Morocco’s Interior Ministry blocked the opening of Ikea’s first store in the country, scheduled for Tuesday, because it lacked a “conformity permit.” But a news website close to the government said Monday the furniture store opening was blocked because of Sweden’s plans to recognize Western Sahara as an independent entity from the North African kingdom, according to Reuters.
Morocco has controlled most of Western Sahara since 1975 and lays claim to the sparsely populated territory, which mainly consists of desert flatlands but also has offshore fishing, phosphate reserves and oilfield potential. Rebels from the Western Sahara who formed the Polisario Front in 1973 seek to end the Moroccan presence and gain independence for the former Spanish colony.
Sweden and other Scandinavian nations have supported Western Sahara’s independence, while the nationalists accuse France and Spain of backing Moroccan rule. Algeria and Libya have supported the Sahrawi rebels with arms, training, food and financial aid, but no Western powers have recognized the Polisario Front’s planned Sahrawi Republic.
Ikea’s Moroccan subsidiary told local media the opening of its 270,000-square-foot store in the country’s largest mall near the city of Mohammedia was canceled. It’s unclear if the block was temporary. An exclusive report by Moroccan news site Le360 said the decision was made Monday in retaliation for Stockholm’s plans to recognize the Sahrawi Republic. An earlier report by Moroccan weekly magazine TelQuel said the Ikea store had already hired its staff.
The Moroccan government did not elaborate on the Swedish-owned store’s permit troubles and the Swedish government was not reached for comment, according to Reuters. Ikea, which was started in Sweden and now has its headquarters in the Netherlands, owns and operates 373 stores in 57 countries. The company is known for its modern designs and cheap furniture, appliances and home accessories.