Saturday. 20.04.2024

Outrage in Spain over upside down flag in Sanchez's meeting with Mohammed VI

The Government of Madrid considers the case a mere anecdote caused by carelessness, but it is not the first incident that occurs in Morocco related to the symbols displayed before Spanish authorities
07/04/2022. Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez met in Rabat with the King of Morocco Mohammed VI, with whom he held a meeting in which they discussed the new stage opened in relations between Spain and Morocco. Photo: La Moncloa.
Spanish flag placed upside down next to the table where Pedro Sanchez and Mohammed VI shared the Muslim 'Iftar' after the sunset in Rabat. Photo: La Moncloa.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez's visit to Morocco to meet with King Mohammed VI and inaugurate a "new stage" in bilateral relations has been shrouded in controversy. The treatment given by the Moroccans to the symbology and the flag of Spain has caused anger on the European side of the Strait of Gibraltar.

The trip was preceded by a sudden U-turn in the Spanish historical position on the Western Sahara conflict.

After 46 years of conflict between Morocco and the Polisario Front, the coalition government headed by Sanchez announced its endorsement on the Moroccan plan to turn the former Spanish colony into an autonomous territory within the Moroccan kingdom.

This change in policy collides with the position of the United Nations, which defends the holding of a self-determination referendum in the former colony. 

The U-turn was preceded by tensions between both countries and sparked accusations of treason by the Polisario and Algeria, which has called its ambassador in Madrid "for consultations." 

When Sanchez went to Parliament last week to explain his decision, he received harsh criticism from the left and right parties and did not even get the support of his partners in the government coalition (Unidas Podemos, left).

Reopen Ceuta and Melilla borders

Even so, the trip to Morocco took place on Thursday and the government returned with the Rabat commitment to reopen the land borders of Ceuta and Melilla and to normalize relations between the two countries. Sanchez said he was "very satisfied" with the results of his trip.

However, the visit left one more reason for anger in Spain. During dinner, the Spanish flag next to the table where Sanchez and Mohammed VI shared the 'Iftar' - lunch after sunset with which Muslims break the daily fast during Ramadan - was placed upside down.

This can be clearly seen if you look at the national coat of arms, since the order of the colors does not change, as the upper and lower stripes are red. Neither Sanchez nor anyone in his delegation - Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Albares was also sitting at the table - seem to notice this oddity.


The upside down placement of the Spanish flag was the reason for much criticism and even outrage on Friday, especially from right and far-right politicians. The leader of the Vox party, Santiago Abascal, made some harsh tweets against Morocco and Sanchez because of this issue.

For the Spanish government this was a mere anecdote. Government sources quoted by the Spanish agency Europa Press attributed what happened to "carelessness" but in no case to an intentional slight.

In that sense, the Madrid authorities highlighted the good treatment given to Sanchez and his team throughout the visit.

Other similar incidents

This is not, however, the first time that the symbology displayed by Morocco before the Spanish leaders has caused controversy.

In 2001, during the mandate of Jose Maria Aznar in Spain, the then opposition leader of the PSOE (socialist), Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, made a trip to Morocco in the midst of another serious bilateral crisis which had caused the withdrawal of the Moroccan ambassador in Madrid.

Zapatero - who later became Prime Minister in 2004 - was received by King Mohammed VI in his office, where there was a large map of the 'Greater Maghreb' on the wall, the territory that Morocco claims as its own and that included the territories of Ceuta and Melilla and even the Canary Islands.

That episode also earned Zapatero harsh criticism. 

Two years earlier, Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar himself had been in the same office and before the same map.

Outrage in Spain over upside down flag in Sanchez's meeting with Mohammed VI