Saturday, November 04, 2006

Rabat’s man in the White House

Polisario officials have long suspected that Elliot Abrams, head of Near Eastern-North African Affairs in the White House’s National Security Council, is Morocco’s most ardent supporter in the George W Bush administration. Indeed, one has to wonder how it is that former UN envoy to Western Sahara, James Baker, a close ally of the second Bush administration, was not supported by the White House in his efforts to find a resolution to the Morocco-Polisario conflict.

Mr Abram’s sympathy for Morocco’s position on Western Sahara was surely revealed when he opted to meet Khalihenna Ould Rachid in early October.

Mr Abrams is reportedly a right-wing ‘idealist’, a kind of proto-Neoconservative whose knee-jerk antipathy towards leftist and grassroots movements has made him an apologist for Central American death squads, Israeli war crimes and dictators of all sorts. Those of us old enough to remember will recall that Mr Abrams was one of the Reagan administration officials convicted in relation to the Iran-Contra affair: he had lied to the U.S. congress about his role in raising money for terrorists who raped and murdered thousands in Nicaragua. (Abrams was pardoned by the first Bush, G.H.W.)

True to form, Mr Abrams probably carries some long-standing hatred for Polisario as a pseudo Leftist front. It should be recalled that the Reagan administration helped Morocco fight Polisario in the 1980s, through training and military aid. If not for such aid (combined with funding from Saudi Arabia and French support), Morocco would have lost Western Sahara to Polisario by 1980-1981.

In exchange for help in Western Sahara, King Hassan’s Morocco proved to be one of the United States’ closest Cold-War allies: aiding US interventions in Africa as a part of the ‘Safari Club’, housing one the largest regional CIA stations, or as a backchannel for Israeli-Arab dialog. This was, of course, when the Moroccan regime was thoroughly repressing all forms of democratic opposition (massacring demonstrators in the streets, 'disappearing' opposition in numerous secret prisons, ramming IMF economic 'structural adjustment' down the population's throat to pay for the Sahara war). This was when Morocco's security services perfected their torture techniques that we find so handy now. Yes, King Hassan might have been a son-of-a-bitch, but at least he was our son-of-a-bitch!

How history repeats itself: It should also be noted that Morocco is now a key partner in the Bush administration’s ‘war on terror’. Google CIA-Morocco-torture and see what you get. The point is, no need to fuss over 200,000 nomads in Western Sahara when King Mohammed VI is willing to torture ‘terrorists’ far from the offices of Senator John McCain.

But what does Mr Abram’s have to do with the Western Sahara peace process? Well, he probably killed it.

From 1997 to 2004, Baker was the lead negotiator in Western Sahara. In 2003, he presented a plan to hold a referendum on independence, autonomy or integration following a four-year autonomous transitional period. While Polisario accepted the plan, Morocco rejected it. Baker felt -- and was backed by the Security Council on this point -- that the plan was 'optimal', as it balanced the interests of all the parties against the dictates of international legality. That is, it offered self-determination (i.e., a vote on independence), but under conditions highly favourable to Morocco (i.e., Moroccan settlers living in the occupied Western Sahara could vote as well, thus tilting the outcome in Morocco’s favour -- towards integration).

Morocco’s rejection of this plan was stunning, and yet the Bush administration did not step-up pressure on Rabat for peace. Instead, the same month Baker resigned out of frustration (June 2004), the US government rewarded Morocco with a bilateral Free Trade Agreement and designated Morocco a ‘major Non-NATO ally’, meaning that our defence commitment to Morocco is the same as to Australia or Japan.

The second Bush administration sacrificed a long-term interest -- peace in Western Sahara -- for a short term one -- letting someone else torture our 'suspected terrorists'.

In the meantime, Mr Abrams has decided to follow Rabat's line on Western Sahara, which is a lot like Israel in Gaza: Unilateral implementation of a plan in form but with little actual change on the ground. (As we see in Gaza, things are really much worse following 'disengagement'.) Morocco is hoping to convince the international community that it can implement an 'autonomy' scheme in Western Sahara and that will be the end of it: the Western Saharans will pick up their own garbage while King Mohammed's regime gets rich off the fish. Mr Abrams apparently thinks this is a good idea, and thus he met with Mr Rachid.

As I’ve written elsewhere, Mr Rachid is the Moroccan government’s front-man for its long-awaited ‘autonomy plan’. It’s worth noting that Mr Rachid has little legitimacy among most Western Saharans, who he claims to now represent in some fashion. This is even acknowledged in the non-partisan Moroccan press.

It would seem that Mr Abrams is more interested in endorsing Morocco’s illegal occupation of Western Sahara than supporting Baker’s honest efforts to achieve peace. In the long run, when Western Sahara eventually explodes, everyone will see how utterly stupid the Neocon’s imaginare is, serving as another small example -- along with Iraq, Darfur, Lebanon, Gaza -- of how the Bush administration’s Near East policies have done a much better job of creating violence and instability than ending it. But when death squads are tearing Western Sahara appart, I'm sure Mr Abrams will be there to justify it.

But what’s really worse: Abram’s cynicism or the fact that Baker deferred to it?

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Reply to Karim #2

Two quick poitns:

Karim Said, "...parallels between Palestinians and Sahrawi are not accurate. Israeli want Palestinians out of those lands, not to mention restriction of movement etc..."

My comparison was at the level of rights, not the details of each case. Again, a people do not lose rights depending on who represents them or who they are allied with, whether its the right of return for Palestinians or the right of self-determination for native Western Saharans. Algeria's relation to the conflict at the level of rights is a non-sequitur. That was my point.

Secondly, Karim said, "What's relevant is the Al-morabitun were based in Marrakech. That's what gives them a Moroccan character."

They also had capitals in Timbuktu and Spain. Does that make them Malian and Spanish? And what is the direct relation between Mawlay Idriss, the founder of Morocco, and al-Murabitun beside geographical coincidence? The ultimate point, however, is that one can use history to justify anything. That's why the international practice of decolonization stuck to the borders drawn by colonialism. Otherwise, irredentism would lead to endless conflict, like we're seeing in Western Sahara.


Friday, October 20, 2006

Polisario and Algeria & What is a Sahrawi?: Comments on 'Karim's' comments

I received an anonymous and constructive comment from a Moroccan named 'Karim' on my post Drawing Dissent (he also left a rather negative comment on my re-post Morocco: Narco-state?, which doesn't really warrant a response.)

Here's Karim's comment:

Isn't the Alaoutite dynasty from Tafilat, basically the Sahara?

They are sahrawi, just not from the same tribes as the ones they are fighting now.

The Sahrawi should first disassociate themselves from the military Algerian regime that caused the brutal Algerian civil war in which countless people were slaughtered.

Sahrawi should understand that the Moroccan government abuses everyone not just them.

As a Moroccan, I will protest abuses by the oppressive Moroccan gov against the Sahrawi people but I can not stand with polisario when it gets backing from an equally oppressive regime in Algeria.

Is there any Sahrawi in this blog that I can discuss this issue with in a civil manner?

I'm not Sahrawi but I do like talking about this issue.

I do agree that Polisario (and Western Saharan nationalism generally) should distance itself from Algeria given the nature of the regime in Algiers. Being associated with Algeria often does Polisario more harm than good. There are few worse authoritarian regimes than the Algerian one, which is responsible for thousands of disappearances and state murders.

However, politics can not diminish rights. No matter who Polisario works with -- Algeria, Cuba or other despots -- does not change the fact that the native Western Saharans have a right to self-determination.

Do the Palestinians forfeit their rights because they're supported by Saudi Arabia or Iran? No, of course not. The conflict is one of human rights, self-determination, and beligerent occupation, corrupted by politics, both regional and international.

Secondly, I disagree with Karim's definition of Sahrawi. First, the Tafilalt is not the Sahara, as in Western Sahara, it's southeast Morocco -- today Rissani-Erfoud region -- where the great trans-Saharan trading post Sijilmasa was located.

Though the term Sahrawi is contested by many Moroccan, the general consensus, which the Moroccan government recognizes, is that a Sahrawi tribe is one of the major groups (confederations, tribes, fractions) listed on the 1974 Spanish Sahara Census (i.e., the Rgaybat al-Sharq, Rgaybat al-Sahil, Ait al-Hasan, Izargiyyin, al-Arusiyyin, Awlad Dlim, etc.). In participating with the UN referendum effort in the 1990s, the Moroccan government agreed that these constitute the native tribes of Western Sahara.

By Karim's reasoning, Tuaregs from Mali, Algeria and Niger, who live in the Sahara (generally) are as 'Sahrawi' as the Sahrawis of Western Sahara.

Like many Moroccans, Karim refuses to aknowledge that the term Sahrawi has gained a new meaning, one with nationalist connotations that transcends blood and place of birth. Words change and gain new meanings. The word Sahrawi does not mean what it did when the 'Alawis came to power in the 1600s.

Another problem with Karim's arguement is how far back to take these historical examples. One could then argue that, because of the Almoravids, Morocco belongs to Mauritania.

As a member of the United Nations, Morocco has an obligation to uphold the UN Chater and obey international law (as does Algeria). If Morocco doesn't like that, and wants to justify its occupation and colonization of Western Sahara because some tyrant stole slaves from Mauritania two hundred years ago, then they should leave the UN.


Monday, September 04, 2006

'A more substantial Security Council resolution on Western Sahara'

There was an interesting exchange of letters between UN Secretary-General Annan and the President of the Security Council at the end of June.

In a June 26 letter to the Security Council, lame-duck Annan noted that its last resolution on Western Sahara, extending the mandate to the end of October, the Council "did not refer to my recommendations, except the one concerning the extension of the mandate of United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) for a further period of six months."

Annan then noted, "The [April] resolution was adopted unanimously, but most of the members of the Council who made a statement after the vote expressed the hope ... that at the next mandate renewal in October the Council would not need to content itself again with a purely technical rollover" of the UN mission in Western Sahara (MINURSO).

Following the April 2004 "technical rollover" of MINURSO, US representative to the United Nations John Bolton issued a statement that said, "The United States has voted in favor of this resolution in the hope that all parties will use the next six months to make real progress toward reaching a mutually acceptable solution [...] in a manner consistent with the principle of self-determination for the people of Western Sahara." He then added, "We recognize MINURSO's important role in these efforts, yet must continually monitor the ability of the mission to carry out its mandated tasks, taking into account limited peacekeeping resources."

Since 1991, MINURSO has been on the ground, first and foremost, to organize a referendum on self-determination for the native Sahrawi people of Western Sahara. The Mission's official name in English is the UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara. For non-self-governing territories like Western Sahara, self-determination -- defined by sixty years of decolonization, the General Assembly, the Security Council and even the Secretary-General -- means affording the native people a chance to vote on whether or not they wanted to be independent.

The problem is that Morocco has rejected any attempt or proposal that would offer Western Sahara a vote on independence. Or in the words of their Foreign Minister, Mohammed Benaissa, a referendum is “obsolete” and “inapplicable.”

The UN can not force the people of Western Sahara to give up that right, but the Security Council (i.e., France and the United States) has made it clear that they will not force Morocco to participate in -- or accept the outcome of -- a vote on independence.

So what's the UN to do? Its mission in Western Sahara exists to hold a vote on independence that Morocco won't allow. The Security Council is the only body that can force Morocco to do anything, but they will not even press Rabat verbally -- not even when Morocco welcomed former lead negotiator James Baker's resignation in 2004. Thus the Mission in Western Sahara can not carry out its mandate. Therefore, Bolton's statement -- "[the US government] must continually monitor the ability of the mission to carry out its mandated tasks, taking into account limited peacekeeping resources" -- seems more ominous.

Now what can Bolton really do? Well, a lot actually. He can veto MINURSO, and he doesn't need French approval for that.

Responding to Annan's letter, the President of the Security Council said they had taken note of Annan's "suggestion that the members of the Security Council use the next four months to prepare for a more substantial resolution on the situation concerning Western Sahara."

The shape of that resolution will depend greatly on the result of the Secretary-General's personal envoy, Peter Van Walsum, who is currently visiting the parties.

It is highly unlikely that Morocco will acquiesce to self-determination, so Bolton's cost-cutting credentials will be put to the test in October, when MINURSO's mandate expires for, perhaps, the last time.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Rabat's man in Laayoune

‘The Courage’ of the Twenty-Fifth Hour
Le Journal Hebdomadaire
[Unofficial Translation by Sahara Watch]

“Hassan II bludgeoned and never listened to the Sahrawis.” “Mohammed VI had courage to repair the original sin and the most serious error of Morocco in this conflict: the refusal to involve the Sahrawis in the solution of their problem.” “The kingdom of the Seventies was unable to answer the demands of Sahrawis and to accept an autonomy worthy of the name autonomy. The radical change is that Mohammed VI has engaged autonomy and entrusts the realization of it to the principal interested party, the Sahrawis.”

Who makes these remarks is none other than Khalli Henna Ould Errachid, named president of the Royal Advisory Council for Saharan Affairs (CORCAS) [1].

Obviously, ingratitude is the child of generosity.

Recall: Who was the true mentor of this man? Who made him anonymous? Driss Basri [2], and this is not a secret. Who was his benefactor? Who gave him favors, licenses of all kinds, privileges and other preferential treatment that enabled him to become the head of a colossal fortune? Who if not Hassan II! Who named him Minister of Saharan Affairs, sitting all those years in the Parliament, etc, etc? Always Hassan II.

Today, one nails the father to the post to earn favor with the son. Allah yansar min sbah! What an indecency! And tomorrow? For sure the dead have wide backs, making it possible for more than the Mata-Moors and Tartarin de Tarascon to play.


Why didn't Mr. Khelli Hanna Ould Errachid protest during the time of Hassan II and Basri?

Why did he not say publicly at that time -- like he does today -- that Hassan II “bludgeoned and never listened to the Sahrawis”?

Why he did not publicly denounce during the time of Hassan that “the original sin and the most serious error of Morocco in this conflict was its refusal to involved the Sahrawis in the solution to their problem?” like a clarion call, and, also, in a French daily newspaper?

Mr Khelli Hanna Ould Errachid is a Sahrawi of the tribe of Rgaybat [3], and isn't it for this reason that the late king had placed him at the head of the Ministry of Saharan Affairs?

This is to say, he is as responsible for the “bludgeoning” of his fellow-citizens as those whom he accuses today. It is to also say that he is fully implicated in “the original sin” and “the most serious error made by Morocco.” In the Saharan provinces [4] Mr. Khalli's aura is not of holiness, especially with the [Sahrawi] generations born after the Green March [5], who reproach him for having been in the pay of the Makhzan [6], which made him rich, etc, etc.

Today Mr. Ould Errachid flatters the son as he had flattered the father. A mindless sycophancy that moreover leads him to affirm that “the radical change is that Mohammed VI has engaged in autonomy and entrusts the realization of it to the principal interested party, the Sahrawis.”

Mr. Ould Errachid definitely has a very selective memory at the very least. So he “forgets” that it was Hassan II who was the initiator of this idea of autonomy, invoking the model of German Lander! Just as he hides another truth, namely that it is the same Hassan II who created CORCAS, which is, moreover, nothing more than an assembly of tribal notables… We are thus far from a really representative institution for the simple reason that it does not result from the ballot box.

It is not a question of white washing the late monarch, but only to dot the i’s and to demystify the “courage” of the twenty-fifth hour, something to be wary of, a turn-coat to the last breath, a master of the art.

[1] - King Hassan’s Interior Minister and right hand man. Called “Butcher Basri” by Western Saharan nationalists because he disappeared over 500 of them, and “Mr. 99%” by Moroccans for fixing elections.
[2] - Conseil royal consultatif des affaires sahariennes, a body with no ‘autonomous’ governing powers
[3] - Actually, Rgaybat al-sahil - Thalat, significant because this is same tribe and tribal sub-fraction as Polisario founder El-Ouali
[4] - i.e., Western Sahara
[5] - i.e., the 1975 Moroccan invasion of Western Sahara
[6] - Makhzan : the centuries old system of institutions and appointed clients that enable direct monarchical control in Morocco, from the village to the army, now riddled with corruption and cronyism.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Drawing Dissent

I thought I would repost some of the more interesting political cartoons available at (cartoons and cartoon archive):

The first is an interesting commentary on Morocco's 'autonomy' project. It shows Khallihenna (Ould Rachid) trying to trap the bird of peace into a CORCAS box with a Moroccan label on it. CORCAS is Morocco's royal advisory council for Saharan affairs and Khallihenna is the chair. He's reportedly in charge of getting Morocco's autonomy project off the ground, but according to this cartoon he's ruining the chances for peace.

The second one is -- I think -- saying that Morocco is using 'tribalism' (the match, let me know if I've mis-translated) to set fire to Western Sahara (the box of matches). This could be a reference to Morocco's cynical use of Khatt Al-Shahid (Polisario reform movement) communiques, though Khatt Al-Shahid is pro-independence -- i.e., more Polisario than Polisario. It could also be reference to Moroccan manipulation of intra-tribal factionalism in Polisario's elite leadership (i.e., between members of the Rgaybat Al-Sharq tribal confederation) or inter-tribal tensions between the other tribes (e.g., Tiknah, Rgaybat Al-Sahil and Awlad Dulaym) versus the Rgaybat Al-Sharq.

Another commentary on Khallihenna, referencing his previous work with PUNS, the Party for Sahrawi National Unity created by Spain in the 1970s to counter Polisario. When Spain left in 1975/1976, most of PUNS joined Polisario. Before November 1975, Khallihenna even made some speeches defending independence. Now he works for Morocco to legitimize another occupation through CORCAS.


Friday, June 09, 2006

Haidar for President?

The Western Sahara issue is drowning in a sea of obscurity. If the Western Saharan independence movement doesn't do something dramatic soon, the whole situation could deteriorate into open war, terror and counter-terror. Then the independence movement will splinter into factions and Morocco will win.

The Western Saharan independence movement -- led by Polisario but not limited to it -- can't afford to resume armed struggle. Such a move would de-legitimize them in the eyes of many, even if they and their supporters felt that they had legitimate reasons to use armed violence against Morocco. In today's world, you're either a terrorist or fighting terrorists. Morocco already has a track record of fighting terrorism on behalf of Washington. Western Saharan nationalism would be taking a big gamble on violence, one that they're likely to lose.

Nor can the Western Saharan independence movement expect the United Nations to do anything for them. Though their base of support in Africa and international legality is firm, it is not enough to counter the Security Council's unwillingness to force a Morocco to cooperate with -- not to mention accept the outcome of -- a referendum on independence. No amount of cooperation with the United Nations will get Polisario anything. Not unless they choose to sell out the Western Saharans' right to self-determination -- an act that would just as soon precipitate Polisario's ouster.

So if Western Saharan nationalism is going to do anything, it needs to
1) be non-violent
2) get around the United Nations impasse
The Western Saharan independence movement needs to make a strong statement to the international community, one that signals their commitment to peace, non-violence, human rights and democracy. For years, Western Saharan nationalists and their international supporters have been saying these things, but the message hasn't gotten through.

Thus I propose that the Western Saharan independence movement elect Aminatou Haidar as President of the Saharan Arab Democratic Republic at Polisario's Congress this fall.

Just imagine it: The Western Saharan independence movement elects a woman as their president. And not just a woman, a human rights defender who is dedicated to non-violence. A woman that almost killed herself last fall while on hunger strike in a Moroccan prison. A woman that now lives with chronic health problems because of the beatings she received from Moroccan police. A woman that lives in the Moroccan occupied Western Sahara. A woman who will represent Western Sahara at the African Union and as the head of Polisario, the other UN recognized party to the Western Sahara conflict.

Yes, Morocco will over-react, put her in jail or under house arrest, keep her from fulfilling her role as SADR president. But she will become the Aung San Suu Kyi of North Africa, the emblematic face of a situation that need serious international attention.

As the (imprisoned) preside of SADR, Aminatou would bring new sympathy and attention to Western Sahara, bringing shame on the United Nations Security Council and the Western powers that support the Moroccan occupation -- France and the United States. Students on US campuses would start divestment movements, political leaders would feel the pressure, and maybe, just maybe, the US would change its policy on Western Sahara.

For Mohammed Abdelaziz, SADR president since 1976, it is time to step down for the good of the movement. He has served his country through war and peace. He has fought hard for his occupied nation and deserves an honored status among the great heroes of Western Saharan nationalism -- Bassiri, El Ouali, Lembarki and the all the other shahid. There is no shame in doing what is best for your country. This would also put to rest rumors that he and Polisario are just a tool of Algeria. It would prove that Polisario has not become ossified and elitist like Fateh. It would show that Western Saharans really control their independence movement, a dynamic movement that stands for all the values that Morocco has trounced in its occupation.

Aminatou for President! If the Western Saharan independence movement wants a Nobel Peace Prize, this is how they will get it.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Morocco and American Evangelicals

It should come as no surprise that the recent Ten Commandments miniseries was filmed in Morocco. Dozens of 'ancient' (Gladiator, Alexander) and 'medieval' (Kingdom of Heaven), even contemporary (Mummy, Blackhawk Down), films have been staged in Morocco, especially around the Ouarzazate region, which offers everything from snow-covered mountains to bleak desert-scapes. Labor and extras come very cheap, with recent movies taking advantage of the 'ancient' terrain and readily available workforce. Filmakers, like those that made the new Commandments, also take advantage of Morocco's cultural background to make up for their lack of imagination. In his controversial The Last Temptation of Christ, Martin Scorsese appropriated (perverted?) Moroccan Arab and Berber elements for his portrayal of ancient Palestine; the Peter Gabriel soundtrack even used Moroccan music from the filming.

So it’s not very interesting that the new Ten Commandments was done in Morocco.

What is interesting is that Morocco has allowed the press to make a big deal about it. For example, "
Morocco plays Egypt in 'Ten Commandments' miniseries" from CNN. Do a Google news search for Morocco and Ten Commandments and see all the hits.

Think about it. Is there any Middle Eastern country in the world that would feel comfortable letting this happen on their soil? Putting aside the fact that few Middle Eastern countries are secure enough to allow filming, which ones would want to boast that they’re the backdrop? That the lazy movie-makers (mis)appropriated a Muslim culture’s articles and artifacts as props? I wonder what Morocco’s majority Islamic movement thinks about all this -- letting Western film companies paint their historical fantasies on the canvas of Islamic Moroccan culture? Morocco’s monarchical regime, however, probably considers this a feather in its cap.

As repression in Western Sahara has increased since last May, and as Rabat has faced more pressure to cooperate with the peace process, Morocco is desperately pressing every button in Washington. The biggest one: American evangelicals.

It seems like an unlikely alliance: A conservative, centuries-old Islamic Monarchy and the religious base of the U.S. far right. But there’s a saying in Washington: All roads lead to Tel Aviv. Morocco has never hid its close relations with Israel, whether acting as a backchannel for Camp David (1979) or, now, as one of its closest allies. Even though it has cost MOrocco on the street, where Islamists now hold sway with the population, Morocco's regime is looks to Washington and Paris for its survival, not to its population. (Western Sahara has also estranged Morocco from Africa, where it is the only African state not to be a part of the African Union.)

Being close to Evangelicals and Israel earns points where it matters most: in the White House. For Morocco, the State Department is filled with too many career officers who actually know the history of the Western Sahara conflict, and are thus sympathetic to Polisario. The White House, on the other hand, is obviously filled with ideologically driven neo-conservatives, with one foot in Evangelical churches and one foot in the Machiavellian philosophy of Leo Strauss. A Moroccan alliance with American Evangelicals accomplishes both by it showing Rabat’s commitment to the neo-conservative agenda.

Let’s take, for example, the website,, which is as sadly propagandistic as it is poorly designed. Ethics and aesthetics aside, the National Clergy Council founded the website. A 'a growing and dynamic nationwide network of church leaders from every Christian tradition,' the National Clergy Council recently held a series of luncheons 'to focus attention on the little-known and unresolved humanitarian crisis in the Western Sahara region of North Africa.' Sounds good, right? Wait to you see the way the free meals were framed:

'Attendees will learn about the abuse of tens of thousands of refugees and the forced abductions of their children as recruits for a once Cuban-backed Marxist revolution in the region. Many of these children, now adults, remain separated from their families. The program will include a visiting delegation from the Western Sahara. Members will tell their own compelling stories. Attendees will also learn of the extraordinary invitation to American church leaders to assist in a non-financial way in resolving this conflict and relieving the suffering of massive numbers of victims.' (
(Associated with this anti-Polisario smear campaign is Michael Kirtley, of rhe 501c3 non-profit “Friendship Caravan” (, which is all about evangelical missions to Morocco. Kirtley’s web-designer is Tim Resch, who runs 'Friends of Morocco', a non-profit association of returned Peace Corps volunteers that makes no qualms about its close cooperation with the Moroccan government.)

Something of this sort could only be put on with the help of the Moroccan government (e.g., to fly in Polisario's 'victims'). Though it was probably the brainchild of one of seven lobbies Rabat has working for it in Washington.

Another noted effort of the pro-Moroccan lobby,, has focused on the now defunct issue of Moroccan POWs held by Polisario. Though it tries to look like some humanitarian initiative, that website was registered by a David White of the powerful Edelman lobbying firm.

Those lobbies (and evangelicals),
detailed in Le Journal, also include many former U.S. diplomats who now stump for Rabat.

Chasli, in his blog, Western Sahara Endgame, has
recently commented on the activities of former U.S. diplomat turned pro-Moroccan lobbyist Robert Holley. Holly's organization, the Moroccan-American Center for Policy (MACP, or Mac-Pee as the folks on the Hill and in State say), is funded by the Moroccan government and has had some recent success raising the profile of the Western Sahara conflict in Washington -- albeit in Morocco's favor. Chasli seems to think it’s unprincipled that Holley went from criticizing Morocco to sucking from its Royal teet. I would argue that if Holley had a principled bone in his body, he probably would have found it hard to work for State Department in Rabat, where U.S. hypocrisy in the Middle East is at its finest.

However, there’s another reason why Morocco is working so hard to recruit evangelicals to its side of the Western Sahara conflict. It’s actually a counter-recruitment effort.

For years, Polisario has been cultivating solidarity among church groups in the United States, including evangelicals. Each year dozens of Sahrawis from the refugee camps visit U.S. families for the summer, trips organized through churches. And, in turn, dozens of church goers visit the camps, along with congressional staffers and the occasional elected official. See the website of Homeland International, which makes the pro-Moroccan sites look pretty shabby.

Perhaps the biggest sign of Polisario's success on this front is that Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma favors a referendum in Western Sahara. Okalahoma is the home of Kerr-McGee, which has a contract with Morocco to illegally look for oil in the occupied Western Sahara. It is also the home of a church group that is very active on the issue. Though Inhofe got more money from “energy/natural resources” contributions in 2002 than any other, he has strangely become one of Polisario’s main supporters among congressional conservatives.

What Morocco fears most is that people in the United States, like those church activists in Oklahoma, will pressure their government into adopting a new policy on Western Sahara. Morocco’s ham-fisted efforts not only seek to give it more clout in the White House’s National Security Council, but also among a grassroots network that is very influential these days -- one that is trending in favor of self-determination for Western Sahara.

But if I were a Moroccan I'd wonder why my government is spending millions on lobbies while my country is
drowning in poverty.


Saturday, April 08, 2006

The Annan Plan for Western Sahara?

According to South Africa's Sunday Times and AFP UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan is working on his own plan to resolve the thirty-year-old Western Sahara conflict. The details of the plan have not yet been released.

Morocco, who controls most of the Territory, has said that it is working on its own autonomy proposal, one that would grant Western Sahara self-governance within Moroccan 'sovereignty'. The Polisario Front, an indigenous independence movement, rejects autonomy. Citing international law, it calls for the exercise of the right of self-determination -- to let the Western Saharans express their preference for independence.

Time is running short for the UN Mission in Western Sahara (MINURSO), whose mandate expires this month. MINURSO has routinely been extended since its creation in 1991, but the US representative at the UN, John Bolton, wants to see the Mission scuttled unless serious progress towards a resolution can be made.

According to the Sunday Times/AFP, "Emerging from a meeting with Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, Annan declined to go into details of his plan and said he had not been informed about another project for autonomy of the region that Morocco intends to present to the UN."

The major question facing Annan is the Western Saharans' right of self-determination, which vexed the previous mediator, James Baker, the former US secretary of state. Baker's 2003 plan offered a short four year period of autonomy followed by a self-determination vote including both Moroccans settlers inside of, and persons native to, Western Sahara. Even with Moroccan settlers outnumbering native Western Saharans by at least two to one, Morocco has rejected any proposal that questions its 'territorial integrity' through an independence vote.

Annan himself has said that self-determination is based on the right to choose independence. Yet Annan said his own plan, according to the article, "would be cautious, seek to be mutually acceptable by those involved and capable of being put into practice without being imposed on any of the parties."

If Morocco rejects any option of independence, yet even Annan says that the Western Saharans have a right to independence, how could he propose something that's "mutually acceptable"? Polisario will never give up independence, Morocco will never allow it, and the Security Council will not force either side to accept something they don't like.

Annan obviously doesn't have an ace up his sleeve. More likely, he wants to create the perception of progress in Western Sahara to counter Bolton's Polisario sympathies and budget-cutting Zealotry. Annan will be wise to introduce his plan before the parties can react to it, but just in time to affect the Security Council debate on MINURSO at the end of this month.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

April 2006 - Moment of Truth?

Will Bolton Break the Western Sahara Stalemate?

April 2006 could become a decisive month in the history of the Western Sahara conflict. The United States’ temporary UN representative, John Bolton, has made no secret of his desire to shake things up in the Sahara -- to unsettle the diplomatic war of attrition being waged by Morocco and the Algerian-backed independence front Polisario. His chance will come at the end of April, when the mandate for the UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) comes up for renewal. Bolton claims that his position with respect to MINURSO is principled. Like other UN missions, Bolton has argued that the UN operation in Western Sahara should be terminated unless it can fulfill its mandate. (One Moroccan magazine, Le Journal, however, recently reported that Bolton’s boss, Secretary of State Condi Rice, has had to rein him in on Western Sahara).

Bolton is no newcomer to the Western Sahara conflict. Starting in 1997, he worked -- pro-bono -- under former U.S. Secretary of State James Baker. As Kofi Annan’s Personal Envoy to Western Sahara until 2004, Baker led negotiations between Morocco and Polisario. Baker first worked out all the problems with the 1991 UN Settlement Plan until Morocco rejected it in 2000. Then Baker started working on autonomy proposals that would also allow for an act of self-determination. The first, presented in 2001, was close to what Morocco wants because it did not offer independence outright. The second, presented in 2003, explicity reintroduced the idea of independence, and so Morocco rejected it. All the time, Bolton was in the loop, until Baker resigned in June 2004.

When introducing himself at the United Nations last fall, Bolton reportedly told every mission that if he did one thing during his short recess-appointment mandate, he would fix Western Sahara. What Bolton has in mind is not clear, except that he is obviously threatening to pull the plug on a mission that has existed for fifteen years come April.

The Security Council has ritually extended the Mission’s mandate since its creation in 1991, which saw the end of the sixteen-year war between Morocco and Polisario. MINURSO was originally had a six month timetable for a referendum polling 80,000 Saharans. Both Morocco and Polisario, however, had very different ideas about who should vote. During its first nine years, MINURSO tried to organize a classic decolonization referendum. It was supposed to allow indigenous Western Saharans to choose between independence and integration. Following the death of King Hassan II in mid-1999, the Moroccan regime lost interest in the referendum. The key architect of Morocco’s effort to fix the vote in its favor, Interior Minister Driss Basri, was removed from power soon after King Mohammed VI took over. With Basri and Hassan out of the way, the Morocco’s power-elite, especially the military-security apparatus, could reassert itself through the new King, and abandon the idea of an referendum on independence.

During negotiations in Berlin in 2000 (the last known face-to-face meeting between Morocco and the independence front Polisario), Morocco expressed its willingness to consider autonomy as a definitive final status, yet independence had to be taken off the table. France and the United States, Morocco’s strongest backers, agreed with Morocco’s turn towards “autonomy”, as the likely vote for independence in Western Sahara would be too traumatic for Morocco’s new regime head.

The problem now facing the Security Council is that MINURSO exists to hold a referendum on independence. Morocco rejects any peace proposal that would question its “sovereignty” vis-à-vis independence, even when the majority of voters in the referendum would be Moroccan citizens, voting alongside native Western Saharans. Yet the Secretary General has made it clear that “It is difficult to envision a political solution that, as required by Security Council resolution 1429 (2002), provides for self-determination but that nevertheless precludes the possibility of independence as one of several ballot options.”

Kofi Annan’s new Personal Envoy to Western Sahara, Dutch diplomat Peter Van Walsum, apparently is having trouble filling Baker’s shoes. When touring the region last fall he called the conflict “quasi-irreconcilable”. He told the Security Council in April that it would not be resolved this year. Van Walsum reportedly felt that he wasn’t “fully briefed” before taking on the assignment.

For the French government, especially Jacques Chirac, who is personally involved with the Moroccan royal family, extending MINURSO for the sake of monitoring the ceasefire is fine with them. Whatever is good for Morocco determines the French vote on the Security Council. (It’s no wonder that Polisario is eagerly awaiting the French presidential elections.)

Thus the only hope for shaking up the Western Sahara deadlock, at this point, is Bolton. Bolton, however, as a Baker protégé, is bad for Morocco, and Rabat knows it. The fact that Baker showed sympathy for Polisario was enough to put him on Morocco’s bad side. No need to mention Baker's disgust with Morocco's lack of cooperation following Rabat's rejection of his 2003 Peace Plan. It’s no secret that Bolton is far right, and no secret that some of Polisario’s biggest supporters in Washington are as far right as can be. (Though Polisario also counts Ted Kennedy among their supporters as well.)

How much freedom of movement Bolton has on the East River is unknown. So far he has carried out his campaign of reforms with full support from Washington. That might buy him some leverage on his pet issue of Western Sahara, though Morocco’s supporters on the National Security Council (i.e., Cold Warrior Elliot Abrams) probably like the status quo -- even if it means extending MINURSO ad nauseam, perhaps for another fifteen years and another half-billion dollars.


Sunday, February 05, 2006

Is Morocco Serious About Autonomy?

In any territorial conflict, it is only natural to explore all ways and means of resolving the dispute. In the case of Western Sahara, there’s been a lot of talk about autonomy recently. Morocco is offering it, but Western Saharan nationalists don’t seem interested. Is that because they’ll only take independence, or because they have doubts about Morocco’s sincerity?

Given that Morocco just handed down several harsh sentences to several pro-independence activists, one can understand why they might be a little skeptical. Or perhaps it’s the fact that Morocco has yet to acknowledge the fate of some 500 Saharans "disappeared" in the 1970s and 1980s? Or the fact that Moroccan police have killed several Saharans recently. Needless to say, Morocco has a real credibility problem among some Western Saharan nationalists.

The Western Sahara dispute -- between Morocco and the nationalist Polisario Front -- has been under UN mediation for almost 20 years. A large proportion of that time was spent trying to hold a classic self-determination referendum, one that would ask whether or not the native people of Western Sahara want to be with Morocco or be independent.

That project was largely abandoned in 2000 for several reasons. First of all, Morocco had a new King, Mohammed VI, who took the throne in July 1999. Though he had strong support from Washington and Paris, this young and inexperienced leader could not take risks like his father could, especially on an issue like Western Sahara. For most Moroccans, Western Sahara is a part of Morocco. The thought of it becoming independent is, well, unthinkable. Furthermore, the 1999 UN referendum in East Timor -- another colony, like Western Sahara, gobbled up by a powerful neighbor -- incited a bloodbath that seemed all too likely in Western Sahara as well. Around the same time, in September 1999, there were massive demonstrations in Western Sahara for more social, cultural and economic rights. These demonstrations were joined by Moroccan settlers imported to vote for Rabat in the referendum. If Morocco needed any definitive proof that it would lose the referendum, that was it. Finally, the UN Secretary-General acknowledged the fact that,
"Furthermore, even assuming that a referendum were held … , if the result were not to be recognized and accepted by one party, it is worth noting that no enforcement mechanism is envisioned by the settlement plan, nor is one likely to be proposed, calling for the use of military means to effect enforcement"
Here the UN was admitting that the Security Council would not force Morocco to accept the outcome of the likely vote for independence. So before they even got to that point, the UN decided to give up the referendum and try something new.

That something new was called the “third way” -- a solution between absolute independence for Western Sahara and total integration with Morocco. Some kind of agreement between Polisario and Morocco that would give Western Sahara a degree of autonomous self-governance and political freedom within the Kingdom of Morocco.

The person in charge of figuring out the “third way” was James Baker, former US Secretary of State and lead negotiator for Western Sahara since 1997. Between 2001 and 2003, Baker offered two different “autonomy proposals”. In both cases, Baker proposed that Western Sahara would become an autonomous part of Morocco for four years. After that period, Western Saharans and Moroccan settlers would vote on the Territory’s final status. Morocco preferred the first one because it did not explicitly mention independence as an option for final status. Morocco rejected the second one in 2003 because it explicitly offered independence, which was demanded by the Security Council.

Polisario, however, did the exact opposite: rejected the first and accepted the second. After Polisario embraced Baker’s 2003 proposal, the ball was in Morocco’s court. Over two years later Rabat has yet to make a public counter offer.

In November 2005, King Mohammed VI of Morocco declared his willingness to consider autonomy as a way to resolve the Western Sahara conflict. This is nothing new really. Since the Berlin negotiations in 2000, Morocco’s position has been that independence must be taken off the table, but anything short of that can be discussed. For their part, Polisario has rejected autonomy as a lone final status option. Polisario has accepted that autonomy is suitable for a transitional before a referendum, but any referendum must include the option of independence. The other options can include autonomy or integration with Morocco. Yet Morocco wants a referendum only on autonomy. That is, two ballot choices: Do you accept autonomy or Not? No one is quite sure what would happen if the answer is “no”. (Offered a similar referendum on autonomy in 1999, the people in East Timor overwhelmingly voted no, which led to its independence. Though Indonesia had already agreed on that.)

Morocco seems serious about autonomy, but is it? Is King Mohammed sincere, or is he just responding to international pressure? It’s obvious that the Security Council won’t force Morocco to accept the Baker Plan, but will they continue to support the Mission in Western Sahara if Rabat’s offers nothing positive. Indeed, Morocco has done nothing constructive in the past two and a half years since rejecting the Baker Plan. Despite Rabat’s rejection of his Plan in 2003, Baker stayed on for another year, yet Morocco did not offer a viable counter-proposal. When Baker resigned his position, Morocco’s foreign minister chalked it up to the “tenacity” of his foreign policy. When the US government arranged for the release of the last Moroccan POWs held by Polisario last summer, Morocco’s response to this olive branch was to ratchet up its repression against Western Saharan nationalists in Laâyoune.

If Morocco was serious about autonomy, and wanted to undermine support for Polisario, the best move it could make is to start implementing autonomy right now. After withdrawing some of its settlers and most of its army, Rabat should grant a locally elected Western Sahara government, led by ethnic Saharans, exclusive control over its economy, social and cultural affairs and its own policing. This would include control over revenues earned from fisheries and phosphates. Western Sahara would be autonomous in that the central Moroccan government (i.e., the King) would not be able to unilaterally abolish it. While this kind of unilateral move would not solve the Western Sahara conflict to the satisfaction of the international community, it would demonstrate Rabat’s seriousness about autonomy. It would also show many Saharans that Morocco does care about them.

The fact that Morocco will not -- and cannot -- make this move demonstrates that autonomy, for now, is a lot of talk. Besides, the Moroccan military is heavily entrenched in the local economy of Western Sahara. From migrant smuggling to the billion dollar fishing industry, its little fingers are in every part of the Saharan pie. While the Moroccan foreign ministry is going around talking about autonomy, the Interior Ministry and the security agencies are tightening their grip on the Territory. Recent reports of the Secretary General note that Morocco is improving its defenses. Morocco has signed a fisheries agreement with the EU, which includes Western Saharan waters; Rabat has also renewed its oil exploration contracts with Kerr-McGee for areas off the coast of Western Sahara.

Does this seem like the actions of a government that is contemplating autonomy? Under baker's 2001 proposal -- the one Morocco liked -- fisheries and hydrocarbon exploitation would be under the control of the autonomous Western Saharan government. Yet Rabat has not given one indication that it is willing to share, let alone give up, control of these key economic assets in Western Sahara.

The fact that autonomy seems so unlikely in today’s Morocco says a lot about where autonomy is going -- that is, nowhere.

Morocco has stolen a play from Israel’s book: Talk peace, make war. And hope the international community is too preoccupied to notice the difference between the rhetoric and the reality.