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.



Karim said...

Thanks for your response. My real name is Karim (so it's not all anonymous). First of all, why don't you post my other entry on the so-called "narcotic" issue? Are you censoring my views like Morocco's government does with Sahrawi? If I violated some of your rules, then tell me which ones and I will re-write the response.

OK, I really wanted a Sahrawi to respond to this but I will try to address your own response.

I am not an apologist for Arab governments but we should try to be fair: Saudi Arabia's government is not like Algeria's government. Perhaps you could have used Saddam and Palestinians.

My point is that had the Sahrawi tried to do the same in Algeria, the results would have been much worse considering the response of the Algerian government.

Besides, Algeria not only backs the Polisario, it trains them, arms them (to fight Morocco) and supports them politically. Tell me when was the last time Saudi Arabia gave weapons to the Palestinians? in fact no Arab government gives them any weapons, at least not officially.

Moreover, parallels between Palestinians and Sahrawi are not accurate. Israeli want Palestinians out of those lands, not to mention restriction of movement etc. The Moroccan government want the Sahrawi to be Moroccans, and please tell me if they restrict the movement of average Saharwi in what Morocco considers Moroccan Sahara?

As far as I know, Sahrawi are free to go to any part of Morocco (North), leave Morocco, come back, and so forth. We all know that Palestinians have no such rights.

The Moroccan government is brutal when it comes to challenging them but you will agree that it is equally brutal against all Moroccans who do so (vs the way Israeli treat their own citizens and Palestinians).

Tafilalt is in the Sahara. I agree that Tafillat is not in Western Sahara as the Spanish defined it but geographically it is still in the Sahara. Please check the map. Every Moroccan knows that the Alouite are some kind of Sahrawi.

Notice if the Spanish colonized Sahara lands to include tafilalet, they would be included today in the Western Sahara, wouldn't they?

I hate when people bring up the Spanish who were looting colonizers with no connection to the lands whatsoever. It is like when Israel uses the British to justify their case.

So Please leave the bloody Spanish out of this.

Almoravids or Al-morabitun (their real name) whether their founder originated from what is today called Mauritania or Syria in the east is irrelevant. What's relevant is the Al-morabitun were based in Marrakech. That's what gives them a Moroccan character.

All of the dynasties were based in al-Maghreb al-Aqsa (Morocco's older name which is still used today without the "al-Aqsa), just look at their capitals: Marrakech, Fes, Meknes, Rabat, etc.

I am not trying to exaggerate here but Morocco as a country has enjoyed some kind of distinct political independence since the 8th century. Remember that the Ottoman empire was not able to conquer Morocco after trying for many centuries (Algeria fell under their control).

If I denied the Sahrawi identity, I wouldn't have used the term Sahrawi.

In 1975, the UN was simply used as a subtitue to Western imperialism.

I consider Sahrawi as our brothers (so please do not insult me when you say Palestinian vs Israeli), and they should know that we feel their pain when the Moroccan government oppresses them. Only recently the GUS (special Moroccan police forces who are known to abuse Sahrawi) were booed in Rabat during an official parade.

Sahrawi should know that majority of Moroccans are against police brutality.

Now can some Sahrawi respond please?

Will said...

Thanks for posting that. I don't know much about Western Saharan history, but I'm especially fuzzy on pre-colonization kingdoms. I especially liked when you said if we're going back that far, Morocco belongs to Mauritania.

Agaila Abba Hemeida said...

Karim You wants a Saharawi to respond here you have it... but first of all I want to say that I totally agreed with Sahara watch....

Second of all please read your History of the Morocco and the Saharawi....I think that will give you much clear idea about which tribe is Saharawi and which one is Moroccan and also not to confusio the Taureg with the Regbat...

I want to make something clear what the Algerian does to the Morocco the Polisario or the Saharawi doesn't have nothing to do with it....What going on with Algeria military and the Morocco Monarchy that is problem which is between the two parties.... Which the Polisario have nothing to do with it beside they are busy dealing with their own problem...

In your comment you said that Algeria train our military that is totally false did you forget that the Polisario military is trained in the in the piece of land that Polisario control which is south of Mauritania is very close to the wall of Shame...

About Saudi Arab did you ever read when Saudi Arab call Morocco and Algeria by the border between two countries to rebuild the lost relation between the two parties which Algeria accept thinking that will make it easy for the Saharawi after the relation was build between the two countries the King was interview about the Saharawi being granted autonomy he said this " they will if they decided to remain Moroccan" Later on Algeria cut the relation for various reasons the main one because of the King manipulation Algeria being part of “Great Emperor “ and second because every year the send Territory to the North and South side their main mission is to poison the water or to give poison shot to the Saharawi children I know this information because my family are victim of it has well as all the country.
In general if History talk about the Sahara the will list many ethnic group like the Taureg, Berber etc. But if they talk about the Saharawi (whose first language is Hassaniya and second language is Spanish) they are people who are not from Morocco, Algeria neither Mauritania they are people who has their own land which call Western Sahara which came to be under Morocco after the Madrid agreement in 1975 between three countries Morocco, Mauritania and also Spain after the decide to withdrawal...

Last thing if you will talk about the Moroccan History before the occupation of Western Sahara can you not mention the France Colonization and what they did to you guys?

That is why if we talk about the Saharawi history we have to mention the Spanish

All best and hope our people can live in peace some day....

Don’t forget that that Western Sahara and Morocco issue is International not civil

We are Saharawi not Moroccan……

StudentintheUS said...

I had a personal contact in the U.S with CORCAS, the Moroccan Council in charge for suggesting an autonomy plan for the Western Sahara. I know that the father of Front Polisario leader Mohamed Abdelaziz is a member of CORCAS. Can someone explain how is that ?

mohamed said...

could you discuss with me in civil manner our problem, represented in your invasion of our country since over thirtytwo years, and the human situation of our people in our occupied country, please?.

alle said...

Karim: I'm not Sahrawi, but may I suggest you search for a page via the link pages of ARSO ( You could probably find a lot of Sahrawi pages where people will talk to you -- most of that debate is in Arabic and Spanish, though, as very few Sahrawis speak English.

On the rest of your post, you are of course free to feel what you like about who Western Sahara should belong to. The UN, however, has for 40 years, since 1966, said that it belongs first and foremost to its people, i.e. the tribes native to the area. These should be allowed to determine what to do with the country: if it should be independent, a part of Morocco, a part of Mauritania, etc. That is what was done in all other colonies around the world, and it is what is required by international law.

Now, given that Morocco has signed these laws and conventions, and agreed to hold the referendum on independence that they require -- do you think the regime should hold that referendum or not?

Personally, I would be completely content if the Sahrawis chose to be part of Morocco. And if they chose to be independent. What I oppose, however, is that they are denied the right to chose.

On comparisons with the Palestinian case, ignore Saudi Arabia. Take Syria instead, a much more repressive regime than Algeria's -- I have lived in both countries, and the difference is HUGE -- which arms and supports both Palestinians and Lebanese armed movements, such as various PLO factions, Hamas and Hizbullah. I am not very fond of any of these groups, but I agree with the Palestinians' demand for statehood and freedom, and the fact that they are forced to rely on dictatorial governments such as Syria for support can not diminish their rights in that regard. The same goes for Polisario: how could they afford to distance themselves from Algeria in this situation, when they have no one else that backs them? Who should they turn to instead? Mauritania? It is as if occupied France had been asked to renounce all support from the Allies during World War Two, because Stalin was a monster...

That said, no further comparison between the Palestinian and Sahrawi cases. They have similarities, but also big differences.

alle said...

studentintheus - about Abdelaziz's father, my understanding is that he's a former Moroccan soldier, and that father and son parted ways already in the early 1970s, if not earlier.

The family was among the refugees from the 1958 Franco-Spanish Ecouvillon offensive in Western Sahara, which brought several thousand Sahrawi tribal resistance fighters into southern Morocco, where they settled as refugees. While their original revolt had been more anti-Spanish than pro-anything, some then joined the strand of Moroccan nationalism claiming Western Sahara, while others tended towards independence and took the side of first Bassiri in 1967-70, and then Polisario as conflict broke out in 1973.

(As an aside, many of them still militate in South Morocco, whose Sahrawis have by now become almost as anti-Monarchy as in Western Sahara itself. And as the conflict has dragged on, historically "pro-Moroccan" tribes now also seem to be slipping further and further into independence-minded nationalism, something which while appreciated by Polisario is of course inherently destabilizing for both sides, since the areas they inhabit aren't supposed to be part of the RASD).

Since the Abdelaziz thing is an obvious propaganda opportunity for Morocco, the old man is regularly featured in news, and was of course appointed to the CORCAS despite the fact that he's by now too frail to actively take part in its work. (Well, not that there was much work for members other than Khellihenna, but anyway.)

Family separation is the rule in Western Sahara, with some members living in the occupied territories, some in Tindouf, others in Mauritania, Morocco, Spain, etc, but this kind of complete political cleavage is not as common. Several other high-ranking Polisario leaders left family behind in WS in 1975, but these people then mostly ended up among the "disappeared", since they refused to align themselves with Morocco against their own kin. For example, the parents of RASD defense minister Mohamed Lamine Bouhali were found in mass graves just last year, after having been abducted by occupation forces in the mid-70s. Other examples are legio.