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.