by Stefanie Claudia Müller
Sabrina Moh Abdelkader stands for a different muslim lifestyle. The young woman is a representative of the Social Democratic Central Government of Madrid in Melilla. In this position she is a kind of mediator of national interests. Her own story stands for many in Melilla, where converting is not a duty when women or men fall in love with different faiths. Sabrina Moh Abdelkader is divorced and remarried to a Christian. What might rather be a scandal in Germany in many Muslim circles is not a problem for her family: “I also brought a child from my first marriage into the second,” she says.
Politics and society are two different things
Different to Germany where on a political level everyone tries to be very comprehensive and sometimes overtolerante with foreigners, in Melilla it is the other way around. There are more problems at the political level than they are in the society. Visits from Spanish politicians or even the king are welcome here, but hardly tolerated by Morocco. They are a rare, although Melilla has been recognized as an autonomous region since 1995, which briefly aroused the interest of the mainland.
But the boom has not lasted long and slackened off drastically with the abolition of military service in 2001. Before, many soldiers had been turned off the mainland to Melilla and Ceuta. But now the melillens are more and more among themselves. In a very small space there is a mayor and autonomy president in one person. Moh Abdelkader is now attempting to enforce her own tolerance and dialogue policy with the new regional government of right-wing liberals, social democrats and the Muslim “Coalición por Melilla”.
Living together of Christians, Jews and Muslims shaped the city
Even the right-wing conservative scandals of the various governments in Melilla could not adversely affect the peaceful coexistence of the world religions practiced since 1864. The society goes its own way. Even the usual stereotypes about gypsies do not apply here. “They are integrated and well-regarded here, unlike in Madrid”, says historian Maria Elena Fernández. The visitor will find in Melilla a culturally rich mixture of Jews, Christians, Muslims, Gypsies and even Hindus. There are only a few flights a day from Melilla to the mainland, while the rest of Europe can only travel via the Iberian peninsula. That is also because the city is largely isolated. “However, when I came from the cosmopolitan Madrid to Melilla a few years ago, I experienced a kind of coexistence that is really only felt in Jerusalem,” says Fernández, who also organizes guided tours of the city.
Melilla is isolated as is Jerusalem, but in other ways. The pressure of Morocco is enormous, but on the other side is Europe where it belongs to. The ferry to Malaga, where most residents go for a weekend trip, takes eight hours. A trip to Madrid from the Lego alike Melilla Airport starting in small machines, mostly with turbulence and sometimes with fog, is for many Melillensen therefore an escape route from the harmoniously pretty city caught between illegal immigration and greed for that in any way not only richer, but also more exciting European mainland.
Spain is different, but Melilla is much more
If you look closely, you see it all in small details in the architecture and the faces of the people whose ethnic features merge after centuries of mixed marriages. On the “Place of the Cultures” stands a skultrack that, with its intertwined knots, makes clear what constitutes Melilla: cohesion beyond beliefs. Moh Abdelkader is the best ambassador of this culture: “We are married in both traditions, the Christian and the Muslim and our families are happy about our step”. She shines, showing photos of her weddings on her mobile. Nevertheless nowhere in the world is the economic and religious difference between Europe and Africa as clear as here on the border with Morocco. Nowhere is the entire misery of poverty and illegal immigration visually better to grasp. The desert-like Melilla, which is only 12 square kilometers in size, has been in Spanish hands since the end of the 15th century, before the founding of Morocco.
Nevertheless, the traditionally Christian city as well as 500 kilometers away Ceuta is classified by the Moroccan neighbors as a colony. In Brussels, these subtleties are not known to many. It is clear, however, that both Spanish exclaves are currently doing the dirty work for Europe on business with people on their way to a better future. The EU wants African aid seekers not to enter the mainland at all. Melilla does not have the infrastructure to handle the problem on her own. The reception center overflows. At present, many refugees from Mali, but also from Morocco are always infiltrated minors. They come in trucks hidden, climb over the border fence or are introduced by day laborers. They can not legally be returned by the Spaniards. The traffickers on the other side exploit that. But Melilla is just transit. Most of the asylum seekers and economic refugees want to move on to Germany or France.
Is a dialogue at the border fence possible?
In the Melilla district of “La Cañada de la Muerte”, the gorge of death, one findes all those who do not have a residence permit and therefore engage in all kinds of illegal activities. Minors live on the street and espite all their goodwill, can not be integrated. There is money missing, but also space and perspectives which Melilla no offers but Europe. Morocco plays a double role. The neighborhood of “La Cañada de la Muerte” is therefore a fertile ground for yihadists, between the fences they cultivate hatred. While the dangerous barbed-wire border fence on the Spanish side is due to be dismantled by complaints from the International Court of Justice of The Hague, the Moroccans on their side have just pulled it up. But with almost 2,400 illegal immigrants by June, the pressure on little Melilla is still high. Everything is different in Melilla.
While counterfeiting on the mainland is severely persecuted, nobody gets upset about it. Hundreds of Moroccans come every day with packages under the arms to Melilla. They sometimes stand for hours to get a taste of Europe. Not all go back again, some prefer a Spanish prison with warm food to hard everyday life in Nador. Despite these adversities Spanish journalist Sara Ouchen rarely reports violent riots against foreigners. There are many tasteless racist jokes in Spain, but little real acts of violence, as is the case in other countries such as France, England and Germany.
But there are also fewer crimes committed by foreigners against Melillensen. Ouchen is the best example of how Melilla works. She is 35 years old and Berber, dominated two native languages Spanish and Tamazgith, the Berber language. She also speaks fluent Arabic. “I was educated in Europe, although traditions play a big role in my home”. She grows up in a conservative environment, trying as a modern woman without a headscarf but to influence the opinion of her family. She is unmarried and always has to go out alone with the camera: “In my culture that’s a funny thing”. Above all, she films help seekers who try to get to Melilla via the border fence, often at night: “My parents do not like that. But I have repeatedly told them that this is not bad “. She raises her to openness.
Lost in Africa and hoping for Europe
But it is true that border security to Spain works only with money from Brussels and of course there are also in Morocco traffickers and not only that. Most of the money between Nador and Melilla is run black on the state, which ultimately harms everyone, because on both sides no sustainable development takes place.
In addition, Morocco has just completed customs clearance on the border with Melilla, in theory no goods may be imported to Morocco. However, this has only furthered the black market and thwarted some investment by Spanish retail chains in Melilla, such as Mercadona, which was expecting Moroccan customers. As a result, there has not been any remaining tax revenue in Melilla to refurbish facades or refurbish city walls or to revamp the run-down neighborhood of “La Cañada de la Muerte”. All this will be financed, if at all, by Madrid or EU funds. In many places, therefore, the city seems an eternal construction site. It looks in Melilla like time seems to have stopped a little, you would not tell that this city is part of Europe. Even a Franco monument can be found here. But if you get really involved in the city and chat with its very warm people, you may experience a completely different reality than it is spread through the media.