June 20, 2021

What happens in Ceuta? The keys to relations between Spain and Morocco

The reception in a hospital of the Polisario Front, Brahim Ghali, opens the last diplomatic crisis between both countries.

The reception in a hospital of the Polisario Front, Brahim Ghali, opens the last diplomatic crisis between both countries.

The Spanish autonomous cities of Ceuta Y Melilla have been on several occasions the reason for disagreements between Spain and Morocco, due to its geographical location in North Africa and the ease that this offers for illegal immigration from Moroccan territory to Spanish.

The arrival of more than 8,000 Moroccans irregularly in the last hours to Ceuta It is the most recent of the clashes between the two countries, which already experienced a difficult moment in their relations when they approved the Statutes of Autonomy of Ceuta and Melilla, in 1994, which obtained in response a diplomatic offensive of Morocco when requesting to the UN the “return” of the cities.

Relationships were again muddied on November 2, 2007 when Morocco announced the call for consultations of its ambassador in Madrid, after announcing the first visit of the Kings of Spain, then Juan Carlos I and Sofía, to the two Spanish autonomous cities, which was the first in 32 years.

The last claim was made in December 2020 by the Moroccan Prime Minister, Saadedin Otmani, when he raised the aspiration of Morocco on the sovereignty of Ceuta and Melilla, which caused a quick response from the Spanish Executive as well as the request of the Moroccan ambassador in Spain, Karima Benyaich, to give explanations.

Sahara conflict

Spain and Morocco have starred in various disagreements over the years, almost all related to the sovereignty of Western Sahara, whose annexation took place in 1975; with clandestine immigration, or with the recurring sovereign claims of Morocco on Ceuta and Melil

The Sahara has been a source of conflict since 1975, such as the one that broke out on October 27, 2001, when Morocco withdrew its ambassador in Madrid and four days later suspended a high-level bilateral meeting.

The origin was the Moroccan dissatisfaction with the Spanish position on the sovereignty of the Sahara, always a defender of the UN agreements.

One of the latest crises occurred in November 2020 after the then second vice president and partner of Pedro Sanchez in government, Pablo Iglesias, said in a tweet his determination that “a free, fair and impartial referendum be held in the Sahara without further delay.”

Added to this was the meeting held Nacho Alvarez, number two of Iglesias, with the representative of the Polisario Front, Suilma Hay Emhamed Salem and to whom Álvarez himself referred to as “minister” on social networks, which ended up postponing Sánchez’s visit to Rabat in February 2021, finally postponed sine die.

Parsley Conflict

On July 11, 2002 the Spanish islet of Perejil, located off the coast of the African country, was occupied by Moroccan troops who justified this action within their “fight against illegal emigration and terrorism in the Strait.” And although they abandoned it a week later after a Spanish military intervention, reconciliation came on January 30, 2003 when, after fifteen months of hostilities, they announced the return of their ambassadors.

Case of the Polisario leader Brahim Ghali

On April 22, 2021, it was revealed that the Secretary General of the Polisario, Brahim ghali, it was hospitalized in the Spanish city of Logroño (North), due to coronavirus and under false identity, which was justified by the Spanish Executive for humanitarian reasons and in turn angered Morocco, which described it as deplorable and called the Spanish ambassador in Rabat to give explanations.

The conflict worsened after some Spanish associations, including the Canary Islands Victims of Terrorism (Acavite), ask for the Ghali’s arrest for “murders” while in Spain.

This petition is preceded by a complaint filed by one of these associations against Ghali in 2012, as a result of which the National High Court opened an investigation for alleged crimes of genocide, murder and disappearances in the Sahara, but was never able to question him because he canceled his trips to Spain and the case was provisionally shelved.

Again on May 4, 2021, the Spanish National Court summoned Ghali to testify after a new complaint filed by the blogger Fadel Mihdi Breica, a Spanish citizen of Saharawi origin, against him and other members of the Polisario for alleged crimes of illegal detention, torture and Against humanity, a summons to which the Spanish Government replied that it would not interpose.


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