When Morocco sacrificed its relationship with Catalonia to please Spain

Four years after Morocco’s support to Spain over Catalonia, the Sanchez government welcomed Brahim Ghali on the sly without notifying Rabat.

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Morocco is firmly against the hospitalization of Polisario leader Brahim Ghali in Spain under a false identity. Madrid's ambassador to Rabat was summoned to provide a «clarification» and the Foreign Ministry displayed its anger publicly in a statement released on Sunday. 

The move contrasts with the nature of diplomatic relations between Madrid and Rabat, praised by Arancha Gonzalez Laya, the Spanish Minister of Foreign Affairs. Rabat sees it as a stab in the back when compared to the Moroccan authorities’ reaction to the Catalonia crisis, four years ago.

In May 2017, the El Othmani government refused to welcome the former president of Catalonia, Carles Puigdemont. The Minister of Foreign Affairs had explained, during a press briefing jointly hosted by his Spanish counterpart Alfonso Dastis, that this kind of trips must first be approved by the Spanish authorities.

«Morocco maintains and will always maintain close consultation with the Spanish authorities for the organization of a similar visit», the same source stressed. For his part, the head of Spanish diplomacy affirmed that his country «has not exerted pressure on Morocco» to reject the visit of the president of Catalonia. 

The decision of the authorities in Rabat broke with a tradition that dates back to the King Hassan II years. For the record, in September 1994, the late monarch was one of the first leaders in the world to receive the President of the Generalitat, Jordi Pujol, with military honors and the Catalan flag flying alongside that of Spain.

Courtesy with a political cost

Morocco then paid dearly for the consequences of rejecting Puigdemont's request. In the middle of the Hirak protests, it lost the traditional support of the right-wing and center-right Catalan formations in power in Barcelona. MPs from these parties joined the left and the far left political parties in statements supporting the Hirak and condemning the interventions of the authorities against the protests.

And as this gift was not enough, the Moroccan government quickly condemned the independence referendum of Catalonia of October 1, 2017. «The Kingdom of Morocco, faithful as it has always been to the principles of international law, rejects the unilateral process of independence of Catalonia, and expresses its attachment to the sovereignty, national unity and territorial integrity of the Kingdom of Spain», indicated the department of Nasser Bourita in a press release published on 12 October 2017.

This generosity was also manifested at the regional level, with the ban of a sit-in by the authorities in Nador, scheduled for February 19, 2018 in front of the headquarters of the Spanish consulate, in solidarity with the Catalan political detainees.

A set of political gifts and diplomatic courtesy which left a bitter taste with the secret reception by Madrid of the leader of an armed group which declared war on Morocco, breaching the 1991 curfew.

The move is seen by Spain as a «humanitarian gesture» towards Ghali, who is wanted «for serious war crimes and serious violations of human rights», deplored the Moroccan Ministry of Foreign Affairs in its press release of Sunday 25 April.

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