The Asociación Progresistas de España has awarded this year's Emilio Castelar Prize to different personalities from political and intellectual life, both Spanish and international, such as the epidemiologist Fernando Simón, the journalists Jon Sistiaga, Iñaki Gabilondo and Ana Pastor, the singers El Chojín and Rozalén, the French intellectual Sami Nair, and the Moroccan diplomat Bugaleb El Attar.
The award given to the latter "for his contribution to the improvement of relations between Spain and Morocco" is particularly important because it is the first time that this prize has been awarded to a diplomat in office. Bugaleb El Attar served as political counsellor at the Moroccan embassy in Spain for eight years before being appointed by King Mohammed VI as his ambassador to the Republic of Cuba, a post he currently holds.
During his years in Spain, El Attar, who was born in Alcazarquivir at the time of the Spanish Protectorate in Morocco and received all his primary and secondary education in the Spanish schools of that city, was a pioneer in the creation of the Spanish-Moroccan Friendship Club, which is the largest and most important Spanish non-governmental association that brings together businessmen, politicians, intellectuals, journalists, trade unionists, academics and artists, and whose mission is to bring together the two Spanish and Moroccan societies, separated by 14 geographical kilometres and notable historical prejudices.
In his current role as Ambassador of the Kingdom of Morocco to Cuba, Bugaleb El Attar has managed to raise relations to a level never before achieved, developing friendship and cooperation in all fields between the two countries.
Curiously enough, there is a certain parallelism between the figure of Emilio Castelar and the diplomat Bugaleb El Attar. Both have been journalists, teachers, historians and politicians; both have also suffered repression and imprisonment for their ideas of freedom and democracy; and both have played or are playing a leading role in Cuba.
During his time as President of the first Spanish Republic, Emilio Castelar tried to bring to Cuba the ideas of progress and freedom, the fight against slavery, and democratic goals; something that the Moroccan diplomat is doing today on the Caribbean Island.
It must also be said that not everything has been parallel, but that both have followed sometimes opposing and antagonistic paths. Emilio Castelar was a staunch advocate of Spanish military intervention in what was called the Tetuan War, when General Leopoldo O'Donnell, then Prime Minister, declared war on Morocco and took the northern city of Tetuan.
However, beyond the inevitable historical controversies and the varied interpretations of the ups and downs of the common Spanish-Moroccan history, there is no doubt that the Emilio Castelar prize awarded to the Moroccan diplomat is not only recognition of his stubborn work to bring the two peoples bordering the Strait closer together, but also a message of friendship to overcome together a period of crisis and disagreements between Madrid and Rabat.