Morocco unlikely to regain Spanish-occupied areas, despite good relations with Madrid

Developing Just Leadership

Crescent International

Jumada' al-Ula' 20, 1420 1999-09-01


by Crescent International (World, Crescent International Vol. 28, No. 13, Jumada' al-Ula', 1420)

The two Moroccan enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla, occupied by Spain for more than five centuries, are unlikely to be returned to their rightful owners in the forseeable future, if Madrid’s reaction to a recent Moroccan call for a ‘bilateral rethink’ on the issue, and Rabat’s anxiety to avoid a confrontation, are anything to go by. Not only was the call indirect and couched in the traditionally diplomatic terms Spain has learnt to ignore in the last 43 years, but Morocco’s new king, Mohammed VI, also studiously avoided any reference to the enclaves in his first address as king, an important exposition of his internal and foreign policies.

The implied suggestion for a rethink was made by Abderrahmane Youssouffi, prime minister, during an interview on a Spanish radio station on August 12. “The time has come for us to consider together a new legal order for the enclaves and to prepare Spanish public opinion to go along with it,” he said. “The acts of certain politicians in Melilla in the past and their current behaviour in Ceuta provide clear evidence that the present arrangement cannot continue to exist indefinitely.”

Youssouffi was referring to official and unofficial Spanish acts designed to prevent candidates of Moroccan origins from being elected as mayors in the municipal polls in the two enclaves in June. He was in fact exploiting the political tension created by those crudely racist efforts when he obliquely called for the reconsideration of the enclaves’ constitutional status. But Spanish politicians and media reacted in an exaggerated fashion, dismissing the proposal as an ‘unwarranted interference’ in the affairs of their country, and asserting that the enclaves’ present status is ‘non-negotiable’.

A Spanish spokesman said on August 14 that the status of Ceuta and Melilla “cannot possibly be subject to change as it is determined by the constitution”, and that in any case there was no need for change. But it is important for the two countries to maintain cordial relations, especially as Spain has great interest in the economic development of North Africa to “avoid the movement of economic migrants from it”, he added.

The reference to economic migrants is revealing. The xenophobic Spaniards do not want North Africans in the enclaves or in mainland Spain, but they are determined to hang onto Moroccan territories they seized centuries ago. In July, for instance, there was widespread racist violence against law-abiding Spaniards of North African origin in Catalonia. The attacks, which also targeted their properties, including mosques, continued for weeks and were not restricted to young hooligans, but was supported by most sectors of Spanish society.

The reference to ‘cordial relations’ between the two countries is also equally revealing. Exploiting its membership of the European Union and Morocco’s interest in maintaining good relations with the organization, Madrid has succeeded in extracting important concessions from Rabat while conceding little in return. The fishing agreement between the EU and Morocco operates almost entirely in favour of Spanish fishermen who are overfishing Morocco’s waters and depleting marine resources. But the agreement expires in November, and Madrid is anxious to have it renewed. Hence the reference to the need to maintain good relations.

The joint commission established by the two countries in January 1998 to examine security issues is also weighted in Madrid’s favour. The commission deals mainly with illegal immigration (to Spain) and drug-trafficking. Spanish companies also do lucrative business in Morocco, securing many of the country’s internationally-financed contracts. For example, a consortium led by Spain’s Telefonica won the license for GSM (global standard for mobiles) phone system, worth $1.1 billion - the largest international aid packaged received by Rabat and the single most important investment in the country.

Yet the Spaniards will not even deign to discuss the issue of Ceuta and Melilla. When Jose Maria Aznar, the Spanish prime minister, visited Rabat on August 16, after his Moroccan counterpart’s call for a rethink over the enclaves, he confined his discussions with the new king to the renewal of the fishing accord and the development of new ties between the two countries. Asked whether he discussed the two territories, he replied loftily that he would not go to Rabat to talk about Ceuta and Melilla. Morocco signed an association agreement with the EU in February 1996 after two years of negotiations.

The accord provides for greater political and economic cooperation, financial aid and the eventual establishment of a free-trade zone. Rabat is anxious to continue receiving economic assistance under the agreement, and is apparently not willing to provoke Spain into sabotaging it.

Even the economic benefit Morocco receives under the association accord will vanish when the free-trade zone comes into force and Moroccan companies face foreign competition. But the king is even less likely than his late father to press his country’s territorial claims against the Spaniards, and attaches greater importance to ties with the EU than with other Arab countries. The Spaniards will also recall what the king said in July, shortly after succeeding to the throne. His role model as monarch, he said, would not be his father but king Juan Carlos of Spain.

Muslimedia: September 1-15, 1999

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