lundi 10 mai 2010

Spain Morocco Relations: Back to Reality

Driss Bennani
The two countries are turning their backs to each other to start a new tenser chapter in their relations.
Washington / Morocco Board News Service -   A few weeks ago, Moroccan Army Senior Officer, General Abdelaziz Bennani was in Spain. The Moroccan General has met his Iberian counterparts; their topics of discussion were obviously kept secret. He had even attended joint military maneuvers, thus confirming the strong relationship between the two neighboring kingdoms. 
"Ultimately, the relationship between the two armies, Moroccan and Spanish, is stronger than those between the two governments, ruling families or both," says Bernabe Lopez Garcia, a Spanish academic to the Moroccan daily, Al Akhbar Youm, on April 15th. 

Rather strange for the two armies, yesterday sworn enemies who had fought so many battles. "The modern armies of both countries had in fact only known each other since 2004, when Morocco became a strategic ally of NATO, said Nabil Driouchi, a Morocco-Spain relations specialist. Before that, he says, the Spanish army was best known to the Moroccan side for its occupation of Northern Moroccan cities of Ceuta and Melilia. The Spaniards, meanwhile, had never forgotten the humiliation suffered by their troops in 1975, during the Moroccan  “Green March " on Western Sahara.  However, these military high-level interactions are covering up for political relations between Rabat and Madrid that have grown cold and frosty for some months already.
"Seen from Spain, said Nabil Driouchi, it is obvious that the honeymoon between the two capitals is well and truly over. In proposing Ahmedou Ould Souilem, a recent senior Western Sahara Polisario Separatist Defector, as ambassador to Madrid, Morocco has taken one step that normally it would not dare to take. Moreover, Spanish diplomatic sources have recently said they have reluctantly accepted the accreditation of the former head of the Polisario separatist Group, and without enthusiasm. They see this as a provocation. " Suffice it to say that we are now light years away from the enthusiasm that accompanied the arrival of the socialist prime minister, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero to the Moncloa Palace, the seat of the Spanish government.
It was March 2004 and the young leader of the Spanish Socialist Party, PSOE, succeeded Jose Maria Aznar.  Moroccan officials breathed easy. "Morocco has always had very good relations with the Spanish Socialists, unlike with their colleagues on the right. With The Former Prime Minister Aznar, the two countries came close to military confrontation because of the Leila/Persil Island, recalled the Iberian journalist Bernabe Lopez Garcia. In the aftermath, Morocco appointed a new ambassador to Madrid. And again, the choice was not trivial. Mr. Omar Azziman was indeed one of the prisoners of Mohammed VI, in addition to being a connoisseur of Moroccan-Spanish relations. "His appointment to Madrid was indicative of a Moroccan will to move forward, to overcome the mistakes of the past, from one side or the other. And it worked quite well as exchanges between the two countries, as well as visits by officials or businessmen have multiplied, "Nabil Driouchi said. But in the fall of 2007, thick black clouds soared again over the Moroccan-Spanish relations. For the first time since 1975, the King and Queen of Spain made an official visit to the occupied Moroccan enclaves of Ceuta and Melilia.  King Mohammed VI was furious. Moroccan ambassador to Madrid was recalled for an indefinite period. 

The Spanish provocation was a turnings point, "At this moment, says one observer, Morocco realized that it was being used by Zapatero for political purposes. From this incident, Morocco realized that it was dangerous to sign a blank check to the Spanish socialists. That all the socialists were not like former Spanish leader, Felipe Gonzales, a close friend of the late Moroccan King Hassan II. 

On his return to his Madrid office, after two months of absence, Moroccan Ambassador Azziman gave an incendiary interview to a Catalan daily. He said, in essence, "now all the sensitive issues should be broached,  “otherwise, I have nothing to do here. " Azziman was referring to the occupation of Ceuta and Melilia, a file that was tactically shelved by Morocco after the election of Zapatero. "From 2007, the entire diplomatic community in Madrid knew that Azziman was about to depart. Morocco had realized that there is nothing to expect from the government of Zapatero, held hostage by a public opinion that is hostile to Morocco. 
Morocco had actually realized that it gave a lot without receiving much of anything in return except a big provocation from the king and queen of Spain "said Nabil Driouchi.
A lack of trust has developed between the two countries.
In late 2009, a new case further embittered the relations between Rabat and Madrid. All of Spain was mobilized for the return of the expelled Saharawi Separatist Aminatou Haidar her home in Laayoune. Behind the scenes, the Iberian officials even tried to bring the case before the European Commission, but France played blocker. In the U.S., Hillary Clinton, a supposed “friend of Morocco” spoke quietly and the case was settled without too much damage. "The Aminatou Haidar incident has reinforced Moroccan officials in their positions. They understood that their true allies were France and the United States. And Spain, even socialist, was at best unpredictable, and at worst hostile to the interests of the country, "notes Nabil Driouchi.
Meanwhile, Morocco got access to the advanced status with the European Union. Brussels, in a way, check mated Madrid.  On the ground, Morocco is increasingly hindering its northern neighbor. The Port of Tangier-Med turned out to be a serious competition to Spain’s southern ports, in addition to slowly strangling the city of Ceuta economically. Further south, King Mohammed VI launched the construction of a large naval base that is becoming a concern to Spanish officials. And to make matters worse, the country of Juan Carlos is knocked down by a severe economic crisis that is undermining the famous Spanish economic model. "In fact, concludes Nabil Driouchi, Morocco has always had fluctuating relations with Spain. They often depend on who is the ruling party.  “Today, it seems that the Morocco aims to build relationships between states, which is calmer and more logical. "
In a few weeks, Ould Souilem, who until recently was a senior advisor to the Western Sahara Separatist  “president” Abdelaziz before he defected to Morocco, should resume his new position in Madrid as Moroccan Ambassador to Spain.  A page has decidedly turned in the relationship between the two countries.

Article first published in French by
Tel Quel Magazine