Spain’s View on the Moroccan (Western) Sahara: A Supporting for Morocco or not?


The tremendous recognition of the United States of Moroccan sovereignty over the Moroccan (Western) Sahara has changed political visions on the international and regional levels. This is because of the major geo-strategic implications of this decision on the course of this case, which has taken more than half a century.

This Moroccan Sahara file, for which the United Nations has not handled, throughout this long period, to seek a political solution that gratifies both sides, the Kingdom of Morocco and the “Polisario” front; because of the direct interference of neighboring Algeria in disrupting any way out or peace settlement that may occur between the two concerned parties, Algeria has become a third and litigant in the Sahara issue by sheltering part of the Sahrawi people in southern Morocco, arming them and carrying out the process of pressurizing new generation, directing them, and pushing them to become arms conflict insurgencies in the faces of their Moroccan brothers and their homeland.  

The Algerian leaders were looking, behind pushing the Sahrawi people to demand segregation from their country, how to weaken the Kingdom of Morocco and try to outflank it, isolate it from its African roots, and thus break through the Atlantic Ocean via Laayoune City, so that Morocco would not stay the only Arab and African state that has two strategic coastal: Mediterranean and Atlantic.

Previously, The Kingdom of Morocco had suffered under the constrain of European imperialism at the end of the colonial era from a forced opening of its territory to foreign penetration, and it paid a substantial cost for the conquest and expansionary policy of European imperialism, commencing from the end of the ninth century and the starting of the twentieth century when the French ambitions were And the Spanish have divided between them the Moroccan territory by cutting the Moroccan soil into three parts: one for France in the middle and two parts for Spain in its north and south. France also changed its original map and cut off entire provinces from its soil for the benefit of its colony in Algeria.

In the mid-1950s, the Kingdom of Morocco obtained its independence from France and Spain. Yet, its south maintained to suffer under Spanish colonialism until 1975, when Spain withdrew from the southern regions, and Morocco regained its southern provinces that were stolen at the end of the nineteenth century due to European expansionist ambitions, particularly the Spanish ones. Due to unexpected circumstances, this  Moroccan Sahara file was handed to the Security Council pending the creation of a legal process that would give the local Sahrawis the right to self-determination or integrate into Mainland Morocco.

Conversely, when the United Nations, through its MINURSO mission, started the census process, whether in the Tindouf camps in Algeria or the southern lands in Morocco, it became obvious to see that it is impossible to lead any comprehensive census of the Sahrawi people with rights, based on the census rules that had been left by the Spanish occupation; Due to the demographic trends, as well as because of the process of overflowing the camp residents with many individuals and mercenary groups, displaced from the Sahel and sub-Saharan countries.

On the other hand, the interference of neighboring states such as Algeria, and Libya, in Moroccan Sahara territorial conflict, the prior as a direct party of the case from the beginning, and the second, was the backer, had a significant negative impact on the settlement process that the United Nations and the Security Council were working on. But since Morocco launched the initiative for self-government under Moroccan sovereignty in 2007,  the Kingdom of Morocco has gradually come to a position of strength. Because of the realistic and seriousness of this initiative, as stated by the international community, it can at the same time preserve Moroccan legitimacy and historical rights over its usurped southern lands.

Historically speaking, the Moroccan (Western) Sahara was formally a Spanish colony known as Spanish Sahara. Before the Spanish colonization, there was no supra–tribal authority connecting to a large tribal network of the region. Certain Saharan tribes, based on personal loyalty to the sultan or king, despite the sultan’s religious authority, have contested the political authority of Moroccan dynasties in  Moroccan (Western ) Sahara. After the withdrawal of Spain from the region in1973 Morocco claimed sovereignty over the region.

Due to this neighboring relation, it is expedient to see how the  Moroccan (Western) Sahara issue has been organized within several aspects First of all, internally, there is a significant divergence between Morocco and Sahrawi nationalists. Second, regionally, there is a dispute between Morocco and its neighbor, Algeria, regarding its support of the Polisario Front (SADR). Third, globally, some states and international parties have claimed to influence the conflict, either directly or indirectly. Therefore, these elements are the key reason behind the tension between Morocco and Algeria.

During the arrival of the Socialist Party to the leadership of the Spanish government in the person of Felipe González Márquez in 1982, the socialist government came to understand a bit about the demands and endeavors of the Kingdom of Morocco to complete its territorial integrity But the under the presidency of Jose Maria Alfredo Aznar,  the bilateral relations between the two countries were strained again. Yet, the “ Laila Island ” Incident was only the point that flamed the relations.

Geopolitically, Spain is not only a neighbor of Morocco but also is regarded as one of the key exits of Morocco’s “Med Partnership” to the broader areas of the Mediterranean and North Africa. Spain’s safety and security, as well as the success of its immigration and counter-terrorism strategies, rely on its close cooperation with The Kingdom of Morocco. Though, Rabat has made great efforts to help Madrid decrease the flow of immigration clandestine, as well as avoid several terrorist attacks on Spanish territory.

Accordingly, Madrid should have a clear stance on the Moroccan (Western) Sahara; It can no longer keep reiterating that The Kingdom of Morocco and Madrid maintain “outstanding” relations while avoiding their dependability in the issue and not being valiant and realistic to offer tacit support for the Moroccan position. Just as Spain fiercely defends its intentional outcomes, Rabat is engaged to maintain its benefits, particularly its unchangeable territorial integrity.

All in all, the central problem faced by The Kingdom of Morocco and Madrid help to enhance the two states’ working together more profitably. Even though Rabat’s short-term intention remains economic and diplomatic, it seems to be expected that Morocco’s basic interests will ultimately lead it too far greater involvement in the Mediterranean region.

Jamal Laadam
Jamal Laadam
Dr. Jamal Ait Laadam, Specialist in North African and Western Sahara Issue, at Jilin University School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA).


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