Relations between Algeria and the EU have grown a lot but problems remain, also due to the terms of the trade agreement with Brussels, started in 2002, considered by Algiers too unbalanced in favor of the continental economic bloc. These relations cannot ignore a new, controversial chapter with an important (former?) partner, Spain, which has opened due to the Western Sahara dossier, the involvement of Morocco, Algeria's ontological enemy.
In the midst of the COVID 19 epidemic, the Spanish government, led by the socialist Pedro Sanchez (elected in December 2022 as head of the Socialist International, after retreating to a dubious candidacy, even if not officially expressed, for the presidency of the European council or even secretary general of NATO, to be implemented after the general elections and to prepare for a possible political defeat), had the head of the POLISARIO Front arrive on board an Algerian military plane on the Zaragoza air base in April 20211, who, seriously ill with COVID, needed treatment.
The man, equipped with an Algerian diplomatic passport with a fictitious name, is admitted discreetly to a hospital in Logroño (a small city in northern Spain) and subjected to medical treatments, complicated by his previous conditions (he would suffer from heart and oncological problems) . The hospitalization decision, then dumped on the shoulders of the then foreign minister María Aránzazu "Arancha" González Laya, was actually taken with the political endorsement at the highest level of the Spanish government and with the involvement of the ministers of the interior, defense , justice.
The secrecy of the hospitalization lasts a few days, thanks to the widespread network of informants that i Moroccan services have in Spain, thanks also to the numerous emigrants residing in the Iberian peninsula (according to Spanish media sources, generally always 'convinced', with goodwill or with the threat of reprisal to families at home, to collaborate with the Moroccan consular network) and, as reported by other media, also by a disclosure by French services.
The news unleashes the anger of Rabat which, after the recognition of its claims on Western Sahara by the outgoing President Trump (with a declaration of no legal value, but which Rabat tries to sell as a state affair and not as an "impromptu declaration of a discredited character and that the Biden administration appears clearly embarrassed to support and share"), takes the opportunity for the other major strategic objective of his campaign to have his claims recognized on that territory, that is to have the support of the former colonial power and close a dossier open for a long time and extremely costly, both politically and financially, linked to the enormous expenses of lobbying globally and the maintaining thousands of soldiers to garrison the 'berm', the fortified line that cuts Western Sahara in two (60% and 40%).
With a well thought-out strategy, where a vast media campaign (where the unspeakable 'Jeune Afrique' stood out, as always), statements by journalists, politicians (generally former ministers), Spanish, French and other Members of Parliament and MEPs, all 'sensitive' to Moroccan reasons, accompanied by a real invasion of Moroccan migrants in May 2021 who land on the beaches of Ceuta, a Spanish enclave (together with Melilla, on the Mediterranean coast of Africa, both claimed by Morocco) opening a very serious crisis.
The context of the invasion of illegal migrants deserves some detail. On the night of 16 May 2021, rumors circulated in Moroccan towns near the border with Ceuta that the security forces in Rabat had relaxed control over the border and allowed the passage of migrants. According to statements by the Spanish police, the Moroccan security forces showed an "unusual passivity", originating according to the Rabat government, from the fatigue "of the end of Ramadan celebrations" (sic).
The images of the approximately 8.000 Moroccan and sub-Saharan immigrants (many unaccompanied minors) trying to enter the Spanish city of Ceuta went viral on social media, showing the reality of Morocco where many of its subjects - it seems - are just waiting for the slightest chance to emigrate.
On other occasions there had been avalanches of (only) sub-Saharan migrants who, under suspicious circumstances, attacked the borders of Ceuta and Melilla, but (coincidentally) always coinciding with tensions between Madrid and Rabat, this when the normal flow of clandestine migrants, whether Moroccan and/or sub-Saharan, never stops towards the two enclaves, the Canary archipelago and mainland Spain.
Alongside this, the Moroccan government, which summoned the Spanish ambassador to express its repudiation for the reception of Ghali (president of the Arab Democratic Republic of Saharawi, ed), and even considered - according to press sources - the granting of political asylum to the leader of the Catalan independence movement Carles Puigdemont. For his part, the Spanish Foreign Ministry justified Ghali's welcome "for strictly humanitarian reasons".
Karima Benyaich, Moroccan ambassador to Spain (next to the king, and who replaced her brother, Mohamed, who had mocked and harshly criticized the Spanish local bodies that supported POLISARIO calling them 'municipalists', to become a member of the Royal Cabinet, in charge of relations with Spain...), issued a very harsh declaration and returned for 'consultations'. On May 20, 2021, the Moroccan foreign minister, Nasser Bourita, confirmed that Rabat's wrath stemmed from the transfer (of which Rabat had not been informed in advance and without his approval) of Ghali, protesting that it was received in Spain with a false passport and identity.
Prominent Spanish media alleged that Rabat was blackmailing and punishing Spain to force it to espouse Morocco's position on Western Sahara, having seized the casus belli of having hosted Ghali.
The Spanish government, which would have ignored the alarm from its services (they would have registered preparatory activities on the Moroccan side) substantially worsens its position, showing all the lightness of the choice to host Ghali without foreseeing the obvious Moroccan reactions and the structural weakness of its governmental structure (the socialist-led coalition government includes Podemos, a party very close to POLISARIO, while the PSOE, the coalition's leading party, is more conciliatory starting with Zapatero's management).
Fearful of further reprisals from Rabat, such as closure by the Pipeline Europe Maghreb (or even Pipeline Enrico Mattei) which brings energy from the Algerian gas fields to the Tarifa terminal (southern Spain), crossing northern Morocco via the Strait of Gibraltar, signs an agreement with Algiers to increase the capacity of the Medgaz pipeline which from Oran (Beni Saf) arrives on the Mediterranean coast at Almeria (which, although more recent, has a lower capacity than the GEM) and to deliver other large quantities of liquid gas to the Spanish coastal regasification terminals via gas carriers.
The option immediately proves insufficient: it further shows Spain's strategic difficulties and its short vision. The crisis also puts Morocco in difficulty, despite an ostentatious security (above all for internal purposes) which, after losing the royalties for the passage of gas on its territory, multiplies the frantic search for alternative energy sources, in truth with little success, for support its fragile economy.
Meanwhile, the Spanish government multiplies the gestures of Appeasement towards Morocco, starting with the replacement of "Arancha" González Laya with the unknown diplomat José Manuel Albares, very close to Sanchez, of whom he had already been diplomatic advisor. This one, called one spin doctor (title abused according to many, given the marginality of the Sanchez government both in Europe and in the Atlantic), begins a series of declarations in favor of normalization with Morocco, but Rabat, playing like Erdogan with NATO with regard to Sweden and Finland, keeps high the price, certain that he will get what he wants, i.e. the end of neutrality (or as Moroccan foreign minister Bourita says, "leaving the comfort zone" and not taking sides in favor of Rabat so as not to make enemies of Algiers) regarding the Sahara Western.
In May 2022, the Spanish prime minister wrote a letter (which was supposed to remain "confidential"...) to the Moroccan sovereign praising in very strong terms Rabat's initiative to grant only autonomy to the dispute 53a former Spanish province and to consider it as the only option to close the affair, closing the door to any support for the referendum option. The letter, the content of which does not appear to have been discussed either with the government or with the parliament (according to the spirit of the Constitution), made public by Morocco further infuriates Algiers which had forbidden Madrid to sell the gas purchased in Rabat, threatening to definitively terminate the contract and - gradually - suspending all contracts that Algerian companies had with exporters Spanish.
Madrid grappling with the economic downturn and is turning to all doors desperately seeking help. Beyond empty words of support from the EU, Sanchez and Minister Albarez receive doors in their faces and, particularly relevant, French and Italian ones.
Given the situation Madrid, in order to escape the economic pressure that risks becoming political (from Algiers), runs for cover by buying liquid gas at an even higher price than the Algerian one, corrected upwards during the crisis, from the USA and continues to be a major buyer of Russian gas (sic). On the about-turn of Madrid (or to speak elegantly, the "pendulum") has been much discussed and written. This would be part of phase two of Moroccan pressure on Spain.
Here, too, a brief historical review is useful. Rabat's pressure on Spain is associated with the democratization of Madrid after the Franco era: nothing more wrong. The fiery Franco regime only had a tough fist with the internal opposition while in the face of Moroccan pressure it only collected humiliations. Already in 1956 when Morocco regained control of the Rif, and the local populations did not want to pass from a foreign occupation to that of Rabat, perceived as equivalent, they took up arms; the Spanish troops in the area, engaged in a very long evacuation (which ended only in 1962), cooperated with the Moroccan ones. The only exception was a short but difficult military operation, 'Ouragan'-'Ecouvillon'/'Huracán'-'Teide', carried out with democratic France in February 1958 in southern Morocco, Western Sahara and southwestern Algeria, against armed elements close to Rabat.
According to confidential sources, Morocco, through the trojan 'Pegasus' (made in Israel), would have intercepted the data contained in the smartphones of very high Spanish leaders (prime minister, foreign minister, interior, defense and justice) and that on Sanchez's, in addition to state secrets, there were compromising data on the economic interests of his wife in Morocco.
Morocco is accused by an investigative consortium of international newspapers and journalists of having also used the 'Pegasus' to spy on President Macron and other senior officials of the Hexagon and creating a diplomatic cold season.
Macron's wrath was such that Paris, in addition to a cooling of relations with Rabat and a substantial reduction in the number of visas granted (considered by Morocco as an acquired right and susceptible only to increases and attenuation of the parameters and their of Algeria), froze diplomatic, security and intelligence cooperation with Tel Aviv.
In October 2021, Israeli National Security Advisor Eyal Hulata had to travel to Paris to end the crisis and separate responsibilities over the use of the trojan. Rabat has always denied using the 'Pegasus', but has always said it will protect his interests.
In addition to this, it is easy to think what are the reasons for the radical change of Spanish position (defined by Morocco as a test of wisdom and pragmatism), never clarified by Sanchez, that pushed Madrid to what POLISARIO, which reacted furiously to the new position of Madrid (rejected, it must be said, by public opinion and a large number of local entities that continue to support the Front) considers an abandonment and a betrayal. A deception similar to that of the dying Franco regime in November 1975 which yielded to the presence of thousands of civilians gathered in the green gear (photo) organized by the deceased father of the current sovereign, Hassan II, who (as a great poker player!) had realized that Franco's agony would paralyze the Spanish action and counted on Henry Kissinger's anti-USSR phobia who feared that Western Sahara, once it became independent, would have been a pawn of Moscow and the ports of the former colony of Madrid would have hosted the Soviet navy to threaten Western trade on that stretch of the Atlantic.
Behind the thousands of civilians there was the entire Moroccan army, at the time only 20.000 strong and lightly armed soldiers, who could easily be routed by the troops of Madrid, half as strong, but much more heavily equipped (although poorly motivated, except the Tercio de Extranjeros, the Foreign Legion) and that the 'marchers' only entered the Spanish colony for a few kilometers.
After Sanchez's letter, relations with Rabat begin to slowly improve, even if Morocco, feeling in an advantageous position, continues to keep Spain on the ropes, which tries to avoid other invasions like Ceuta and to meet the wishes of its aggressive southern neighbour.
Many experts believe that Morocco is using migrants, not just Moroccan ones, but also the thousands of sub-Saharans who survive in the forests near Ceuta and Melilla, repeating what Gaddafi did with Italy and today Turkey with Europe.
To complete the story, the European Parliament voted, for your goodness, it voted a motion that it condemned the political use of migrants, putting together the Spanish case, chaotic Libya and Erdogan. The Moroccan press jubilated because it was 'simply' approved by a majority, therefore invalid, for Rabat (sic).
Madrid, in addition to making life difficult for Saharawi activists in Spain and using small legal tricks to reduce the summer vacation period for Saharawi minors living in the very poor refugee camps of Tindouf (south-western Algeria), hosted by Spanish families, continues to promote an uninterrupted flow of financial resources to Rabat, reversed the direction of the GEM pipeline to bring natural gas purchased from the USA, the UAE and Qatar to Morocco. All this in the hope that Rabat will renounce its claims to Ceuta, Melilla (and related islands), showing again how little Spain knows Morocco, which will never give up its claims, under any circumstances.
Rabat has used, uses (and will use) Ceuta and Melilla as blackmail against Spain and as a cohesive element of patriotic appeal for its population, nourished by an exaggerated national-imperialism since independence and above all, as means of mass distraction.
As mentioned above, Madrid has so far been unsuccessfully seeking Italian and French sides to improve its relations with Algeria, which last summer also recalled its ambassador to Spain for consultations in reaction to Sanchez's statement.
It seems unlikely that a conservative government in Spain, after the next general elections (scheduled for this December), in the event of victory over the coalition in power, would lead to a formal withdrawal of Sanchez's declaration, as POLISARIO and Algeria are requesting.
Morocco proves that it doesn't look in anyone's face and uses the economic card to force acceptance of its presence in Western Sahara as a condition for proceeding with trade deals, as told by King Mohammed 6o in a speech last August 21, that the Sahara question (without mentioning the word "Western", of course...) is the prism through which Morocco looks at the world and relates to it, formalizing what was already clear from time.
The most a popular/conservative government can do is try to put Sanchez's declaration on the back burner and/or sleep, but it is difficult to expect Rabat to settle for a declaration without demanding substantial action, such as opening a Spanish consulate in its former colony . Almost one million Moroccan emigrants live in Spain, many with Spanish citizenship and no party wants to gamble on a potential electorate, which appears to be 'sensitive' to 'advice' from the network of its 12 consulates.
Read: "The Algerian enigma (first part)"
Read: "The Algerian enigma (third part)"
Read: "The Algerian enigma (fourth part)"
1 Independence movement of the ancient Spanish colony, formed in May 1973, which initially fought against Madrid and since 1975, after the hasty Spanish departure, has fought against Morocco which has claimed its sovereignty since 1956, when it obtained independence from France which from Spain, which managed, in different areas, the protectorate from 1912, and between 1975 and 1979 also against Mauritania, which had divided the remains together with Morocco and which, defeated by POLISARIO, had withdrawn from the battle with a humiliating peace treaty signed in Algiers.