The dispute opens a new front in a series of disputes over Western Sahara that have already trailed Spain and Germany.
Morocco recalled its ambassador to Tunis for consultations and canceled its participation in the Pan-African Investment Conference after the Tunisian president invited the head of the Polisario movement for Western Sahara independence.
Morocco, which considers Western Sahara its territory, said on Friday that Tunisia’s decision to invite Brahim Ghali to this weekend’s African Development Summit was “hostile and prejudicial to the friendship the two countries have always maintained.” He said the welcome given to Ghali was “a grave and unprecedented act that deeply hurts the feelings of the people of Morocco”.
“Tunisia has decided to unilaterally invite the Polisario, contrary to Japan’s advice and in violation of the preparatory process and established rules,” the statement added.
The row opens a new front in a series of disputes over Western Sahara that have already trailed Spain and Germany and are escalating regional conflicts between Morocco and Algeria, the Polisario’s main supporters.
Tunisia has moved closer this year to energy-dependent Algeria, and President Qais Said met Algerian President Abdelmadjid Teboun in July.
This weekend, Tunisia will host the Tokyo International Conference on African Development. The conference will be attended by heads of state from several African countries.
Following Morocco’s decision, Tunisia announced it would recall its ambassador to Rabat for consultations.
Tunisia’s foreign ministry issued a statement early on Saturday, saying the country remained “completely neutral on the issue of Western Sahara in accordance with international legitimacy”.
The African Union said it had circulated a memorandum of understanding inviting all members of the group, including the head of the Polisario Front movement, to participate in the activities of the Tokyo International Conference on African Development Summit in Tunisia.
The chairman of the Africa Commission also personally invited Brahim Ghali to attend the summit, the statement said.
The president of Senegal, Mackey Sall, who is currently chairman of the African Union, will speak. The African Union recognizes Western Sahara as a member, but the African nations are divided over both the Polisario and territorial independence.
This is not the first time Galli’s travels have provoked outrage among Moroccans.
In April 2021, he traveled to Spain for treatment after contracting COVID-19, sparking a year-long diplomatic dispute between Spain and the North African kingdom.
That ended after Madrid withdrew its decades-long neutrality stance on Western Sahara.
Obtaining sovereignty recognition for Western Sahara has long been Morocco’s most important foreign policy goal. In 2020, the United States recognized Morocco’s sovereignty in return for agreeing to a closer relationship with Israel.