Morocco considers support for Polisario the ultimate red line for its foreign policy and national sovereignty.
Rabat – The organizing committee of the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations (CAN) including the Polisario Front self-proclaimed Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) in the newly unveiled ticketing services for this year’s CAN.
On a ticketing website, the CAN 2019’s organizing committee launched last week for fans of the qualified teams to claim their “Fan ID” for the tournament features the flag of SADR, a Tindouf-based self-styled republic proclaimed by the separatist Polisario Front.
Morocco considers support for SADR a red line for its geopolitical interests and national sovereignty, fueling apprehensions that the move might complicate the already frosty Rabat-Cairo relations.
But the move is even more surprising as SADR is not among the 24 squads qualified for the continental footballing showpiece. Nor is the self-styled republic a member of the Confederation of African Football (CAF), nor of the International Football Federation (FIFA).
The Egyptian committee’s move comes in the aftermath of sluggish moves from both Rabat and Cairo to address the shaky diplomatic ties between the two North African countries.
In protestation at the CAN 2019 committee’s move, the Moroccan Royal Football Federation sent a letter requesting clarification of the “provocative move.”
In its defense, however, the Egyptian Football Association said that it is not responsible for the move. “It is a foreign company that in charge of managing the [ticketing] platform,” a spokesperson of the Egyptian FA said.
Not satisfied with Egypt’s response, Morocco has lodged a complaint with the CAF executive board.
The news comes on the heel of alleged Morocco-Egypt divergences on continental affairs.
In April, the presence in Egypt of a Polisario delegation at an African Union (AU) conference raised eyebrows in Rabat, with suggestions that the already weak relations between the two countries may get even colder.
Amid suggestions of a Morocco-Egypt rift, however, Achraf Ibrahim, the Egyptian ambassador in Rabat, said last month that his county is a “very strong ally” to Morocco and would never challenge Rabat’s interests.
Ibrahim played down the implications of Polisario’s presence at the Cairo conference in April, saying that the front’s presence was an AU requirement rather than an Egyptian policy.
“I can assure you that our position on Western Sahara is clear,” the Egyptian said, adding that “Egypt has not and will never recognize what is called Polisario.”
But as the surprise inclusion of SADR in the CAN ticketing system implies recognition of the group’s claim to statehood, it remains to be seen whether Rabat will take public pronouncements of pro-Rabat sentiment—and denials of wrongdoing—at face value.