RABAT, Morocco — In a deepening diplomatic rift with Spain, Morocco’s Foreign Ministry said Monday that the crisis between the two countries was “about trust and mutual respect, which has been broken,” a far larger issue than the presence in Spain of a rebel leader who is the enemy of the North African kingdom.
The especially sharp statement suggested that Rabat and Madrid are far from resolving an increasingly nasty spat that started when Brahim Ghali, who heads the Polisario Front and the self-declared Sahrawi Democratic Arab Republic, showed up at a Spanish hospital for treatment of COVID-19. He checked in under a false identity, carrying a diplomatic passport from Algeria.
The Polisario, based in southern Algeria, fights for independence of the Western Sahara, which Morocco annexed in the 1970s.
But resolving the issue of the Polisario leader won’t solve the problem with Spain, Morocco said.
Ghali is making a virtual appearance in a Spanish court on Tuesday for alleged genocide allegations and other possible crimes that anti-Polisario groups accuse him of committing.
“The crisis is not related to a man’s case. It does not start with his arrival nor does it end with his departure. First of all, it is about trust and mutual respect, which has been broken between Morocco and Spain,” the ministry said.
The two countries are strategic partners, working closely to stem migration into Europe and on security issues. The Spanish mainland is across a waterway from Morocco, but two Spanish enclaves in North Africa share borders with Morocco. The presence of Ghali, who arrived in Spain in mid-April, has been tied to a sudden surge of more than 8,000 migrants — many of them unaccompanied minors — who crossed the border to Ceuta, one of the enclaves.
“If (Morocco) is saying that because of a foreign policy disagreement it stops respecting borders and allows a massive influx of migrants onto Spanish soil, that in my view is not acceptable,” Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez said Monday. “Morocco has to keep in mind that it has no better ally in the European Union than Spain.”
For Morocco, the problem goes beyond foreign policy to the heart of its identity, part of which is anchored in the Western Sahara.
“This issue has exposed the hostile attitudes and harmful strategies of Spain regarding the Moroccan Sahara issue and revealed the collusion of our northern neighbor with the kingdom’s enemies to undermine the territorial integrity of Morocco,” the Foreign Ministry said.
A series of questions the ministry posed underscored the deepening divide between the one-time close allies.
“How in this context can Morocco once again trust Spain? How can we know that Spain will not plot again with the enemies of the kingdom? Can Morocco really count on Spain not to act behind its back? How to restore confidence after such a serious mistake?” the statement asked.
The Moroccan statement raised the question of Madrid’s problem with separatist Catalans, asking how Spain would have reacted “if a figure of Spanish separatism had been received at the Royal Moroccan Palace.”
Ghali, now reportedly recovering from COVID-19, has not been received by Spanish authorities.
Barry Hatton in Lisbon contributed.