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  • A New Chapter between Rabat and Madrid
    Sun, 22 January 2012
    Mohammad el Ashab

    If the Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has in his mind the geo-strategic site of his country and of Morocco in Europe and Africa on the basis of the geographic neighborhood, then this will revive the hopes in re-launching the project of the continental linkage through Gibraltar, which might restore a cohesion that the two continents have lost throughout history.

    But intentions alone are not capable of breathing life into such an important project, which several international organizations have endorsed but which has so far remained in the realm of science fiction. The project grew even further unlikely because of the Spanish and European fears concerning illegal immigration, which led to the closure of ports and passageways. Thus paving the way between the two continents failed because the politics and the chances to progress separated them.

    But in case Rajoy was hinting at the old Spanish suggestion about the presence of the occupied cities of Ceuta and Melilla at the outskirts of the last point in the African continent, in order to provide the Iberian Peninsula an extension on the southern bank of the Mediterranean Sea, then this indicates that there have been no changes to the position of the Popular Party.

    It will not be acceptable for the new prime minister who declared his feelings of friendship for Morocco to say something that might stir sentiments and sensitivities, especially as his repeated visits to the two occupied cities nearly drove the two countries to the edge of a major crisis.

    Neither the timing nor the circumstances of the Spanish official’s visit to Morocco allows for discussing the thorny differences. The two countries cannot discuss these issues in a mutual manner during the periods of the major detente and it would thus be better to find solutions for them during a period characterized with more caution.

    The quick visit was originally an expression of the desire to open a new chapter in the tense relationships. Thus, it was impossible to disturb the ambiance by discussing differences. This is especially true because Rabat and Madrid do not need to exert more effort in order to pin the points of estrangement and the ways of to reach an understanding.

    Some Spanish politicians are saying that Madrid needs to get to know Morocco more and that Rabat needs to delve into the details of the Spanish experience as a result of the geographic rapprochement and the historic friendship that did include battles and crises. But the truth is that the Spanish are well aware that all what the Moroccans are asking for is a little respect, a lot of agreement and a bunch of initiatives that would push for dialogue on outstanding issues.

    In the issue of Ceuta and Melilla specifically, it is hard to relinquish the electoral alliances of a political party that realizes that its future depends on its supporters rather than on its neighbors. And when Rajoy went to Ceuta and Melilla, he was interested in attracting the Spanish voters’ votes rather than the Moroccan citizens. It was no surprise when he re-worked on attracting people in a less embarrassing manner for his southern neighbor. This is because solutions must be reached through a gradual path.

    Perhaps the Moroccans’ main concern was that they wanted to hear an honest and unequivocal position concerning an issue that has proceeded for a long while, and that has been casting its shadows on the horizons of the relations each time the issue of the sovereignty and unity was raised. They have the right to do that because progress does not rhyme with imposing a status quo. But this concern does not cancel out the fact that the dialogue with Spain does not depend on the directions of the central government, which is controlling the direction of the events from Madrid. There are local governments that are going through more tension and that must be taken into consideration. In the region of Andalusia in southern Spain, problems appear to be more severe, such as the issue of the coastal fishing or the efforts that have not practically started and that aim at ending the occupation of Ceuta and Melilla.

    It would be better for the local governments to hold a dialogue in order to take the threads of the crisis in hand. Even if the only advantage of this choice is to start resolving some regional issues, this does help in understanding many missing facts, mainly that the dialogue between the countries that have deep experiences in decentralization and self-rule is always positive, smooth, and leads to consolidating mutual agreement.

    This could be the best formula in order to overcome the repercussions of any crisis. The government of Madrid will be able to get rid of the pressures of the local governments that are connected to the cooperation opportunities with Morocco. In addition, the experience of the local rule in Morocco, which has been passed by the constitution and which has not started yet, will constitute a new chance for testing the capacity of the local voters to be ready for being in charge of the local responsibilities with the regional dimensions. These are some of the advantages of the democratic choice, the rays of which are extending from within and into the regional neighborhood.

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