Ceuta’s Muslims have called on Morocco for help after the government in the Spanish enclave banned Eid celebrations. For the first time in the autonomous city’s history, Muslim residents of Ceuta will not have the right to celebrate Eid Al Adha, or the Feast of Sacrifice, due to take place on July 31.
The autonomous government in Ceuta, led by Juan Vivas and a coalition including Spain’s far-right Vox party and the People’s Party (PP), say the ban is among the measures in place to stem the spread of COVID-19 in the city.
“The export of livestock to Ceuta has been limited, the slaughterhouse will be closed, no tents will be erected and it is forbidden for anyone to come to the feedlot to remove animals,” Vivas warned the Muslim community ahead of Eid Al Adha.
The Muslim community in Ceuta reached out to the central government in Madrid and sought support from the Islamic Commission of Spain (CIE). The CIE also appealed to Spain’s coalition government on behalf of Ceuta’s Muslim population, but to no avail.
Ceuta’s Muslims are now turning to Morocco and King Mohammed VI for support and advocacy. The Spanish Muslim Community (CME) released a video to the press and with a message for Morocco.
“The decision is unsubstantiated,” the CME delegate in Ceuta explained. “It could be described as racist in a non-denominational country and does not respect the right of worship.”
In the video, the CME recalled the accord the Spanish government signed with the CIE in 1992. The agreement pledges collaboration and engagement with Spain’s Muslim population.
The video also pointed to what the CME sees as the true motive behind the decision to ban the celebration of Eid this year. Vivas and the far-right autonomous government in Ceuta took the decision “to put pressure on Morocco for political reasons related to border closures and the economic struggles the city is experiencing.”
CME president in Ceuta Ahmed Subaire said the community has not ruled out legal action against Vivas and his coalition government. “The Constitutional Court in Madrid is the one that has to say the last word so that our celebrations, customs and calendar of celebrations are respected because President Vivas is working against the Muslims.”
Subaire emphasized the brotherhood between the Muslims of Ceuta and Morocco and called on King Mohammed VI as leader of the faithful in Morocco for help.
Suppression of Islam, Moroccans in Ceuta
Despite Ceuta’s unique situation as a Spanish city on the African continent, nestled in northern Morocco, the coalition government appears to see Moroccans and Muslims as a threat and much of the animosity comes from Vox.
CME’s Subaire said Vox “have pressured their partner -PP- and they have said that this festival [Eid Al Adha] must be suppressed once and for all, and that while they are in government, it must be eliminated.”
In January 2020, the Ceuta Vox party’s anti-Muslim sentiment burst into the spotlight after a leak to the press exposed a series of WhatsApp messages sent in a group chat including the party’s secretary-general in Ceuta Juan Sergio Redondo, the spokesperson of the Ceuta assembly Carlos Verdejo, and senator Yolanda Melero.
The messages revealed strong Islamophobic rhetoric and a militant attitude towards stamping out the Muslim or Moroccan parts of Ceuta’s multicultural, multiethnic, and multireligious society.
One of the more unpleasant messages called Moroccans and Muslims “Moors,” and said, using foul language, the fact that some Spaniards advocate for coexistence “is already indicative of how ill Ceuta and Spain are.”
“Now we must raise the battle in the electoral field, but as things are bad, it is not at all strange that in the end we will have to turn to militantism in the fight(…) They will regret it, I have no doubt,” the message continued.
In another message, Redondo told the group: “I assure you that if we do not accept their [Moroccans in Ceuta] Islamizing vision, they will begin to treat us as occupiers. We are like the Israelis.” The WhatsApp message was met with approval, with one Vox party member replying, “The third world war will start one day soon, and it will be against Islam.”
The Vox party responded to the leak with a statement to distance itself from the messages, claiming that they had been doctored and taken out of context. However, the damage was done and the coalition government’s latest move, under the pretext of COVID-19 measures, raises even more doubt about the party’s motivations.
Tellingly, Melilla, Ceuta’s fellow Spanish enclave in northern Morocco, has not moved to ban the celebration of Eid Al Adha this year. Only one other Spanish city, Cartagena, has ruled to suspend the 2020 festivities amid the pandemic.
Given the geography and history of the Spanish enclaves in northern Morocco, Vox’s aggressive, hostile standpoint and rhetoric towards Moroccans and Islam is bizarre and can only lead to tensions between Morocco and the two enclaves.
It remains to be seen whether the ban of Eid Al Adha in Ceuta amid the COVID-19 pandemic will extend into the post-coronavirus “new normal.” And, if it does, the central government in Spain will have to look very closely at the rising hate and racism in the precarious city of Ceuta.