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