Friday, December 28, 2007

Together Foundation gets a forum

I like to keep up with the Together Foundation, to make sure they're not cooking up any more questionable slavery accusations. That's why it was exciting to discover the Together Foundation now has a forum!

There's only one board so far, Western Sahara, moderated by GT (no doubt Russian import export and Together Foundation member Gregory Temkin). It doesn't work right now, but check out the URL on the Western Sahara forum:


Old habits etc.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

MINURSO allegedly defacing Western Saharan archaelogical sites

Between not organizing a referendum and not monitoring Moroccan human rights abuses, personnel in the United Nation's Western Sahara contingent MINURSO have to find something to keep them occupied. According to Nick Brooks, that means defacing valuable archaelogical sites in Western Sahara.

Brooks, a climate change researcher and the director of the Western Sahara Project, was visiting archaeological sites in the liberated portion of Western Sahara when he saw graffiti MINURSO personnel spraypainted over cave drawings. The cave drawings are faint, so I used my Perez Hilton MS Paint skills and circled one in red below. Brooks has contacted MINURSO, UNESCO, and the UN Misconduct office, so this is a story to follow.
I take a more positive view of MINURSO than a lot of people I've talked to, but that can probably be blamed on international politics fan boyishness. This vandalism and the recent Polisario Congress makes me wonder if MINURSO is helping or hurting the independence movement. MINURSO isn't restraining or even reporting on Moroccan human rights abuses, and I think its presence only prolongs the stalemate. On the other hand, it organizes visits for families divided by the war.

For more pictures of graffiti on archaelogical sites, visit the Flickr album.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Polisario Kongress Kraziness

It's Polisario Congress time again, and that means another anointing of President Mohammed Abdelaziz. Maybe next Congress there'll be some competition, but until then, let's get our degrees in the Sahrawi version of Kremlinology (Tifaritology?).

The Polisario National Secretariat opened the Congress with a report on the condition of Western Sahara. Judging from the picture, Abdelaziz himself delivered this enormous speech to a captive audience. The perks of being a 30-year president.

Anyway, the big man did give a shout-out to those of us who weren't born in Western Sahara but started working on it as fast as we could:
On such a great occasion, we would like to express our most sincere thanks and profound gratitude to all our friends and allies around the world including governments, political parties, civil society organizations and members of the international network of solidarity in Europe, Latin America, Asia, Australia and the United States for their standing by the just casue of our people in the most difficult of times, and for their attachment to their noble positions.

Bomb attacks in Algeria

Bombings killed 67 people in Algiers Tuesday, including 11 United Nations Development Program employees. As you might expect, I'm sad for the people killed and hope Algeria gets the people responsible.

If something this senseless can still teach a lesson for Western Sahara, it's that turning to attacks on civilians will only injure the cause of Sahrawi independence. There's been the usual rumblings lately from Polisario that it is considering a return to war, and that's their right (even though I think it will be ineffective at best).

But whoever wins the Congress this week (I hear it's a real horse race) and the Sahrawis under the occupation should eschew attacks on civilians. I don't know what the people who made the bombs in Algiers want, but I know they killed innocent people and that makes me predisposed against them. The same thing will happen to the Sahrawi agenda if a bomb goes off in El Aiaun.

Via Western Sahara Info

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Malainin Lakhal on Sahrawi journalism and resistance, being tough as nails

Malainin Lakhal gave a talk about Western Sahara and his work as a human rights activist in July to an Australian media group, and it's been republished by the Rhodes Journalism Review. Lakhal's the head of the Union of Sahrawi Journalists and Writers (UPES).

My favorite part was finding out more about Lakhal's escape from Western Sahara. It was already known that he crossed the Berm to escape Moroccan authorities, but this is the first time I find out he went to Nouadhibou (my new favorite Mauritanian town, more on that later) to meet up with SADR.

Lakhal was fleeing Morocco's violent treatment of youth activists. He says in 1987, Morocco deported 10,000 Sahrawis from Western Sahara and made them work in Moroccan cities. I probably read that in Endgame in Western Sahara, but it's hit me in the article how insane and brutal that was of Morocco.

At the end of the article, there's a section called "Human rights activist or journalist?" Unfortunately, Lakhal sorta dodges the issue about whether he is really a journalist or an activist who writes a lot. It's something a ton of people involved in the scene need to deal with-- Lakhal, Toby "Turtle" Shelley, and myself, to start with. But then, all the conventions of journalism are getting reimagined whatever we do about Western Sahara, so I'm not too concerned.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Western Sahara Visa Card--Don't Leave Home Without It

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket
la Caixa, a Spanish bank, has released a SADR-themed credit card. I guess Western Sahara is so popular in Spain it's considered a good business move to associate yourself with it. la Caixa does a lot of charity work, according to Wikipedia, which makes me wonder if a certain amount of money on the card goes to Sahrawi groups.

It hit me on the head lately that the Western Sahara scene in Spain is huge, but I wasn't in contact with any Spaniards. That's been solved, thanks to the indispensable people at ARSO. With luck, soon I'll be telling you about their exploits and their tapas recipes.

Via the Norwegian Support Commitee

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Children of the Clouds released on Youtube

Filmmaker Carlos Gonzalez has put a new version of his Western Sahara documentary, Children of the Clouds, on Youtube. Gonzalez snuck into Western Sahara and got dynamite images of abuse until Morocco kicked him out and accused him of being a spy. If Morocco's so afraid of this guy that they had to accuse him of being a Venezuelan spy, you know he's good.

When I mentioned Children last time I reserved judgment on its veracity since only one guy was interviewed, but now it's stuffed with interviews with activists (a feast of Amidanes!), demonstration footage, and bruises from Moroccan torture. Here's Part 1. Part 2's here.

  • One student says Moroccan secret agents infiltrate schools, even using teenagers to spy. It's a Moroccan 21 Jump Street!
  • Brahim Numria says the reason Morocco is so brutal to teenagers and even young children is that it doesn't want them to "grow in the struggle" like Palestinians. That sort of makes sense, but surely Morocco knows beating people up for what they believe doesn't dissuade them from believing it.
  • I'm fond of Brahim Amidane, possibly a cousin of the other Amidanes. He and his friends shout "No alternative but self-determination" at Moroccan cops. I wish I had known that much international law when I was his age.
We should all be glad that Carlos decided to release this on the internet. I've been dabbling in Swaziland activism lately, and we're having a difficult time getting a new movie, Without the King, about repression in Swaziland. It hasn't been released yet, but it's ready to go. The filmmaker's being a jerk about it and wouldn't even send a copy for a film festival. All the more bully for Carlos!

Monday, November 26, 2007

Help some London design students help Western Sahara

Sandblast in the United Kingdom does great stuff for Sahrawis. Now my Google Alert tells me they've teamed up with some 3D design students at London Metropolitan University. The students are trying to make a project about Western Sahara with Sandblast's help.

They also ask for help and conversation with Sahrawis and other people interested in the project. Since many of my readers know everything about Western Sahara that there is to know, I'm sure some of you could help them out.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Today's the 32nd anniversary of the Green March

Lame. I learned that from a Time article about Spanish-Moroccan tensions, via of commenter and Western Sahara associate Justin Knapp. Harassed Moroccan journalist Ali Lmrabet is quoted as thinking the Ceuta and Melilla saber-rattling isn't that big of a deal:
Still, Lmrabet is skeptical about the brouhaha. "This isn't about foreign policy — it's for domestic consumption," he says. In his view, the Moroccan government gains something from the ongoing tension with its neighbor across the Mediterranean. In September parliamentary elections, only 37% of eligible voters went to the polls. The low turnout — the worst in the country's history — was widely interpreted as a sign that voters felt irrelevant to the political process. "It's not unusual for Morocco to whip up nationalist sentiment when it wants to create a distraction from the country's real problems, says analyst Amirah-Fernández. "But it's not a good sign."

Mrs. Abdelaziz does London

Britishers soon will have more than Sandblast telling them about the Western Sahara's struggle for independence. Khadidja Hamdi, Mohammed Abdelaziz's wife, is going to two high schools in London to talk with students about Western Sahara and its problems.

After she goes back to the camps, I propose having Sidi Omar hit all the other schools. He's proven that he can proselytize for Sahrawis like no one else.

Any mention of Western Sahara's first lady would be remiss if it didn't also say her husband, Mohammed Abdelaziz is still in power 31 years and several tortured Moroccan POWs later. Polisario Congress anyone?

As long as England on the table, Sandblast deserves another plug. Yesterday was the last day of their 2007 Sandblast Festival, and it had a bunch of interesting events, from Sidi Omar talking about self-determination and a tea ceremony to a workshop on making toys from recycled goods with your kids. Sandblast has also done club nights with Sahrawi music this year.

Their work is something to be applauded and admired. Really, the US Western Sahara scene is so weak compared to Spain, Scandinavia, and now the United Kingdom.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Morocco and Spain are no longer amigos over Ceuta and Melilla, genocide

Only a few months ago Spain was staying neutral on the Moroccan autonomy proposal, even though it's the European country with the most responsibility for Western Sahara's predicament. Now Morocco and Spain are fighting over not one but two things. I think this feud spells only good things for Western Sahara.

The first dispute is over the Spanish king and queen's visit to Ceuta and Melilla, Spanish enclaves on the northern coast of Morocco. Morocco's wanted them for some time, as it follows the sensible "fine for me, not for thee" policies in regard to colonies. In a fit over the visit, a clear assertion of Spanish sovereignty, Morocco recalled its ambassador. What is up with ambassadors being used as diplomatic yo-yos when people finally call their governments to task?

The other fight, Western Sahara related and exciting, is Spanish judge Baltazar Garzon's decision to investigate possible crimes, including genocide, committed by Moroccans against Sahrawis after the 1975 invasion.

Garzon's role in pursuing another Auguste Pinochet gives him some international crime-fighting credibility. With luck this'll draw attention to Western Sahara and make the Moroccan government look bad at the same time. Western Sahara Info has more. So does pro-integration Sahrawi Chagaf Aziza, who curiously doesn't seem to connect the investigation with Morocco's abuse of Sahrawis today.

The Maghreb Arab Presse, the Moroccan government's organ, isn't pleased about any of this. The top three stories right now are about Ceuta and Melilla and the Garzon inquest. Neither is Moroccan blog The View from Fez.

Now that Morocco and Spain have fallen out of love with each other, what do you think will happen to the Humvees and riot gear? I hope for the Moroccan army's sake that they got a receipt.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Georgetown is hosting a conference on Morocco

Here's a list of speakers and topics. None of them say they're about Western Sahara, but I'd like to know if you recognize any of the names and think they'd be worth seeing. I don't want to Columbia them, but tough questions never hurt anyone.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Updates a go-go

Friday, October 26, 2007

Celebrate Koalagate V-Day

Our long international nightmare is over. A week ago today the Together Foundation started to collapse when two members of its Board of Advisors disappeared from their website. Later that day, they were all gone. Now Together Foundation says it's not even sure there is slavery.

I talked to Philippe Elghouayel of the Together Foundation (and formerly the United Nations Development Program and MINURSO) Wednesday and asked him what happened to his board of advisors: "You scared them off." He claims a certain director of the Maghreb Center knew he was on the board of advisors and anything he says to the contrary is just blustering.

Also interesting, Philippe said the Together Foundation is working with Polisario to go to the camps and check out slavery claims because even the Together Foundation now doubts Fallshaw and Ayala. From the website:
Together Foundation had a meeting with a senior official of Frente Polisario in New York. It was a constructive discussion which concluded in the agreement in principle that the Foundation will put together a media team to visit the Tindouf refugee camps. Polisario will host the team and let them explore the camps freely and come up with their independent findings and conclusions. Watch for furnther information on the developments.
If you're interested, shoot him a line and maybe they'll save you a space in a Jeep.

High-fives for those who contacted the Together Foundation and Philippe and uncovered information. Especial love to Alle at Western Sahara Info for finding the MINURSO connection, Chasli for numerous scoops including the original board of advisors emigration, the Australian Western Sahara Association for slavery information, Khatry at Western Sahara Online for finding stuff, and the whole mess of you crazy kids who like to find stuff out about Western Sahara (and also destroy scurrilous foundations). Next stop: MACP!

This still leaves the more important issue of slavery in the camps unresolved. I've been in touch with Violeta Ayala and I'll let you know how that develops. If you find anything out or find particularly damning evidence either way, share it in the comments or by email!

Speaking of AWSA, they sent me this koala picture. They're one organization nice enough to keep me well-stocked with pleasing images of sweet animals. Step your game up, ARSO!

ICANN board denies SADR .eh domain

In a meeting last week the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) denied the competing requests from Morocco and the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic for the last country-level domain, .eh. The issue had been brewing for a little while and it seems ICANN has opted to keep things that way.

But supporting the status quo doesn't mean remaining neutral, as anyone who knows why France vetoes adding a human rights component to MINURSO knows. Here's what the ICANN minutes say:
ICANN does not see a way to approve the .EH ccTLD delegation to one of the applicants without violating its long-standing policy unless the contesting parties are able to reach an agreement, either through their current negotiations, or through some alternate means.
Judging by how negotiations are going (not at all), there's not going to be an agreement soon. Organizations like ICANN need to start acting like Western Sahara is an independent country so it someday can be. Getting its own domain name wouldn't mean drastic changes for Western Sahara, but it would mean more people are aware of the Moroccan occupation. Surely that's worth a break in ICANN protocol?

Commiserate at

Monday, October 22, 2007

The plot thickens: Philippe Elghouayel was in MINURSO

I keep wanting to write about other Western Sahara topics, but how can I resist when the Together Foundation and its president, Philippe Elghouayel, are so wacky? To recount, Philippe left the UN Development Program for Russia under a cloud of suspicion.

Now, Alle of Western Sahara Info points out that on this Russian list of UN personnel (run it through Babelfish to check his work) Philippe is listed as MINURSO's Chief of Legation. My bureaucratese isn't what it used to be, but doesn't that mean that he was the head of MINURSO?

Was he wooed like other diplomats previously involved in Western Sahara (Robert Holley, Frederick Vreeland, Ed Gabriel) into signing on with Morocco? If so, it seems like someone wooed him pretty fast: Philippe was only briefly in MINURSO.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

A change is going to come...

Hello Western Sahara aficionados! Three things before I go to bed:
  1. A certain Maghreb Center director has convinced me to wipe his name of the blog in relation to the Together Foundation. I'm all for unscrupulous blogging, but he's made a good point both for saving his name and the MC's. Therefore, I'll be revising my remarks about the Maghreb Center because they strike me as a decent group--they said Mouloud Said, SADR's ambassador the US, could give a lecture sponsored by them. If they cross Western Sahara in the future, all bets are off, but for now I'll be revising my posts and deleting posts mentioning his name, only to repost them edited. I'm sorry for that most of all because I hate any sort of editing of other people's opinions on blogs, but I did agonize for a while about this.
  2. There may be something even more delicious coming about Philippe (in case you haven't realized yet, I call him Philippe because I can't remember how to spell his last name).
  3. SADR seems to have a good plan to counteract these claims, which still may be true. We'll see!

Friday, October 19, 2007

Another one bites the dust--Together Foundation now has no advisors

The last advisor on the Together Foundation's board of advisors (hint: he's tight with the Maghreb Center) claims he's never been on it, in an e-mail and phone call to yours truly. He's off the list on their website as well.

Together Foundation house of cards: falling down.

Redacted--because I'm a nice guy

A certain Maghreb Center director who claims he never worked for the Together Foundation asked that I take his name off the blog. Normally I wouldn't do this, but since it seems like they just pulled him into it, I won't ruin his internet reputation--today!

Koalagate's blowing up--Together Foundation advisors disappear from website

The Together Foundation is getting shadier by the day. As Chasli of Western Sahara Endgame pointed out, Emily Toll and Steve Pershing dropped off the Board of Advisors sometime last night. I've left messages with Emily Toll and Steve Pershing who might be the right ones, so something on that will come up soon.

I talked to the president of the Together Foundation (it's his voice on the Foundation's voice mail) and he confirms that he used to be in the UN Development Program, but says he wasn't caught up in the fraud investigation. He didn't sound too happy to talk with me, and said Toll and Pershing just left because they felt like it.

More as it comes in!

UPDATE: There's a strange Russian connection developing. Philippe worked at the UN Development Program office for Russia, and Gregory Temkin runs Russian Standard, a company in New York that does registering and certifying for US goods being exported to Russia.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Suspicious slavery allegations from Daniel Fallshaw and Violeta Ayala revive Koalagate

Remember the Australian filmmakers Polisario detained in May? They said Polisario was mad at them because they had uncovered evidence of slavery in Tindouf. At the time certain blogs threw fits at the idea of Polisario holding slaves, but then the story went cold.

Now, though, the filmmakers, Daniel Fallshaw and Violeta Ayala, have released a press release through the "Together Foundation" that got picked up by a bunch of websites including AOL News, Yahoo, and Forbes. The press release expands their claims and introduces some new characters to the drama, namely, the Together Foundation. Their allegations might be true, but I've done some digging and it looks fishy.

First, I called Philippe Elghouayel, the contact listed on the press release (you can too: 914-231-6804). Philippe was less than pleased to talk with me. The first thing he said was "Where are you calling from?!". I deal with a lot of PR flaks working for the Voice, but I've never had one react like that. After I said I just wanted to find the Together Foundation's website because it didn't come up in Google searches, he snarled it at me. I'll probably be paying Philippe a call again soon.

Anyway, check out their website. It's an organization that's existed since 2005 and is dedicated to ending slavery in Tindouf, but I've never heard of them before, and no one else I've talked to has either. The Foundation's mediocre website says it's going to launch an expedition to Tindouf to investigate slavery. I emailed them to sign up--why don't you?

Looking at their website, I'm thinking "clumsy hatchet job", but where's the Morocco link? Check out the About page, which lists 5 people associated with the Foundation. Turns out Philippe's their president and Gregory Temkin (also written Tyomkin in the press release) is the vice-president. The board of advisors has three members: Emily Toll, Steve Pershing, and a director at the Maghreb Center.

At this point, the only people I've found information. But what information it is! Philippe Elghouayel was the head of the UN Development Program's Russia Office and was linked to fraud (credit to Chasli of Western Sahara Endgame). The Maghreb Center is where the real juice is, though.

It's not officially run by Morocco. But I attended one of its events at Georgetown that touched only briefly Western Sahara using milquetoast Jacques Rousselier. Its website doesn't list Western Sahara as a Maghreb country and autonomy fan I. William Zartman is on the advisory board. Update: After further talk with the Center's director, I've been convinced of its nonpartisanship on the Western Sahara issue. Their group also has pro-independence academics.

[redacted because this person, at director Maghreb Center claims he's never worked for the Together Foundation, and even I sometimes appreciate not ruining reputations. The point is the Together Foundation claimed him as their own just because he talked to them about slavery]

People are saying Morocco's agents in the US are tied to this. For his part, Robert Holley of the Moroccan-American Center for Policy pleads ignorance. If he's telling the truth, that doesn't mean Morocco's hands are clean--there's a bizarre interlocking web of PR and lobbying firms that are working for Morocco outside of the MACP.

Right now, it's a lot of potential links but nothing definite as to who's backing these allegations. aMore as I find it. If you have any information about the Together Foundation and its members or slavery in Tindouf, please comment or email me.

Flickr photo from Saveena.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

I have Skype now

I just installed Skype, an internet voice-chat program, so I can talk with people through the internet like it were a giant phone. My name's not decided, but send me an email and we'll talk.

In an upcoming post, pictures and a recap from the Fourth Committee meeting. As a teaser, I'll list some of the people who spoke about Western Sahara:

-Janet Lenz of Be Their Voice
-Suzanne Scholte from US-Western Sahara Foundation
-Agaila Hemeida from Free Western Sahara

Plus, Chasli was there! With that list of luminaries, you'd be a fool to miss my next post.

Monday, October 08, 2007

I'm in a New York state of (decolonizing) mind

I'm in New York today and tomorrow for the UN's Fourth Committee. They're talking about decolonization issues including Western Sahara, so it'll be fun. If you're going to be there, send me an email (sommerwf - at- gmail) and we'll hang out.

Pictures and recap soon.

Saturday, October 06, 2007 takes up fight for .eh domain

There was talk earlier about the dispute between Morocco and the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic over the last unassigned top level domain, .eh. The Sahrawis say they should administer it, Morocco says it should instead.

SADR seems to have taken some good advice and increased its online presence in this dispute by launching, a blog about SADR's claim. The site looks nice, but I wish it would update more (although I'm not in a position to talk lately).

There was some question about how SADR would run the domain, but I'm sure they could hire companies in Europe or Algeria for that. If Western Sahara gets to administer .eh, I'll register my domain as .eh.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

El Aiaun, I love you but you're bringing me down

ARSO news is back after its noted holiday, and the world is better for it. One of the entries got me thinking:
10.08.07, Testimony of human rights defender, Yahdih Ettarouzi, imprisoned in the Black Prison of El Ayoun for 10 months:
"Black Jail" of El Aaiún/Western Sahara, "A grave for alive people",
There's been some talk lately about calling the Black Jail/Prison "a grave for alive people." I understand the sentiment, but that's crummy phrasing. Couldn't we say "a living tomb" or "a grave for the living"? I think those are catchier.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Building coalitions for Western Sahara

I just finished reading a biography of E.D. Morel, one of my heroes and the best proof I know of that a regular guy with passion can change an oppressive regime in Africa. He almost single-handedly freed the Congo, helped dismantle the Europe's secret diplomatic agreements, and was one of the loudest voices opposing World War I.

The part I found most relevant to Western Sahara was his effective building of coalitions between groups that were all interested in a just solution in the Congo. For example, he combined the efforts of Liverpool merchants, who wanted free trade on the Congo River, with missionary groups who wanted their converts protected.

I thought of a few groups with sometimes disparate aims that already have interests in Western Sahara and could be convinced to work together.
  • The Algerian government
  • Phosphate companies that've been shut out by Morocco
  • Christian groups like Be Their Voice
  • Other national liberation movements, like East Timor's ETAN
  • Human rights groups like Amnesty and Human Rights Watch
  • Left-wing Scandinavian political parties
  • Groups dedicated to the Western Saharan cause like ARSO and AWSA
This list is only a fraction of the possible coalitions that can be built to support a referendum in Western Sahara. What do you think are some others?

UPDATE: As Alle points out, support for Western Sahara doesn't have to be limited to leftist parties in Scandinavia, or anywhere for that matter. Western Sahara's appeal to all political persuasions bodes well for the future.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Claude Moniquet is so touchy

The Western Sahara has been quiet lately, so let's spotlight Claude Moniquet, Morocco's lackey in Europe. In late 2005, Claude, pictured here in happier times, sued Le Journal Hebdomaire for defamation when they said his suspicious report on Western Sahara might have been financed by the Moroccan government.

Don't let Claude's elfin appearance fool you--he is a very serious scholar. How else could he work for the impressively-named European Strategic Intelligence and Security Center? Under the ESISC banner, Claude released a report that tickled the Moroccan government because it backed up everything they'd been saying that no one had believed before. According to Claude, Sahrawi children are sold into Cuban slavery, there was no 2005 intifada, and Che Guevara himself founded Polisario. Best of all, the organization that released it doesn't have Morocco in its name, which is more than the king can say for certain groups.

Sidi Omar did a nice rebuttal of the ESISC's claims, pointing out that Che Guevara would've had difficulty founding Polisario as he died 6 years before. That wasn't enough for the troublemakers at the Moroccan magazine Le Journal Hebdomaire, who wrote a story about Claude's disputed fact-checking. Claude got mad, sued for 3 million dirhams, and won.

It didn't hurt that the magazine was harassed by the Moroccan government, or that journalist rights' associations said the magazine's rights were ignored in the trial. Claude won, and that's good enough for the ESISC.

Props to Western Sahara Endgame for writing something about this incident last year. I'm in ur blog, followin ur linkz.

What do you think? Do you have stories about Claude Moniquet suing you for saying he's bald, or that he's a merry hobbit?

Friday, September 14, 2007

New layout

Hopefully not for long since every other blog on the internet uses it. Now you can read about Khat Achahid without straining your eyes.

Layout tragedy

You might see awful layout if you're using Internet Explorer. Laroussi alerted me to this problem. How does it look to you?

Fix coming sometime soon, when I learn how to use the internet.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

What do you think Khat Achahid is up to?

Khat Achahid is the ineffective dissident movement inside Polisario. How ineffective are they? They don't release communiques in English!

Sahara Occidental has their new press release in Arabic, Spanish, and French. What does it say? My rudimentary Spanish makes me think they're giving up fighting with Polisario, but I might be misinterpreting.

If anyone from Khat Achahid is reading this, you should start releasing English communiques too.

UPDATE: Apparently, my Spanish is even less hot than I thought. Khat Achahid is castigating Polisario for even talking to Morocco about autonomy. Alle has a translation and commentary.

What good taste in interviewees!

The young Sahrawi women at Zeina have run a lot of "gets" lately--they interviewed Malainin Lakhal earlier, and they just had Kamel Fadel write a piece for them. Now that they've interviewed me, I'm joining their trophy case as well.

I think it's a fun read, but then, I would. More fun is the picture at left, which I suggested should accompany the interview. Suggestion denied!

The picture means I need to write more to keep the layout sane, so I'll take this time to again wish my decidedly Muslim audience a happy Ramadan. I've never fasted myself, but I have been to iftar dinners and they're delicious.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Morocco Board's picture galleries are like Flickr for people who hate referenda

We already knew that the people behind Morocco Board, the Moroccan-American community website, love blogs. But did you know that they also love digital photography?

The one at left was taken at the Congressional hearing on Western Sahara. Check out Toby Shelley doing his best Chris Hitchens impressions while SADR ambassador to the UN Mouloud Said and US-Western Sahara Foundation director Suzanne Scholte wave to Morocco Board's photographer. For some reason, the gallery calls it "Western" Sahara, even though I think everyone agrees it's the western side of the Sahara. Ambassador Said comes off looking amazingly shifty: check out this picture of him with a manila envelope.

Khalihenna ould Rachid explaining autonomy pictures are less fun. The reception afterwards, though, looks like it got pretty wild. Check out Kelly doing the robot and so deep in his cups, he can't keep his head up. A protest held at the Algerian embassy to free the Moroccan POWs isn't as amusing, since they should've been freed, but check out the dude with the violin: he brings it everywhere.

For me, these pictures demonstrate what I'm missing for not writing about how much I love autonomy, as if to make me think "If only I had switched when Ambassador Mekouar gave me the chance!" I'm pretty happy rolling with Sahrawis, though.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Stephen Zunes talks about Iran and Palestine

There's nothing but love for Western Sahara scholar Stephen Zunes here, and I even enjoy the interviews with him that don't mention Western Sahara. If you're like me in that respect, check out the the first part of the Heathlander's three part interview with Zunes. He talks about Iran (spoiler warning: he doesn't want to bomb it).

I haven't realized before how cool it is an intellectual on the level of Stephen Zunes is interested in the Western Sahara. Maybe it's only because I read most things that have his name on it, but he seems like a widely-respected guy outside of the Western Sahara too. Now if only he would respond to my e-mails...

Hat tip to Justin Knapp at the Nerd Report.

Edward Gabriel's name--ruined!

The first Google result for "Edward Gabriel Morocco" is this post. Maybe this will convince Ed Gabriel to favor me with a comment like he did Chasli.

Anna Theofilopoulou and I. William Zartman to settle their disagreements the only way they know how

Western Sahara fan Anna Theofilopoulou and I. William Zartman (the "I" is short for "I think a referendum is 'extreme') will square off Thursday the 20th in Washington at a United States Institute of Peace panel entitled "Western Sahara: Renewed Hope to End the Stalemate?".

I'd wager that the renewed hope they're referring to isn't the rising support for SADR abroad and increased activism inside the occupation. Why are American progressives so enamored with autonomy?

I'll be there anyway, because Anna Theofilopoulou wrote a killer piece about Western Sahara and I can't resist complimentary water bottles. Are you in?

Monday, September 10, 2007

Children of the Clouds has video of Moroccan occupation

ASVDH linked to this fantastic short documentary, Children of the Clouds. Watch it here. The filmmaker, Carlos Gonzalez, was able to get rare footage of a Sahrawi demonstration being suppressed by police. It's only ten minutes--check it out.

To encourage you, here are some of Children's highlights:
  • Gonzalez wrapping his face in a turban so Moroccans won't notice him
  • Footage of police blocking off a demonstration and dragging protesters away
  • A chase with the Moroccan police after being spotted
  • Two Sahrawi women, one of whose son has just been beaten in the demonstration, demanding independence
  • A lengthy interview with human rights activist Hamad Ahmad, who I haven't heard of. Anyone know about him?
The documentary doesn't have all of its footage, perhaps because Gonzalez was eventually expelled from Western Sahara and accused of being a Venezuelan spy. Interviewing more Sahrawis would've made the documentary more credible, but it's a fascinating look into life under Moroccan occupation.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Meanwhile, at the Moroccan-American Center for Policy

Doonesbury had a series of strips last month exploring the perils and pleasures of doing PR for dictators. The first one's here.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Malainin Lakhal, badass

The young women at Zeina have a great interview with Malainin Lakhal, the secretary-general of Union of Sahrawi Journalists and Writers. Malainin has effectively presented the Sahrawi case to the world, especially in Australia and New Zealand (this picture comes from AWSA--thanks, my little kookaburras), and this work is well-known. What you might not known is that Malainin is also tough who chose a dangerous flight into exile over submission to Morocco:
"I am initially an activist, a poet and a “trouble-maker” to use the words of the Moroccan authorities when I was living in the occupied zone of Western Sahara. I was born and I lived in the occupied city of El Aaiun until 2000, when I was forced to flee the territory, crossing the Moroccan military berm in a three days and three nights dangerous journey through the desert and landmines."
Malainin also tries to persuade angry young Sahrawis to choose non-violence. Blogs, not bombs:

"Many voices within the Saharawi youth start to call for war and resuming war and this is a pity, because to me we had never stopped fighting. We have always been in war against the Moroccan colonialism, the only difference is that we are now using new weapons, the demonstration, the sit-in, the word, Saharawi political prisoners and activists in the occupied zones are giving their blood and bodies as weapons and sacrifice for the sake of freedom."

They should have an interview with me up soon. Mine may or may not include escapes over minefields.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Edward Gabriel: still shilling for Morocco

Because Frederick Vreeland's never enough, Morocco bought another former US ambassador, Edward Gabriel. They've gotten their dirham's worth and more: Ed escorted the Fog City Journal to Western Sahara at Mohammed VI's request, and he asked loaded questions at a Center for American Progress Western Sahara event (check out the first picture at the Fog City link to see Ed looking corpse-like). Now, he's written an article for the National Interest Online about how awesome autonomy is.

The article's the usual pablum Morocco's hatchet men spoon out. As Chasli at Western Sahara Endgame points out, it's disingenuous for the National Interest to say Edward Gabriel is just a former ambassador to Morocco. He rolls, paid, with Robert Holley and the Moroccan-American Center for Policy, as well as the National Clergy Council.

All this makes me wonder why I'm even going to college. Judging from Fred and Ed, and to a lesser extent Robert Holley, a healthy living can be made by being an unremarkable ambassador, then selling your services back to your old negotiating partners.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Monday Fun and Shames: Black Prison edition

Tarruzi Yehdih, a former Sahrawi political prisoner and member of CODESA, recently got out of the Black Jail of El Aauin. His description of jail life is horrifying, and a must-read for people interested in human rights in Western Sahara.

For today, though, I'll focus on a list of names Yehdih provides. He says these men abuse Sahrawis inside the prison. I have no corroboration that these men are torturers or otherwise violate human rights, but I hope the dissemination of this list will expose those who are.

List of the torturers and the main outstanding “lords” of the “Black Jail” of El Aaiún:

1- Abd-Lilah Az-zunfri: Director of the jail.
2- Mohamed Al-mansuri: President of the detention centre.
3- Mohamed Al-buhzizi: Vice-president of the detention centre.
4- Abd Al-ali Al-buhnani: Vice-president of the detention centre.
5- Abdelkader Ait Sus: Responsible for general works.
6- Abderrahim Al-harruchi: Responsible for construction and general work in the jail.
7- Abderrazag Mugtasam: Responsible for the visits and the searching of possessions.
8- Jamal Beiruk: President of the Section or the centre.
9-Abdelhag Wahbi: Searching.
10- Ahmed Alharrag: President of the judiciary office of the jail(director of the third level).
11- Yusef Al-manur: President of the judiciary office(director of the third level).
12- Ismail Bachari: President of a sector.
13- Idris Butib: Nurse.
14- Mustafa Al-azizi: Nurse.
15- Yusef Butiglidin: Nurse.
16- Abdelhag Fartamis: He was transferred to “Ramani Jail”.
17- Abdelhakim: He was transferred to the central prison of Al-kinetra.

I'm not sure what he means by "lords," or whether the last two who are listed as transferred are guards or prisoners. It'd also be interesting to know how many are Moroccans and how many are Sahrawis.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Frederick Vreeland doesn't just ignore conflicts of interest with Morocco

Today, a belated birthday treat for Ronny Hansen of the Norwegian Western Sahara Foundation:

Some time ago, Frederick Vreeland, a former US ambassador to Morocco, wrote an op-ed in The New York Times about how much he loved the autonomy plan. He didn't mention that he runs NoorWeb, a company that depends on solar panel contracts from Morocco. His opinions on autonomy didn't necessarily get him contracts, but they didn't hurt. The Times ran a correction soon after.

Judging from Fredo's profile, this isn't the first time he's juggled conflicting interests. Check out his review of his mother's book, Why Don't You...?:
DV represented an era olf fashion that will never return.
Other books about DV focus on the Vogue years, but that came later.This book gives a clear picture of how the Czarina of Fashion started and what were early signs of genius.
Frederick! Just like it isn't credible when your mother told you you were the best ambassador in the diplomatic corps, it's not trustworthy when you vouch for her.

Also, Fred likes Janis Joplin.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Comment of the week, Oceania edition

Frequent commenter Desertman wins this Comment of the Week by demonstrating I'm not the only one who can compare Western Sahara to art. He's written a good analogy between Western Sahara and 1984, a book I must admit I've never read (shame of my life!)
In Western Sahara is like in the world of George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four,
The Party which controls Oceania ( OCCUPIED WESTERN SAHARA) is split into two halves: the Inner Party (CORCAS ) and the Outer Party ( MOROCCAN AUTHORITY ). The Inner Party regulates Ingsoc.( MARROY)
The Inner Party represents the aristocratic political class (CORCAS and their associates) in Oceania (OCCUPIED WESTERN SAHARA) , and has its membership restricted to 0.000014 million individuals (about 0.0014% of the population). Inner Party members enjoy a quality of life that is much better than that of the proles ( REAL SAHARAWIS) or Outer Party members ( MOROCCAN SETTLERS) . For example,
the telescreens (two-way televisions used for propaganda and surveillance purposes LAAYOUNE TV AND 2M CHANNEL) in their homes can ( NOT) be turned off. They also have access to spacious living quarters, personal servants, convenient transportation, and relatively pleasant food and drink (in contrast to the poor quality Victory Gin and Victory Cigarettes, which were not manufactured properly, of the outer Party). Inner Party members are always identified by their black coveralls ( NOT DARAAA). Members are selected at a young age (OLD AGE – SHEIKS) according to a battery of tests ( LOYALITY TO….), and (not ) family heritage, as any loyalty to anything other than Ingsoc ) (MARROY) and Big Brother ( WE KNOW HIM …) , including the family, is strongly discouraged. Race is also of (no) importance in selecting members.
In the novel( REALITY) , O'Brien ( OULD RACHID / LAYOUNE GOVERNOR) is the only character met who is a member of the Inner Party.
In Western Sahara now
War is peace
Freedom is Slavery
Ignorance is strength
("all animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others"

All Saharawis in WS have to keep attention because “ big brother is watching you”
Will Desertman's latest honor mean the reappearance of Desertgirl? I hope so!

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Norwegian youth staying with the Amidanes detained

Moroccan police in Western Sahara love to harass two groups: the Sahrawi Amidane family, and Norwegians. It was a happy day for them, then, when they discovered them both in the same place. Last week, two Norwegian youth politicians staying with the Amidanes were arrested and interrogated by Moroccan police.

Kamilla Eidsvik and Andrea Gustavsson, the arrested girls, are members of a socialist youth party in Norway (even though one of them is Swedish). They were on the street in El Aiaun when they saw Moroccan security forces raid a house. As you might've noticed at this point, Morocco isn't thrilled when outsiders visit Western Sahara to see if it's treating the Sahrawis as well as it claims. The girls were bundled into an armored car and held for two hours. Since they were going to leave Western Sahara anyway, they weren't expelled.

This isn't going to help the Amidane family, whose imprisoned son El-Ouali is already a cause celebre amongst Western Saharan activists. Their daughter Rabab (pictured with the Scandinavian women) has been beaten by Moroccan police and recently visited Norway to garner support for Western Sahara.

The event gives lie to Morocco's claim that it's treating Sahrawis well. Why would Morocco arrest young, foreign women just for being near a raid unless that raid was unlawful? I'd like to see Morocco's henchmen claim the young women presented a security risk.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Take it easy, but take it: what union songs teach us about Western Sahara

I had a union summer. Between an attempt to read A People's History of the United States, Netflixing Roger & Me, and constantly listening to an anthology of labor songs I was convinced that unions have balanced against rapacious capitalists throughout American history, and will continue to do so, even if they're getting a bit rapacious themselves.

None of that can happen, though, if people aren't excited, organized, or skilled enough to work for their rights. That's why I think the Western Sahara community can glean some lessons from the U.S. labor movement, as depicted in songs from Smithsonian Folkway's anthology Classic Labor Songs.

  • "Joe Hill" performed by Paul Robeson--Paul Robeson would've been a more admirable if he hadn't covered up the Soviet Union's treatment of Jews. The real treat in this song is the man it's about, Joe Hill, a Swedish labor organizer and folk singer who was framed for murder and executed. Before he died, Hill sent a message to another International Worker of the World that only said "Don't any time mourning. Organize!" Ban on mourning aside, that's advice to take to heart for any popular struggle, especially one that's seen as many deaths as the Western Sahara.
  • "One Day More" performed by Elaine Purkey--"If the company holds out twenty years, we'll hold out one day more." The occupation of Western Sahara has gone longer than twenty years, but "one day more" is exactly the attitude Sahrawis should have as Morocco tries to wear down their commitment with an armory of methods, from getting Cape Verde to withdraw its recognition from SADR to hiring CORCAS stooges.
  • "Talking Union" performed by the Almanac Singers--The most important lyrics in this song come at the end: "If you don't let red baiting break you up, and if you don't let stool pigeons break you up, and if you don't let vigilantes break you up, and if you don't let race hatred break you up, you'll win!" You can keep red baiting and replace the rest with CORCAS members, gangs of Moroccan settlers, and tribal enmities, respectively. The result is perfect advice for Sahrawis in Western Sahara or in Tindouf waiting for a resolution.
At the end of "Talking Union" the singer says, "What I mean is take it easy, but take it!" Let's keep that attitude of fun-but-dead-serious revolution.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Notorious bastard Driss Basri is dead

Driss Basri, King Hassan II's Interior Minister and the man behind most of the repression in Western Sahara and Morocco's Years of Lead is dead in Paris at 69. He died in Paris because even Mohammed VI found him too repulsive and forced him into exile.

Driss Basri lived to be 69. Here are some people he didn't give that chance:
  • Hamdi Lembarki
  • Sahrawi refugees the Moroccan air force dropped napalm on
  • Mehdi Ben Barka, an anti-colonial Moroccan politician killed during the Years of Lead
Maybe someone will go on TV and Hitchens-Falwell him. He deserves it.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

CNN presents the Sanjay Gupta of Western Sahara, but at least they're talking about it

CNN recently ran a pretty good report on Western Sahara. Anna Theofilopoulou makes an appearance, and it's not as unbalanced as The Washington Times. We even get shots of the famed Greentree Estate. Still, there were some issues.
  • Morocco and Mauritania fought each other over Western Sahara? I seem to have skipped that chapter in the books and articles I've read about it.
  • The anchorwoman says no one's dying in Western Sahara, demonstrating her inability to look up ASVDH, CODESA, or even leaked UN reports.
  • In the bottom bar they say people have alleged human rights allegations against the refugees in Tindouf. Fair enough. But if you're going to say that, then you have to mention the drastically more heinous human rights abuses inside Western Sahara.
But hopefully some people saw it, and the truth will set Western Sahara free etc.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Western Sahara discussion on Iranian TV

I'm told there'll be Iran's English channel, Press TV, has a talk show that'll be talking about Western Sahara today around 3 PM GMT (so 10 in the morning in the US). You can watch it online through Press TV's website. I'll post again if anything interesting happens.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

New Sahrawi blog explains what's up with the tea ceremony

Another day, another blog written by Sahrawi women. This time it's Zeina, a blog about Sahrawi culture written by two Sahrawi girls, Mona and Ward. They write about Sahrawi culture and tie it, quite cleverly I think, to the struggle for independence.

I never got the details on the famed Sahrawi tea ceremony, but they had an explanation:
One of the greatest features of the Saharawi culture is that of Tea ceremony. It is special and unique to the Saharawi people. It is a time of unity and celebration of happiness. Family members, neighbors, relatives or simply people passing by gather around to chat about everything and nothing and at the same time enjoy a cup of the special tea. The Atay or tea in Hassania the Saharawi native Arabic dialect is three cups and each one represents a different thing. The first cup is bitter as life, the second is sweet as love and the third is soft as love. The tea ceremony can take few minutes to make or can last as long as hours...

As it is said in Arabic: “there is an end to everything”, and so it is the time for the Saharawi people to get their share of justice and freedom. So let’s not give to enjoy the last cup of this struggle and the reward of freedom.
I'm looking forward to more explanations of Sahrawi culture. While I'm pretty versed in the politics of Western Sahara, I don't think I know near enough about the culture. Hopefully the ladies at Zeina will remedy that.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Happy blog anniversary to me

One year ago I started One Hump with a pretty dull post about Western Sahara. Since then, things have only improved.

I got yelled at by Robert Holley, ate a tasty chicken with President Abdelaziz, protested at the Moroccan embassy, and enjoyed how cool everyone involved in this issue is. Thanks for reading, commenting, and emailing. The more we talk and the better we know one another, the closer the Western Sahara gets to a free and fair referendum.

Photo from Flickr user Princessrica. Like her daughter's, my blog birthday involved Disney princesses

Even the African Art Museum knows Western Sahara deserves independence

We haven't had an installment of Even ___ Knows the Western Sahara Deserves Independence. Well, thirst no more! Today we have a message from my former editor and fan of self-determination Anna Bank:
The other day I went to the African Art Museum and Western Sahara was listed as its own country on the map. Just thought you should know.
Which African Art Museum is it? I'm not sure, but Laroussi suggests that it's the National Museum of African Art, which proudly displays its yay-Western Sahara map.

The Money Shot

Senator Russ Feingold with Sahrawis visiting Washington during the July rally.

What good luck that members of Christ the Rock Church would have the coolest senator representing them. Picture courtesy of Agaila Abba Hemeida from Free Western Sahara. She also has more pictures from Washington on her blog.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Sahrawi woman writes pro-integration blog

Usually the only Sahrawis who want to stay with Morocco we see are under the paternal guidance of the Moroccan-American Center for Policy. Not so with Chagaf Aziza, a young Sahrawi woman who has been active on this post and whose blog, Freedom Writer, is unequivocally supportive of the Moroccan annexation.

For example, in this post she calls out those of us who want a referendum:
It is sad too see people questioning our Identity and doubting who we are!
Why they can only see two neighborhoods in Lyoun protesting!
Why they refuse to feel the other many eyes in peace resting!
No one is allowed to take our Moroccan Identity or our Sahrawi lifestyle away.
No one is allowed to take my 25 years old way.
As always to people who say most Sahrawis want the occupation to continue, the response is "Then why not a referendum?"

Even more notably, she quoted my Georgetown Voice article about Western Sahara in this post. Unfortunately, she avoids my allegation of human rights abuses in occupied Western Sahara and instead writes about food aid corruption in Tindouf. Perhaps, but rice ending up in Mauritania doesn't soothe Amidayne El-Ouali's bruises.

I hope Chagaf Aziza will eventually decide to support a referendum. All Sahrawis deserve to participate in their country's fate, not just those whose choices were made reality by the invasion. Until then, she's an interesting, different voice in Western Sahara commentary.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Rahm Emmanuel supports autonomy

While I was reading this Zunes article I noticed that Rahm Emanuel is among the US congressmen supporting Morocco's autonomy proposal. For those who don't know, Rahm Emanuel is the head of the Democratic caucus in the House who gets a lot of credit for the Democratic victory in 2006.

I've never liked him, though, and now I have an even more concrete reason why. Someone so willing to sell out self-determination isn't someone I want running the Democratic Party. Plus, he's a total gangster: he sent a dead fish to someone who crossed him. Here's a case where a rare intersection of Maghreb and US politics illuminates both sides.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Where's ARSO?

ARSO, the grandpappy of Western Sahara websites, hasn't updated its invaluable news section in a month and a half. I thought I was just anxious for more news round-ups, but apparently not. The most recent news article covered June 3 through June 16th. Has the internet gone down in Switzerland?

Comment of the week, 'Bongs Hit 4 Sahrawis' edition

In the grand tradition of the Comics Curmudgeon, I'm going to start highlighting a comment each week that particularly caught my eye.

In the future I'll be on the lookout for particularly well-reasoned argument on either side or Mohammed VI jokes. We'll kick it off, though, with a nod to inscrutability and narco-politics courtesy of an anonymous comment. Sic is implied.
let me give you a small advice if i may i think you should see your doctor (pronto) ,you may have what we call a moroccan syndrome luckily morocco does have a cure for such illness and the moroccans we'll be happy to help you (pronto)silly me i repeat the word pronto twice ,anyway this is what you need for your cure,you need to get your hands on couple of ounces of moroccan honey i think you know what i mean& you shouuuuld smoke couple of joint every night before your bedtime for 3 months and that my friend will do the trick , feel free to give my solution to your bodies,once you finish the cure you'll become in love with the moroccans
yous Moroccan formula
You laugh, but a smoke-up was part of the first Baker proposal.

Pictures from Western Sahara rally in Washington

Sahrawis and Americans rallying for self-determination

Last week, the US-Western Sahara Foundation, along with members of Christ the Rock Church in Wisconsin and Sahrawis visiting the US with the church's help hit Washington hard with their demands for self-determination.

On Thursday, they rallied in Lafayette Park. Several cool people, including Frank Ruddy and Suzanne Scholte, spoke.

That night, there was a congressional reception that was sponsored by reliable House allies Zach Wamp, Joseph Pitts, and Donald Payne. They were joined by Tim Ryan (D-OH), who seems like a snazzy up-and-comer. On the Senate side, there was Russ Feingold (my hero!), James Inhofe, and Jim DeMint. It's nice to see someone on the Hill is standing up for Sahrawis.

Here are some pictures from the rally courtesy of Mohammed of Western Sahara Echo. If you know of any more, tell me!
A woman I don't know gives a speech. Below her, Frank Ruddy waves a Polisario flag.

The rally was postponed until gravity returned to normal.

I'm jealous of those brown shirts. On the front they say, "Be their voice."

I'm glad Christ the Rock, US-WS Foundation, and everyone else involved pulled it together. Mrs. Lenz at the church said they were feeling optimistic after the great embassy protest of 2006, so I can only imagine how well this is playing in Tindouf. And how sourly it's being received in Rabat.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Aminatou Haidar wins Silver Rose human rights award

Aminatou Haidar, an international face for both Sahrawi women and the Western Sahara struggle in general, has been chosen for another prestigious human rights award. This time, she's receiving the Silver Rose award, given by the SOLIDAR organization and presented at a dinner of the European Parliament in October.

SOLIDAR is an "an international alliance of social and economic justice non-governmental organisations (NGOs) working in development and humanitarian aid, social policy, social service provision and life-long learning." Haidar was recommended by an Austrian NGO, Volkshilfe. Rumor has it Volkshilfe is the coolest thing to come out of Austria since this man.

After all her work for Sahrawi independence, Haidar certainly deserves this new accolade. The Norwegian Support Committee for Western Sahara has SOLIDAR's explanation for why she was chosen. It's also worth checking out Haidar's testimony about the abuse she received in prison.

And to think, I knew her before she was famous.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Nelson Mandela and Co. should start in Western Sahara

For his 89th birthday last week, Nelson Mandela announced that he's starting a group with other political, business, and artistic luminaries to solve the world's problems. They're called the Elders, and it's an impressive group that includes Mandela, Richard Branson, Desmond Tutu, irrepressible cool guy Mohammed Yunus, Jimmy Carter, and Peter Gabriel (?).

It's exciting to imagine these people using their connections and the respect they command for good. Why not start with Western Sahara? It's a long-standing problem that still has a clear solution--a referendum--and isn't as intractable as Israel/Palestine or as vague as ending hunger.

It would be exactly the kind of high-profile campaign the Western Sahara needs. Here's hoping.

New Stephen Zunes article on Western Sahara: "Out of my way, I'm a famous historian!"

This dashing fourth fifth Gibbs brother is Stephen Zunes, Western Sahara scholar and co-author with Jacob Mundy of Western Sahara: Nationalist and Conflict Irresolution in Northwest Africa. Why is he smiling? Because he has an excellent new article out about the United States's support of the Moroccan autonomy plan!

In the article, Zunes argues that American support for the autonomy plan isn't about a "third way" or a compromise, but a shameless sell-out to Moroccan aggression. He says no country has been allowed to expand by war since World War II and had that expansion recognized by the international community, a standard he fears autonomy would undermine.

Zunes also mentions a depressingly bipartisan list of autonomy supporters. It includes Senate Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, Minority Leader John Boehner and Georgetown's own Madeline Albright. So much for the Democratic takeover meaning more respect for self-determination.

It's not all gloom, though. Zunes recalls the international movement to free East Timor as hope for Western Sahara:
In the comparable case of East Timor, only after human rights organizations, church groups, and other activists forced the U.S. government to end its support for Indonesia’s occupation did the Jakarta regime finally offer a referendum that gave the East Timorese their right to self-determination. It may take similar grassroots campaigns to ensure that the United States lives up to its international legal obligations and pressures Morocco to allow the people of Western Sahara to determine their own destiny.
Human rights organizations, church groups, and "other activists"? We've got all three. Now it's just a matter of doing the work.

Western Sahara Info has more.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Plundering Western Sahara can't get Island Oil & Gas a new office

Apparently exploiting Western Sahara's resources isn't as lucrative as previously thought. From the Norwegian Support Committee for Western Sahara, here's a picture of Island Oil and Gas's container ship-like offices. It's probably pretty sweet on a road trip, but as an office it leaves something to be desired.

Island Oil and Gas became notorious in the Western Sahara after they signed an exploratory deal with Morocco to look for Western Saharan oil. Don't feel too bad for them--this might not be their main office. Still, it looks like all the occupation booty is going to Morocco's other cronies.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Avoiding civil war in Western Sahara

At the best dinner ever, a videographer whose name escapes me asked a question I think people more involved in the Western Sahara gloss over, namely, "What's going to happen to all the Moroccans in Western Sahara when it becomes independent?"

It's a question that deserves all of our attentions. After all, the ratio of Moroccans to Sahrawis in Western Sahara is something like __ to ___. Even if all the Sahrawis from the diaspora came back and some Moroccans left, Moroccans would still be in the majority. That majority probably wouldn't be happy about separating from its homeland. The fear of ethnic death squads has been mentioned by others, and I think it's a real one.

Presuming the Moroccans are unhappy with independence, that would leave the Western Saharan government with two options: losing its Sahrawi character and perhaps its independence through democracy, or having an apartheid-like system where only Sahrawis are granted full political rights. Neither are desirable options, and to my mind neither are adequate results after 30 years of exile and war.

There'd be no need to choose between the two if some things took place. A worsening opinion of the Moroccan government would make Moroccans more amenable to a change of government. But Polisario and Sahrawis can't control that, so they should work towards two other goals.

First, Moroccan settlers should be included in any referendum a la Baker II. It's not attractive for Sahrawis, and it's only marginally fairer than autonomy, but if Moroccans don't participate in the vote they won't feel they have a stake in the what comes after.

A more difficult task will be persuaded Moroccans in and outside Western Sahara that an independent Western Sahara is in their best interests. I don't know how that can be done, but it'll take more dialogue with Moroccans and less bitterness on both sides. The UN-sponsored negotiations make Polisario seem more palatable to Moroccans, I think, so at least they're good for that.

Of course, I'm putting the referendum before voter registration, as it were. Still, if the Western Sahara is going to be a successful republic, how to integrate Moroccans into a post-independence Western Sahara needs to be considered before and during the referendum process, not after.

What do you think? How can an independent Western Sahara square with its Moroccan citizens?

Photo from Nick Brooks

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Morocco's unhappy with Italy's support for Polisario

While some rejoiced at the news that a chamber of the Italian parliament passed a resolution calling for diplomatic recognition of Polisario, the Moroccan government was less pleased.

A Moroccan diplomat said, "We can’t understand why, despite the government expressing its opposition, the Chamber approved a motion that amounts to a torpedo launched against the direct negotiations currently underway between the two sides." Morocco is so concerned now because it didn't mention its concerns at all when the United States endorsed autonomy.

The one sad thing about this article is that clarifies the Italian foreign ministry's position on Western Sahara--apparently, they don't want to recognize Polisario.

Moroccans living in Italy are planning to protest, which they ought to if they feel so strongly about it. They shouldn't lie, though. In the article, they claim Cuba is the only country with diplomatic relations with the Polisario Front. That will surprise South Africa, Algeria, 50 or so other countries, and the African Union.

Thanks to Laroussi for pointing me to this article

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Fnaireiacs rejoice--more Fnaire and Western Sahara

New commenter Tangerino, who I'd call the new El Tiburon if El Tiburon weren't still around, pointed me to this music video from Fnaire, a Moroccan rap group.

I mentioned Fnaire before when I thought one of their music videos was ironic considering Morocco's treatment of Western Sahara, but this song, Yed El Henna, is definitely about Western Sahara. There's even a little Green March reenactment!

It's clear the Sahrawis are happy to see Fnaire invading their country. The question is, what is Fnaire rapping about? Is it related to Western Sahara, or just a shout-out to how cool Fnaire is (a fact I can't dispute)?

Problems with Palestinians? Dump them in Western Sahara!

Not really worth a full post, but this post on a Windows Live blog (warning bells should already be going off) was weird enough to merit mention.

The writer seems concerned that Palestinians and Israelis aren't getting along. His solution is to move Palestinians to another country (huh), and he has several criteria for selecting that country. It has to be Muslim, Arab, sparsely populated, and not embroiled in conflict. Western Sahara, which for some reason isn't considered disputed, beats Central African Republic and Congo to win the Palestinians:
The "Western Sahara" with 266,000 people and 240,000 kilometers area (about the size of Colorado) seems a good candidate. The "Polisarios" or "Saharwis" (native movement) were able to get the nation of Mauritania to give up it's claim of the southern 1/3 it had claimed. Morocco now rules the northern 2/3's without any international recognition of it's claim. It is large, internationally without any recognition, has a small native populace, and 'ex-'palestinians' could be developed in conjunction with the native population. It is Islamic and Arab and available. It could be the new homeland for Palestinians without the current problems besetting them....

Monday, July 16, 2007

Italy recognizes Polisario, is the first European country to do so

Western Sahara news taketh away, but it also giveth. In a diplomatic coup, Italy's lower house of Parliament has asked its government to recognize the Polisario mission in Italy as an official diplomatic mission.

The Sahara Occidental blog has links to a bunch of articles in Italian and one in French, but the UPES article I linked to above is in English. According to the article, several Italian political parties supported the resolution, which also includes a call for the Italian government to oppose "any solution that does not respect the right of the Saharawi people right to self-determination."

Now, Italy isn't a permanent member of the Security Council, but this is huge. Being recognized by Italy will give Polisario more credibility in its dealings with other nations, but even better it shows nations outside the developing world are willing to work with Polisario. I suppose it'll also prevent Italian companies from participating in arrangements that plunder Western Sahara's resources.

I hope this is the first domino knocking down many European states that curiously haven't recognize Polisario. Where, for example, is Norway?

Update: as always-on-his-game Laroussi pointed out, only the Italian lower parliament passed the resolution, not the entire government as I said earlier. This Sahara Press Service article makes that clearer. Still, the UPES said the Italian Deputy Foreign Minister was there. Doesn't that bode well for the resolution's eventual success?


US supports autonomy, Woodrow Wilson "surprised"

In a blatant dismissal of international law and United Nations precedent, the United States came out last Wednesday in favor of Morocco's autonomy proposal. Most people expected the United States preferred Morocco over SADR in negotiations, but it's surprising the US would be so bold about it.

The official stance was delivered by Jackie Sanders, the US's alternate representative to the UN, pictured here with Western Sahara fan John Bolton. Why didn't John talk some sense into her? Anyway, here's what she said:

"We believe a promising and realistic way forward on the Western Sahara is meaningful autonomy. Morocco’s initiative could provide a realistic framework to begin negotiations on a plan that would provide for real autonomy contingent on the approval of the local populations. We hope both sides will engage realistically."
Check out this inspired bit of obfuscation from Ambassador Sanders, when a reporter questioned her during the same stakeout:
Reporter: But the U.S. voted yes on resolution 1754, which acknowledges both proposals, so I am wondering why there is a back step right now based on this statement that you just said?

Ambassador Sanders: I would not call it a “back step,” I would call it forward movement. We want to see forward movement with the parties and I think we are seeing that.
Maybe I'm not versed enough in diplomacy to understand, but I think supporting self-determination aces an imposed political solution any day. This strikes me as another maneuver to force Polisario into negotiating terms of autonomy, and not whether to accept autonomy at all. To help that more, Sanders refused to treat Polisario's plan equally.

For those who think the United States will have a lot to say about any non-violent resolution to the conflict, there is a bit of good news. People with connections to politics tell me Democrats are more disposed to supporting the Sahrawi side of things, and the mood in the U.S. is leaning towards a Dem victory in 2008. Universal health care and a referendum? 2009 will see an embarrassment of riches.

Alle at Western Sahara Info has more on Sanders's statement, and Canada's annexation of the U.S.