Geography Is Destiny, History is the Will of Nations: Spain and Morocco and the Shared Leap


Those who read the history of relations between Morocco and Spain, over at least thirteen centuries, are fascinated by a vast “body” of events, battles, wars, conquests, colonialism, emancipation in addition to the recently crafted economic, social and cultural overlap. A complex relationship that extends beyond geography and history to the shared present and an ineluctable future governed by the need for coexistence and cohabitation in an extended space that is one of the most geo-strategically sensitive regions of the World.

In his famous speech to the Canadian Senate on 17 May 1961, John Fitzgerald Kennedy told Canadians: " “Geography has made us neighbors. History has made us friends. Economics has made us partners. And necessity has made us allies. Those whom nature hath so joined together, let no man put asunder. What unites us is far greater than what divides us.”

This statement applies perfectly to Morocco and Spain because as Abraham Verghese, the American writer and physician at Stanford University, said, "geography is Destiny". Spain and Morocco not only found themselves embroiled over time in a long and free-wheeling history of invasions, wars, battles, conquests and liberations, but were able since the seventies of the 20th Century to transcended animosity and build a creative model of cooperation, using the maritime borders, the seas and the common view of the Straits of Gibraltar as an opportunity to thrive and prosper together. 

What distinguishes the relationship between Morocco and Spain is that the time factor (i.e. history), which, when added to geography, both create a destiny of tectonic dimensions that concerns what Fernand Braudel, co-founder of the French school of the Annales, the "long duration", that is to say the immobile time which transcends generations and events and is part of the slow evolution of peoples in relation to the landscape, geography and ecology (Fernand Braudel, “La longue durée”, Annales, Vol. 13, no 4,‎ 1958.)

If history in its Hegelian sense is an intelligent process and a movement towards a new status or condition, i.e. "human freedom" ("Lessons in the Philosophy of History" 1837), the power of geography is to give an ecological, cultural and political dimension to geostrategic proximity and “untranscendable” “thereness”.

Spain's emancipation from fascism after the death of General Francisco Franco in 1975 and Morocco's liberation from colonial rule from 1956 to 1975, can be seen as a watershed in the history of the two countries and in the history of their relations. The entry of the two countries into the era of “freedom” (freedom from dictatorship for Spain and freedom from colonialisms for Morocco) at the same period accelerated the use of geography as a gateway to cooperation and partnership.

History evolves according to a certain momentum that coalesces events that are controlled by the actors and others that are part of the inevitable process of things both human and natural, creating a structural transformation that turns things upside down. This change, in the case of Morocco and Spain, occurred in this period of parallel emancipation (from dictatorship and colonialism), which was a milestone in the history of the two countries and a milestone in the history of their relations. 

Over the past 40 years, relations have developed in such a way that Spain has become Morocco's leading trade partner (ahead of France, which remains Morocco's leading economic partner); Morocco has become Spain's leading trade partner in Africa, the turnover of trade between the two countries amounts to € 16 billion; the number of Spanish companies operating in Morocco exceeds 1,000; Moroccan tourism in Spain generates approximately € 1 billion; and the value of Spanish tourism in Morocco can be estimated at around € 1.2 billion. Three million Moroccans residing abroad cross Spain every year to go back to Morocco, contributing thereby around € 1 billion to the Spanish economy; not to mention the 700,000 Moroccans residing in Spain, who take part in building the Spanish economy, while transferring part of their income to their families in Morocco.

At the security level, dozens of terrorist cells have been dismantled in Spain and Morocco, as a result of the exemplary cooperation between the security forces of both countries; exchange of information and joint operations, added to cooperation with third countries, has been instrumental in the fight against terrorism, extremism, organized and cross-border crime. 

Tens of thousands of immigration attempts have been thwarted by Moroccan security services. Uncurbed migration attempts here and there should not obscure Morocco's efforts to protect its borders and those of Europe from illegal migration. The  cost of such an endeavor is around half a billion euros a year, with help from the EU that does not exceed a total of € 300 million since 2006, a mere € 18 million a year.

There are those who want to weave another story, a narrative of a different and alternative kind. They are the Podemos and the Spanish far left, who support the separatist thesis of the Polisario, in addition to some disgruntled journalists who still cling to the myth of an Algerian revolution and its enfant terrible, the “Polisario revolution in the sand.” They still blame Morocco for the victory of Mohamed Ben Abdelkarim Al-Khattabi in the battle of Anwal in the summer of 1921 and consider the Moroccans who participated with Franco in his war against the Republicans in the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) as a fifth column mobilized by Morocco (who was by the way, ironically enough, colonized then by both France and Spain) to help Spanish fascism. They also see the Green March (1975) as Moroccan blackmail of Spain while Franco was in bed dying, which led to the removal of  the Sahara from Spain at a time of political and constitutional weakness. 

For all this, they conclude that Algeria and the Polisario front should be supported and Morocco weakened; they applaud the creation of a permanent tension with the “backward” and fundamentally undemocratic country of Morocco; “they are moros, anayway!”

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez's announcement that Morocco's autonomy proposal was the most serious, realistic and credible basis for resolving the Sahara conflict has been a mortal blow to this narrative. The response was therefore violent from opponents of the Moroccan-Spanish rapprochement. They see the realism of the Spanish position as a development that will most certainly weaken their thesis. They were betting on the continuation of tensions between the two countries, a situation that would bring Spain closer to Algeria and accelerate the dream of an independent state in the Moroccan Sahara.

However, the Establishment in Spain (including the Army and the security apparatuses), the private sector, along with the Governments at both national and local levels, see in the relaunch of strategic relations between the two countries not only an investment in the future, in the security of Europe, in the prosperity of Ceuta and Melilla (the occupied Moroccan cities), the Canary Islands, Andalusia and others, but a normalization that is in harmony with the history and power of geography to embody the Spanish-Moroccan dream--the dream of an extended space for economic integration, security cooperation and the common development of the two countries' maritime and natural assets. The dream of the two peoples for prosperity and sustained growth in a promising and welcoming space of security and stability triumphed. Hope won over apathy and pessimism. 

Lahcen Haddad is a former Moroccan minister and member of the Chamber of Councilors (the Moroccan Senate) and President of the Moroccan EU Joint Parliamentary Commission.