Clashes have broken out in Western Sahara, ending a 30-year ceasefire between Morocco and the pro-independence Polisario Front. Fighting could intensify absent outside help. The UN should fill its empty special envoy post, while the U.S. leads international efforts to restart diplomacy.
Rabat continued to take increasingly confrontational stance vis-à-vis European partners over Western Sahara. Around 8,000 Moroccans and sub-Saharan Africans 17-18 May entered Spanish enclave of Ceuta. In following days, tensions ran high between Morocco and Spain, with both sides trading accusations. Hours after Spanish foreign ministry 18 May summoned Morocco’s ambassador to Spain Karima Benyaich, Rabat recalled her for consultations. Morocco’s Human Rights Minister Mustapha Ramid same day linked relaxation of border controls to Polisario Front independence movement leader Brahim Ghali’s hospitalisation in Spain since April (see Western Sahara); Spanish Defence Minister Margarita Robles 20 May denounced “blackmail” and Morocco’s “aggression of Spanish borders”. Rabat 6 May recalled its ambassador to Germany in protest at Berlin’s alleged “destructive attitude” on Western Sahara; move comes after Morocco early March suspended relations with Berlin, citing “profound misunderstandings […] on fundamental issues”. Meanwhile, Morocco by month’s end had not responded to UN Sec-Gen Guterres’ proposal of Italian-Swedish diplomat Staffan de Mistura as next personal envoy to Western Sahara.
Islamism, terrorism, reform: the triangle formed by these three concepts and the complex and changeable realities to which they refer is at the centre of political debate in and about North Africa today.
Morocco has been very successful at driving deep underground any major al-Qaeda or Isis group. Moroccan jihadis have largely gone to fight abroad, rather than stay at home.
What’s astounding is that an attack like [the one in Barcelona] hasn’t taken place inside Morocco.
The focus in the last few months has been on Morocco’s entry into the African Union…and now there’s a little urgency in trying to get a government back on its feet.
[The western Sahara issue] is the No. 1 strategic priority at the end of the day for Morocco. It dominates everything in Morocco’s diplomacy.
The [Justice and Development Party in Morocco] is in a less of a strong position than it was in 2011 and the palace has more cards to push for its dilution.
Morocco wants to become the intersection point between the West and West Africa.
Refugee camps in Tindouf, Algeria, have long been run by the Polisario movement, which seeks an independent state in Western Sahara, also claimed by Morocco. But a new generation of Sahrawi refugees is growing fractious as aid dwindles and diplomatic efforts fail to deliver a settlement.