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Spain’s shift in stance over Western Sahara sparks outrage

March 23, 2022 at 8:49 pm

People stage a demonstration demanding the freedom of Western Sahara at Sol square, in Madrid, Spain on November 13, 2021. [Burak Akbulut – Anadolu Agency]

Spain’s Foreign Minister, Jose Manuel Albares, fiercely defended in parliament, on Wednesday, the country’s decision to side with Morocco regarding the status of Western Sahara.

For decades, Spain has subscribed to the UN-backed view that Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony, has the right to self-determination. But last week, that stance shifted.

In a letter to Moroccan King, Mohamed VI, Spanish Prime Minister, Pedro Sanchez, endorsed Morocco’s plan to have the region operate autonomously under Rabat’s rule.

Spain’s new position was only made public when a Moroccan newspaper published parts of the letter on Friday.

But the foreign policy stance, which was reportedly not communicated to Spain’s junior ruling coalition partner, Unidas Podemos, or Algerian officials beforehand, has sparked fury from several sides.

READ: Spain informed Algeria in advance of the change in its position on Western Sahara

“This is not state policy because it isn’t backed by the Popular Party and it isn’t even government policy because it’s not backed by their partners in Podemos,” opposition politician, Valentina Martinez, told Albares in parliament. “Even parts of the Socialist party are against it.”

The Bildu politician, Jon Inarritu, also slammed the executive’s unilateral move.

“They closed one crisis with Morocco to open three more with the Polisario Front, Algeria and an internal crisis with its progressive partners,” he said.

On Tuesday, Podemos politicians unveiled Western Sahara flags in parliament.

Algeria, Spain’s top supplier of natural gas, was also outraged by the government’s move.

The Algerian Ambassador to Spain has been summoned back to Algeria for consultations and its government condemned Spain’s “abrupt U-turn”.

Algeria supports independence for Western Sahara and the issue has caused deep tensions between Morocco and Algeria for years.

Last year, a diplomatic rift also broke out between Spain and Morocco when Spain allowed the leader of Western Sahara’s separatist Polisario Front to be treated in Spain for COVID-19.

READ: EU supports Spain’s shift on Western Sahara autonomy

Shortly after, Moroccan authorities sat by while around 10,000 migrants crossed into Ceuta, a Spanish enclave in northern Africa.

After the incidents, Spain’s then Foreign Minister, Arancha Gonzalez Laya, was replaced by Albares.

“Spain has spent too many years being a spectator and now it wants to be an actor,” said Albares on the topic on Wednesday. He also insists that any solution to the decades-long conflict in the region has to be accepted by both sides.

According to the letter sent to the Moroccan King, Spain now believes that Morocco’s proposal is the “most serious, credible and realistic to end this dispute.”

Sanchez also said he hopes to visit Rabat in the coming weeks to “renew and deepen” the relationship between the two countries “to together face common challenges, especially around migrant flows in the Atlantic and the Mediterranean.”