Morocco’s Makhzen Voluntarily Cedes Ceuta and Melilla to Spain
Morocco accepted to turn the cities of Ceuta and Melilla into an official customs point, and the decision comes a few days before the Moroccan-Spanish summit on which Rabat is betting a lot, especially in light of its tense relations with European institutions and with France.
The Spanish Ministry of Foreign Affairs reported that work had begun to convert the cities of Ceuta and Melilla into points for export and import between the two countries, and considered that the matter is related to a turning point in the history of the two countries, as the government delegates in Ceuta had indicated that this process began last Friday with a pilot operation to export cleaning materials to Moroccan territory.
Further, the Moroccans bordering Ceuta and Melilla, like the residents of the Tetouan region, used to enter the two cities without a visa, but now only visa holders are allowed to enter, meaning that the two cities have become as if they were within the European “Schengen” space.
Morocco did not issue any official statement about this development, which could be classified as a real turning point, and Rabat refused official recognition of trade exchange, especially in the case of the city of Ceuta, while Melilla was a point of trade exchange and basically, only some of Morocco’s exports were more than Spain’s exports because this situation was inherited by Morocco from an agreement dating back to the nineteenth century. Despite the passage of hundreds of thousands of people from Ceuta and Melilla to Morocco and in the opposite direction annually, Morocco did not recognize them as official customs points and border centres but called them “Bab Ceuta” and “Bab Melilla” (Portals), and now it decided to voluntarily give up the two cities.
Alquds Alarabi newspaper said that the decision is a historic turning point, given that Morocco had pledged during November 2007, following King Juan Carlos’ visit to the two cities, to internationalize the file and put forward the restoration of sovereignty over them in international forums, and at that time issued a statement describing the Spanish monarchy as imperialist with medieval policy.
The statement also described the visit as follows: “risking the future and development of relations between the two countries, and the government’s gross breach of the operative and spirit of the Treaty of Friendship, Good Neighborliness and Cooperation concluded in 1991 … the useless step offends the deeply rooted and well-established national feelings of all components and segments of the Moroccan people.”
Morocco withdrew its ambassador, Omar Azziman, from Madrid at the time, and the Moroccan parliament in both chambers issued a strongly worded statement threatening Spain with escalating measures and considered that what it had done was a provocation, especially since the visit came on one day of the National Day, or the Green March.
However, things took another dimension in the subsequent years. Spain threatened publicly, through its Foreign Minister José Manuel García Margallo in November 2013 that Morocco’s proposal for each of Ceuta and Melilla is an obstacle to bilateral relations, and Morocco no longer raises this issue officially once and for all, and the principle of restoring sovereignty on the two cities has become absent from the official discourse of the state and the parties, and a current in the Kingdom claims that the silence on Ceuta and Melilla is circumstantial by the priority of the Western Sahara conflict.
The visit of the King of Spain to the two cities was a red line, but the head of the socialist government, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, imposed the visit on November 5, 2007, and the visits of Spanish kings and ministers to Ceuta became normal without a reaction from Morocco, as the Makhzen preferred to stick its head in the dirt like an ostrich, unlike what was happening in the past.