View Full Version : Analysis: Spanish or Moroccan land?

08 Feb 04,, 21:00
Analysis: Spanish or Moroccan land?

Whenever the future of Gibraltar is discussed, British newspapers and politicians like to mention the Spanish cites of Ceuta and Melilla on the North African coast.

For critics of Spain, the Spanish presence on land Morocco claims as hers is evidence of hypocrisy.

For Spain, Ceuta and Melilla, both cities of some 60,000 people, are part of the homeland, even though separated from it. Ceuta is almost directly opposite Gibraltar. Melilla is about 200 miles further east.

The Moroccan occupation of a small uninhabited island near Ceuta called Perejil (Parsley) by Spain and Leila by Morocco - and the subsequent protests in Madrid that the island is Spanish - has again seen such arguments deployed.

Click here for a map of the area

The Spanish reject any comparison with Gibraltar.

Gibraltar, they argue, was clearly Spanish before it was captured by Admiral Sir George Rooke during the War of Spanish Succession because the King of Spain agreed to give it to Britain in the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713.

Britain agreed in that Treaty to offer it back to Spain if it decided to leave.

Ceuta and Melilla, on the other hand, the Spanish say, have been Spanish since the 15th Century, long before Morocco was founded.

Franco's launchpad

They were set up as part of a chain of Spanish forts along the African coast and have developed into thriving Spanish cities.

They are now, incidentally, such magnets for illegal immigrants that they have been surrounded by fences.

It was therefore only natural, in the Spanish view, for Spain to retain these cities when it withdrew from elsewhere in Morocco in 1956.

Spain also retained several small islands which they also claimed. One of them was Parsley.

Ceuta and Melilla also hold a place in the hearts of the right wing in Spain.

It was from them that Generalissimo Franco launched his civil war in 1936. There is still a large though crumbling and graffiti ridden monument to Franco in Ceuta.

Forthright king

It is probably no coincidence that the Moroccan occupation took place during the wedding celebration of the Moroccan King, Mohammed VI.

His father King Hassan always laid claim to the enclaves.

"Only a blind man would deny Morocco's rights to Ceuta and Melilla; only an obstinate fool would question them," was how he put it.

Moroccan scholars also say that there has been a Moroccan kingdom - and therefore sovereignty - since the Idrissid dynasty in Fez in the eighth century.

But King Hassan did little to press his claim.

The young King Mohammed has been more forthright.

When the Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar paid a visit in 1999, shortly after the King came to the throne, the meeting took place in a room where the two enclaves were marked on a map as Moroccan.

The Moroccan Prime Minister Abderraman Yusufi said: "The current status cannot last".

Historical oddities

Morocco suggested a joint committee to discuss the future of the enclaves.

But Aznar's own Popular Party replied at the time: "We are not going to pay any attention to any Moroccan claims".

And that remains the Spanish position.

Such historical oddities can, in fact, co-exist quite happily with their big neighbours.

Just of the coast of Newfoundland are the small French islands of St Pierre and Miquelon, population 6000.

Arriving by ferry in St Pierre is like arriving in a small town on the coast of Normandy. The transition is made even more atmospheric if there is thick fog on the Grand Banks as there often is.

And yet St Pierre has always existed quite happily next to Canada, even though it's an integral part of France.

It suffered one or two British occupations over the centuries but was always handed back.

Al Capone found it a useful base for smuggling liquor during Prohibition.

Newfoundlanders like to go there for the food.


08 Feb 04,, 21:10
On the BBC Talking Point page about this subject, I found this response:

By what right does Morocco call Ceuta and Melilla its own? Simple attachment to the African continent does not make it Morocco's. Does Morocco claim Algeria as its own as well? People seem to forget that geographically, Spain is practically attached to the African continent. So close in fact that one can see the other country from its coast. This is not a case of a nation claiming land a half a world away. This is simply a case of Spain existing in two continents much like Turkey does.
Pedro Coley, USA

This one is particulary entertaining:

I am a Moroccan. I am very happy about the re-occupation of Parsley Island by Spanish forces. I'd be happier if Spain could have occupied Tetouan, Nador and Alhucimas, because our government is corrupt and the king wasted millions for his wedding while 95% of the population live in misery and risk their life to try to cross Europe. When we have democracy, human rights, freedom of speech , social security, like Spain has, then we'll probably ask for Parsley rock. Well Done Espana
Karim, London, UK

08 Feb 04,, 22:51
Possesion is 9/10 of the law, as they say. Spain currently have the territory and something has to make them give it up.

In all these instances were "possession" is an issue and someone else stakes a claim to the land, the issue is something that should be left to the residents of the disputed area. Not to someone looking at a map and using their flag as a bedsheet.

It is the residents that must lrealise the opportunities or hazards involved ina change of "ownership" not those wrapping themselves in a flag.

16 Feb 04,, 06:22
I think the best point made was that Spain exists on two continents, just like Turkey.

I mean, come on, it's not like this is some Spanish colony or something.