The reception of the leader of the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), Brahim Gali, as one more head of state by the Tunisian president, Kais Saidgenerated a unprecedented crisis in Morocco which has put on hold the cordial relationship that the two Maghreb countries have traditionally maintained.
Said’s gesture has been interpreted as a break in the historical neutrality that Tunisia has maintained on the question of Occidental Sahara and Morocco’s reaction shows increasing pressure from Rabat in the Maghreb and an apparent fear of the influence of Algeriahis greatest enemy.
“By SaidTunisia has become the Algerian backyard. Since its independence, Tunisia has maintained a balance between Morocco and Algeria. There is no neutrality when Gali is received on an equal footing with respect to the rest of the heads of state”, Moroccan university professor Khalid Chiat explains to Efe.
For Moroccan analyst Said Saddiki, two new factors are influencing relations and one of them has to do with neighboring Algeria. It is about, he summarizes, the “Algerian economic support to the country and the feeling of Said (who has governed with full powers for a year) that Rabat has not supported his internal decisions.”
Immediately after this reception on the occasion of Gali’s participation in the Tokyo International Summit for African Development (TICAD) hosted this weekend by Tunisia, Morocco called its ambassador for consultations, considering him a “hostile” gesture, “unprecedented” and “a serious provocation”.
A few hours later, Tunisia expressed its “surprise”, described the reaction as “illogical” and also ordered the return of its highest representative to Rabat. “It’s not clear what the implications will be. I don’t think Morocco will go backwards and at the same time Said is not the type of person who is willing to make concessions”, explains the Tunisian analyst Mohamed-Dhia Hammami.
The Tunisian Foreign Ministry defended in a statement its position of “neutrality” in the Western Sahara issue, in order to clarify that there is no change in the country’s foreign policy, but it also rejected what it receives as interference in foreign affairs. internal.
Considered number one enemy of Morocco, Gali is the leader of the Polisario Front which (supported and welcomed by Algeria) demands the independence of Western Sahara, a territory controlled 80% by Morocco and considered by the UN as a non-autonomous territory (pending decolonization).
The Moroccan outrage spread to the political parties -both the coalition government and the opposition-, by the main trade unions, which condemned Gali’s reception, and even by the Royal Moroccan Karate Federation, which canceled its participation in a competition that Tunisia will soon host.
The criticism fell mainly on the person of the Tunisian president, who these organizations describe as an “unpredictable and doubtful” man and responsible for this change.
Said maintains an unquestionable closeness with the Algerian President Abdelmajid Tebboune whose relationship is defined in the region as “romance”. The Tunisian president widely publicized his attendance at the celebrations for the 60th anniversary of Algerian Independence on July 5.
His latest gesture collides with the official neutrality that Tunisia has maintained since its first president, Habib Bourguiba, which has resulted in preserving the status quo. “Tunisia never proactively tried to build official relations with the Polisario. I would say that Said’s position is unprecedented,” adds Hammami.
Morocco, without half measures with the Sahara
The great Moroccan anger follows the last speech of the King Mohammed VI confirming its new paradigm of international relations in which the Sahara issue is “the prism” through which Rabat measures its friendships and associations with the rest of the countries of the world. The monarch launched an appeal to his “traditional and new partners” to clarify his position regarding the conflict, in a veiled allusion, according to observers, to France, Morocco’s main ally with whom it maintains a current silent diplomatic crisis.
The clash between Morocco and Tunisia has coincided with French President Emmanuel Macron’s visit to Algeria during which the two countries ironed out rough edges and sealed a reconciliation and future agreement.
The King’s speech confirms Rabat’s aggressive diplomatic line in the defense of the Moroccanity of the Sahara, empowered from the support of the former US president donald trump in December 2020, who recognized Moroccan sovereignty over the former Spanish colony.
The turn of the Spanish Government, which last March considered the Moroccan autonomy plan as the “most serious, realistic and credible” basis, also strengthens Rabat, which demands more and more from its allies.
Morocco no longer accepts half measures, although its growing aggressiveness on the Sahara issue could also push it into isolation in the Maghreb.