Good news: the sabbatical is over Bad news: this one is a dry politics column
11.11.2007 20 °C
Unfortunately, I have been remiss in my column-writing duties over the past few weeks or so. To be quite frank, I have not had the time to collect my thoughts, let alone express them! Since my last column, I have had three weeks of “midterm week,” a northerly trek to Gibraltar, yet more work, and a southerly trek to the charming beach resort of Agadir (Cue foreshadowing). Only now, as I am sitting in a café on the beachfront, have I found the time and inspiration to write.
Perhaps I should begin this Moroccan column on a non-Moroccan topic: the political status of Gibraltar. As I have previously mentioned, Gibraltar – whose name comes from the Arabic “Jebel Tariq” or “Tariq’s mountain” – is a British possession along the coast of southern Spain. The British took control of the 7 km2 (2.7 mi2) peninsula in 1704 during the War of Spanish Succession. This annexation was formalized in the 1715 Treaty of Utrecht, which among other things gave the Spanish the right of first refusal in the event of British departure; in other words, the British were required to offer the Spanish control of the territory if they ceased to administer the Rock.
So, I bet that you’re wondering what bearing an 18th-century treaty has to do with modern-day politics and specifically with Morocco. Well, the short answer is that while the naval base is not as vital in terms of strategic interest as it once was, the Spanish are still extremely upset at what they see as perpetual British imperialism. This British Rock has been a slap in the collective Spanish face for over three centuries. The lowest point in Anglo-Spanish relations with regards to Gibraltar was during the years under the nationalist Franco government, which closed the border for over two decades, thus cutting off many of their own citizens from gainful employment in Gibraltar (ironically enough, the Spanish now use these workers as martyrs in their struggle, from a monument “to the Spanish workers of Gibraltar” at the border to demands that the British pay their pensions!). While the border was reopened after Franco’s death, the territory remains a point of contention between London and Madrid.
The dispute is further complicated by the political situation in Gibraltar. While almost all Gibraltarians are pro-British and do not wish to have any Spanish role on the Rock, they currently do not have any say in negotiations. This is because the UN recognizes Gibraltar as a “non-self-governing territory”: in other words, a colony. Under international law, Gibraltar’s citizens are deemed to be colonists, and the principle of territorial integrity – that is, Spain should control Gibraltar since it is geographically part of Spain – is applied. In order to prevent this, Gibraltar – which has held elections for a local assembly since 1969 – has implemented governmental reforms. Under a constitution enacted earlier this year, the legislature has been renamed as a parliament and the chief minister – akin to a prime minister – has been granted greater executive powers. As this constitution was overwhelmingly approved by the citizens of Gibraltar in a referendum, say the British, the territory is self governing and therefore no longer a colony. By this logic, the theory of self-determination applies. Under this principle, the people of Gibraltar must be consulted before any change from the status quo, which would supersede both Spanish claims of territorial integrity as well as claims based in the Treaty of Utrecht. Because of this important nuance, Gibraltar’s government has mounted a campaign to be removed from the UN’s list of non-self-governing territories, a move vigorously opposed in Spain.
So, what does this have to do with Morocco? As it turns out, quite a lot. Spain has two cities on the Mediterranean coast of Morocco: Ceuta (Moroccan name is “Sebta”) and Melilla. These two cities are autonomous cities under Spanish rule, although Morocco claims both cities. Therefore, Spain is in the awkward position of claiming a historical right to a territory through geography in Gibraltar and through self-determination in Ceuta and Melilla. While the dispute between Morocco and Spain has been mainly peaceful, on occasion there has been military action, such as the Spanish Navy’s retaking on an uninhabited island (Isla Perejil) off the coast following its seizure by the Moroccans in 2002, or even bloodshed, like the deaths of many Moroccans and other Africans who try to illegally enter the cities as a method to enter the EU.
Given these two situations, what are the prospects for Gibraltar and – by extension – the Spanish cities? Given that a full handover of control, like the 1999 British departure from Hong Kong, seems very unlikely, since the majority population of each is overwhelmingly British and Spanish respectively, a proposed compromise has been joint administration of the territories, similar to Andorra’s situation of having both French and Spanish heads of state. However, this sort of arrangement has been rejected outright by those in the cities. Additionally, another option – independence – seems highly unlikely, as the cities are dependent on the finances of their respective mother countries. As a result, probably the best and most likely solution is what has governed these cities for centuries: the status quo.