The great sensitivity of Morocco regarding the claim of sovereignty over the Western Sahara, as one of the last symbols of the Cold War and the colonial eras, has always caused a crisis in the relations of this country with others. In the latest tense event, the invitation of the leader of the Western Sahara independence front to the TICAD summit hosted by Tunisia and the warm reception of President Qais Saeed caused the Moroccan ambassador to be recalled from this country.
In this regard, Tunisian leaders believe that he was invited by the African Commission under the title of “Sahara Arab Democratic Republic” as one of the member states of the African Union. At the same time, Morocco did not recognize the Republic of Sahara and because of its membership by the African Union, it also left this organization.
Morocco believes that the invitation to Ghali was merely a provocative act against this country and it was done against the official process of inviting and preparing the summit.
From Morocco’s point of view, only countries could be invited to the recent summit that had invitations officially signed by the Prime Minister of Japan and the President of Tunisia; Although Tunisia rejects this issue, the mutual summoning of the ambassadors of the two countries by their capitals has led to the darkening of relations between Tunisia and Morocco.
Regardless of the mentioned tensions, reasons behind Morocco’s sensitivities towards the Western Sahara, along with the history of conflicts between this country and the Polisario Front, are an old but important issue. In addition, it seems that the issue of the Western Sahara is affected by the rivalry between Morocco and Algeria, and Tunisia is forced to play a role in it due to its internal needs.
Western Sahara, the scene of conflict between the Polisario Front and Morocco
The Polisario Front was created in 1973 as a resistance group against Spanish colonialism in Western Sahara. With the end of the colonial era, the division of the Western Sahara between Morocco and Mauritania in 1976 could not be satisfactory for the mentioned front and caused the continuation of conflicts between the parties. After suffering heavy costs and defeats, Mauritania was finally forced to accept the peace treaty in 1979 and give up all its claims to the Western Sahara, but Morocco’s claim to this country had a deeper historical background and caused the war to continue.
Finally, a UN-agreed peace treaty in 1991 guaranteed a referendum, although it has so far been unable to be performed. According to their historical and ethnic roots, the independence-seeking Sahrawis consider the formation of an independent republic with separate governance as the main part of their demands and ideals. On the other hand, Morocco, while accepting autonomy under the rule of the motherland, opposes any attempt to separate and give independence to the Polisario Front in the Western Sahara.
Currently, nearly 80 percent of this area is under the control of Morocco, and for reasons such as historical ownership claims, rich phosphate mines, as well as significant fishery resources on its coasts, it Marrakech remains highly sensitive to the issue of independence in this area.
Exiting the African Union at the same time as the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic became a member of it, using the wave of refugees to put pressure on Spain after Ibrahim Ghali’s trip to Madrid for treatment, as well as many diplomatic efforts to recognize the right to own property, such as signing a peace treaty with Tel Aviv towards the recognition of its sovereignty over the Western Sahara by the United States of America are examples of Morocco’s actions in the Western Sahara issue.
On the other hand, at the same time as Morocco’s many efforts to consolidate its ownership of the Western Sahara and create the impression that this country has the upper hand, other measures of a regional competition have caused many difficulties for this country. In the meantime, Algeria, as another large country in North Africa, is considered the main supporter of the Polisario Front, using its rich natural gas resources as one of its tools and levers of pressure in foreign policy. A tool that seems to have been able to tempt Tunisia towards sensitizing action against Morocco and become the basis for the darkening of deep-rooted relations between the two countries.
Tunisia; In need of energy and economic revival
After the crises of the last two years in Tunisia and the efforts of Qais Said to change the constitution, the empowered president of this country is under intense political pressure due to what is called the “constitutional coup”, and he is facing a crisis of legitimacy more than before. In addition to the internal political crisis, Tunisia is also affected by the global energy and food crises, and the increase in energy prices for a country that imports nearly 70 percent of its natural gas from Algeria has caused a lot of economic inflation. So that the government will have to increase the prices by 3 percent per month until the end of this year.
Due to these political and economic crises, President Saeed, who has increased his responsibility while consolidating his power, considers economic and political stability as the main foundations of his legitimacy.
The economic needs of Tunisia, the import of nearly 70 percent of natural gas, as well as the issue of the high impact of energy prices on the economy on the one hand, and Algeria’s natural gas resources and the competition of this country with Morocco, especially in the Western Sahara issue, have caused the political game in the North African chessboard to put these two countries together; Algeria, by offering a possible discount and guaranteeing the transfer of natural gas to Tunisia in exchange for inviting Ibrahim Ghali to the TICAD meeting, has put an economic tool at the service of foreign policy, and in contrast to Tunisia, by accepting a possible crisis in its relations with Morocco and inviting the leader of the Polisario Front, in exchange for receiving cheaper energy and improving the economic situation, has put foreign policy at the service of the domestic economy.