Friday, November 23, 2007

A Tale of Two Cities

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Oops, wrong one.

Once upon a time there were two cities - except they're not so much cities as enclaves - which just happened to be in northern Morocco - except they're not so much Moroccan as Spanish. And unles
s you've lived in either Spain or Morocco, chances are you've never heard of either Melilla or Ceuta and for that oversight you can be forgiven. Ceuta is 28 km² while Melilla is smaller still and are, therefore, easy to overlook.

But history has shown that it is often the tiniest easy-to-overlook places that excite the most interest, int
rigue and bickering. These enclaves are no exception and have played witness - and victims - to the power struggles of the Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Romans, Vandals, Visigoths, Byzantines, to name but a few. Melilla would eventually become incorporated into - not Morocco - but the Kingdom of Fes, while Ceuta bounced back & forth between warring North African dynasties until it was captured by the Portuguese.

With the reconquista of Spain - when the occupying Moors were ousted from Andalucía over 500 years ago - Melilla was incorporated into the Spanish province of Málaga. In 1580, Portuga
l lost its independence to Spain and the majority of Ceuta's population became Spanish. Fiercely Spanish. So fiercely Spanish that 60 years later, when a newly independent Portugal was at war with Spain, Ceuta was its only former colony that sided with Spain.

Currently, the two enclaves - the only EU cities located on mainland Africa - are the-grass-is-greener destinations for daring & desperate Africans trying to reach Europe. The border crossing is a daunting place.

Thanks for the history lesson Gatita but so what? you ask. So what indeed? The problem lies in the fact that Morocco has laid claim to the two enclaves. It doesn't matter that neither city was ever part of the Kingdom of Morocco (est. 1956); the official Moroccan stance is that Spain is illegally occupying Moroccan territory. This month King Juan Carlos embarked on the first visit to Ceuta and Melilla by a Spanish head of state in over 80 years. This decision was not warmly received by the Moroccan government - visions of a stirred up hornet's nest come immediately to mind - and in response to the announcement, Morocco recalled its ambassador from Spain. Bet that really showed them.

The visit was "regrettable" it said. Rabat expressed "strong rejection and clear disapproval" of what was viewed as a visit to two "despoiled Moroccan towns."

"Spain must understand that the time of colonialism has ended, and for good." This from Prime Minister Abbas El Fassi who might take a good long hard look at Morocco's claims to the Western Sahara - the ancestral land of the Saharawi people which it 'annexed' in 1975.

So the King and Q
ueen came and people cheered and people booed. Around 1,000 Moroccans voiced their displeasure with the royal visit, and demonstrated at the border posts. On the other side of the barbed wire, Ceutians and Melillians of Moroccan descent expressed gratitude for the jobs they had - jobs they couldn't find in their villages and towns in Morocco - and enthusiastically waved little red and yellow flags.

And across the Straits of Gibraltar? Some 88% of Spaniards polled believe that the two autonomous cities are an integral part of Spain while 51% admit to not
understanding Morocco's claims to the territories since both cities have been Spanish for longer than Morocco has been a sovereign nation.

It
is a tale worthy of Dickens. If by some act of Allah - for nothing less could bring it about - the 2 cities, whose inhabitants are 85% Spanish (or Spanish origin) and 10% Muslim, revert to Moroccan control, that would signal the effective end of tapas bars in Morocco. No more cañas of cerveza; no more pinchitos of tortilla. No more Spanish potato chips!! And whether or not it is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done, that would truly suck.

6 comments:

knarf said...

A couple of thoughts, I suppose:

1) I suppose were I Spanish, I might agree to relinquish those towns when the Brits get out of Gibralter. Not that there's any connection or anything...

2) I heard when the Vandals came, they left an awful mess behind. TPed all the front lawns and everything...

La Gatita Gringa said...

Regarding your first point, I pretty much said the same thing to a number of students. They conceded that Gibraltar rightly belonged to Britain (ceded in perpetuity in the Treaty of Utrecht) as a spoils of war. So go figure.
I stood (although I was sitting) corrected.

Damn Vandals.

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