Morocco, determined to impose on Western Sahara its settlement

“There is consensus on the issue of the Sahara. The whole community supports this cause, an absolute priority for every Moroccan,” explains Tajeddine Houssaini, Professor of International Relations at Mohammed V University in Rabat.

For Morocco, the former Spanish colony – as it calls its “southern provinces” – has historically been part of its territory, an “unchanging truth” which “will never be on the agenda of any negotiation”, according to King Mohammed VI.

“The most serious, realistic and credible base”

The tireless mobilization of Moroccan diplomacy has just given way to the unification of Germany and Spain into the plan of autonomy under Moroccan sovereignty that Rabat proposed in 2007 to resolve the “dispute”. The Western Sahara conflict, 80% controlled by Morocco but considered a “non-autonomous territory” by the UN, has pitted the Sheriffy Kingdom against Sahrawi separatists from the Polisario Front, backed by Algeria since 1975.

Today, Algeria appears isolated, analysts report, and the UN is struggling to restart a political dialogue suspended since 2019. Spain, for its part, made a radical change of attitude in late March by supporting the self-government project, now considering Moroccan initiative “as the most serious, realistic and credible basis” for resolving the dispute.

For Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, the change of Madrid was necessary to create a “more solid” relationship with Morocco, a major trading partner and “strategic” ally in the fight against illegal immigration.

“A short-term victory for Morocco”

Mr. Sanchez is expected “in the very next few days” in Rabat at the invitation of King Mohammed VI, according to a press release from the Royal Cabinet. A visit by the head of Spanish diplomacy José Manuel Albares, originally scheduled for Friday, has been moved to the same date as Mr Sanchez.

The Spanish turnaround, after a year of alienation, was hailed as a “diplomatic coup” by Moroccans. “It is undoubtedly a victory for Morocco in the short term,” admits Bernabé López, professor of Arabic and Islamic studies at the Autonomous University of Madrid, but “it is difficult to know whether the change in the Spanish position will have a concrete effect. “We will have to see if in the future there is a good understanding (between Madrid and Rabat) and if this can help other countries to rally” to this position, he wonders.

“balance of power”

Since the recognition of “Moroccanism” in Western Sahara by Washington in December 2020, in return for the resumption of its relations with Israel, Rabat has pressured the international community to follow the American example. After receiving his American counterpart, Antony Blinken, the head of Moroccan diplomacy, Nasser Bourita, thus on Tuesday invited Europe to “get out of its comfort zone” and, like Spain, support the autonomy plan.

This call is combined with a warning “to those who hold vague or ambivalent views”. In a speech to the nation in November, Mohammed VI warned that “Morocco would not engage in any economic or commercial approach with those who would exclude the Moroccan Sahara”.

“The balance of power has become the norm”

“The Moroccan offensive is taking place at a time when all eyes are on Ukraine,” notes political scientist Khadija Mohsen-Finan. “It also happens at the end of a long process that consists for Morocco in making itself indispensable for Westerners: migration, overflight of territory, security and the fight against Islamism,” she adds.

In the eyes of the Maghreb historian Pierre Vermeren, “Moroccans have learned the lesson of current geopolitics perfectly. The balance of power has become the norm to the detriment of international law.” A proof of its desire to free itself from all surveillance in the name of its interests, Morocco did not participate in the two votes in the UN General Assembly, which condemned Moscow for the invasion of Ukraine, in order to avoid alienating Russia, a member of the UN Security advice according to analysts.

Morocco’s position has “greatly disappointed” its partners, according to a Western diplomatic source, “in view of the seriousness of Russian aggression and in respect of its traditional alliances with Western countries, as it preferred an approximation to Russia. The Polisario Front”. In response, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky decided to recall his ambassador to Morocco, Oksana Vassilieva, assessing that she was “wasting her time” in Rabat.

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