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Outrage in Morocco after Egypt hosts Polisario delegation

Egypt has denied extending a formal invitation to the Polisario delegation [AFP]

Date of publication: 20 October, 2016

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The hosting of a Polisario separatists delegation in Egypt has sparked outrage in Morocco, raising tensions and affecting diplomatic ties between the two countries.

Egypt has come under fire in Morocco after hosting a delegation of Western Sahara's Polisario separatists at the joint Arab-African parliamentary congress in Sharm el-Sheikh last week.

Sovereignty over Western Sahara has been disputed between the government of Morocco and the Polisario Front, a Sahrawi national liberation movement working to end Moroccan presence and to establish an independent nation.

Fighting broke out between Morocco and the Polisario Front after Spain's colonial administration of Western Sahara ended in 1976.

The UN mission, known as MINURSO, is tasked with monitoring a ceasefire reached in September 1991 and organising a referendum on self-determination in Western Sahara.

The five-member Polisario delegation took part in celebrations for the 150th anniversary of the Egyptian parliament, which coincided with a joint session of the Arab Parliamentary Union and the African Parliamentary Union, a Polisario source told Egyptian website al-Masry al-Youm.

Khatri Addouh, chairperson of the Sahrawi National Council, headed the delegation, along with Suilma Hay Emhamed al-Kaid, vice-president of the Pan-African Parliament, according to the source.

The delegation met with heads of Arab and African parliaments, including an unofficial meeting with Egypt's seapker of parliament, Ali Abdel Aal, the source added.

However, Egypt has denied extending any formal invitation to the group, arguing that the parliament did not bear any responsibility for the delegation's "stopover" in the country.

"Egypt is just the host country. The African parliament is the only party eligible to extend invitations," said Osama Heikal, who heads the Egyptian parliament's media committee.

'Provocative' move

Morocco's Hespress news website said that hosting the delegation at the conference, which was attended by Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, was "provocative".

"Egypt has once again taken a hostile stance against Morocco," it said, adding that the move was likely to raise tensions between the two countries.

Al Jazeera's prominent Moroccan anchor Abdessamad Nacir has criticised Egypt's move, also describing it as "provocative".

"I look forward to Morocco's response to Sisi's Egypt hosting a Polisario Front delegation at the Arab-African parliamentary congress," he wrote on Twitter.

"It is now clear to everyone that Sisi has betrayed all Arabs. He betrayed Saudi Arabia in Yemen by helping the Houthis, and here he is now betraying Morocco," he said in another tweet.

In another angry response, Moroccan musician Nouamane Lahlou cancelled his upcoming visit to Egypt, describing the hosting of the Polisario delegation as a "great shock".

"To all my friends in Egypt who were expecting my visit on 2 November; I have cancelled my visit and apologised to the TV channels who were supposed to interview me, as well as Helwan University, where I was going to give a lecture about Moroccan music," he announced in a Facebook post.

"It has been a great shock for all Moroccans that the Egyptian parliament speaker - who is supposed to speak on behalf of the people - hosted a delegation of the separatist Polisario Front," he added.

The outraged musician went on to urge Moroccan artists residing in Egypt to take a stance or denounce the move, "so the Egyptian people would realise how much they have offended the people who love them".

According to Morocco World News, the Moroccan-Danish Forum has demanded a clarification on the matter from the Egyptian Embassy in Copenhagen.

A letter to the embassy said the move showed Egypt's disregard for historical legitimacy and recklessness towards long-standing diplomatic ties.

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