At last, after 32 days on hunger strike in Lanzarote airport, Aminatou Haidar was able to return home to El Aaiun last night. The Moroccan government relented under pressure from the governments of Spain, France and possibly also the US. Haidar was already in a weakened state and was admitted to hospital yesterday before the decision was finally announced that she could return. It's a significant victory for her, although it comes at a cost for her health.
There's little doubt that without the hunger strike Haidar would have been condemned to become yet another forgotten exile, the Spanish government only started to take her case seriously when it became clear that she was determined to maintain the campaign and the support she received became ever stronger. What Morocco obviously hoped would be a relatively clean way of getting rid of a problematical activist over the issue of Western Sahara has backfired in a spectacular way. The issue of the former Spanish colony has attracted more attention in the last month than it has in years, uncomfortably for those governments with any interest in the issue who have quietly accepted that it is going to remain part of Moroccan territory.
The Spanish government has tried to claim that the decision to admit Aminatou to Spain even though she had no passport was taken by the police without political interference. However, yesterday foreign minister Moratinos confirmed that he was informed about Haidar's expulsion by his Moroccan counterpart, and although he claims that he expressed his rejection of his decision it seems hard to believe that his ministry just left the handling of the affair in the hands of the immigration police in Lanzarote airport. If the government was opposed to the Moroccan decision they kept very quiet about it until the hunger strike and the reaction it provoked forced the PSOE to come off the fence too.
Some of the political opposition to the government has been very opportunist, the Partido Popular has only shown interest once it became clear they could use it to embarrass the government. Meanwhile Rosa Diez of UPyD showed a surprising commitment to the concept of self-determination, not something that she is ever likely to support within Spanish frontiers. Despite this, the origin of the affair lies with a complacent foreign policy that would have tamely accepted Haidar's expulsion without a whimper of protest had it not been for the campaign in support of her.