Three keys to understanding Spain's historic change in Western Sahara

2 min
Desenes of immigrants waiting to try to enter Melilla by jumping the fence.

MadridMore than 40 years after abandoning Western Sahara, Spain decided on Friday to leave behind neutrality to align itself with Morocco. These are the keys behind this diplomatic shift.

Welcoming Ghali

The origin of the most recent diplomatic crisis between Spain and Morocco

The reception of the leader of the Polisario Front, Brahim Ghali, last April in a hospital in Logroño when he was ill with covid, was the origin of the last diplomatic crisis between Spain and Morocco. Because of this gesture, the then Minister of Foreign Affairs, Arancha Gonzalez Laya, has been accused by a Zaragoza court, which investigates whether his entry into the Spanish state was illegal.

Migratory crisis

Morocco has committed to collaborate, according to the Spanish government

Morocco responded to Ghali's reception in Spain by encouraging the country's young people to enter the Spanish state through the Ceuta border. The migratory pressure is, precisely, one of the arguments that the Spanish Government has wielded at the time of justifying this turn. The Minister of the Presidency, Félix Bolaños, insisted on that yesterday when he justified the change of position regarding the Sahara by referring to cooperation with Morocco over migratory flows. "We will have a stable relationship in which [Morocco] is committed to collaborate against people trafficking, against illegal immigration". Ceuta and Melilla are the gateway for hundreds of young people trying to cross the fences that separate Africa from Europe. Yesterday the PP put the spotlight precisely on these two cities when it demanded that the Spanish government preserve its sovereignty.

Decolonisation process

Morocco is reluctant to facilitate a referendum in the Sahara

Western Sahara is a former Spanish colony, but it is still part of the United Nations list of territories that have not finished their decolonisation process. Morocco is reluctant to accept a referendum and in 2007 made a proposal for autonomy for the region that Spain has now accepted. Professor of international relations of the UAB, Rafael Grasa, considers that the United Nations could ask Spain to explain itself: "A colonial power has the obligation to favour processes of consultation for the exercise of the right to self-determination".