The dispute opens a new front in a series of disputes over Western Sahara that have already spilled over into Spain and Germany.
Morocco has summoned its ambassador to Tunis for consultations and canceled its participation in a pan-African investment conference after Tunisia’s president hosted the head of the Polisario movement, which wants independence for Western Sahara.
Morocco, which considers Western Sahara its territory, said on Friday that Tunisia’s decision to invite Brahim Ghali to an African development summit this weekend was “hostile and harmful to the fraternal relations that the two countries have they have always maintained’ and the welcome received at Ghali. “a serious and unprecedented act that deeply hurts the feelings of the Moroccan people.”
The statement added: “Tunisia, against the advice of Japan and in violation of the preparation process and established rules, unilaterally decided to invite” the Polisario.
The dispute opens a new front in a series of disputes over Western Sahara that have already spilled over into Spain and Germany and intensified a regional rivalry between Morocco and Algeria, the Polisario’s main backer.
Tunisia has this year moved closer to Algeria, on which it depends for energy, with President Kais Saied meeting with Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune in July.
Tunisia is hosting the Tokyo International Conference on African Development this weekend, which will include heads of state from several African countries.
Tunisia, in response to Morocco’s decision, announced that it would also summon its ambassador to Rabat for consultation.
Tunisia’s foreign ministry said in a statement early Saturday that the country maintains its complete “neutrality on the issue of Western Sahara in compliance with international legitimacy.”
He said the African Union had circulated a memorandum inviting all members of the grouping, including the head of the Polisario Front movement, to participate in the activities of the Tokyo International Summit on African Development in Tunisia.
In addition, the chairman of the African Commission extended a direct individual invitation to Brahim Ghali to attend the summit, according to the statement.
Senegalese President Macky Sall, who is currently chair of the African Union, is scheduled to speak. The African Union recognizes Western Sahara as a member, but African states are divided by both the Polisario and the territory’s independence.
It is not the first time that Ghali’s travels have drawn the ire of Morocco.
In April 2021, he went to Spain for treatment after contracting COVID-19, sparking a year-long diplomatic row between Spain and the North African kingdom.
That only ended after Madrid abandoned its decades-long position of neutrality over Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony, and backed a Moroccan plan for limited self-rule there.
Gaining recognition of its sovereignty over Western Sahara has long been Morocco’s most cherished foreign policy goal. In 2020, the United States recognized its sovereignty in exchange for Morocco’s closer ties with Israel.