Sweden’s Selective Foreign Policy in Western Sahara and Catalonia

Unlike their intense presence during the debate over the right to “self-determination” for the people of the Western Sahara, the Swedish Social Democratic Party (SAP) is noticeably absent from the Swedish Parliament activities in support of the Catalan independence. Is this a case of double standards, differential treatment based on race, or just a dose of real politic for the ”idealistic” Swedish foreign Policy?


As far back as 2009, SAP had actively called on Sweden to recognize the self-proclaimed Sahara Republic (SADR). In 2013 the Swedish party issued the following statement: “Defense of Saharawi people’s self-determination, recognition of SADR, end of Moroccan occupation of Western Sahara and the need to respect international regarding the relations between the European Union and Morocco were among priority at the core of Party’s program.”


As a result of this robust pro-secession stand, Moroccans will be watching SAP-led Swedish government policy toward Spain now that the pro-independence parties have gained a majority in the Catalan Parliament. Will all the Swedish Left unite to support Catalan independence since this 2015 electoral victory is viewed as a plebiscite on Catalan independence?


SAP members of the current government and the Parliament, as well as rank and file activists have spoken in favor of a discussion regarding the future of the Western Sahara and the direction of Swedish foreign policy in this conflict. Yet we have not heard the Swedish position on the future of a Catalan Republic in Europe.


While Moroccans are not surprised that high ranking members of SAP are involved in the Algeria sponsored efforts to lobby Sweden to recognize the self-proclaimed Sahara Republic, they are concerned that SAP, now in power, could in fact move in that direction. Interestingly, the same Social Democrat have neither spoken in favor of the Catalan independence nor commented on the implications of the independence vote on the future of Spanish-Swedish relations.


Some Moroccan activists are wondering why the SAP government is not publically supporting a debate in Sweden regarding the rights of the Catalans to Self-determination. Some are wondering about the SAP government stand on Spain’s position that the Spanish constitution does not allow regions to separate. If we use the same logic SAP activists have been advancing to “pressure” Morocco, then Sweden should denounce Madrid’s stand as undemocratic.


Sweden respects Spain’s “autonomous regions” policy but refuses to consider Morocco’s regionalism as a basis for a resolution to the Sahara conflict. Sweden seems to view the Catalan conflict as a Spanish internal affair, but considers the Western Sahara as an intentional conflict that needs to be debated at the parliament level.


The SAP position on the matter of the Western Sahara independence is clear and straightforward while its stand on the Catalan’s push for the creation of state seems muzzled. Whereas the Swedish Green Party has been consistent in its advocacy for the right of people to self-determination regardless of geographic locations, the Social Democrats’ politicians seem to shy away from endorsing European secessionist movements, while endorsing the same type of organizations in the rest of the world. It sounds like a prejudiced stand. SAP politicians must think that Europeans can manage their affairs while Africans need pressure and supervision.


To their credit, Swedish Green activists have been supporting the Catalan’s push for independence and the Algerian baked Polisario calls for an independent state with the same rigor.


SAP has been avoiding the Catalan government’s strategy of internationalizing Catalonia’s case for independence while spearheading Algeria’s efforts to do the same for the Sahara. Such positions show that Sweden respects Spain’s territorial integrity while it is too eager to dispute the historic, cultural and religious ties between the Sahrawi tribes and the Kingdom of Morocco. SAP leaders respect a European partner’s position but do not extend the same ‘privilege” to an African nation.


SAP adventures in North Africa are particularly troubling, because they may influence and hinder the work of the United Nations mission to the Western Sahara. The Social Democrats efforts in support of SADR could constitute undiplomatic meddling in the internal affairs of Morocco. If Sweden is honest and neutral in this conflict, then its diplomats should bring the two major antagonists, Algerian and Morocco, to the table of negations.


Hassan Masiky
Born in Kenitra, Morocco and based in Washington, Hassan Masiky (Hassan.masiky@gmail.com) is a Blogger and freelance writer. Hassan is a former spokesman for Amnesty International USA and worked as a consultant for USAID funded democracy projects in Mexico, ...