Wednesday, December 1, 2010


Hundreds of thousands of Moroccans marched on Sunday in Casablanca to protest against criticism by Spain’s Partido Popular of alleged human rights abuses in the disputed Western Sahara. Waving Moroccan flags and banners, the protesters led by Prime Minister Abbas el Fassi chanted: “Popular Party, enemy of Morocco.”

I say hundreds of thousands, one report I read said three million. If there is a demonstration in Spain the organisers may say 5,000 took part, the National Police 3,000 and the local police 1,500.The truth lies between the highest and lowest figure. There certainly was a major demonstration in Casablanca – as to how many were there – well your guess is as good as mine.

I have reflected on this for a couple of days because the protest wasn’t against Spain or the Spanish government but the Partido Popular. The curious thing here is that the PP is not the Spanish party of government but is the opposition. I can’t think off hand of any other mass protest against a non-ruling party. However opinion polls point to the centre-right party triumphing in the March 2012 general election – not only in Madrid but perhaps also in the regional government in Andalucía, the nearest part of Spain to Morocco.

In statements over recent months the PP has made it clear that if it wins the 2012 general election in will be much tougher with its neighbour across the Strait of Gibraltar. It has accused the PSOE government of weakness towards Rabat, is angry over the EU accord with Morocco that will hit Andalucía agriculture and fisheries and has been outspoken in its support of the security forces in Ceuta and Melilla – the two enclaves that Morocco views as occupied territories.

Indeed in August the former Spanish PP premier, José María Aznar, broke off from his holiday in Marbella to visit the Melilla border where tensions were running high between the enclave and Moroccans. Morocco had accused the National Police and Guardia Civil of acting in a racist manner towards its citizens and a food import blockade had been imposed. Needless to say the visit of the strutting Aznar did nothing to calm these troubled waters. That was left to the Spanish monarch who has close ties with his Moroccan counterpart.

Now we have to add to that mix the Western Sahara which is normally the sole preserve of the left. The PP took part in a rally in Madrid last month alongside socialist, far-left and trade union groups to denounce Morocco for allegedly abusing human rights in Western Sahara. PP activists were also present in Valencia last week to show their support for Saharan refugees who had first locked themselves in the PSOE HQ as they are furious over the socialist government’s inaction on the issue. When evicted they staged an on-going protest in the street outside.

So on reflection it is no surprise that Fassi’s Istiqlal party and 15 other political groups issued a joint statement attacking the PP for its “unbridled activism against Morocco.” They argued the party had swayed last week’s vote of European lawmakers in favour of a United Nations-backed probe into violence in the former Spanish colony.

Moroccan security forces and pro-independence protesters clashed on November 8 in the disputed territory, which was annexed by Morocco in 1975 after Spain withdrew from its former colony. Several members of the security forces and civilians are reported to have died. The violence, amongst the worst in years, prompted the Polisario Front which wants independence for the territory to call for an independent UN investigation.

With the centre-right is in the ascendancy in Spain you can expect tensions with Morocco and the British colony of Gibraltar to increase if the Partido Popular comes to power. It is also a depressing prospect for socialists, the far-left and the unions in Spain because whilst the country has suffered in the economic crisis under the socialist government the medicine to come will be far bitterer under Mariano Rajoy’s PP than it ever was under José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero's PSOE.

1 comment:

José Miguel said...

The PP is taking a very strong line on Spain's attitude towards its neighbours in Morocco and Gibraltar. However although it may want to carry that over in to government it will be interesting to see how an impoversihed Spain copes with its paymasters at the EU.