Swap Islam for Jesus: Hoax story riles Muslims

A satirical news piece claiming Spanish citizenship would be granted to Moroccan citizens who gave up Islam and converted to Christianity has been taken seriously by the North African country’s media. The 'news' has not gone down well in Morocco.

Swap Islam for Jesus: Hoax story riles Muslims
The last thing Moroccans were expecting was the Spanish Inquisition. Photo: Fadel Senna/AFP

It seems satire doesn't always cross borders but there are times when it does cross the line.

We saw it happen before when American 'newspaper' The Onion ran a fake story about North Korean leader Kim Jong-un being voted the sexiest man alive and China’s press took the story seriously.

The joke is now on satirical Spanish news site ETC Noticias, who have opened a whole different can of worms by falsely publicizing Moroccans could become Spanish citizens by renouncing Islam and making Jesus their saviour.

ETC Noticias' piece caught the attention of the North African country’s two main newspapers, who ran the story with headlines like Moroccans in Spain: Your passport or your faith.

The 'news' has spread like wildfire across Morocco’s social media, leading some critics to denounce Spain’s return to the times of the Inquisition.

Others have labelled it as a normal reaction to Moroccan legislation stating foreigners can only marry Moroccans if they convert to Islam.

What Spain now fears is that the 'joke' will continue to be taken to heart and instigate a wave of anti-Spanish protests across the Muslim world, similar to those held against France when they banned the use of the hijab in public schools.

Other ludicrous points that have been reported on as fact are that Catholic converts would have to say a Hail Mary and Our Father out loud after presenting their criminal record.

Spanish newspaper El País said on Wednesday that Moroccan journalists have not sourced the news story back to ETC Noticias.

Had they had a look at the satirical news site, they would have come across headlines like: Ryanair will measure the bums of its passengers and charge if necessary.

That may well have put some doubt in their minds about the veracity of the 'Christianity for citizenship' law.

Read about how a fake French clitoris poll fooled the Italian press.

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Morocco puts brakes on migrant flow as Spain and EU pay out

The number of migrants arriving by sea in Spain has plunged with Morocco stopping boat departures since signing lucrative agreements with Madrid and Brussels, experts say.

Morocco puts brakes on migrant flow as Spain and EU pay out
Migrants climbed over the fence in Ceuta to reach Spain earlier this month.Photo: AFP

So far this year 15,683 migrants have arrived by sea, 45 percent down on the first eight months of 2018, according to Spanish interior ministry figures.   

Spain became the main entry point for migrants seeking a better life in Europe in 2018 after Italy closed its ports and Greece began sending migrants back to Turkey under a 2016 agreement with the European Union (EU).

But that is no longer the case. The most used migrant sea route to Europe is once again from the  eastern Mediterranean to Greece,  the International Organization for Migration (IOM) says.

Moroccan authorities are stopping boats from setting sail to Spain “whereas before they let them leave”, said Jose Encinas of the AUGC Guardia Civil police association in the southern region of Andalusia where most migrants

A migration expert at an international organisation, who asked not to be named, said: “Moroccan maritime police have deployed means at strategic spots, especially in the north” to curb migrant departures to Spain.

'Migration card'

Eduard Soler, a North Africa geopolitics specialist at Barcelona think tank CIDOB said “Morocco has realised that the migration card is a very effective pressure tool”.

“Times when bilateral relations between Morocco and Spain were difficult have coincided with a rise in (migrant) arrivals in Spain and when they have improved there was a dramatic drop (in arrivals),” he added.

The arrival of migrant ships in Spain had soared in the six months before Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez took power in June 2018.   

He promptly dispatched ministers to Rabat before visiting the Moroccan capital himself in November for talks with King Mohammed VI.   

A state visit followed in February 2019 by Spain's King Felipe VI abd 11 bilateral agreements were signed covering energy to cultural cooperation.   

“There was then a radical drop in the number of migrant arrivals. This does not seem like chance. Morocco decided to change its policy” said Soler.   

The number of migrant arrivals by sea fell to 936 in February 2019 from 4,104 in the previous month,  IOM figures show.   

“When Morocco wants more money, it opens the tap of immigration and when it receives money, it closes it,” said Encinas.   

Spain in August approved €32 million ($35 million) to help Morocco control illegal migration.

In July, Madrid authorised spending €26 million to supply Morocco's interior ministry with vehicles.

EU money

A renegotiated fisheries agreement between Morocco and the European Union– which was approved by the European Parliament in February on the eve of King Felipe's state visit — has also warmed ties between Brussels and Rabat.   

On a visit to Morocco on Wednesday, Spanish Interior Minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska hailed the “police cooperation” between the two countries which had led to a “significant decrease” in migrant arrivals.

Within the EU, Madrid continues to highlight “Morocco's crucial importance as a strategic partner for migration and other issues,” he added.   

The EU gave Morocco €140 million last year to help manage migration.    

“And that seems little,” Spain's Deputy Prime Minister Carmen Calvo said last week, before adding Europe should do more for Morocco.   

While Madrid praises its cooperation with Rabat, human rights groups accuse Morocco of forcibly preventing migrants form boarding boats to Spain.

By AFP's Laurence Boutreux 

READ MORE: Ceuta: 155 migrants force entry into Spanish enclave