Home Op-Eds Moroccan Press, Human Rights NGO’s Should Get Tougher on Spain 

Moroccan Press, Human Rights NGO’s Should Get Tougher on Spain 

Morocco: The 'Couscous' Diplomacy Doesn’t Work With Spain

Washington D.C – Some Moroccan journalists and officials seem to confuse press opinions with official government positions.

Articles published in the Moroccan press critical of a given country represent either the position of the media outlets that publish them or the views of journalists who write them. It is obvious that Moroccan journalists, bloggers and intellectuals do not speak or represent the government views, yet officials get testy when they encounter negative items written about “friendly” governments.

Along these lines, Moroccans should not be afraid to criticize Spain and its policies because of fear to antagonize the Spanish government. The Spanish press routinely and unapologetically   condemns Morocco’s positions in the Western Sahara conflict; in fact, some media outlets target Rabat and its institutions on a regular basis. Thus, the Moroccans deserve the same rights to scrutinize the political life in Madrid, Barcelona and Bilbao.

The Spanish Senate recent attempt to push Madrid to recognize the self-declared Sahara Republic “RASD” is yet another example that feeds right into other lingering doubts regarding the true motives of Spain’s ambivalent position on the final status of the Western Sahara.

Even though this motion was sponsored by a Catalan party (Izquierda Republicana de Cataluña) and was largely rejected by the ruling Partido Popular (PP) and the Spanish Socialist Party, it is notwithstanding a preview of what Spain could choose to do in the future to blackmail Morocco.

It is true that lately the current Government of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy (PP) seems responsive to its neighbor to the south. However, this new “friendly” attitude is not the result of Rabat’s soft approach, but rather a byproduct of Spanish fears that the Catalan independence drive and other domestic troubles could give Moroccans an opening to press with their demands for the return of the two Spanish enclaves in the north.

The two nations’ top outstanding issues, namely the status of the occupied cities of Ceuta and Melilla and the Western Sahara conflict, have been and will continue to be the forces that shape the relationship.

It will be naïve of the Moroccans to believe that there is a real a change of heart in Madrid because of the improved relations between the two nations. Fear and respect are the only driving forces that would make Spain soften its positions on Morocco’s claims in the Western Sahara.

This “fear” and ‘respect” come when the neighbor in the north realizes that the Moroccan civil society and media are following and analyzing political events to engage in diplomatic and intellectual battles that could have implications on the region’s future.

This attitude portrays an image of   weak, spineless or too considerate Morocco. While the Spanish press run regular bad stories about Morocco and its institutions, the Moroccan press is sensitive about addressing the many ills and shortcomings of Spain’s political and judicial systems.  This very approach depict Moroccans as “less than” their northern neighbors.

Moroccans tend to bend backwards to keep Spain happy hoping that one day they will recognize the Western Sarah as Moroccan. Yet no matter how “nice” and understanding the Moroccans are The Kingdom’s opponents in Spain are determined to undermine the relationships between the two nations. There is absolutely no amount of “Couscous” that would stop this strategy.  The only “language” the Spanish left and other anti-Moroccan forces would understand is a strong and unapologetic campaign to expose their countries political, judiciary, historic and human rights shortcomings.

It does not matter how nice Moroccans are to the King of Spain or how lenient the press is in addressing Spanish stories, nothing would stop the Spanish left attacks but a robust public relations campaign to counter the two-facedness of the Spanish press and NGOs.

The only approach that would expose these double standers and hypocrisy is a smart, well-researched and sustained campaign to expose the truth about Spain’s human failings. Moroccan non-governmental organizations, civic groups and the independent media must undertake a relentless grassroots movement to hold Spain to the same standards that some of the European lawyers and activists “expect” Moroccan authorities to uphold in the Sahara.

Given the extent of Spain’s’ benefits from Morocco’s assistance in security, military and intelligence matters, Madrid should have no leverage, outside the Sahara conflict, to pressure Morocco. Morocco, in fact, has much more influence over events in Spain than the average citizen realizes. There is no reason for the Moroccan to be overly nice to get Madrid diplomatic backings. The common interests and the on-going cooperation that have mutual benefits are the engines of the relationships.

As Spain faces real separatist challenges in the Catalan region, the Moroccan civic society should be in the forefront of protests, when criticism is warranted, the same way Spanish lawyers fly into the Western Sahara to fuel the “local separatist movement”.

General Franco’s regime unaddressed human rights abuses should not be off-limits either. If Spaniards chose to forget (i.e. “Pacto del Olvido” as they like to call it), Moroccans could and should be the voice of the thousands of leftists killed by the Franco. Moroccan NGOs should go to European courts and fight to exhume the mass graves across the country left behind by the Fascist militias. So far, only few of these “sites” have been excavated and documented.

Moroccan press should investigate the role of the Catholic Church in assisting and directing the kidnapping of babies born to “Communist” mothers then given to pro-Franco families to raise.  These skeletons in the closet should come out and Moroccans could be leaders in bringing justice to these children and their families.

In summary, after years of futile Moroccan attempts to compromise on positions regarding the status  of the occupied Moroccan cities of Ceuta and Melilla in exchange of  more comprehensive Spanish positions in the Sahara conflict, many Spaniards still hold a  relentless amount of disrespect for Morocco’s rights to its southern provinces.

Moroccans do not need to compromise or ask for favors. In fact, whenever Rabat gets tough, Madrid retreats. Unfortunately, this happens only when Spain provokes and Morocco is “forced” to react.

Nevertheless, if the Moroccan civil society dug in deeper in exposing Spain’s political and human rights vulnerabilities, then Spanish politicians, diplomats, journalists, activists and average citizens will show Morocco and its institutions the respect they deserve.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent any institution or entity. 

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