The aging population of Ceuta and Melilla and the exceptional fertility rates of its inhabitants of Moroccan descent are reversing the demographic trends in the Spanish enclaves of northern Morocco. For the Spanish press, a “Moroccanization of the landscape” is being witnessed. By force of circumstances, the war games that have gripped Spain and Morocco on the sovereignty of these territories remain subtle.
“Mohammed” is the most common first name in Melilla and Ceuta, the Spanish enclaves in northern Morocco, and by virtue of these circumstances, Spanish observers say there is an explosion of “Moroccanization” in the enclaves.
Half of the population on the two territories are already Muslim and of Moroccan descent. Another issue is the high fertility rate of Muslim Moroccans compared to that of the non-Muslim Spanish. According to data from the Spanish Institute of Statistics (INE) in 2008, 34% of all newborns in Melilla had a Moroccan mother.
In parallel, the Spanish population is increasingly aging. In 1975, the average age of Spanish inhabitants was 33 years compared to 41 years in 2009.
According to statistics, the enclave of Melilla is the first to be “threatened” by the demographic change. In addition, data from the INE show that fertility rates among Moroccan inhabitants of Ceuta and Melilla are considerably higher, with an average of 4.5 children per woman, than in mainland Morocco where the rate is 2.5 children per woman.
The Spanish believe that there is a quasi political will to populate the enclave. But instead of a population policy, there is a high probability that the fertility rate in the enclaves are due to the better standards of living which allows for population growth within the Muslim community.
And whilst most Melilla Muslims want to stay under Spanish sovereignty as long as the standard of living in the enclave remains higher than that of Morocco, Spanish public opinion fears a loss of the traditional Catholic influence in the enclaves in favor of Islam.
Indeed, their fear is justified seeing the number of registered voters among Muslims, who will decide the balance of political power in the near future. The increase of inhabitants of Moroccan descent will create a political environment that favors the majority.
This mean that there will be more demands by Muslims, as most of the enclave’s politicians will be of Muslim confession, therefore the establishment of a Muslim-dominated government. An indirect return of Melilla and Ceuta to Morocco, therefore, could come within the next few decades.
Spain has exercised sovereignty over Melilla since 1496 and Ceuta since 1580. Coveted for their strategic geopolitical positions, and autonomous [similar in status to the 17 Autonomous Spanish Communities, comparable to Federated States] since 1995, they have become a recurring source of tension between Morocco and Spain.