Pedro Sánchez breaks the balance of interests in the Maghreb

Interview with Abdelaziz Rahabi, former Algerian ambassador to Spain


Abdelaziz Rahabi is considered one of the Algerian politicians with the best knowledge of Spain's complex political reality and the bilateral relations between the two countries. He was ambassador to Madrid in the 1990s and four years later President Liamin Zerual appointed him Minister of Communication. The rise to power of Abdelaziz Bouteflika, enthroned by the military and security services, brought him face to face with Algeria's dark and intricate power. He soon came into conflict with the autocrat Bouteflika, and resigned as a minister in Smail Hamdani's government. From then on, his political career developed in academic, political and intellectual circles critical of the prevailing power system. He remains one of the most emblematic leaders of the popular protest movement known as Hirak.  

Spanish President Pedro Sánchez has sent a letter to Moroccan King Mohamed VI in which he abandons the option of self-determination as the main solution to the Western Sahara conflict, opting instead for the autonomy plan proposed by Morocco. What do you think of it? 


Spain's declaration on the primacy of autonomy over self-determination constitutes a triple rupture in its position on the Saharawi question in terms of the architecture of its relations with the Maghreb.  

What was the first rupture? 

The end of the internal social and political consensus formed in Spain after 47 years, regarding the historical responsibility of Franco's Spain in the abandonment of Sakiet el Hamra and Rio de Oro, and the Spanish commitment that emerged in the democratic transition to support the self-determination of the Sahrawi people, without favouring either autonomy or independence, but rather favouring an agreement between Morocco and the Polisario Front within the framework of the United Nations. That was the first. Spain made every effort to use its good offices in favour of negotiated solutions, rightly believing that history predisposed it more than France, the United States or Germany to act as an intermediary between Morocco and the Polisario. 


Along these lines, what was the second rupture you mention? 

It occurred in 2008 with the government of José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, who aligned himself with France, the material author of the Moroccan Autonomy Plan proposed in 2007. President Zapatero, however, did not manage to convince either the Spanish political class or the Saharawis; he did not resist the opposition of several hundred committees in support of the Saharawi people, particularly active in socialist municipalities. 


Do you think that, with this decision, Spain has abandoned its independent position? 

Yes, it has broken with its traditional position and signed a kind of insurance contract with Morocco to guarantee the territorial sovereignty of Ceuta and Melilla, thus incorporating the blackmail of organised migratory flows and the resulting human anguish as a diplomatic weapon in relations between states. It is a very risky challenge because no entity in the world can really contain the flows of economic migration in Africa.  


How does all this affect Algeria? 

Algeria shares seven common borders with Africa and for the past ten years has been receiving more sub-Saharan migrants every day than the rest of the Maghreb. Moreover, the united Europe has never thought of carrying out operations of this nature, contrary to its ethics and diplomatic doctrine. 

You spoke of a third rupture... 

Yes, and this one concerns the balance of diplomatic interests that will have a lasting and qualitative effect on Spanish-Algerian relations, which are marked by mutual trust and consideration. By adopting this position, Spain, which until now has been listened to, consulted and respected by all the parties in the region, chooses to lose its historical status as a key player in the search for a just and lasting solution to the Sahara conflict in order to become an active and aligned party. It is thus losing the weight conferred by history and the advantages of active neutrality in a region that represents, along with Latin America and Europe, one of the pillars of its international influence.  


Could this new situation mean a change in the Western Sahara issue? 

Spanish president Pedro Sánchez's decision, like Trump's poker move or France's unconditional alignment with Moroccan theses, will not fundamentally change anything in the situation in Western Sahara, which has been going on for 47 years and whose prospects for a solution seem more uncertain every day, because the issues of decolonisation and self-determination of peoples are more a matter of history than of Europe's current affairs or specific geo-strategic calculations.