Who is Brahim Ghali, the man who has angered Morocco?
Admitted to a Spanish hospital, the Saharawi has two pending cases in the National Court
BarcelonaMorocco said that the reception of Brahim Ghali in a Spanish health centre would have consequences and, indeed, days after the warning, police passivity allowed the entry of over 8,000 people to Ceuta's territory. But who is this man who has caused a diplomatic crisis that has put Pedro Sánchez's executive and the European Union on alert?
Ghali is the head of the Polisario Front and president in exile of the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic since 2016. Born in 1946 with a Spanish passport, his biography is marked by the struggle against Moroccan oppression, which has occupied the old Spanish Sahara since 1975 and forbids calling a referendum of self-determination. The UN still classifies Western Sahara as a colonised territory.
The Saharawi leader arrived in Spain on 18 April on board a medical plane under a false Algerian identity, and was immediately taken to a hospital in Logroño in a critical condition due to Covid. Algeria, the country that is hosting him in his long exile, asked several European countries for help, but the Spanish government was the first to accept out of "humanitarian reasons", as explained by the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Arancha González Laya. Some sources point out that the executive did not inform either its partner in government nor the authorities of La Rioja and that even within the ranks of the socialist ministers there was a debate about the connivance in accepting Ghali's entry. In the end, González Laya's version prevailed, who in statements to RNE insisted once again that the Spanish government never considered the gesture as an "aggression" towards its Moroccan partner.
Two legal proceedings are awaiting Ghali which the Spanish National Court has opened against several leaders of the Polisario Front, the national liberation organisation created in 1973 for full Saharawi sovereignty and which, despite the pro-independence sympathies it raises, has not been exempt from accusations of terrorism, torture and persecution against dissidents and collaborators with the Moroccan government.
In particular, one of the open cases is in response to the complaint lodged by Fadel Mihdi Breica, a Saharawi activist of Spanish nationality who claims to have been tortured for several days after having taken part in a demonstration critical of the Polisario official line. For this trial Ghali is summoned to testify as a person under investigation on 1 June, but it is not known at present whether the Saharawi leader will appear. On the one hand, his state of health may not permit it; on the other, the Algerian diplomatic passport with which he entered the state may protect him.
The other process originates from a complaint filed by the Saharawi Association for the Defence of Human Rights, which denounces the ill-treatment to which the police subjected prisoners of war in Tindouf camps. The investigating judge for this case has just reopened it after dismissing it at the end of 2020.
One of Donald Trump's last decisions in the White House was to recognise Moroccan sovereignty in Western Sahara in a three-way deal which included the re-establishment of diplomatic relations between Morocco and Israel. This gesture was understood by Rabat as fundamental support and emboldened Morocco before his European partners - with which it has migration, fisheries and trade treaties - to demand they "leave their comfort zone" and follow in Trump's footsteps. Brussels, however, was unperturbed and has kept a low profile.