Many centuries ago, Spain was one of the European powers that sallied forth in conquest of unknown lands. Hundreds of years later, most of those territories had gained their independence – either through politics, war or Yankee Imperialism. Wikipedia has a good article on the subject here. The last to go were a few bits of Africa (Wiki) – Sidi Ifni, Spanish Guinea and the Spanish Sahara (now called Western Sahara). The only remaining bits of a once immense empire today are the Canary Islands (Wiki), Melilla and Ceuta and a few tiny uninhabited islands of the Moroccan coast.
The Western Sahara was taken by Morocco with the famous Green March as Franco was breathing his last, and a troubled Spain promptly withdrew from the territory (the Green March itself wasn’t much more than a couple of kilometres public foray into the territory in November 1975 – Wiki). The inhabitants of the region, the Sahrawi people, have claimed independence ever since, while being largely ignored by both the Moroccans and the Spanish. The USA recently reaffirmed its support for the Moroccan claim over the territory. Their only ally appearing to be Algeria.
All well and good.
Now, as Morocco has been ratcheting up its claims over Melilla and Ceuta, and following a 2007 Moroccan plan to turn the Western Sahara into an autonomous region, the Spanish Government has decided to drop any (paltry) support for the Sahrawi people’s independence in exchange for Morocco leaving Melilla and Ceuta (and its 160,000 Spanish residents) in peace. In turn perhaps, Gibraltar (Pop. 33,500) too can breathe a sigh of relief.
Spain’s official change in its policy regarding the territory is here, and as El País says – the ten month conflict between Morocco and Spain is now over since ‘…the Spanish Government has abandoned its traditional position of neutrality in the Sahara conflict and has taken sides with Rabat, considering its proposal for autonomy "as the most serious, realistic and credible basis for the resolution of the dispute" in the former Spanish colony…’
Morocco, says Le Matin here, appreciates Spain’s position over ‘Le Sahara Marocain’
And as Mohammed VI says, ‘this will inaugurate an unprecedented stage in relations between our two countries, based on trust, transparency, mutual consideration and respect for commitments’. EPE says that the agreement ‘means that Morocco will desist from its claims on Melilla, Ceuta and the Canaries’.
An indignant article at el.Diario.es here however says that ‘The Government has remained silent, even those who speak up on every occasion, until once again selling out those who by right we have to protect. Sahara is our Palestine, an honourable and mistreated people for which we are responsible and for whom we are ready to betray as soon as realpolitik squeezes our necks a little’. Izquierda Unida and Podemos both reject the agreement, and say that the only solution to the Saharan issue is a regional referendum.
El Español reports that ‘The Polisario Front accuses Sánchez of "succumbing to blackmail" from Rabat and labels Spain’s position as "hypocritical"’. The ECSaharaui understandably goes a little further. ‘The Polisario Front warns that Sánchez's decision will legitimize repression, war crimes and crimes against humanity’. The Algerians call it ‘Spain’s second betrayal of the Sahara’ says El Huff Post here as the Algerian ambassador to Madrid is recalled to Algiers for consultations. On the brighter side, after ten months away, the Moroccan one is now back in Madrid.
A summary of the advantages for (almost) all concerned is here. Morocco gets the Western Sahara as ‘an autonomous region’. Spain gets Moroccan acceptance of its territories in North Africa plus a commitment to control the illegal immigrants. Algeria can now concentrate on its gas -and later green hydrogen- exports to Spain (and Europe) – or not, as the case may be.
It’s a tricky one for the Far-right. Spanish empire, nostalgia and betrayal on the one hand, yet a load of North Africans who don’t know their place on the other… (And, of course, vice-versa for the far left).