Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Speak Arabic and Spanish? Come to the Western Sahara.

Today I'm starting Arabic. We'll see how that goes, but it's a good chance to talk about the Western Sahara's unique combination of Spanish and Arabic, the only country I know of that speaks both as its major languages.

So that's a good reason to like the Western Sahara, and support its independence. In America, Spanish is the most popular language taught in middle and high schools (I have no figures on that, so eat it, French). Arabic's fun too. If the Western Sahara is independent, an enormous amount of Americans would have linguistic access to it.

Pictures on the blog have been slow due to school stuff, but tomorrow my classes are over by 11, so I'm thinking a Western Sahara/dorm life montage.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Even Google Earth knows the Western Sahara deserves independence

This is a new feature I'm launching, where I give shout-outs to people and places who recognize the Saharawi right to self-determination. You might think, "But I thought that was what the Kerr-McGee Golden Camel was for." Fair enough. But this is for little acknowledgments of the Western Sahara, not cutting oil exploration deals.

Google Earth is today's winner. I took a seminar this week called How Google Earth Explains Modern Terrorism and Ancient Warfare. The lecturer used the program to look at land routes between Persia and Greece, and how they related to regional troubles.

There wasn't anything on the Western Sahara, but Google Earth's political boundaries do separate Morocco from Western Sahara. Good work, Google Earth.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Religious freedom in Morocco is more like freedom for one religion

I've mentioned before that the National Clergy Council is trying to seduce the evangelical community away from supporting the Saharawis. Part of their pitch is Morocco's openness to Christianity. On my flight to Washington, I got anecdotal proof that Morocco may not value diversity as much as they say they do.

At the NCC luncheon, a man asked if it was possible to open a bible college in Morocco. Rob Schenck, head of the NCC and creepy dude about town, said it was, you just had to be careful not to offend people with proselytizing. This satisfied the crowd of religious leaders.

On my flight to Washington, I sat next to a girl from Texas A&M who studied abroad in Spain. While I was telling her about the Western Sahara, she shared her own story about Morocco. Some of her friends, Texas evangelicals, visited Morocco from Spain. On several occasions bibles were seized and thrown away by Moroccan authorities at customs. This presents a different picture than that the NCC paints of Morocco.

Now, I understand many countries censor religious paraphernalia. And an anecdote from an anonymous Aggie isn't incontrovertible proof. I'm just saying that if you want to start a bible school in Morocco, I hope you have parts memorized.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

POLISARIO--What the acronym means

I've known about the Polisario Front since I learned about the Western Sahara. They're the sometimes militant, sometimes political group that represents the Saharawis. I just thought the name was Spanish or a transliteration of an Arabic word, but actually, POLISARIO is an acronym.

At the Speak for Sahrawis luncheon (someday, that post will be finished) I sat next to Bachir Edkhil, who claimed to have come up with the acronym. Before Morocco and Mauritania invaded, Western Sahara was divided into two portions, Saguía el Hamra and Rio de Oro.

Combining the first few words of the territories, as well as popular and liberation, POLISARIO (POpular de LIberacion de SAguia el hamra y RIo de Oro)

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Monty Python does Western Sahara

In 2001, Michael Palin, formerly of Monty Python's Flying Circus, filmed a documentary about his attempt to cross the Sahara desert. Then he wrote a book about it. Unfortunately for him, it was then immediately buried under the identically-titled Matthew McConaughey vehicle in Amazon searches. Fortunately for us, in his trip Palin visited Tindouf.

Kate gave me this book for my birthday, but I only got it back from her today. Palin drops all kinds of fun Western Sahara info (including a positive reference to the Cuba university program). For example, according to him 90% of people in Tindouf are literate, which much better than in neighboring countries.

Meanwhile, I'm at Georgetown, and craziness has ensued.

Thursday, August 24, 2006


Today I'm leave for my freshman year of college, at Georgetown University in Washington DC. I'm in the School of Foreign Service, so there's going to be all kinds of Africa, Middle East, and Western Sahara semester. For now, I'm taking Arabic and reading the Book of Job.

Going to college shouldn't have a long-term affect on updates. After all, what's wireless internet for besides blogging? But in the short term (one to two weeks from now), I'm going to be awfully busy setting stuff up. Let's see if I can keep with one post a day.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Writing your representatives about the Western Sahara

I hope that by now you recognize the need for something to be done about the Western Sahara. As the citizens of the most powerful nation in the world, as well as Morocco's greatest ally, we're in a unique position to end the invasion and help the Saharawis achieve self-determination.

The easiest way to help is to write an e-mail to your representative or senator. If you know who your representative and senator is, great--just google their names and go to their contact pages.

But what if you don't? You'll need your zip code, including the 4 digit extension (mine's 1509!). I think knowing the last 4 digits of your zip code is a predictor of future success.

To find your man or woman in the House, go here. The Senate doesn't like things that easy, so you have to go here and CTRL-F your state.

From there, click on their contact page and write them a short, polite, passionate letter about the Western Sahara. Issues you can talk about are:
  • US recognition of Polisario
  • Sanctions against Morocco until a referendum is held
  • Witholding arms shipments to Morocco
If you've got a taste for the stuff, and are disappointed that the United States's lack of proportional representation leaves you with fewer people to contact, you can always hassle other peoples' senators and representatives. Possible candidates for emails include the members of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, especially chairmen Richard Lugar and Joe Biden.

Of course, letters alone won't put much pressure on Morocco. But by lobbying your congressmen, you'll lay the groundwork for larger campaigns.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

The Green March

Both the Houston Agreement and the later Baker II plan to hold a referendum in Western Sahara were derailed primarily by the issue of voter eligibility. Should only people living in the territory be allowed to vote, or could registration extend to Saharawis in camps or abroad? Bigger than that issue, though, was whether Moroccan living in Western Sahara should be allowed to vote.

It seems fair to let them vote, considering that for the most part they're as disconnected from the political situation as the average Saharawi. Besides, by now inter-marriage has blurred the differences between Moroccans and Saharawis. In another colonial situation, it wouldn't be a problem to let the colonists vote, as they'd be vastly outnumbered by the native population. In the Western Sahara, though, there has always been a large contingent of Moroccans, because of the Green March.

When it was clear that Western Sahara was going to be independent, and the International Court of Justice issued its ruling, Morocco gathered 300,000 civilians on the border, luring many with higher wages than they received in Morocco. Before independence was granted, they marched across the border, ignoring both the International Court of Justice ruling and the international community at large.

The 300,000 Moroccans eventually withdrew, having pressured Spain into the Tripartite Agreement, which divided Western Sahara between Mauritania and Morocco without giving the Saharawis a position in the negotiation. Still, many of the marchers returned later for the higher wages, further muddling the issue of who the Western Sahara belongs to.

As Western Sahara Online points out, the Green March was a violation of Article 49 of the Geneva Convention, which specifically prohibits an occupier from moving civilians into the occupied territory.

Monday, August 21, 2006

International Court of Justice ruling on Western Sahara

Morocco invaded Western Sahara on the pretext that it was part of "Greater Morocco". Moroccans are fond of citing the International Court of Justice ruling in 1975, saying it found the Saharawis have a definable link to the Sultan of Morocco. But what does the ruling really say?

For one thing, it found that the entire Western Sahara had no historical allegiance to Morocco, Mauritania, or any other country: "was unanimously of opinion that Western Sahara at the time of colonization by Spain was not a territory belonging to no one (terra nullius)." Kate pointed out that this the double negative makes the meaning ambiguous, but my best guess is that it's a translation error.

A portion of the report found that both Morocco and Mauritania had historical ties to certain nomadic groups in Western Sahara: "[Taxes and other forms of fealty to Morocco] do, however, provide indications that a legal tie of allegiance existed at the relevant period between the Sultan and some, but only some, of the nomadic peoples of the territory." Morocco cited this portion of the ruling as justification for their occupation. The rest of their claim to the territory involves treaties with Western powers involving shipwrecked people on the Western Saharan coastline.

Shipwrecks aside, the International Court of Justice makes its opinion on Moroccan claims clear: "The Court's conclusion is that the materials and information presented to it do not establish any tie of territorial sovereignty between the territory of Western Sahara and the Kingdom of Morocco." Basically, while they shared political and economic ties, the ICJ found that a Koran tax and a few caravans do not a country make.

The next time a Greater Morocco supporter brings up the ICJ ruling, you know what's up.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Shout-outs, teasers, no more weekend posts

It seems as though all the most professional blogs (Fluxblog, Stereogum, even Houstonist) take the weekend off. Since I can't aspire to their work ethic, I figure I'll keep you in the dark about the Western Sahara on Saturday and Sunday.

Coming up next week, we have posts on the Sahrawi Press Service, my emails with the National Clergy Council, and the long-awaited, long-delayed luncheon post.

Thanks to Kate's parents for listening to the Western Sahara story. I need to learn more about the Moroccan napalm attacks on refugee camps, because that always outrages people, and for good reason.

Recently, I was emailed by Mohamed Brahim, a Florida Saharawi who runs Sahara-Panorama. A lot of his site is in Arabic, but he does have a Saharawi pride video in the most recent post. There's even a heart-wipe.

Next week's big question: can I get someone in the National Clergy Council to defend the slavery allegation with facts?

Friday, August 18, 2006

Western Sahara organization acronyms

Let's say you want to make an organization that lobbies and builds awareness for Western Saharan independence. You'll need a slick acronym, and you think you've got one. But let's also say that Association de soutien à un référendum libre et régulier au Sahara Occidental is taken. Not so prepared now, huh?

One of the greatest barriers to Western Saharan independence--perhaps the barrier--is that the beginning letters of Western and Sahara don't sound well put together. They're all right when at the end of an acronym (CAWS, PAWS), but at the front it comes out muddled. No congressmen wants to think about the demands of Wuh-Suh.

You'll also need vowels so the name can be pronounced. It's not a problem for the AFL-CIO, but for us, we need to make sure our organization has fewer syllables in its acronym than members on the dues list.

Fortunately, I've been thinking about it for a while, and I've come up with several names that circumvent these obstacles.
  • SNARL (Saharan-North American Referendum League)--This is cute, but sounds militant. I'll leave this for some anti-globalization teamsters.
  • CAWS (Citizens for the Advancement of the Western Sahara)--This one comes from former Houstonian, current North Carolinian, and forever Western Sahara fan Kevin Miller. Unfortunately, it's vague, and sounds like we're trying to get ahead at the expense of others. Better luck next time, Kevin.
  • AWSI (Association for Western Saharan Independence)--I came up with this while I was shaving today. I'm crazy about it, it reminds everyone of a fun-loving, tanned people, and it rolls off the tongue. Plus, it avoids being confused with any foolishness about autonomy.
I say AWSI.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Western Sahara Independence Day

This summer I worked at the Pakistani Consulate. Last Monday, August 14th, was Pakistan's Independence Day. We had a wild party, all Pakistani businessmen, Pakistani office workers, me, and the consul's driver, who claims to have been at the scene of the Tupac and Biggie murders.

After everyone meeted and greeted, we gathered in the reception room. People gave speeches, and as each one finished there was a call and response of Pakistan! Zindabad! (long live Pakistan).

It was great, seeing Pakistanis celebrate their country, only 60 years old. I'm looking forward to Western Sahara independence day, although I can't decide whether it'll be when a referendum is finally held or when power is transferred from Morocco.

Nothing too exciting because I was out with Kate today. I'm working on the luncheon post, though, and we'll see when that's up. Right now I'm listening to the new Decemberists album (One Hump or Two? keeps you updated on album leaks as well as Saharawi independence!) and it's decidely eh.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

US inactivity on Western Sahara

The United States government has been quiet lately about the Western Sahara--since the Baker Accords, there have been no major initiatives towards independence. outlines the reasons, and they're exactly what you would think--Morocco has been an ally in the War on Terror, and the United States sees no reason to stir up trouble between two of its allies, Algeria and Morocco.

The North-Africa post takes a strictly realist approach to US foreign policy: if the situation isn't damaging the United States, better not try and fix it. I think this is short-sighted, though, and you don't have to subscribe to the Wilsonian/ideological school to agree.

The United States suffers from a credibility gap, both in the MENA (Middle East-North Africa) countries and the rest of the world. We say we support democracy, while our immediate strategic objectives require supporting dictators and occupiers. Supporting Saharawi self-determination by threatening Morocco with sanctions or aid cut-offs until it holds a fair independence referendum would win admirers throughout the world, and establish an African nation that owes its very existence to the United States.

That might be too realpolitik for you. But in that case, you probably support Saharawi independence already.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Template updates

I'm trying out new templates, at Kate's suggestion (expert blogger that she is). The problem was the first template I was using didn't support horizontal pictures well. Neither does the one I've settled on for now, but all the templates I could find that were good with horizontal pictures were also ugly.

Help would be appreciated, especially when you consider that the time I spend clicking Republish Blog is time I could be spending writing blogs or playing Battlefield Pirates.

Update: Aw, Kate linked to me. What a sweet girl. Rumor has it that all the cool people are telling her to start regular updates again.

But that's not the only news today! Below, I've started an important award.

The Kerr-McGee Golden Camel

If there's one thing I learned from cable news, it's that people love regularly-given joke awards. Whether it's Bill O'Reilly's Most Ridiculous Item of the Day, or Keith Olbermann's Worst Person in the World, viewers eat it up. Why should Western Sahara fans be any different?

I'm starting the Kerr-McGee Golden Camel, awarded around biweekly for excellence in respecting the Saharawi right to self-determination. The first recipient is also the award's namesake: now-defunct oil company Kerr-McGee Corporation.

In September 2001, Kerr-McGee obtained a permit from Morocco to test for oil and gas in an offshore region of "south Morocco" (the Western Sahara). This May, however, Kerr-McGee withdrew from the Western Sahara after an international pressure campaign, saying they would focus on proven hydrocarbon fields.

Whether or not the pro-Saharawi activists were responsible for the withdrawal, Kerr-McGee did the right thing by leaving the Western Sahara. By refusing to renew the exploration agreement, they stopped legitimizing the occupation, and made discovery of oil under the occupation more difficult. If phosphate discoveries were responsible for the invasion, it's difficult to imagine what Morocco would do if a sizable oil or gas deposit was found in Western Sahara.

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A Kerr-McGee representative accepts the inaugural golden camel.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Aminatou Haidar: a great pick for Polisario president

Sahara-Watch had a great post two months ago about a clever move the Polisario Front (the representative body of the Saharawis, similar to Palestine's PLO) could make--electing a human rights advocate named Aminatou Haidar to their presidency. Sahara-Watch expounds on the benefits of electing Haidar and the risks Polisario faces if it doesn't, but I'll paraphrase the benefits Haidar would bring to the PF.
  • She's a woman, so her election would be an example of progressive thinking in the Arab and Muslim world.
  • She's a human rights activist.
  • She'd probably be imprisoned by Morocco after her election, hopefully making her an international cause celebre.
I also think she'd bring a soft touch that'd be welcomed by diplomats used to dealing with desert guerrillas. Unfortunately, the point is moot for now, as Polisario called off the elections in July.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

The Houston Agreements, 9 years later

Yesterday, my girlfriend Kate and I went to Rice University's James Baker Institute for Public Policy to see where the Houston Agreement was negotiated and signed. In 1997, UN representative and former Secretary of State James Baker sat down with Morocco and Polisario to try and clarify the Settlement Plan made in 1991. According to the Agreement, a referendum would be held in 1998. Of course, that never happened, but that didn't stop us from taking pictures.

By the way, it turns out Kate and I were about a block away from the Baker Institute. We figured the Institute was in Baker College, but apparently it's in Baker Hall. Oh well. Consider this post an homage to James Baker, committed Western Sahara negotiator that he is.

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I was so excited to stand in the grass where Mohammed Abdelaziz and King Hassan II napped with their entourages between negotiations.

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This picture demonstrates not only Rice's safety facilities, but also the brewing humanitarian emergency in the Western Sahara.

The pictures of Kate are awfully cute, too, but she worries about Moroccan reprisals. I'm fine with them not being up here, as that suggests maybe I'm making her up, which adds an element of personal drama to the blog.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

How a fishing agreement matters in the Sahara

The more I learn about the Western Sahara conflict, the clearer it becomes that it's going to be won in little issues--trade pacts, diplomatic recognition of Polisario, drilling agreements and the like are easier to affect than the ultimate goals of a pro-independence organization: sanctions against Morocco and an aggressive return to the referendum process.

Economic agreements with Morocco are especially important because they can reinforce the Moroccan occupation. If a country or company makes a deal with Morocco that includes Saharawi territory, they're recognizing Morocco's right to administer the land and its resources. Plus, the signatories to these agreements become allies against the Saharawi struggle for independence, as they'd have to renegotiate their deals with Western Sahara became independent.

That's why it's sad to see that in mid-May of this year, the European Union made a deal with Morocco that allows European ships to fish off the coast of the Western Sahara. The EU paid 114 million euros for fishing access, and it's hard to imagine much of that will get to the Saharawis. Just another example of Moroccan plunder of Western Sahara's natural resources.

Fish Elsewhere! was an anti-fishing campaign put on by War on Want, a British anti-poverty organization. While the campaign failed, it's got more information about the treaty and is considering legal action to stop it.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Post-MACP luncheon update

I just got back from the luncheon on alleged Saharawi slavery in Cuba. It was a good time, and although I didn't believe much of it, it was nice to meet people who know about the region.

Bigger recap tomorrow, including pictures of Christian evangelicals and Saharawis. For now, why not enjoy my rumination on what we should call the oppressed people of the Western Sahara?

Saharawi v. Sahrawi: Round 1

This needs to be settled before we can go further. The transliteration between Arabic and English/Spanish/French means there's dispute over what to call Western Sahara's displaced people. Will it be Saharawi or Sahrawi? ARSO and Western Sahara Online say Saharawi, as does the Christian news wire article about today's conference. I think Wikipedia is where I got the Sahrawi idea.

What Saharawi has going for it
  • Incorporates "Sahara"
  • Seems to be commonly accepted
  • Is easier to say, avoiding an awkward transition between two consonants
  • The National Council of Clergy uses Sahrawi, making it less cool.
But Sahrawi isn't out yet
  • Sounds more exotic
  • Used by Wikipedia
  • Seems like less of an Anglicization than Saharawi
While Sahrawi made a good case, I think I'll go with Saharawi.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

One reason so few people in America know about the Western Sahara is because there exists no organization that I know of devoted to a fair referendum on independence among the Saharawis.

When I started looking into the region, the nice folks at ARSO (Association de soutien à un référendum libre et régulier au Sahara Occidental--I don't speak French either) referred me to the US-Western Sahara Foundation. I emailed both of the heads, but they never responded, and I never found a website.

Long story short: someone should start a US Western Sahara organization. As the most powerful nation in the world, and Morocco's best Western ally, along with France, the United States has an obligation to look into Morocco's alleged abuses against the Sahrawis. The only way for that to happen is if concerned citizens work together and lobby Congress and the State Department.

Moroccan luncheon on child slavery

Tomorrow at the Houston Marriott there's going to be a free luncheon about the Western Sahara. It's aimed at evangelical Christians (who apparently are involved in Saharawi aid). I'll be going for the "deluxe" lunch.

It's a pro-Morocco presentation. According to the nice person at Sahara Watch the Moroccans have been trying for a while to reduce Saharawi support in the evangelical community. Tomorrow's issue combines an emotional touchstone, children, with America's favorite boogey-man, Cuba. The organizers claim thousands of children have been abducted from refugee camps like Tindouf and transported to Cuba, for child prostitution and soldiering.

I'd read about the child abduction issue before, so I wanted to check it out once and for all. Since Morocco began occupying Western Sahara, Saharawi children have voluntarily gone to university in Cuba, Algeria, and other countries because there are no universities in the camps.

The UN High Commission on Refugees produced two reports on the abduction charges, and found that the children were protected and treated well. In 2005, 143 students were studying in Cuba. After they graduate, the program would be shuttered.

My quick and dirty child abduction info came from here. I hope you're down with using Wikipedia as a source, because there's going to be a lot of it.

Reaction and possible pictures from the presentation tomorrow.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Unraveling 30 years of occupation

Since 1975, the Western Sahara has been under Moroccan control. I'll post about what the Western Sahara is, who lives there, why Morocco wants to occupy it, and the conditions of the occupation later (partly because I'm not entirely sure about the answers myself).

This blog is about me finding those answers, and seeing if anything can or should be done to end the occupation. I hope you'll join me and learn about a 30 year-old conflict that is still little known in America.