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Europe needs Morocco as an ally: how does it affect religious freedom?

Both Spain and the Netherlands have reached agreements with the Northern African country. “Moroccan Christians are excluded from many areas”, says a believer.

FUENTES Protestante Digital AUTOR 45/Jonatan_Soriano,5/Evangelical_Focus RABAT 11 DE OCTUBRE DE 2022 10:22 h
A demonstration in Marrakech, Morocco. / [link]Mehdi El Marouazi[/link], Unsplash

In March, Spain and Morocco finally settled the diplomatic crisis started in summer of 2021, after Madrid recognised Western Sahara as a territory under Rabat's sovereignty.

Tensions had reached its peak after the arrival in Spain of the leader of the Polisario Front and president of the partially recognised state of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, Brahim Gali, to undergo a medical operation.

“Welcoming me in a hospital was a brave gesture”, said Gali in February 2022.

However, the migration crisis in the southern Spanish city Ceuta in the spring of 2021, and the urgency of seeking alternatives to the supply of goods and energy after the outbreak of war in Ukraine, led President Pedro Sánchez to accept, in his own words, “the Moroccan autonomy initiative, presented in 2007, as the most serious, realistic and credible basis for resolving this dispute”.

The first consequence of the normalisation of institutional relations was the reopening of maritime transit through the strait, after a two-year interruption due to the pandemic and the diplomatic crisis.

But it was only some weeks ago that the two countries began to put the agreement into practice.


The Spanish dependence on Morocco

The diplomatic tension has only made more evident that Spain and its EU partners increasingly depend on Morocco and other Northern African countries.

According to the Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad, Rabat has just reached an agreement with the Netherlands to repatriate the Moroccan population in exchange for silence on the Saharawi issue from Mark Rutte's government.

Regarding this issue, the European Union has always called for respect for UN resolutions, in line with the Security Council. “The solution must be political, just, realistic, pragmatic, lasting and mutually acceptable”, said EU foreign affairs spokesperson Nabila Massrali.

But so far the European institutions have not shown any gesture or desire to correct the Spanish government's decision either.

Spain and Morocco have just agreed that from January “the passage of goods through land customs posts”, which have been closed since March 2020, will begin.

In turn, the Spanish government has pledged to develop a Development Promotion Fund project worth 20 million euros, and has offered its north African neighbour “collaboration through technical assistance in the railway sector and water, sanitation and salinisation to set up integrated systems on a national scale like those that exist in Spain”.

In the midst of the uncertainty caused by the war in Ukraine, Morocco has become an ally that neither Spain nor Europe can easily spare. Economic and migration issues have become even more important with the conflict in Ukraine.


What about human rights?

Many wonder how these agreements affect human rights. One right that has been observed in the country for years is that of religious freedom, especially for minority groups.

Open Doors ranks Morocco as the 27th most dangerous country in the world for Christians. According to the organisation, the situation has worsened, with pressure and violence increasing and legal aspects, such as article 220 of the Penal Code, harming minority populations such as Christians.

Moroccan Protestant leader Adam Rabati told Spanish news website Protestante Digital that “Moroccan Christians are excluded from many areas. We suffer persecution and, we are also the target of hate speeches. The situation is very complicated for all religious minorities in Morocco”.

The World Evangelical Alliance (WEA) stressed that “Spain, and the EU should commit in their bilateral agreements with Algeria and with Morocco to pursue respect for human rights and the rule of law”.

“I hope and pray that the values of human rights and freedom of conscience and of religion are put high in the priorities of these dialogues”, pointed out WEA's representative at the UN headquarters in Geneva, Wissam Al-Saliby.

As it happened with the change of government that Morocco experienced in September 2021, with the defeat of the Islamist party that had governed until then, human rights expectations are high in relation to the Spain-Morocco agreement.





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