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Brahim Ghali, the tip of the iceberg in the crisis between Spain and Morocco

Judge Santiago Pedraz will hear the Polisario Front leader accused of alleged crimes against humanity and genocide
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AFP/ RYAD KRAMDI  -   Brahim Ghali, president of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) and secretary general of the Polisario Front

The leader of the Polisario Front, Brahim Ghali, will finally testify before the National audience, which is investigating two complaints against him for alleged crimes against humanity and genocide. Ghali's presence in Spain has provoked a serious diplomatic crisis with Morocco, which has accused the Spanish government of carrying out acts "contrary to the spirit of association and good neighbourliness".

Relations between Spain and Morocco have been characterised as rather complicated. Both countries have experienced several diplomatic crises, but this latest one cannot be reduced solely to the presence of the Polisario Front leader on Spanish territory. It is necessary to go back months ago, when the former president of the United States, Donald Trump, recognised Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara.

Shortly before leaving the White House, Donald Trump announced on his Twitter account that the United States recognised the Sahara as Moroccan while Morocco normalised ties with Israel. Such recognition means that the initiative to hold a referendum in the region will fade away. Following US support for the North African country, Morocco expected a chain reaction from European countries, which did not happen.

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AFP/FADEL SENNA - Nasser Bourita, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Morocco

In fact, the Alawite country decided to sever relations with the German government and its public institutions. Although the specific reasons were not specified, Moroccan Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita issued a note in which he referred to "profound misunderstandings (...) regarding fundamental issues for the Kingdom of Morocco". The Moroccan press pointed out that the motive behind this decision stemmed from the placing of the Polisario Front flag, for a few hours, on the façade of the regional parliament in Bremen (Germany).

In the case of Spain, tension with Morocco has also been on the rise since Trump's recognition of Moroccan sovereignty over the former Spanish protectorate. Madrid has not taken a position on the Western Sahara issue following the former US president's announcement, and this silence has not pleased the African country, which decided to suspend the High Level Meeting (HLM) that Morocco and Spain traditionally hold, which was to take place on 17 December in Rabat.

The coincidence of this decision with the United States' announcement that it would recognise Moroccan sovereignty over the Sahara suggests that the news might have affected the decision. However, the Moroccan Foreign Minister has conveyed that both countries were in agreement, and that the reasons are "exclusively linked to COVID-19". This meeting has been postponed over time, and in the heat of recent events there is no date foreseen in the short term.

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PHOTO - Greeting between Pedro Sánchez and Mohammed VI

The presence of Brahim Ghali on the peninsula has been the turning point in the diplomatic crisis that has been brewing between Morocco and Spain for some time. The Polisario Front leader was admitted to a hospital in Logroño to be treated for coronavirus. For its part, the Spanish government has defended the reception of Ghali for "humanitarian reasons". But the explanations of Sánchez's government have not been enough for Morocco, which has responded by unleashing a "migratory crisis" in Ceuta.

Morocco had already sent several communiqués criticising Spain's attitude towards Brahim Ghali. Given the Spanish government's inaction, in the eyes of Morocco, the opening of the borders with Ceuta has been a wake-up call that has not gone unnoticed. Since more than 8,000 people entered Ceuta and Melilla illegally, the exchange of accusations between the two countries has been constant and tension has reached its peak.

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AP/BERNAT ARMANGUE - Spanish police fire tear gas towards migrants at the Spain-Morocco border next to the Spanish enclave of Ceuta, Wednesday, May 19, 2021

The latest chapter in the case of Brahim Ghali is that he has agreed to testify telematically before the Audiencia Nacional. According to the news agency EFE, it will be judge Santiago Pedraz who will be in charge of taking the statement of the Polisario Front leader for two complaints filed against him for alleged torture by members of the Polisario Front against the dissident Saharawi population in the camps of Tindouf (Algeria).

Brahim Ghali is summoned, according to EFE, at 10 a.m. to respond to this complaint and later he will respond to the second one, promoted by ASADEH in 2008 and which was shelved in 2020 due to the lack of response from Algeria to a request made three years earlier. After answering questions from the parties, the accusations plan to request precautionary measures against Ghali to ensure that he remains before the Spanish justice system.

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AFP/FAROUK BATICHE - The leader of the Polisario Front, Brahim Ghali

Morocco has applauded this news and considers that it is a development of which it takes note, according to a statement from the Moroccan Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Even so, the Kingdom stresses that "the root of the problem is a question of broken trust between partners. The root of the crisis is a question of Spain's hostile ulterior motives with regard to the Sahara". The statement also demands "an unambiguous clarification by Spain of its choices, decisions and positions".

Brahim Ghali's declaration, as well as the measures to be established, are decisive in reorienting relations between Spain and Morocco. Although the Alawi Kingdom has already stated that it expects explanations regarding the attitude of Sánchez's government, this summons by the Spanish judiciary may represent a turning point in the crisis between Spain and Morocco.