Ikea Morocco
The Moroccan government has blocked the opening of the first Ikea store in the country Reuters

Ikea's Swedish pedigree has pushed a sparsely populated desert land and its little known struggle for independence up the international politics agenda. The unlikely bridge between furniture and diplomacy was initiated by the Moroccan government with a decision to block the opening of Ikea's first store in the country.

The northern African kingdom said the inauguration scheduled for 29 September in Mohammedia, north of Casablanca, was cancelled because the store lacked proper documentation. "The opening of this mall can't be done without obtaining a conformity certificate," the Moroccan interior ministry said.

However, a local paper claimed the real reasons for the last-minute impediment lay in Sweden's plan to recognise Western Sahara, a long stretch of desert on the Atlantic coast, as a country.

Once a Spanish colony, Western Sahara was snatched by Morocco in 1975, after the Spaniards left, and Stockholm has been a long-standing supporter of its right to self-determination championed by the local pro-independence Polisario Front.

The Swedish stance was formed on the back of a 1975 International Court of Justice opinion saying Morocco had no legal basis to claim Western Sahara. The ruling was however ignored by Rabat, leading to a 15-year guerrilla war, that ended with a ceasefire in 1991.

A UN mission has since worked to find a peaceful settlement of the dispute, which has failed to yield significant results.

In 2011, the Swedish parliament approved a motion calling on the government to recognize Laayoune as the capital of an independent state. But the then centre-right administration declined to do so, saying it supported the work of US diplomat Christopher Ross who was appointed by UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon in 2009 as special envoy to the region.

The current centre-left coalition of prime minister Stefan Löfven has been more hawkish than its predecessor on international issues of self-determination, notably taking the historic step of officially recognising the state of Palestine in 2014.

However, a Swedish foreign ministry spokeswoman told IBTimes UK the government has no immediate plans to change its stance on Western Sahara, saying reports to the contrary "are incorrect", although an internal analysis on the status of the region was being conducted.

The spokeswoman said that there had been contact through diplomatic channels regarding the cancelation of the Ikea store opening but would not elaborate further. Ikea has not yet replied to a request for a comment.