Thursday, May 20, 2010

Moroccan Flag and Western Sahara

Recently The View from Fez posted a story about the Guinness World Record sized flag. The flag was huge, weighing in at 20 tonne, and measuring 60,000 square metres. The fact that it was laid out in Dakhla in Morocco's Western Sahara was always going to raise issues with those who dispute Morocco's sovereignty of the territory. In this guest commentary, Ibn Warraq takes a personal look at the situation.

Sometimes being a young "leftie" is perplexing. I am an active environmental campaigner, I support the dream of a free Tibet and deplore abuses of freedom in whatever country they take place. But when it comes to Western Sahara I have to take a step back and ask why all the usually bright and committed comrades on the left are supporting a stance that assists in the use of people as pawns in a political game that has gone on far too long and too tragically. The pawns are the refugees in the camps being held hostage by the Polisario and their Algerian backers. From time to time some intrepid refugees escape and bring us their deeply moving stories of the years of waiting in the camps and the hardship endured by the population detained "by the violent militias" of polisario in the Tindouf camps

 This week's demonstration in France

Only this week relatives of those in the camps held a demonstration in France and called for the European MPs to intervene urgently “to put an end to the ordeal sustained by our families held in the Tindouf camps for a quarter of a century.”

The humanitarian conditions of the civilian population in the "Western Sahara" refugee Camps in Tindouf Algeria are so dire, that making an immediate international humanitarian intervention necessary, according to international humanitarian organizations and to Sahrawis who were lucky to escape the Polisario-Algerian run encampments. In 1976 and on behest of the Algerian military, the Polisario separatist movement lured thousands of Sahrawi nomads from their native lands in what was then called Spanish Sahara, Mauritania, Algeria and Mali to Tindouf, a Town in western Algeria, where it continues to confine most of them against their will. - HASSAN MASIKY

The demonstrators also urged European bodies to "make pressure on polisario and its mentor Algeria so that they stop the atrocities perpetrated in the Tindouf camps” as well as to take a “census of the populations subject to the most serious abuses of their basic rights”.

They insisted that the Sahara is a Moroccan territory by virtue of geography, history, culture, religion and the bei’a (allegiance) binding the Sahrawi populations and the Alaouite throne.

Yes, there is a political agenda by both sides. But the time has come for those in the West who uphold human rights and social justice to start thinking clearly about their stance here.

And the flag issue? Oh dear, my friends on the left called it a stunt to raise awareness of Morocco's claims in the region. If my comrades had read the situation better they would have called it a demonstration in support of those held in the camps.

And the world record? Last week the fine folks at Guinness World Records were contacted by campaigners who claimed that by authenticating the record they were "legitimising the unlawful occupation of Western Sahara" and requested that the record be rescinded. Thankfully saner minds came into play and a spokesperson for Guinness responded stating that “our task is to measure, count, monitor all world records. We are not in a position to comment on the political nature of things - we simply document the world around us.”

So while I applaud those who fight for freedom and justice.... sometimes it is best to look through the hype and spin and come to grips with the reality on the ground. Our people are suffering in the camps... lets work together to free them. Inshallah.


Myrtus said...

Awesome post!
Hats off to you for saying it like it is.

Anonymous said...

Yes. Superb post and important to state clearly why the lobby groups around the world have got it so very wrong. I cry to think of those in the camps and am so happy every time some of the poor refugees escape to Morocco. Thank you and thank God for Morocco taking such a strong and just line.

Tales from Bradistan said...

I will be interested to see if, in the interests of balance, whether you print a pro-Polisario post - bet you don't though as the Moroccan authorities will not like it. I'm not stirring it but you must realise that your blog has been very careful up untilm now as to what you publish and very non-political. Maybe you should be brave and print an opposing view from someone from Western Sahara? 

fr said...

What I find perplexing is that the 'complexity' of this issue is reduced to a so-called fact that is 'Polisario + sinister Algerina backers' (!) are running a abhorrent concentration camp where atrocities happen on a daily basis'.

And the only link to the truth of this is that some people (20 maybe?) waving and wearing the Moroccan flag demonstrate in Paris.

No other links provided, not a bit of an effort is taken by the author to support those 'facts' and 'humanitarian' claims.
I really do not know enough to have any kind of educated guess about the situation in West Sahara and I would have appreciated learning more about it, but a pamphlet like this smacks so like propaganda, I'm actually disappointed that this is happening on this blog. Frankly, I think that sucks.

Danny said...

Lighten up! This post is clearly a personal comment and not editorial. It is interesting to hear another side rather than the steam of anti-Moroccan releases from the well organized WS lobby groups.

Good on you for sharing.

The View from Fez said...

Those who would like to read a harrowing account of life as a POW in the camps. We suggest "Allah's Garden" by American writer Thomas Hollowell.

"It's a harrowing tale of the fate of more than 1700 Moroccans held as POWs over this period and is told with great sensitivity. For many years, the Polisario managed to pull the wool over the eyes of many human rights organisations until eventually the organisations, such as the Red Cross and Red Crescent, started to realise how badly the POWs were being treated physically, mentally and emotionally."

See our review here:

Michelle said...

Bravo! Well done for giving us another view of the problem.
I have read Allah's Garden. It was awesome.

Anonymous said...

In response to "Fr".

This "opinion piece" made interesting reading. It was not an academic article that needed facts as it was clearly marked as a personal view.

Thanks View from Fez, and keep up the good work.

Myra - NY

Pascal said...

Very interesting reading. merci.

Patrick said...

The case of Western Sahara is as clear as it gets under international law. The IJC and UN rule that Morocco has no claim the the Western Sahara. Not a single country in the world recognizes Morocco's claim over the Western Sahara. Enough said.

Framing it as a Algeria-Morocco conflict is a Moroccan strategy to divert attention from what is really happening: a land grab plain and simple, at the expense of the native inhabitants. It is similar to Israel's tactic of constantly manufacturing threats, in the latest instance Iran's nuclear program, to divert attention from the core issue which is the Palestinian refugees who have been rotting in camps and have had generations stolen from them. This is not just a coincidence by the way: Hassan II built the wall in Western Sahara on the advice of Ariel Sharon.

The refugees in the camps, which I have visited, are not held hostage by Algeria. Their inhabitants hate Morocco for stealing their land. The SADR is the most democratic government in the Arab world by far, and the Sahrawis have infinitely more freedom than Moroccans do.

I've been reading up lately, and historically speaking the Sahrawis have much more in common with the current day nation of Mauritania, and very little to do with Morocco. They don't even speak the same dialect. Either way, the IJC ruled that the claims of Morocco and Mauritania have no validity. We don't live in the 12th century anymore, and the geography of the Almoravids has nothing to do with current norms of de-colonization. Although it seems that when US and France are behind you, international law is of little consequence.

The sad fact is Morocco's actions are so illegitimate that all they have left to fight with is a smear campaign against the Polisario. Of course the lack of free speech about this issue in Morocco has molded the Moroccan publics voice, either out of fear of talking out or manipulation of education and media. It results in such articles as this one, either because the authors are brainwashed or they are part of Morocco's meaningful deception. It is really laughable how they are trying to justify such an absurd occupation.

LOL! said...

salem aleykoum.
Patrick says " The SADR is the most democratic government in the Arab world by far, and the Sahrawis have infinitely more freedom than Moroccans do."

Patrick seems reading some strange things. It is this kind of pseudo-left wing nonsense that keeps my people captive. My uncle who escaped calls himself Moroccan and speaks both Amazigh and Darija.

Shukran bizef wa barakalaoufik for the chance to have my say. One day my people shall be free, inshallah

Kendal said...

Very fine piece. Merci

Myrtus said...

First off, there is no such thing as Western Sahara, only Moroccan Sahara. :P

According to this article, the following countries DO SUPPORT Morocco's claim on the Sahara.

Central African Republic
Côte d'Ivoire
Equatorial Guinea
People's Republic of China

Ironically when I look up how many countries support the Polisario's claim, the number keeps fluctuating anywhere between 22 - 47 and 80-something. (lies much?)

And when I take a closer look at those countries listed, what really stands out is that most of those countries happen to be fierce adversaries of The USA, which gives me the impression that the reason why Morocco is not getting their support in this matter, is because Morocco has traditionally been a US ally throughout history, so this is their petty way of expressing contempt.

keenast said...

Oh well, as soon as 'politics' are debated, anything goes. I called the 'article' kind of badly written propaganda.

Two commentators here tell me that because they call the 'article' a 'opinion piece' it doesn't need any facts! Great.

A fanatic under the name 'Myrtus' finds it not only an 'awesome post' but more come up with a 'list' of countries that support Moroccos, resp. the SADR, that is so wrongly quoted we might call it an 'opinion piece' all by it's own - no facts necessary ;-(

To 'The View from Fez': Thank you for mentioning the book 'Allah's Garden'. I hope I will have the opportunity reading it. But, that doesn't really have much to do with the claims over the Western Sahara. That book - in my understanding - is mostly about the mistreatment of POWs, which unfortunately is the same worldwide. There is probably no country in this world that treats or has treated POWs humanly. Certainly not France, the USA, Germany, the USSR, Spain, Morocco (!)...the list is endless.

I would like to encourage 'The view from Fez' to find a writer who'd be able to give a balanced overview of the background and history of the conflict to give your readership a chance to better understand the situation. I understand that 'border claims' are a messy business, I also understand that there's no shortage in countries with the very same issues - in the end it's always about who owns the 'resources' and NOT about the people who actually live there - in politics 'people' always seem to come last.

Last but not least, I personally think 'nationalism' is an evil force that produces endless pain and tragedies. Nationalism in my eyes has nothing to do with being proud to be 'French', 'American', 'Chinese', or 'Moroccan'. Besides, we are all mixed blood anyways....who is the real 'French' i.e. I live a few years in the Bretagne and the people there don't call themselves 'French', absolutely not! I was born in Austria, and what a 'nationalistic' mess is that place. Our goal should be to abandon all 'borders', to become people of one planet have more fun ;-) So, here it is, my dream!

keenast said...

Sorry for the typos in my last post, also, for clearance, the comment from 'fr' is also mine, there's some mix-up with my log-in.

Graham said...

I enjoyed reading Ibn Warraq's post and thank you for allowing a wide range of comments. I support the Moroccan position but it is good to hear both sides.

Myrtus said...

hahaa me a "fanatic"? Very funny!

As far as I know there is only ONE Polisario operative going around trolling blog posts mentioning the Sahara issue and posting under different names to give the impression that there is some sort of unified voice for his militia movement, not to mention the name-calling.
Poor thing is tripping over his own steps with every single attempt to discredit Morocco.