L) at the Royal Palace in Casablanca. (AFP)

RABAT –The United Arab Emirates will be the first Arab state to open a consulate in the Western Sahara, a disputed region currently controlled by Morocco which considers it part of its national territory.

The consulate would be in the Western Sahara’s largest city, Laayoune, and the decision to open it came after a phone call between Moroccan King Mohammed VI and Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, the Royal Palace said.

“During this call, HH the Crown Prince of the UAE informed HM the King of his country’s decision to open a Consulate General in the city of Laayoune, in the southern provinces of the Kingdom,” the Royal Cabinet said in a statement.

“This telephone conversation is part of the permanent coordination and consultation between the leaders of the two countries reflecting the depth of the bonds of sincere brotherliness and mutual affection that unite them, and it falls within the framework of the relations of fruitful cooperation and efficient solidarity which binds the Kingdom of Morocco and the sisterly State of the United Arab Emirates,” the statement added.

During the call, Moroccan King Mohammed VI recalled that the UAE took part in the Green March through which Morocco recovered the territory from colonial power Spain.

Every November 6, Moroccans celebrate the anniversary of the 1975 Green March when tens of thousands of Moroccans rallied  in answer to a call by  late Hassan II, on October 16, 1975, and marched to recover the Moroccan southern provinces from Spanish rule.

During the same month, the International Court of Justice at The Hague underlined “legal ties of allegiance” between the Moroccan throne and “tribes living in the territory of Western Sahara.”

He thanked the UAE crown prince for “this important historic decision in support of the territorial integrity of the Kingdom on this part of its territory.”

The King also “voiced his deep pride at the decision of the Emirates as the first Arab country to open a Consulate General in the southern provinces of the Kingdom, a decision which embodies its steadfast position in the defence of the legitimate rights and the just causes of Morocco.”

 Diplomatic momentum 

Gaining international recognition for its claim to the Sahara has long been Morocco’s most important diplomatic ambition and the UAE decision may help build support towards that end with other Arab allies.

Some 15 African states have already opened consulates in Western Sahara. Zambia and Eswatini both opened theirs on Tuesday.

After the opening of Zambian and Eswatini consulates, Moroccan Foreign Minister Nacer Bourita affirmed that “Moroccan diplomacy is reaping the fruits of the African policy adopted by His Majesty King Mohammed VI,” noting that “during twenty years, this sound royal policy has been based on taking the initiative, instilling solidarity and backing up words with action.”

The king’s African policy, Bourita added, has been founded on “fruitful partnerships that benefit everyone.”

The Moroccan minister explained that the royal vision “made Morocco a credible partner, with a balanced presence within the African Union and African institutions, in general.”

He added, “Our partnerships are no longer limited to the Kingdom’s immediate vicinity, but extended to countries from the far south of the continent, and are based on the same principles of cooperation, credibility and optimal friendship,” noting that many countries of the continent consider Morocco a reliable partner.

He emphasised that all this momentum “goes in the direction of supporting the Moroccan Sahara, which is not negotiable or up for discussion,” noting that “the existence of the Moroccan Sahara is supported by history, law, the will of its inhabitants, and international recognition, made possible by these countries’ expression of their support for the Moroccan Sahara.”

Over the past few years, Morocco was able to achieve important breakthroughs in terms of affirming its sovereign rights over the southern provinces, based on King Mohammed VI’s vision for a diplomatic strategy that focuses on creating balance in relations between various international parties, opening strong communication bridges with African states, reaching to the countries of Latin America and creating strong ties with major countries and emerging powers.

The opening of consulates in the cities of Laayoune and Dakhla is a prelude to a larger project aimed at transforming southern provinces into a major Moroccan hubt for economy, investment and foreign cooperation projects and hosting major events.

Morocco considers the opening of foreign diplomatic representations in the region to be of special importance and a legal indication that comes in accordance with diplomatic standards and practices subject to international law, notably the 1963 Vienna Convention governing consular relations, which stipulates that establishing consular relations between countries is based on “mutual agreement.”

According to the same convention, consulates are concerned with protecting the interests of the countries they represent and the interests of their citizens, developing commercial, economic, cultural and scientific relations, and strengthening friendly relations between the two countries.

In Morocco’s case, the opening of consulates and diplomatic missions in the southern regions, referred to in Morocco as the “Moroccan Sahara”, is a full recognition of the North African country’s sovereign rights over the disputed territory.

Morocco has controlled the Sahara since Spanish colonial rule ended there in 1974, with the Algeria-backed Polisario Front pushing to win control.

United Nations efforts to broker a settlement between Morocco and the Polisario have repeatedly failed. A referendum on its future, promised as part of a 1991 ceasefire deal, never took place.

The Western Sahara, though a sparsely populated desert region, has rich fishing waters, phosphate deposits and Morocco’s only working land route into the rest of Africa as its border with Algeria is closed.