Will Spain’s Popular Party change ‘hostile’ stance towards Morocco once in power?

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Spain’s central-right wing Popular Party, which is expected to win the country’s legislative elections, will likely change its “hostile” stance towards the neighboring kingdom of Morocco once it is in power, political analysts said.

About 36 million Spaniards cast their vote in the country’s national election on Sunday to choose candidates for a 350-member parliament as well as for the 208-member senate after nearly eight years of rule by the Socialist Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero.

Spain, which is expected to become the third Eurozone country to change its government in recent weeks, is knee deep in an economic crisis, piled in debt and its unemployment has reached 22 percent.

Taj al-Din al-Hussaini, a Moroccan analyst in international relations and a professor at the University of Rabat, said that the Popular Party’s hold long-time “hostile” policies toward Morocco.

The mere mention of Spain’s conservative party and its leader, Mariano Rajoy, still evokes bad memories in Morocco.

When the Popular Party was ruled under Prime Minister José María Aznar’s administration, military tensions between the two countries were heightened over the disputed small islet of Laila (Perejil in Spanish) in July 2002.

Even when Rajoy took over the Popular Party leadership, the tensions continued when he decided to visit Melilla, another disputed city north of Morocco. The visit occurred after the enclave had briefly closed its borders to prevent the entrance of African migrants.

Hussaini said racist attitudes were still prevalent in the conservative party, especially when it comes to Ceuta and Melilla, the two remaining Spanish enclaves in northern Morocco.

But he added there could be a drastic change towards Morocco should they win the election and form the government.

After all, Morocco is the second largest trading partner to Spain after France, and Spain like some other European countries, is embroiled in an economic crisis.
“I expect to see a lot of changes in the Popular Party’s stance, especially when it comes to the agreements that connect both countries in terms of investments and economic relations,” he said.

He added that there are a lot of Spanish real estate companies in Morocco pushing for better relations between the two countries.

Hakim Banizo, a historian and former Moroccan politician, said, “There was no reason to believe that the Popular Party’s negative stances against Morocco will continue; especially since it will be preoccupied with the economic demands of the Spanish people.”

The conservative party won’t be able to fulfill its economic promises, according to Banizo.

The conservative party has also worked to dispel Morocco’s fear that it will stave off any tensions similar to those during Aznar’s rule. Rajoy recently said that “Morocco and Spain will always stay as neighbors,” and continued hailing Morocco’s progress in human rights and its ardent desire to achieve economic progress.

Observers have also said that it is customary for any new government in Spain to visit Morocco in its first foreign visit.

(Translated by Dina al-Shibeeb)