Morocco: Major rapprochement with Spain, but escalating economic pain 

Morocco

Published on Friday, 22 April 2022 Back to articles

Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez and King Mohamed VI shared an iftar meal to break the Ramadan fast

Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez made a landmark two-day visit to Morocco in early April, which drew a line under the year-long stand-off in relations between the two countries that was finally eased last month. This rapprochement came about in March after Madrid reversed its previous policy towards the Western Sahara, by endorsing Morocco’s autonomy plan for the disputed territory (Morocco Focus, March 2022). 

Madrid has continued to make it clear that it considers Rabat’s plan as a basis for reaching a solution to the decades-long crisis and has not abandoned its commitment to an UN-backed solution. This was something that was reiterated by Sánchez when he addressed the Spanish parliament at the end of March. 

Spain’s volte face — believed to be in response to US pressure — puts an end to almost a year of major diplomatic crisis caused by Madrid’s April 2021 decision to allow Brahim Ghali — leader of the Polisario Front and Rabat’s sworn enemy — to receive hospital treatment in Spain for COVID-19.

Bilateral relations will continue to improve with both sides clearly determined to put them on a better footing. Although there is growing frustration that the Kingdom’s borders with the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla are still currently closed, they are likely to be re-opened before too long. 

This continued rapprochement will anger both Polisario and Algeria — with the latter finding additional ways to punish Madrid — which will only make the likelihood of a thaw in the currently glacial relations between Rabat and Algiers all the more distant. 

Meanwhile, Moroccans have found this year’s Ramadan very tough going because of the very large price rises that are continuing to hit the country hard and are being exacerbated by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Prices of basic goods, including fuel, rose sharply just before the start of Ramadan when families traditionally consume more than normal. The price of locally grown wheat increased from MAD380-MAD400 to MAD550 a quintal (100 kgs) while imported wheat rose from MAD400 (US$40.80) to MAD750 US$76.54). The price of pulses and lentils, which are a Ramadan staple, also increased sharply. 

The government needs to do something to get a grip on the rising prices of basic goods and fuel. Moroccans are becoming increasingly worn down by poverty and the difficulties of making ends meet, and are fast losing confidence in the Rassemblement national des indépendants (RNI) led coalition government. There is growing public frustration and the increasingly feeling that the government is detached from the populace. Unless it takes action soon there is a high likelihood of more strikes and protests after Ramadan and the Eid holiday ends next month. The pressures on the people are such that protests could easily gather momentum and spiral out of control. 

The government’s announcement of renewed efforts to strengthen the country’s gas infrastructure bodes well for the energy sector. In the short to medium term, however, the Kingdom will struggle to meet its domestic gas needs despite the recently signed deal to gas via Spain’s LNG regasification plants.

This excerpt is taken from Morocco Focus, our monthly intelligence report on Morocco. Click here to receive a free sample copy.

The April 2022 issues of Morocco Focus also includes the following:

International Relations

  • Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez’s visit consolidates rapprochement
  • Implications

Politics

  • Sharp Ramadan price rises cause consternation 
  • Fuel price row
  • Attempt to clamp down on fake marriages

Energy & Economy

  • Bid to strengthen the Kingdom’s gas infrastructure

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