Friday, December 29, 2006

Moroccan army clears landmines in Senegal

If the usually shady Maghreb Arab Press can be trusted, 100 Moroccan soldiers are in Senegal clearing landmines left over from that country's civil war. Good for you, Morocco.

According to Wikipedia, the region the Moroccans are based in, Casamance, has a Sahrawi style low-level civil war. I'm not familiar with the merits of Casamance independence, but whatever they are, it's good that Moroccans are helping to clear the landmines.

I hope these Moroccan experts stay in the service long enough to clear the 100,000 square kilometers of Western Saharan land that may have been sown with landmines.

But while we wait for that, it's heartening to see Morocco use its expertise at sub-Saharan intervention for a noble goal.

Newspapers ignore the Western Sahara, will regret it when Sahrawis corner ink market

I wasn't in Houston for 48 hours before I read about two opportunities, through newspapers, to increase awareness about the Western Sahara.

The Fog City Journal, an online newspaper based in San Francisco, ran two pieces about a festival held in Tan-Tan, in the south of Morocco. The event, cancelled from 1979 to 2003 due to events in the nearby Western Sahara, was reopening as a showcase for Moroccan culture and business opportunities. The Moroccan government flew a Fog City journalist, a California state representative, and some other notables there. The result was shameless boosterism that would make a chamber of commerce blush.

The Fog City Journal ran an article and an open letter to King Mohammed VI about the festival. The article completely ignores the Western Sahara and Sahrawis, many of whom live in Tan-Tan. The article dismisses the Polisario's struggle as "political unrest in the region."

Doubtless to the surprise of Sahrawis, Berbers, native Moroccan dissidents, and Amnesty International, State Representative Fiona Ma and Fog City's Luke Thomas write, "The Kingdom of Morocco has rightfully earned international respect for its advancement in human rights and democracy while preserving the delicate balance of Morocco's rich cultural heritage."

The rest of the article is exhortations of the "Experience Morocco" sort. The pictures are pretty sweet, though.

I sent an email to the Journal's editor, explaining what I felt was missing from the article. He was nice enough to publish it. I couldn't figure out how to permalink it, so just CTRL-F Morocco.

Was this a case of Western Sahara monomania? I don't think so. It'd be a tactical and intellectual error to bring up the Western Sahara whenever someone writes or talks about Morocco, but the festival was taking place close to the Western Sahara where, nearby, Sahrawis were arrested in peaceful protests.

The other newspaper news is that my own Houston Chronicle ran an article about potential reparations for Franco's Spanish victims. I wrote a letter asking that we not forget some of Franco's last victims, the Sahrawi people. Unfortunately, it didn't run.

Because it's important that we increase awareness about the Western Sahara, if you read or watch something even tangentially related to the Western Sahara, you should write in.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Merry Christmas

I have several posts in the works, but Christmas is for eggnog, not blogging. Until then, enjoy the best anthropomorphized occupied territory of the year.

Update: I know it's not Eid, but that probably makes my Artpad drawing out of season. If that's the case, assume I wrote whatever's appropriate for the season, but my Arabic handwriting's terrible.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Outrage at Island deal spreads

Last week, Island Oil & Gas, an Irish oil company, made a deal with Morocco to explore for oil in part of the Western Sahara. This would be fine, and beneficial for the region, if it weren't also a violation of internationa law. Most foreign companies have qualms working under a colonial administration, and that's one of the reasons the occupation is so expensive for Morocco. Island, however, has no such compunctions about oppression or self-determination.

The good news is that other blogs are spreading the word that Island and Morocco are flouting the generally agreed-upon notion that extracting resources from a subjugated territory is bad. Price of Oil, a significant oil industry blog, picked up the Island story. While Price of Oil isn't yet cool enough to drop quotes from occupied or illegal deal, their post will expose the story to a new, wider audience.

Update: More good news regarding Island. If I'm reading this Yahoo stocks page right, Island's stock has declined since the Moroccan deal was announced. An Island press release said the deal was announced on the 12th. Island's stock opened the day at 66 pounds per share and ended at 63 pounds. In the following days the stock further dipped to 58.50 pounds. At the close of trading Monday, Island was at 62.50 pounds per share.

This looks to me like typical stock market fluctuations. It's nice to see, though, that if the Moroccan deal affected Island's stock price at all, it wasn't positively.

Monday, December 18, 2006

New Western Sahara listserv

If you wanted to help free East Timor, there was ETAN; if you want to help Palestinians, there is a plethora of groups. Unfortunately for Americans, there is no similar organization for the Western Sahara in our country.

I hope the Association for Western Saharan Independence will change that, but until then, there's Free Western Sahara Now, a recently established mailing list. Free Western Sahara Now should facilitate communication and discussion amongst people interested in the Western Sahara.

The list's founder recently wrote this excellent, well-sourced article about the tragic drowning death of Sahrawi immigrants.

If you want to join, click the link above and click subscribe. If you're worried about spam, I don't think you should be--I've been a member for several days now and haven't received any unwanted emails. We need to refine our approach, share information, and coordinate better with Americans, Sahrawis, and other people who support self-determination.

Friday, December 15, 2006

AWSI marches inexorably towards Laayoune

After more CTRL-Ving than I care to think about, the Association for Western Saharan Independence has a letterhead. Now all my protest letters will look absurdly legitimate. Thanks to I Didn't Do It For You for explaining the importance of letterheads.

No other AWSI-related fun until this summer, probably, so you have time to save up for your membership dues ($1.50 covers the newsletter and membership card).

Irish oil company granted illegal exploratory license in Western Sahara

Western Sahara has seemed quiet lately, but there's a new threat to a fair referendum. On December 12th Island Oil & Gas, an Irish petroleum company, contracted with Morocco for an illegal exploration license in the Western Sahara. This move represents another step in the exploitation of Western Saharan natural resources.

There are three problems with this license. First, it's a dangerous sanctification of Moroccan sovereignty. No country in the world has recognized Western Sahara as a Moroccan province because of the occupation's shaky basis in international law, but corporations like Island Oil & Gas have no such qualms.

Moroccans say, "The Turks stopped in Algiers, and so did the oil." As the only Maghreb country without oil besides the Western Sahara, Morocco is intent on finding oil reserves of its own. If Island or its colleagues find natural gas or oil in the Western Sahara, Morocco will tighten its grip on the Western Sahara.

Finally, the license represents exploitation of resources that legally and morally belong to the Sahrawi people. Even if oil isn't discovered, the reconnaissance licenses are the property of the Sahrawi and their representatives in SADR. The money from these licenses could make life better for marginalized people in the territories or in the camps. Instead, it'll end up in Rabat.

The last time oil exploration licenses were in the news with Western Sahara, French company TotalFinaElf and American company Kerr-McGee had received cushy reconnaissance deals from the Moroccan government. After strong pressure from Sahrawi and international groups, Kerr-McGee canceled its license.

If enough people contact Island, they'll recognize the game isn't worth the (petrol) candle. If they do, there's a Golden Camel with their name on it.

Western Sahara Resource Watch has published an open letter to Island about the license's illegality and the disadvantages Island faces if it pursues reconnaissance.

Map from Island Oil and Gas. Island's grant is in blue.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Mohammed Daddach extends coolness to Youtube

Mohammed Daddach is a slick character. Imprisoned for 20 years by the Moroccan government for advocating Sahrawi independence, his release in 1999 was a victory for the nascent Sahrawi human rights movement. He even has a cameo in Endgame in the Western Sahara. That's why I'm excited to find he has videos on Youtube.

The videos are in Arabic, so I don't know what he's saying (if anyone can summarize it or give a rough translation, I'd be grateful).

Part 2
Part 3

Morocco not as open to Christianity as it would have you believe

I hate to mention the National Clergy Council, but their claim that Morocco is open to Christianity has been proven wrong again.

The most recent example comes from the Moroccan city of Agadir, where a German evangelist was arrested for distributing Christian CDs and pamphlets. He later fled the country to avoid a 6 month prison term.

Most, if not all Arab countries have prohibitions on "shaking the faith." While that doesn't lend itself to freedom or even healthy civil society, it would be unfair to single out one country for laws they all uphold.

The difference is that Moroccan spokespeople travel across the United States to brag about religious freedoms they clearly do not actually enjoy. This story demonstrates that Moroccan tolerance is a farce meant to woo evangelicals from the Sahrawi cause that many of them have supported.

Long story short: if Driss Jettou had his way, the picture above, a Jesuit priest enjoying his holiday in Marrakesh, would have to be photoshopped. And indeed it was, by an excellent Photoshopping Georgetown student who prefers to remain nameless (which side is his Maghreb bread buttered on, I wonder).

Wednesday, December 13, 2006


So, finals are heating up at Georgetown and I haven't been able to cobble together a quality post for today (or Monday). Good stuff will resume when Arabic stops hassling me. Check out the Sandblast photo gallery instead. Those photos are great.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

E.D. Morel: Hero of the Congo and, soon, your heart

Last March I read King Leopold's Ghost, a book about Belgium's ruinous colonization of the Congo. Belgium's King Leopold ran the vast territory as his private rubber and ivory farm, exploiting its environment and directly or indirectly causing 10 million deaths. For years the king and his agents operated under a mandate granted at the Berlin Conference (also where the Western Sahara was given to Spain), and no one thought to investigate the king's rule.

E.D. Morel changed that. Morel was a low-level shipping manager employed by a British company that handled some of Leopold's shipping to the Congo. Stationed in Belgium, Morel began to notice that his country's boats carried only rifles and ammunition to the colony, but returned loaded with ivory. He realized slavery was the only explanation for the trade imbalance. Soon after his epiphany, Morel quit his job and returned to England to start the Congo Reform Association in 1900.

With the help of Irish independence fighter Roger Casement, Morel win support for his campaign from politicians, churchmen, and ordinary people on both sides of the Atlantic. In 1908, partly because of Morel's efforts, Leopold was forced to give Congo to Belgium.

E.D. Morel is important to me because he shows what one man can do about a tremendous evil. When Morel began the Congo Reform Association few people outside of the Congo knew the horrors of Leopold's administration. By the end of the campaign, however, ending abuses in Leopold's fiefdom had become one of the most urgent human rights causes of its time. E.D. Morel demonstrates the success the Western Sahara can achieve if we organize, appeal to a wide range of people, and work tirelessly.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Georgetown student blogs about Tibet, Beijing foiled

My roommate Henry is a decent guy with an inexplicably deep-seated love of Tibet, and an understandable distaste for the Chinese occupation. For a while he's been sitting on
his hands and only barely attending Students for a Free Tibet meetings. Now he's started Last Yak Standing, a blog about the Tibetan struggle for independence.

Now, my position on Tibetan independence is known (Precis: "Why not help the Western Sahara, instead?"), but Henry's a good guy and he promises to get a better layout if everyone reads his blog. Check it out! While I think Tibet is far more hopeless than the Western Sahara, there are several similarities. For one thing, the United States doesn't chastise the occupying power out of concern for its own economic interests.

In other internet news, I have a piece on ARSO's opinion page. It's about how, international support or no, the Sahrawi independence movement can continue. I slapped a title on it before emailing, and it sounds dreamier than it should, but enjoy it anyway.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Landmines in Western Sahara kill two

Morocco sowed over a million landmines in the Western Sahara to discourage Polisario attacks. The program may have been successful, but it's come at a terrible cost in human life. This was demonstrated again recently when two people in the Western Sahara were killed by landmines, according to the Saharawi Association of Victims of Human Rights Violations.

The victims were injured after their car hit an anti-personnel landmine. While tactical arguments can be made for landmines, there hasn't been a Polisario attack in Western Sahara for fifteen years. Why hasn't Morocco deactivated the landmines yet? I worry that even when Western Sahara becomes independent, the landmines will remain, taking lives every year and hampering economic development.

The cost of landmine removal is enormous. It cost tens of millions of dollars to remove the landmines Saddam Hussein laid in Kuwait during the first Gulf War, and that was fewer than a million. Any decolonization agreement with Morocco should include landmine disarmament.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Google Sightseeing: Western Sahara

The writers of Google Sightseeing use Google Earth to find cool things around the world. They've taken an interest in the Western Sahara, and they found several cool things.

The picture to the left is the SADR flag with, in Spanish, "Sahara Vencer," which translates to "Sahara Will Win." Indeed.

They also found several shipwrecks, both off the coast and washed ashore. I heard the stretch of water between the Canaries and Western Sahara was treacherous, and these ships confirm it.

Finally, the sinister Bou Craa conveyor. While it's bad that the conveyor sucks wealth and opportunity out of the Western Sahara every day, it seems from the pictures that a lot of phosphate has blown off the conveyor.

My Western Sahara info sheet

One of the problems about activating people for the Western Sahara is that people don't know where it is. You can talk to people about Palestine and their minds fix, at worst, vaguely on the Levant; you talk to people about Tibet and they think of China. But "Western Sahara" sounds like more of a geographical designation than a country, and worse, it just sounds like a collection of dunes no one cares about.

There's a lot of stuff to know about the Western Sahara, and not a lot of time to tell people. I decided the best place to get people would be where they don't have anything else to do: the bathroom. I posted this info sheet in the men's bathroom stall on my floor and, so far, I've been getting positive responses.

The Western Sahara: 31 Years Without Self-Determination

Where is the Western Sahara?
Western Sahara is on the northwest coast of Africa, south of Morocco and north of Mauritania.

When did the Western Sahara’s problems begin?
From 1884 to 1974, Western Sahara was a Spanish colony. In 1975, due to activism from native Sahrawis (the Arab ethnic group that lives in the Western Sahara), Spain decided to decolonize and grant the Western Sahara independence.
Before independence, vast phosphate reserves were discovered in the territory. Morocco and Mauritania began claiming Western Sahara was part of their countries, despite a 1975 International Court of Justice ruling that found neither country had a legitimate claim.
Morocco and Mauritania made a secret agreement with Spain to divide Western Sahara between them. In late 1975, the two countries invaded, forcing tens of thousands of Sahrawis to flee to nearby Algeria. During the evacuation, the Moroccan air force dropped napalm on the refugees.

Did the Sahrawis accept the occupation?
Not at all. The Polisario Front, a militant Sahrawi independence organization, attacked both occupying armies. Their successful operations forced Mauritania to withdraw, but Morocco’s Western allies reinforced its army. Morocco also built a wall through all Western Sahara and sowed over 3 million land mines.
The war ended in 1991, when Morocco and Polisario signed a ceasefire. Morocco promised to hold a referendum on independence, but it’s broken its promise. Meanwhile, Sahrawis languish in the territory or in refugee camps.

What does the international community think?
The United Nations lists the Western Sahara as Africa’s last colony. In November 2006, it reaffirmed its commitment to Sahrawi self-determination.
In 2006, Amnesty International reported that Moroccan police beat a Sahrawi independence demonstrator to death.

What do you think I should include/drop? Right now, it's at one page for punchiness.

Monday, December 04, 2006

"Going to Laayoune" is a rare B-side

The Mountain Goats are my favorite band, more or less. Until this year they built an unimpeachable collection of But before lead singer John Darnielle dyed his hair and bought Dutch architect glasses, he was in the Extra Glenns with UCLA philosophy professor Franklin Bruno.

The Extra Glenns released one album, Martial Arts Weekend. I didn't realize until I played one of the songs on my internet radio show that not just one, but two of the songs reference Morocco.

One, "Going to Morocco," doesn't seem to have anything to do with Morocco. There is a part, though, where Darnall sings "There's a guttural stop in my throat." Like ayn!

The other, "Going to Marrakech," laments a relationship that won't die: "Our love is like Jesus, but worse. Though you seal the cave up where you've lain its body, it rises. "

The way I see it, the relationship can be a metaphor for the relationship between Western Sahara and Morocco. Even though the occupation's awful, even though it's unnatural ("our [occupation] is a monster, plain and simple"), Western Sahara and Morocco will always by necessity and location be tied together, economically and socially.

In conclusion, why does John Darnielle love Morocco so much?

The Extra Glenns-Going to Morocco
The Extra Glenns-Going to Marrakesh

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Waiting for the referendum

Sahrawis have been waiting for a referendum for some time. If you count from the year the UN called for worldwide self-determination, to be decided in referendums, it's been 42 years. If you count from Spanish decolonization, it's been 31. And if you count from Morocco's Settlement Plan promise, it's been 15.

The Sahrawis have had a lot of time to wait, and to have their hopes dashed. In a particularly sad scene in Endgame in the Western Sahara, Sahrawis in Tindouf hear about Hassan II's death. Confident there'll be a referendum, they break their roofs down into packaging for their trip home, and sell their herds. It's devastating imagining their exhilaration turning to disappointment.

There's a part of ARSO I hadn't noticed until today where people can submit opinions about the Western Sahara. Agaila Abba Hemeida of Free Western Sahara wrote a nice poem about the referendum, and what it represents to Sahrawis.

ARSO also has a humorous page about the referendum process written by Nafaa Mohamed Salem. Displayed like an online help page, it nevertheless conveys the frustration Sahrawis must feel as Morocco blocks every attempt at self-determination.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Morocco won't even dignify me with a block

Shucks. Like any good Western Sahara fan, I lust for a legitimacy only Morocco can give: blocking my blog. All sorts of other websites have been given that distinction. I figured I'd have to start writing in Arabic or French, but it seems even that won't get me blocked anymore. This was on ARSO's news page:

The censorship of Internet sites judged hostile to the interests of Morocco is becoming more common. After the sites supporting the Polisario, it is certain free servers which are being blocked partially or totally. The last to date : the name of the domain “”, which harbours several Moroccan blogs ... and a Saharawi blog particularly virulent against the kingdom. Censorship continues likewise to hit the geographical search program Google Earth.
Fiddlesticks. A blanket block is no fun. There is an upside, though: apparently the Moroccan government is so afraid that its lies will be exposed, it even blocks websites with as little inherent credibility as free blogs.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Thanksgiving in the Western Sahara

It was a wild Thanksgiving week, and no improvised blessing before Thanksgiving dinner could do justice for all the things we can be grateful about the Western Sahara. I'm thankful for:

-ARSO. I never tire of ARSO's news and documents collection. If you ever think the situation in Western Sahara's stalemated, check ARSO to be proven wrong.

-Speaking of chess analogies, I'm still reading Endgame in the Western Sahara and loving it. I think I'll order a copy when I'm done, because it's a handy resource for statistics and quotes, and because anyone who spent as much time as Toby Shelley did writing about the Western Sahara deserves to be supported. I'll have a bunch of posts coming up on what I've learned from the book, but for now it'll suffice to say that Mohammed Daddach is a cool guy.

-Sahrawis who are keeping the Hassaniya dialect alive.

-Commenters, including the Moroccans who post anonymously (and angrily). Keep it up, guys. Your insults keep things light, although I have to say I'm disappointed that no recent commenters have equaled Sword of Ali's "no grain of its dunes will ever fall to your hands."

-These are only tangentially related to the Western Sahara, but I know you can't resist a girl who barely avoids getting tasered at concerts, a Houstonian who loves local government even more than she loves SADR, and Disillusioned Kid, who made a post about the Western Sahara and keeps a tight blog himself.

"Work hard, study...and don't go crazy trying to figure out what the Moroccan government wants"

I was in Barnes and Noble and saw a display of books by local authors. One of the books was Work Hard, Study, and...Keep Out of Politics!, the memoirs of former Secretary of State and one-time Western Sahara negotiator James Baker.

A quick trip to the index led to the 4 pages on the Western Sahara. Considering that negotiating with Polisario, Morocco, Algeria, and Mauritania took years of Baker's life, I expected more than 4 pages filled with generalizations you could cull from the Wikipedia article on Western Sahara. I think Western Saharan portion's lack of revelations come from a combination of diplomatic reticence and the average American

Still, Baker makes two salient points about the Western Sahara. After winning Polisario and Algerian acceptance for Baker II, a plan that gave Morocco much better terms than it deserved, Baker was shocked when Morocco rejected the plan. Though Baker and his co-author take pains to balance the Western Sahara section, it's clear that Moroccan intransigence doomed the Baker negotiations.

Second, Baker expresses sympathy with the Sahrawis both inside and outside the Western Sahara that have been marginalized by national power plays. While Baker isn't making an original point, what he's saying cannot be affirmed enough.

Who is this Will character?

Here's me (right) with Mohammed Abdelaziz, the president of the Western Sahara. To read the story of how I met him, click here.

Hi! My name's Will Sommer and I write One Hump or Two?. I started writing it in August 2006 because I discovered that Western Sahara had been occupied for 30 years and I knew nothing about it. Originally, I wrote the blog because I wanted to find more and hadn't decided which side I supported. Since then, I've become involved in promoting the Sahrawi right to self-determination.

Thanks for checking out my blog. I hope you enjoy it and become interested in the Western Sahara.

How Did the Western Sahara Seduce You?
This is an embarrassing story, but I'll tell you because I appreciate that you're reading my blog. I used to, and occasionally still do, play Superpower, a forum-based game where people pretend to be countries. One day, the Moroccan player posted about how well he was oppressing the Western Sahara.

I didn't know what he was talking about at the time, but a trip to Wikipedia later, I was slightly more informed and much more intrigued by the conflict and the Sahrawi people.

7 Things About Me
  • I'm a student at Georgetown University in Washington, DC.
  • I also write for The Georgetown Voice and its blog, Vox Populi.
  • I'm studying international politics and Arabic. Feel free to test my Arabic, but don't be surprised if I have no idea what you mean.
  • I lived in Dubai for 3 years and loved it, but I picked up absolutely no Arabic.
  • My favorite band is the Hold Steady, and my favorite book is Home Land.
  • I'm wild for the Western Sahara, and I also really like the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
  • I consider a referendum on Western Saharan independence the only fair resolution to the conflict.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Does a diplomatic solution lie with France or the United States?

I'm reading Endgame in the Western Sahara, by Toby Shelley. It's the most entertaining and readable book I've read about the Western Sahara (I've only read two, counting Roots of a Desert War, which I stopped reading when the pre-colonization part got boring).

The first chapter is about the relationship of world powers to Morocco, Algeria, and the Western Sahara. It's sad that because, if Shelley's right, Polisario could have won the war in the late 70's to early 80's if France and the United States hadn't given Morocco so much aid and weapons to shore up its faltering army, government, and economy. The two countries were motivated by complex desires, including larger Maghreb economic integration and keeping the entrance to the Mediterranean a Western ally.

I've long thought that if the United States gets serious with Morocco and withhold aid until a referendum is held, the Sahrawis have a good chance for independence.

In Endgame, though, Shelley makes a strong argument for France being the prime non-Maghreb mover in Western Saharan independence. France's veto of an otherwise unanimous UN Security Council vote calling for Morocco to better protect Sahrawi rights is one example, and French companies account for 24.3% of imports to Morocco (as of 2000).

While I still think the United States, as one of Morocco's most influential allies (and, if the term's still applicable, the remaining superpower) could cause great change in Morocco, there's much to be said for France. If a strong French divestment movement could get running, Morocco would have to pay attention.

Does anyone know of any French pro-Western Sahara groups? I know much of ARSO's in French, but it's based out of Switzerland.

Monday, November 20, 2006

No post today, and probably nothing too good this week

That probably doesn't inspire much confidence, but I'm going back to Houston for Thanksgiving, and you know they just don't let me blog in Houston.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Aminatou Haidar reception blow-out

The strawberries were delicious.

Certain Sahrawis are getting antsy for a recap and pictures from the Aminatou Haidar reception. They point out that I've promised them repeatedly, and it's been over two months. I say, "Seriously, guys, I was having camera problems." But they'll hear nothing of it.

Background: last September, the US-Western Sahara Foundation invited me to a reception they were holding for Sahrawi civil rights activist (and Amnesty prisoner of conscience) Aminatou Haidar. It was in a congressional office building, which made it even more delicious.

Deep in the bowels of the Rayburn office building, the reception was swinging when I arrived. The open bar didn't have alcohol, I think, but that was more than OK because of the SADR-American flag stickers (which will reappear on Western Sahara Day).

I met some lovely Western Sahara supporters, including Mikael Simble, the Washington representative of the Norwegian-Western Sahara Committee.

Suzanne Scholte, head of the Defense Forum Foundation and (along with Carlos Wilson) the US-Western Sahara Foundation, introduced Aminatou Haidar. She said that now, with tension between the Islamic world and the West is high, it was heartening to see "Muslims who represent so many good things."

Suzanne introduces Haidar, while a wine glass waits for its turn.

Aminatou Haidar gave an excellent speech about the need for US-Sahrawi cooperation if Sahrawi rights are to be protected. She said the United States should ask Morocco to respect human rights in the Western Sahara, and said Morocco has installed an "overwhelming police apparatus" to stifle dissent.

"It's time to put an end to this injustice against the Sahrawi people," she said in closing.

Aminatou Haidar and her translator.

After that, Congressman Donald Payne (D-NJ), who recently signed the letter supporting Aminatou Haidar, presented her with the 2006 Freedom Award.

"I am very inspired by your courage and your heroism. If people are oppressed everywhere, then people can be oppressed anywhere," he told Haidar. He also made a parallel to the Western Sahara and the South African colonization of Namibia, which I thought was astute.

Congressman Payne presenting the Freedom Award.

After that, it was a picture fest!

Suzanne Scholte and I. Classy lady, and not just because she has her nametag on the correct side of her jacket, which is more than I can say for my nametag. I like my tie.

Aminatou Haidar shows off her Freedom Award. She said she wouldn't run for president of Polisario (sorry, Sahara-Watch). I was disappointed too, but she was nice, and didn't even mention my red devil eyes.

I couldn't stay too long, because I had to get to a party in Rayburn's Boom Boom Room.

McDonald's is old school, and besides, the strawberries weren't that filling.

Hurray for Defense Forum for inviting me and holding an excellent event, and hurray for the nice like-minded people I met. Most of all, thanks to Aminatou Haidar for traveling so far and risking reprisals from the Moroccan government to tell us about the Western Sahara.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

US congressmen sign letter supporting Aminatou Haidar

Aminatou Haidar toured America and Europe in the past few months, raising awareness about the Western Sahara and Moroccan human rights abuses. It was a brave thing to do, considering she's been imprisoned for less, and the United States is a critical ally for Morocco. Worried that she'll face retribution when she returns to the Western Sahara, two US senators and 3 congressmen have signed a letter to Secretary of State Condolleeza Rice asking the State Department to monitor Haidar's status.

Dear Secretary Rice:

Recently, internationally known Saharawi human rights activist Aminatou Haidar visited the U.S. during an international tour to draw attention to the human rights violations occurring in Moroccan occupied Western Sahara. She has visited a number of countries and participated in an international conference on the future of Western Sahara.

On November 15th Ms. Haidar will return home to Western Sahara. We are concerned that the Moroccan government may detain her and confiscate her passport. Her safety and well being are at risk since only last year she was jailed for seven months during a peaceful demonstration.

We ask that the State Department Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor and the U.S. Embassy in Rabat monitor the return of Ms. Haidar to Western Sahara and intervene with Moroccan Authorities if she is detained.

Thank you in advance for your assistance.

The letter was signed by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Senator James Inhofe (R-OK), Representative Donald Payne (D-NJ), Representative Zach Wamp (R-TN), and Representative Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA). Leahy, Inhofe, and Wamp also signed this letter earlier supporting the Western Sahara. If you live in their districts, re-elect these good people.

I have a lot of free time tomorrow. I think I'll harass Speaker Pelosi's office for her position on the Western Sahara.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Moroccans say "Hands off my country," Sahrawis agree

Fnaire are a group of Moroccan rappers, and they're tremendous. I base my assessment on this song, "Makich Baladee," which translates roughly into "Hands off my country" or "Don't touch my country." The song was written in response to the 2003 terrorist attack in Casablanca, the largest act of terrorism in Morocco's history. Fnaire is effectively saying to North African terrorists Salafia Jihadia, "Don't touch my country."

The chorus is so catchy, I'd like this song even if King Hassan II himself wrote it. But there's a soft hypocrisy in Fnaire's message when you think about the country to Morocco's south that it will literally not get its hands off of.

In other news, I'm on top of the Google rankings for one hump or two, once again (take that, weird Answers in Genesis and American Handgunner). Plus, I'm loving the new tags feature.

Tonight the Georgetown branch of UNICEF is hosting a dinner. Each table has a different theme. I signed up for the refugees/orphans/displaced persons table, so I'll be eating with two experts on the issue and some interested students. I'll mention it if anything Western Sahara-related comes out of it.

Meaty post later today about Congress and the Western Sahara.

Waterfalls don't oppress Sahrawis

Sometimes I feel like I'm too down on Morocco. The people are nice, I think (they certainly were at the embassy), and it's never fair to blame an entire people for their government's actions. So in the spirit of reconciliation, look at this lovely Moroccan waterfall.

Morocco abandoning migrants on wrong side of the Berm

Many immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa, trying to reach Europe, pass through Morocco to the neighboring Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla. Morocco is scrupulous in catching them, partly because it keeps Morocco immigration-suspicious France's good side.

It's been documented that Morocco doesn't repatriate all the apprehended immigrants; rather, they abandon them on the desolate eastern side of the Berm. This has been documented before, most recently in Amnesty International's 2006 Report: "They arrested some [migrants] and transported others to remote desert areas close to Morocco’s border with Algeria, where they were dumped without adequate water, food or shelter, reportedly resulting in further deaths."

So this is nothing new. What is delicious, though, is that I found proof of what's been talked about but never substantiated to me: that Polisario rescues the immigrants from almost certain death from land mines, exposure, or thirst.

This article in The Guardian describes a reporter's journey in 2005 with Polisario soldiers rescuing abandoned immigrants: "'The Africans came this way,' [a soldier] says and points to a nearby fold in the ground. 'There are mines there.'"

Why is Polisario doing this? Several reasons, I think. They're probably doing it because they don't want innocent people to die. It certainly makes great publicity, if only the world would hear about it. Or maybe Polisario just sympathizes with the migrants because they know what it's like when the world tries to forget you.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Dishy post coming later today

I'm behind the one post a weekend schedule, but it turns out Arabic's hard to learn (who knew?) and I've had to work on that. Upcoming, though: Moroccans, African migrants, and the Berm!

In the meantime, why not look at these pictures of the Berm that ARSO posted in the last post's most recent comments? There are those who say the Berm tipped the balance in the war for independence, hampering Polisario raiding and cutting off the Sahrawis in Tindouf from the Sahrawis in Western Sahara.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

I'm looking for the Berm on Google Earth

I haven't been able to find it. Hurray for whoever can find the Berm on Google Earth (It might be small, but I think it'll be possible to spot a line going through the whole Western Sahara). I can't even find a photograph online.

Friday, November 10, 2006

China interested in Western Sahara

On Monday, Chinese prime minister Wen Jiabao committed his country to resolving the Western Sahara issue through the United Nations. While this might seem nice (the other major powers haven't done much), there are several worrisome parts in the article.

For one thing, Jiabao was meeting with Driss Jettou, Morocco's prime minister. I think that shows which partner they'll enter the diplomatic process supporting.

The rest of the article makes no reference of Polisario, SADR, or even the Sahrawis. It's as if China hopes to raise its international profile by resolving the crisis, but without giving the Sahrawis a seat the negotiating table. This is reminiscent of previous attempts to sideline SADR and deal with Algeria instead, which are meant to make it seem like an Algerian territorial grab and not an independence struggle.

The rest of the article is devoted to China's increasing economic ties with Morocco. Those might not be anything to worry about--China's throwing cash around everywhere in Africa. On the other hand, France is close to Morocco economically, and you can see what an effective advocates for the Sahrawis it's been.

Overall, I find China's potential entrance into the process worrisome, especially considering China's support for human rights violators elsewhere in Africa. But it might be the kind of impetus older world powers need to realize they are responsible for the continuing tragedy in Tindouf.

My name in Arabic means "great tragedy": confirm/deny?

I spell my name waaw, yaa, laam.

Several things, some Western Sahara related and some just blog favor-paying.
  • I'm going to see how many posts I can put out in the next hour, as I slacked a little at the end of the week.
  • I've been more up-to-date on the Western Sahara, for two reasons. You guys are linking me to great articles. Please keep doing this, as it keeps the blog fresh, and it keeps us in touch. The other thing I've done is signed up for Google Alerts, which send me an email aggregating the Western Sahara blog posts and news items of the previous day. If you're worried it won't work well and you'll get irrelevant stuff, don't be; there's some stuff that has nothing to do with Western Sahara, but usually it's a good way to keep up with parts of the internet you wouldn't normally look in.
  • Long-time commenter Studentintheus has started his own Western Sahara blog, Sahara-Views. I especially liked his post on the Guerra Olvidada, a war in the north of Western Sahara where Sahrawis and Moroccans fought side-by-side.
  • Respectable young woman and Western Saharan fan artist Kate became an intern on music blog Idolator today. While this doesn't have much to do with the Western Sahara, Kate was the first person to link to me, so I owe her. Also, Idolator's a good, frequently-updated read regardless of how you feel about Mohammed VI (he's bad).

Even Casablanca and metereologists know the Western Sahara deserves independence

Time for another installment of Even ____ Knows the Western Sahara Deserves Independence. Today we have two winners, Casablanca and my Arabic class DVD.

I watched Casablanca in my class about World War II today. The opening credits are superimposed over a map of Africa. The movie itself takes place in Morocco. Below Morocco on the map, the Western Sahara is clearly demarcated as a separate territory.

The movie was filmed in 1942, 14 years before the first wave of African decolonization and 33 years before the Madrid Accords and Spain. Casablanca’s director, Michael Curtiz, could have been a Greater Moroccan ideologue and it still wouldn’t have made sense to take away Western Sahara’s borders at the time. So while the map isn’t a powerful pro-Sahrawi statement, it recalls a time when everyone who knew where Spanish Sahara was accepted it as a territory separate from Morocco.

The more legitimate, but less famous winner today is the DVD included with my Arabic textbook. The DVD contains some Arab weather reports, including one that can't be more than a few years old. In one, a forecast on the entire Middle East-North African community, there’s a demarcation line between Western Sahara and Morocco.

I hope today’s winners are proud. I’m proud of them for making sure people don’t stop asking about that parallelogram on the west African coast.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Once again, what do you call a Western Sahara referendum organization?

I'm on a quasi-secret newspaper assignment tonight, so I can't make a quality post until later tonight (it involves China), but here's something to chew on. I've wondered what to call the Western Sahara group that needs to be started to combine our efforts and further dignify the cause, but I'm reading in my Eritrea book that an organization's letterhead makes any letter to a politician more impressive.

That means, while major organizational stuff will wait until this summer, I should get a name so I can send letters. Points for pronounceable acronyms.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Polisario has beef with Elliott Abrams

Deservedly so, it would seem. Sahara-Watch busted out Saturday with a great post about Abrams, in charge of Near East and North Africa for the Bush National Security Council. Sahara-Watch does a better job of explaining, in detail, why Abrams is probably to blame for sabotaging the Western Saharan peace process. I'll review the main points.

-Abrams worked in the Reagan administration when it aided King Hassan of Morocco's occupation.

-He has a longstanding distaste for leftist causes, to the point of covering up El Salvadoran massacres of civilians. Since Morocco painted Polisario as Marxists (just as they're trying to use today's bugaboo, terrorism, to alienate potential Sahrawi supporters), there is little love lost between the Western Sahara and Abrams.

-He met with a Moroccan autonomy plan spokesman, lending the proposal much more credibility than it deserves.

Abrams was one of the top neocons rah-rahing the invasion of Iraq, working closely with Richard Perle and writing a letter to Bill Clinton calling for regime change. It's not a far leap to think he'd support any Arab client state, including Morocco, that asked for a little lenience on its own human rights issues in exchange for taking care of some of America's.

Speaking of which, this isn't related to Abrams but Sahara-Watch points it out in the post and it bears mentioning: Morocco is classified as a major non-NATO ally of the United States, which means our defense commitment to them is the same as to Japan or Australia. Shoot.

Abrams is a bad guy, but whether he's sabotaging the referendum process or not, the United States needs to answer for why it has been so reticent on the Western Sahara when there is so much to gain and practically nothing to lose. Morocco, practically an American (and French) proxy state, can't afford to lose Western support. So why don't we apply the right pressure?

Finally, I think it's compelling how much of the who-supports-Polisario guessing game that some people play revolves around famous friendships. Check out Chasli's comment on the post, and his speculation about whether John Bolton, a supposed Western Sahara supporter, could reconcile the disparate views of his friends James Baker (negotiator of the Baker II) and Abrams.

Some day, I will learn how to do jumps for long posts. Until then, though, let's hope that pro-Sahrawi congressional candidates are sent to Washington.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Mahmood's Den unblocked

In non-Western Sahara but nonetheless freedom-related news, Mahmood's Den, which was blocked last week by the Bahraini government, has been unblocked. It's good to see that democracy-loving Bahrainis won't have to finagle Anonymizer, and know that Mahmood's freedom of speech won't be curtailed anytime soon.

Treating Eritrea right

In my continuing efforts to prove college doesn't preclude pleasure reading, I’m reading Michela Wrong’s book about the Eritrean struggle for independence, I Didn’t Do It for You. I liked her last book, In the Footsteps of Mr. Kurtz, about Congolese dictator (and friend of Morocco) Joseph Mobutu, so I figured I’d like more of her writing about Africa.

This has to do with your own favorite African independence struggle because Eritrea, like East Timor, is something of a blueprint we can follow to work for Western Saharan independence.

Like the Western Sahara, Eritrea was annexed, with international collusion, by a stronger neighbor. Also like the Western Sahara, the Eritreans fought a decades-long struggle for their independence. Their paths diverged in 1991, when Eritrea won its freedom from Ethiopia.

But while Eritreans are trading Kalashnikovs for constitutions, they haven’t forgotten their friends outside Africa. Next time you get down about the Western Sahara because you’re being hassled about pre-colonial borders or general public apathy, think about how foreign supporters of Eritrea’s revolution were treated after it became independent. In this passage, Wrong calls supportive foreigners “True Believers.”

“The rebels-turned-ministers had grasped a vital truth. True Believers are worth a hundred spokesmen to guerrilla organizations and the cash-strapped governments they go on to form. Sharing the religious convert’s belligerent frustration with those who have not seen the light, quicker than the locals to detect a slight, they are tireless in defending the cause…They had remained loyal during the hard times and now reveled in the sight of their old friends, once regarded as tiresome nuisances by Western governments, holding executive power on both sides of the border.”

That’s a heartening passage, even if Eritrea’s current government is too corrupt and dictatorial to retain many “True Believers”. I’ll mention if anything else in the book has relevance to the Western Sahara.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

We're just mixed-up kids who distrust the autonomy plan

It's a heady autumn on the internet for Western Saharan independence advocates. But for those of you who haven't been following the adventures of the best Facebook group devoted to Sahrawi independence, a recap.

Facebook is a college social networking site that's comparable to Myspace, to give you a frame of reference. It's mainly used to ogle people, but you can also create political groups. A friend of mine made a group devoted to Western Saharan independence as a 2006 campaign issue and made me an administrator, and I've been delighted ever since. The group started small, but it's gained momentum and now has 98 members. Here thanks has to be given to David Dragoset, a student at University of Texas-Dallas and an excellent bowler, who invited everyone he knows and several people he doesn't. David, there's a dune with your name on it outside El-Ayoun.

Our youthful independence-agitation had only started, though, before we were hassled by our mortal enemies: pro-Moroccan occupation college students (?). They came on with what were initially some soft arguments ("Who cares about the Western Sahara?", "US citizens are in no position to criticize Morocco when their government has invaded Iraq").

Eventually, they straightened up and produced some good stuff, though. For example, can someone explain to me about Abdelaziz's Moroccan origin? It doesn't matter whether he's from El-Ayoun, Marrakech, or Mars as far the struggle's legitimacy is concerned, but I'd like to know how he ended up in charge of Polisario.

The problem with pro-Moroccan arguments is how fundamentally flimsy they are. The most powerful one, for me, is the vague claim about the Alouwite tribe, and that's only because I haven't read much about the regions pre-colonial history. The fact that they have to resort to that irredentism, though, demonstrates how weak their other claims are. I mean, some people were peddling the Sahrawi children sold to Cuba story so popular with the Moroccan-American Center for Policy. I feel like by now that's been reduced to the level of an old-wives' tale.

This post feels self-involved, but I think I just wanted to assure the older members of the independence community that people my age know and care about Sahrawi independence. If you haven't yet, join the group on Facebook. Because of recent changes, you don't have to be in college, or even high school, to get an account.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

The people at Sandblast do good work

Sandblast is an organization that tries to raise awareness of the Western Sahara through art. They work out of England, and they're running a festival from May 5th to 7th next year (make your plans now).

Sandblast has the best web design I've seen since Homeland, once again showing independence advocates are better at HTML than Morocco. The website has paintings and poetry about Sahrawi life and culture.

The photography is my favorite part of the site. Sandblast features work from both international and Sahrawi photographers, as well as group projects. One of the projects is a powerful series on Sahrawis mutilated by landmines.

By displaying Sahrawi art, Sandblast demonstrates that the Sahrawis are more than pawns in a war between Algeria and Morocco, or statistics in a UNHCR report.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

MINURSO extended for six more months

Anticlimax at the UN today. The UN Security Council has extended MINURSO's mandate for another six months, which is all right, even if it doesn't bring the conflict anywhere close to resolution. At least they reaffirmed their support for "the self-determination of the people of the Western Sahara."

There is another, more disappointing part of today's UNSC discussion. 14 of the council's members wanted to express concern about Moroccan human rights abuses in Western Sahara, but France blocked it. Once again France demonstrates its willingness to protect the Moroccan government from the international criticism it richly deserves.

Wolves in Mahmood's Den

Mahmood's Den is a Bahraini blog at the forefront of the Middle Eastern democracy movement. It's run by the eloquent, intelligent, and jolly Mahmood, whose interests include railing against high internet rates, exposing government corruption, and taking pictures of flowers.

But not all is well in Bahrain. Recently, the Bahraini government blocked Bahrainis from accessing the Den, as well as several other websites. Mahmood is crafty enough to mirror his site here, and could probably keep finding new mirrors until the Bahraini government changed.

Recently, Arab government haven't just tried to reduce hits on critical blogs. Last May, Alaa Abd El-Fatah, an Egyptian who co-writes dissident blog Manalaa was arrested in a non-violent demonstration. After 45 days in prison he was released, but his plight illustrates that the Bahraini government might go beyond 403 errors to silence Mahmood.

Show the Bahraini government you know that they're trying to curb democratic discussion in their country and sign this pro-Mahmood petition. For extra points, call the Bahraini embassy and complain to the ambassador. I did today and learned that embassy staff are experts at ignoring complaints. You might have better luck than I did: 202-342-1111.

This might seem only tangentially related to the Western Sahara, but I think it can set a precedent in Arab regimes for stopping electronic censorship. The Moroccan government blocks several pro-independence website, most notably my favorite (and I hope yours too), Each instance of solidarity with other internet activists in the Middle East and North Africa makes it more difficult for tyrants to keep their citizens uninformed.

Monday, October 30, 2006

MINURSO update

A tipster who may wish to remain anonymous hooked me up with this article, about MINURSO. Tomorrow the United Nations is considering whether or not to renew MINURSO's charter.

It seems like MINURSO might not get renewed. What would that mean? In the article, Western Sahar's ambassador in the United States, Mouloud Said, offers one prediction about what will happen when no one stands between the Polisario and Morocco.

"Polisario's Washington representative, Mouloud Said, says Polisario might be tempted to resume fighting to force the hand of Moroccan King Mohammed VI. After "six or seven months of war, he'll be more realistic," he said in an interview. "And I think that's what he needs.""

I'm not sure if MINURSO should be renewed or not. If a more empowered mission replaces it and finally enforced the 1991 referendum agreement, the Western Sahara will be better politically and might finally be independent. But if nothing replaces MINURSO, I think that represents a further degradation in the international community's commitment to the Sahrawis. In Morocco, they'd paint it as proof that the UN accepted Morocco's occupation.

Most of this blog has been a rehash of the past 30 years. It's exciting to finally be able to report new developments in the Western Sahara. I'll be checking ARSO, but if you know the UN's decision, comment.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Moroccan Embassy Post-Mortem

Every year, Georgetown students go trick-or-treating on Embassy Row. Some of the embassies participate and hand out candy, while others are flustered when you ask and hand out ubiquitous red mints.

I had a soft protest planned for the Moroccan Embassy. A commenter named Justin, as well as Saharanlistan helped me prepare what I was going to say. Originally I was going for "I refuse your blood candies, free the Western Sahara," which sounds intense and would surprise whoever was handing out Tootsie Rolls, but Saharanlistan convinced me to say in Arabic "I don't want your sweets, I want a free Western Sahara," which is better parallelism anyway.

When we got our maps of the embassies, I noticed the first problem: Morocco wasn't participating! But I had worked hard to learn this Arabic, and Morocco was close by, so I was undeterred.

Around 5, after we had shaken down the other embassies (congratulations to the Mexican Embassy for having the best presentation and candy), I went off alone to Morocco. I rang the doorbell and several people came out.

Woman: Hello!
Me: Trick-or-treat
Woman: Oh my! Go look inside, see if we have anything. We're all going home.

The thing is they were all terribly nice, which isn't news to me, as I've always recognized that the Moroccan people are nice, besides being complicit in the occupation. But it's unnerving. I would have preferred a grouchy man in a fez. Anyway, another embassy worker stepped out and waited for me to do something. I just said "Free the Western Sahara!" and walked away.

So it wasn't much. I'm sure I'll have juicier Moroccan embassy stories to tell later, but to tide you over until then, here's a picture of my Halloween outfit. This should give you an idea of how baffled the Moroccans were.

I'm Thomas Friedman, New York Times columnist extraordinaire, and Erica is a Thai person. Topical!

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Western Saharan Flag

Here's the Sahrawi flag. Except for the moon and star, it's like the Palestinian flag, which expresses nice solidarity with a fellow oppressed people.

This is basic Western Sahara stuff, but I'm posting about it because I read on a website that when the Western Sahara is free, the green and black bars will be reversed. That doesn't sound true, but if it is, that'd be fantastic. Confirm/deny?

I went to Safeway today and got some markers, which will be explained later. It'll be a delightful surprise.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Moroccan Embassy: few treats, dirty tricks

Every Halloween Georgetown students go trick-or-treating at Washington's embassies. Disappointingly, the diplomats hand out Tootsie Rolls, instead of going for traditional diplomatic gifts like graft or Mercedes. But whatever the Moroccans are giving out, I'm refusing it. That's where you come in.

I need to learn the Arabic equivalent or rough facsimile of "I refuse your candy. Free the Western Sahara." If you know Arabic, send it to me, either by posting a phonetic transliteration on my comments, sending me a drawing in MS Paint, or even making an Artpad with the Arabic. You'll get props, Morocco will look silly and stop giving out Smarties altogether, and we'll score one for a referendum.

Happy United Nations Day

It's already over, but I'd feel remiss if I didn't celebrate United Nations Day. Anyone who hasn't already become fluent in Esperanto can see that the United Nations is a flawed institution, but that doesn't keep it from doing good work.

It's one of the most reliable sources of information about the world, and the fact that the United Nations considers Western Sahara the last remaining colony is the coup de grace at the end of my one-minute Western Sahara explanation. But what's up with MINURSO?

MINURSO is an acronym in French that means United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara. It was organized in 1991, the same year as the Polisario-Morocco cease fire. It's been renewed every time its charter has come up since then. Since the referendum was originally scheduled for 1992, there've been a lot of problems.

Since there's no referendum in the foreseeable future, MINURSO forces like to monitor the cease fire, try and repatriate Sahrawis, and make sure Morocco's not up to any mischief. Many UN countries are represented in MINURSO, but mainly as military observers. MINURSO only provides 28 soldiers and 6 police, and twenty of those soldiers will leave when South Korea completes its withdrawal from MINURSO.

MINURSO right now is an unnecessary organization that was created to organize an election that, for a variety of reasons, still hasn't happened 14 years later. Some Western Saharan commentators, especially Sahara-Watch, hope MINURSO won't be renewed by the United Nations and will be replaced by an organization with more teeth. While I agree that MINURSO should have more powers, especially in curbing Moroccan abuses, I think it should remain in the territory as a visible symbol of the world's commitment to a free referendum.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Finally, Haidar reception pictures...tomorrow

I've figured out how to connect my camera to my computer (it was slightly more complicated than just plugging in the USB cable, but not by much). Anyway, I don't have any homework tonight or classes today, so I'll put together the post.

While you're waiting, why not join the Western Sahara campaign group on Facebook? My high school pal/current University of North Carolina russophile Kevin Miller was nice enough to make the group, and I've been playing with it for the past few days. So join, and tell everyone why you think the Western Sahara is Africa's last remaining colony.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Google Earth makes me sad

I mentioned before that Google Earth is nice enough to mark Western Sahara's border separate from Morocco's. Unfortunately, because it's so unbeguilingly truthful, Google Earth can't help but also break my heart.

There are a lot of good things to be said for the refugee camps in Tindouf. They're models of refugee camp organization, especially when compared to other African camps, like those in the African Great Lakes region. Except for when the Polisario obfuscates the exact number of people in the camps, UNHCR has few complaints.

But Tindouf, at least from the satellite pictures on Google Earth, looks awful. It's a blasted no man's land. Only the roads, the city, and the camps make Tindouf distinguishable from the Moon.

Carne Ross said it poignantly in an article on Slate I mentioned earlier: "Morocco is with us, so the Sahrawis can go to hell. And, frankly, hell is a pretty accurate description of those refugee camps in the Sahara."

While France and the United States continue to ignore Morocco's occupation, the Sahrawis, who almost everyone outside Morcco acknowledges are in the right, have to eke out an existence in Tindouf.

Of course, I'm just looking at satellite pictures. Maybe Tindouf's grand. Either way, the Algerian government deserves credit for helping with the refugee crisis.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

They also have 30 words for occupation

Not much of a post today on account of my Arabic mid-term tomorrow, but according to my Arabic teacher, Moroccans have something like twenty words for crazy. Seems fair, considering how ra-reeb it is that they're still in Western Sahara.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Western Sahara fan art

A pictorial representation, as made by Kate. She has a sweet heart, and deserves all the accolades in the Maghreb. Lately, she's been fiddling with MS Paint, and what you see here is apex of her talent. If the New York was a kharijite dynasty, and skill in Paint was tantamount to holiness, she would be elected imam for sure. See if you can spot Aminatou Haidar! Incidentally, I can't make the picture much bigger, so the better version's here.

I think it's sweet that she thinks the Western Saharan conflict is fought with swords and 17th century muskets, presumably left over from Spanish raiders based in the Canary Islands.

Friday, October 13, 2006

It's as good as Kerr-McGee divesting from me

Today is a momentous day in One Hump history. My mom (in Washington for Parents' Weekend) pointed out that One Hump is now first in Google searches for one hump or two (without quotes!). Couldn't have done it without all you nice folks, especially the linkers.

Now that I've conquered Google's complex algorithm, Morocco should be cake. How is everyone's activism going?

Morocco can block ARSO, but not the biggest search engine in the world

The Moroccan government doesn't let its citizens access ARSO, the best website out there for Western Sahara information. But that doesn't mean Moroccans aren't interested in their brutalized colony. Courtesy of my newspaper's blog
comes a link to Google Trends, a prototype Google toy where you can see what places look for something the most.

Morocco came up first in Western Sahara searches, followed by long-time SADR ally South Africa and Ireland. This information shows Moroccans are not blind to the Sahrawi plight, and if we could only contact them and get past the language barrier, we could accomplish great things.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Hurray for Uruguay and Kenya

In 2005, they became the most recent states to extend diplomatic to the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic. Each country that recognizes SADR brings us closer to a free Western Sahara, so if your country hasn't recognized SADR yet (it probably hasn't, if you don't live in Africa) then petition your representatives to. The State Department hasn't responded to me yet, but they haven't refused recognition, either.

How many nations now recognize SADR? I could probably do a quick Google search, but the figures vary.

Update: ARSO is nice enough to compile those figures here.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Western Sahara Day

I decided a few days ago I need to throw a big Western Sahara party, to raise awareness and make people think the Western Sahara is fun (they would come to that conclusion anyway, but this'll speed the process). Plus, I have a sheet of Western Sahara stickers I took from the Haidar reception (sorry for ripping you off, Defense Forum, but Georgetown students are easily swayed by stickers).

Here's the preliminary plan: start taking cookies from the dining hall and keeping them in Tupperware. Then, on the appointed day, go around giving cookies and stickers to people who will listen to my 1 minute Western Sahara story.

The only problem is, there are few happy days in Sahrawi history. If you have any suggestions for a good day to do this (before May, since school lets out then), kick them at me. Any other ideas for fun stuff is welcome, too.

Monday, October 09, 2006

UN report: Morocco out of Western Sahara

I'll be impressed if you read all of this, a transcript of a UN committee meeting about the Western Sahara. The meeting eventually devolves into a undergrad seminar-level discussion of decolonization, but South Africa, the newest nation to recognize the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, is nice enough to reaffirm Western Sahara's membership in the African Union.

Also, who is sending me links to The site is pro-occupation and claims that the Western Sahara is just a reclaimed part of Morocco, but it's nice to know what tune the devil's playing, so thanks for the links.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

King Hassan II trivia

Which other African dictator did King Hassan II, the Moroccan monarch who invaded Western Sahara, prop up? I'll give you a hint. His name means "the cock who won't leave the hens alone."

It's Mobutu Sese Seko, dictator of Zaire! According to Tony Hodges in Western Sahara: Roots of a Desert War, Hassan repeatedly sent Moroccan troops to fight a Zairean secessionist movement (they had experience with that sort of thing, you'll remember).

Brutal African kleptocrats: they're friends!

Of course you can have more artPad!

Western Sahara's oppressors, in Arabic. If you wait to the end you'll also get a delightful drawing of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic's flag.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Maghreb realpolitik

I found an awfully depressing article on Slate about the political chances for Western Saharan independence. The article confirms what I've thought for a while: there's little argument about the who's right in the Western Sahara debate. It's hard to find anyone whose salary isn't paid by Morocco who will say that, legally or morally, the Western Sahara should be occupied by Morocco.

But righteousness won't make Morocco fulfill its promises to hold fair elections. The article is mainly a bummer because the writer, Carne Ross, doesn't even suggest the Sahrawis will have self-determination any time soon.

Let's prove Slate wrong. I think Western Sahara achieve independence in my lifetime, and every email or letter we send to Congress or Aziz Mekouar makes self-determination more real.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

US Senators and Representatives sign letter in support of the Western Sahara

Last month Aminatou Haidar and her entourage did a Hill blitz for the Western Sahara. It culminated in this letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, signed by several senators and representatives. Here's the honor roll. Send an email their way if any of these fine people represent you in Congress, or even if they don't. I emailed Patrick Leahy and Sheila Jackson Lee.

-Senator James Inhofe R-OK (who is originally interested in the issue because one of his constituents hassled him about it for a while. He also thinks English should be the national language and brags that no one in his family is gay, but strange bedfellows and all that)

-Senator Patrick Leahy D-VT

-Senator Jim DeMint R-SC

-Senator Russ Feingold D-WI (this is awesome, and totally makes up for him never responding to emails I've sent him about the Western Sahara)

-Representative Chris Smith R-NJ

-Representative Ed Royce R-CA

-Representative Joseph Pitts R-PA (he operates this Western Sahara website)

-Representative Barbara Lee D-CA

-Representative Zach Wamp R-TN

-Representative Diane Watson D-CA

-Representative John Boozman R-AK

-Representative Julia Carson D-IN

-Representative Betty McCollum Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party (awesome!)-MN

-Representative Robin Hayes R-NC

-Representative Bennie Thompson D-MS

-Representative Sheila Jackson Lee D-TX (from Houston, even!)

These people know what's up about the Western Sahara.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Monday, September 25, 2006

Petition against arbitrary arrests of Saharawi activists

In May of last year some non-violent protests for independence were organized in Western Sahara. The Moroccans reacted harshly, and began a new campaign of repression and intimidation. They've arrested many activists, including two who are currently on a hunger strike.

The nice folks at ASVDH, which I'm told translates roughly to the Sahrawi Association of Victims of Grave Human Rights Violations Committed by the Moroccan State, have a petition against this recent assault on human rights. Go ahead and sign it. You'll feel a little better about yourself, and you'll have thumbed your nose at the occupation.

Friday, September 22, 2006

"If you're a Man who loves Moroccan Women, then you simply MUST..."

Thanks, Google ads! If someone buys this, we can overcome the self-defeating behaviors that turn off Moroccan women instantly. Fortunately, from my free trial I've learned the five "very common tell-tale signs that tell you" if Morocco is interested in you.

1. You have phosphates.
2. You might have oil offshore.
3. Its army is unruly and needs to be kept away from her capital.
4. It has just come out of a disastrous Sand War and needs to inspire patriotism.
5. It's best friends with the United States and France.

All that, gratis.

Update: fair enough point on a commenter's part. No need to be snitty to Moroccan women, who I'm sure are a nice bunch. So instead I'm snitty to the Moroccan government.

The Western Sahara: at least not as hopeless as Tibet

After spending any sort of time looking at Western Sahara websites, or hanging out with Western Sahara activists, you get kind of down on the cause. So few people in the United States know about the Moroccan occupation, and its proponents draw their resources from an entire national treasury.

But at least things in the Western Sahara aren't as hopeless as they are in Tibet. Students for a Free Tibet met last night, and I was struck by how unlikely it is that China will ever back off.
If the United States pressured Morocco enough, they would probably leave Western Sahara, but no one's messing with an ascendant China.

So take heart that your cause of choice has a better chance of succeeding than Free Tibet. Things can change rapidly, though, and I wish Tibet and its yaks the best.

This post was a downer, so a more upbeat one will come later today.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Divestment from Western Sahara

I'm involved in Georgetown's chapter of STAND, a student organization that's trying to end the genocide in Darfur. The obvious question is why Western Sahara is all but unknown in the United States while Darfur and other atrocities like the Ugandan Lord's Resistance Army attract hundreds of students and journalists to their causes? I think it's because Darfur and the LRA are immediate humanitarian crises, while the Western Sahara is a slow-moving tragedy, with no mounted janjaweed or kidnapped children.

But that's not today's post. Today's post is about divestment. In STAND, I'm in the divestment campaign, which is trying to get the District of Columbia government and DC universities to sell their stocks in companies that support the Sudanese government. It's the antithesis of sexy, but I think it's one of the most effective techniques for pressuring Sudan.

If it's so good, what is being done about Western Saharan divestment? Not much, from what I can read. Limited divestment campaigns seem to have been successful, as with TGS-Nopec or Kerr-McGee. There hasn't, however, been a wide move to divest from all companies dealing in the Western Sahara, probably because it's difficult to separate non-resource activities in Western Sahara with deals in Morocco (the American Free Trade Agreement that specifically does not include the Western Sahara notwithstanding).

I'm not sure if a divestment campaign would be a good idea, or even what if it should just apply to Western Sahara or all Morocco. For now, I think limited divestment aimed at the phosphate and oil companies that seek to steal Saharawi resources is the best tactic.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Sublime Frequencies: Radio Algeria

Still having camera issues, so the Haidar reception post isn't going to be up today. Instead, today's Western Sahara topic is Radio Algeria, a CD that rocks.

From what I heard at the reception, going to the Western Sahara really means going to the refugee camps in the west of Algeria (travelling through Morocco is problematic). More than that, though, Algeria has been intimately linked with the Western Sahara struggle since before decolonization. This makes Algerian culture relevant to independence. Plus, I needed music to listen to while I study Arabic.

Radio Algeria was made by Sublime Frequencies, a group that makes collage remixes of foreign radio stations. I enjoyed their remix of North Korean pop and martial music, Radio Pyongyang. I think Radio Algeria is even better, though.

While Radio Algeria has no song about the Western Sahara, it does feature a song called "Saharan Mosaic." It's different from the rest of the CD, which is mostly a melange of European and Arabic pop. "Saharan Mosaic" is a return to Algeria, and the regions, desert origins.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Morocco wasn't always so insistent about Greater Morocco

It's weird after reading mainly pro-Saharawi works to be confronted by the fact that a lot of ordinary Moroccans people want Western Sahara to stay with Morocco. The most obvious example of this that I can remember was reading a comment on Western Sahara Endgame by a pro-occupation writer. It was vitriolic and the commenter's anger was palpable. He was insistent that Western Sahara, as a part of Greater Morocco, wouldn't be compromised.

The Greater Morocco idea has surfaced earlier, in the Green March. Besides higher wages, Moroccans were also induced to cross over into Western Sahara by the idea of achieving Greater Morocco, which they believe to be Morocco in its pre-colonial size.

But Western Sahara's not the only part of Greater Morocco that wouldn't go along with the nationalists in Rabat. From 1960 to 1969, Morocco claimed a portion of its sometimes-ally Mauritania for their own Manifest Destiny. That Morocco dropped its claim on Mauritania and ended up working with them to divide Saharawi land demonstrates Greater Morocco's flimsy real-world grounding.

That info came from Tony Hodges's Western Sahara: The Roots of a Desert War, which I'm reading.

As for things that don't have anything to do with Mauritania: if you're reading this because you got one of my homemade business cards at the reception, awesome! Lest people think I'm too much of a bigshot now to give shout-outs to my new friends, I'm going to prove them wrong. Hey, Terry T. Campo, energy lawyer. I also respect the Western Sahara love shown by Mikael Simble and Lindsey M. Plumley.