Sunday, October 31, 2010

Rabat, Madrid and Exit Strategies

By Mohammad el-Ashab
This comment was published in al-Hayat on 31/10/2010
In its criticisms of the government of Spanish Prime Minister Luis Zapatero, the only comment that the Spanish People’s Party had regarding the civil unrest that broke out in occupied Melilla, was describing the impoverished suburbs of the city- where Moroccans take refugee- as the most fragile areas in all European cities.

No Spanish voice rose to declare that the excessive force used by the local government- supported by security personnel from Madrid- to disperse demonstrators that were demanding the right to work, has violated the principles of human rights. There is strong evidence that Moroccan residents were rising up against marginalization and selectivity in employment policies, which are restricted to Spanish nationals in occupied Melilla. At the least, this is sufficient justification to continue a type of discrimination in dealing with citizens’ affairs, and there is no difference between residents of occupied Melilla and its Moroccan visitors here. Perhaps the recent crisis that arose between Rabat and Madrid, over the terrible conditions of Moroccan emigrants, was merely a warning cry. In the end, the demonstrations in the streets of Melilla are not isolated from the repercussions of continued Spanish occupation, even if this phenomenon took on the character of a protest for social rights.

The issue of the two cities, Ceuta and Melilla, no longer concerns Moroccan-Spanish relations, which have their ebb and flow. Despite all of the crises, the two countries have been able to escape the predicament with the least possible level of losses. Particularly so when Spain’s Socialist government pushes in the direction of understanding and openness, even if it does not submit to Morocco’s conditions of beginning a calm dialogue about this issue. But on the other side of the spectrum, the People’s Party appears more concerned about shutting the door to any Moroccan-Spanish dialogue, as its leader, Mariano Rajoy, visited the two occupied cities twice in a short period of time. This is while Rabat has not forgotten how former Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, a hard-line conservative, was behind the eruption of a crisis over the uninhabited Perejil Island in the spring of 2002; perhaps the confrontation’s move into the two cities themselves represents a new development then.

At a time in which the Spanish authorities believe that the eruption of protests was an extension of the economic crisis, which has hit at the backbone of Spain and other European countries, there are other analyses. These hold that the family ties and intertwined relations of the residents of the two cities and their families in the region adjacent to the two occupied cities had an impact in directing the incidents of popular anger, which were based on political factors.
The outbreak of anger has set the governments of Rabat and Madrid before a difficult test, one that will not take place without repercussions.

The new Spanish foreign minister, Trinidad Jimenez, has begun to face various types of pressure. She stands between the reservations of the opposition and growing Moroccan requests to start a serious dialogue. Her predecessor, Miguel Angel Moratinos, was an adept practitioner of accord, as he could anger opponents in his country and its neighbor at the same time. But when he saw things moving in the direction of an explosion, he always used a special recipe for instituting calm, but this usually left things half resolved. However, Jimenez, who was involved in foreign relations within the Socialist Party, needs more fortitude to contain the repercussions of the crisis, which might spin out of control.

Most likely, her announcement that Rabat will be the first stop on her foreign visits does not only enshrine an inherited tradition in Spanish politics; it also indicates a desire to knock on all doors. The Moroccans also share the following notion with the Spanish: bilateral relations should not become an election issue. If one must submit to the pressure in this regard, then this card should at least become a search for exit strategies for the crises, and not a reason to increase tension.

However, policy is now being made on the ground, and not in air-conditioned rooms. This is a new development that might be contained, if there is more understanding and behavior that is less about escalation and imposing de facto realities.

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