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Morocco: Lacoste's polo shirt separating Western Sahara causes national outrage

A map separating Morocco from Western Sahara on the French brand's polo shirt sparks anger among Moroccans online
The polo shirt that has sparked outrage on Moroccan social media (Twitter)

The French clothing and fashion group Lacoste is going through a rough patch in Morocco.

A viral campaign using the hashtag #BoycottLacoste is calling for a boycott of the famous brand and even for the closure of its eighteen stores in the kingdom.

The reason? A polo shirt. 

More specifically, the polo shirt for the summer 2023 season for men "Lacoste Original L. 12. 12 Planisphere Polo". The world map printed on this polo shirt, denounced by many Moroccan social media users, shows a border between Morocco and Western Sahara.

Morocco has claimed Western Sahara as part of its territory since the end of Spanish colonial rule in 1975.

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Though that status has long been disputed internationally, in December 2020, then-US President Donald Trump agreed to recognise Moroccan sovereignty over the territory in exchange for Moroccan recognition of Israel, a position the current Biden administration has not reversed.

Between 1975 and 1991, the Polisario Front - an Algeria-backed Sahrawi group - fought an armed struggle with Morocco for independence for Western Sahara.

In 1991, a ceasefire was established that broke down in November 2020, leading to resurgent violence and the deterioration of relations between Morocco and Algeria.

Since then, Sahrawi campaigners have complained of an intensifying crackdown by Moroccan authorities.

Paris-Rabat diplomatic tensions

Social media users have expressed their rejection of the map on the Lacoste shirt, with one Moroccan woman posting a Twitter video in which she filmed herself cutting a Lacoste bag with scissors.

"The [Lacoste] brand returned politically in the form of a polo shirt by cutting Morocco in half. Morocco is with its Sahara whether you like it or not," wrote one Twitter user.

"I often go to the Lacoste store in my city for my purchases," wrote another. "Since Lacoste does not respect the integrity of my country, I boycott it and I invite all Moroccans to do the same."

Translation: "As a consumer, I refuse to buy a product that disrespects the territorial integrity of a country. Lacoste, remove this offensive polo shirt and apologise to Moroccans".

Some have linked the release of the shirt by the French company to diplomatic tensions between Paris and Rabat in recent years. 

Translation: "Moroccans have launched a boycott campaign against the French brand Lacoste after its collection showing a truncated map of Morocco. The gesture is part of a long chain of unfriendly French actions, both formal and informal, that have been going on for several months".

French-Moroccan relations have worsened since France's decision to reduce the number of visas granted to Moroccans in September 2021, on the grounds that Rabat refused to issue the consular passes necessary for the expulsion of its nationals in an irregular situation in France.

Additionally, Morocco's alleged involvement in spying on senior French officials via the Israeli spyware Pegasus, including on President Emmanuel Macron, consummated the breakdown in communication between the two heads of state, and the French president's visit to Morocco scheduled for October last year was adjourned indefinitely. 

The tension has been exacerbated by Paris's attempt to keep a balanced position on the issue of Western Sahara, while Morocco demands from its partners an unambiguous position in its favour.

Middle East Eye has contacted Lacoste for comment but has not received a response by the time of publication. 

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