Diplomatic Spat Between Morocco and Tunisia Over Polisario Participation in TICAD
By: Ahmed Fathi
A diplomatic spat started between Morocco and Tunisia following President Kais Saied of Tunisia meeting with the head of the Polisario Front, which demands independence for Western Sahara, Morocco recalled its ambassador to Tunis for negotiations and pulled out of Tokyo International Meeting for African Development conference-TICAD a pan-African investment conference that is taking place this weekend in Tunis.
Morocco, which holds the sovereignty over Western Sahara, has criticized Tunisia for inviting Brahim Ghali the leader of the Polisario Front to an African development summit this weekend, calling the move "hostile and damaging to the brotherly relations that the two countries have always cultivated" and "a serious and unprecedented act that deeply hurts the Moroccan people's feelings."
Contrary to Japan's advice and the planning process and established procedures, "Tunisia has unilaterally opted to invite the Polisario Front," the statement said.
Ghali, the so-called president of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, and other African dignitaries were among those who spent much of Friday listening to Saied speak at the TICAD meeting (SADR).
Inflaming regional competition between Morocco and Algeria, Polisario's main sponsor, this issue opens a new front in a series of Western Sahara confrontations that have already drawn in Spain and Germany.
Tunisia has grown closer to Algeria, on whom it depends upon for energy, since President Kais Saied met Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune in July.
This weekend, leaders from numerous African countries will gather in Tunisia for the Tokyo International Conference for African Development.
In response to Morocco's announcement, Tunisia said it will be recalling its ambassador to Rabat for negotiations.
The Tunisian Foreign Ministry was "astonished" by Morocco's response on Saturday.
"In accordance with international law, Tunisia has maintained its absolute neutrality on the Western Sahara subject," the government said in a statement. We shall maintain our position until all parties concerned have come to a mutually satisfactory agreement.
The African Union reportedly issued a memorandum asking all members of the grouping, including the commander of the Polisario front movement, to attend the Tokyo International Meeting for African Development conference in Tunisia.
According to the announcement, Brahim Ghali was also personally invited to the conference by the President of the African Commission.
President Macky Sall of Senegal, the AU's current president, is scheduled to give a speech. African countries are divided on the Polisario and Western Sahara's independence, although the African Union still recognizes the area as a member.
The Japanese Mission to the AU have issued a note verbale on Aug 19th asserting that only delegations from countries invited and received an invitation signed jointly by PM Kishida Fumio and President Kais Saeid will be allowed to attend.
Moroccans are outraged since this isn't the first time Ghali's travels have caused this reaction. After contracting COVID-19 in April 2021, he moved to Spain for treatment, setting up a diplomatic spat that would last for years between Spain and the North African nation.
This only ended when Madrid reversed decades of neutrality and backed a Moroccan plan for self-government in Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony, followed by Germany, Netherlands, Portugal, Sernbia, Hungary, Cyprus, Romania, in addition to tens of countries have opened Consulates in Laayoune and Dakhla.
Recognizing Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara has long been Morocco's top foreign policy goal. In 2020, the United States have recognized Morocco's sovereignty.