Morocco-Spain: Shady relations

Between the southern and northern shores of the Mediterranean, there are no people belonging to two different cultural spheres, nevertheless, sharing as much historical, cultural and economic interference as the Moroccan and Spanish peoples. Despite this interference, Morocco and Spain neighborhood has been often characterized with tensions. Spain’s foreign policy vis-à-vis Morocco is often changeable, changes being the result of the Spanish domestic policy data variation, as well as the two major issues opposing for a long time the governments of both countries. For Morocco, the way in which the Spanish government deals with the Western Sahara conflict and the Moroccan territorial claims relating to the enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla and the neighboring islands reflects that there is an obvious difference between the declared objectives of the Spanish foreign policy with respect to Morocco and its practice in reality.

Concerning the Sahara issue, the creation of a shared area of interest has been the major concern behind the Spanish policy regarding its relations with the Maghreb countries, particularly Morocco and Algeria. The controversies that have come along on top of the Sahara issue have been exploited by the Spanish Government having, over the years, skillfully played on the discrepancies between Morocco and Algeria as for the Saharan conflict resolution. Hence, we do not need to recall that the Sahara issue could have been solved legally and politically a long time ago if Spain had been determined in 1956 to recognize Morocco’s rights. For the Sahara retrocession, Morocco has continuously been laying claim to Spain since the independence of the Kingdom.
Morocco considers that the exercise of its sovereignty over the Sahara territory is characterized by a number of specificities, as it was well explained by the Judge Ammoun before the international court of justice: "recognizing the allegiance ties between the Sultan of Morocco and the Sahara populations, is to consequently recognize that the historical and legal ties between Morocco and Sahara are translated into political links, hence links of sovereignty." However, Morocco did not expect so many tactics from its closest neighbor, Spain. After having claimed that its presence on the Saharan coasts goes back to several centuries, which is an absurd claim, as the docking of a skiff on a coast has never given the right to its owner to appropriate the shore part where he docked, the Spanish Government has afterwards acknowledged that it has militarily occupied the Saharan territory not before 1934. The Sahara was annexed on August 29, 1934 to the Khalifa of the Sultan and to the Spanish protectorate authorities in the former zone of the North of Morocco. Finally, and before being forced to negotiate with Morocco, the Spanish authorities had tried to scheme pseudo-status autonomy for the Sahara, a kind of buffer state which independence would be guaranteed by the Spanish army in order to ensure an economic trusteeship over this future and hypothetical state. The reaction and determination of Morocco eventually defeat all these tactics.
Although Morocco has recovered the Sahara for more than 30 years, the full and entire exercise of all its powers over the whole territory, along with the huge development activities witnessed by the region, the attitude and limited support that the Spanish Government gives to the negotiated solution of the Sahara conflict as part of the Moroccan autonomy project are still unclear. In front of this mitigate position, it is reasonable to wonder if it is not pure colonial nostalgia. The inheritance of the so prestigious past shared by the two countries, should overcome the temporary strategic and economic interests. Nonetheless, both countries have had a similar history and both have suffered and are suffering from the torments of the separatist conspiracy. Spain is a big country of great decentralization traditions, and the constitution of 1978 confirmed this tradition. It defines the role for the King as the Head of State, symbol of the nation unity, and recognizes the right of autonomy of the regions that compose it as well as the solidarity among them. The Basque or Catalan separatists claims supported, and even fomented from outside, have played a major role in launching the terrible civil war that has affected Spain as a whole. Spanish nationalists have opposed this attempt of Spain breakup through weapons. The stakes of the war led by the nationalists were not the Basque country or Catalonia but Spain as a whole and its regime.
However unfortunately, the Sahara issue comes back also in other cases and implicitly on the ground of the tumultuous relations between Spain and Morocco. Based on the decree of 1976, which predicted a period of one year during which the Sahrawis could take steps to retain the Spanish nationality, and after a request for nationality reinstatement had been endorsed by a court in the time of  Aznar government, subsequent claims were facilitated. This measure, which reveals the bad intentions harming the territorial integrity of Morocco, is premeditated knowing that the Spanish authorities do not grant, neither the same privileges, nor the same treatment to the people of the Rif against whom the Spanish army had used chemical weapons during Abdelkarim revolution. These same Riffi, who, a few years later, fought bravely with the Spanish nationalists to preserve the integrity and unity of Spain.
If the Spanish government is sovereign in granting its nationality, Morocco is sufficiently warned in such a case. Already in the late 19s and early 20s, in anticipation of Morocco dismemberment, and in order to be able to use a pretext to intervene in the internal affairs of the country, the colonial powers had started granting their protection by giving nationality to Moroccan citizens. Drawing lessons from the past, the independent Government of Morocco has taken all measures so that all Moroccans, regardless of the nationalities they have succeeded in getting elsewhere, can not make prevailing any other nationality in the entire territory of the Kingdom, but their Moroccan one.
As for the disagreement over the status of Ceuta and Melilla and the other islands, calm currently prevails regarding this issue and the dispute is temporarily silenced and suspended. Morocco, which claims these enclaves, intends, with the economic revival that will emerge from the port of Tangiers Med activities, to complete the integration of the North of the Kingdom. The development of this region aims at devoting the role of Morocco as a genuine link between Europe and Africa, and it is not at all a chess game between Morocco and Spain. Contrary to the fears expressed by some Spanish political environments, the rise of the Moroccan port will have only a positive impact on the political, security and economic plans in the relationship between the two kingdoms. Cultural relations between Morocco and Spain need also to be strengthened in this area, and why not consider the establishment of a university in Tetuan that would bear the names of the two sovereigns Mohammed VI and Juan Carlos like Al Akhawayn University in Ifrane?
Undoubtedly, Spain is in a position as a former colonial power to give a great contribution to the final resolution of the Saharan conflict. Morocco will need peace in the south of its Sahara to assume calmly its responsibilities in the north, in front of the hostile goals and dangers faced by both sides of the Mediterranean. Two neighbors should get along with each other, Morocco and Spain have to decide about the prejudice, overcome the difficulties that lie before the liquidation of the colonial inheritance and establish relations free of any shady atmosphere.