Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Happy Independence Day

31 years ago today the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic was declared in Bir Lehlou. Celebrations are going on inTifariti, SADR's temporary capital inside the Polisario-controlled portion of Western Sahara.

Tifariti is mainly ruins left over from the war with Morocco, but that shouldn't stop Sahrawis and their supporters from having a good time. ARSO reports that there will be a marathon, a solidarity conference, and a conference of Sahrawi sister cities.

While it's a happy day, the commemoration must be tinged with foreboding about Western Sahara's future. Human rights abuses inside the territories continue, and France supports the autonomy plan. I don't think the promise of today's celebrations will be fulfilled until they're held in El Aaiún.

But that's no reason to get down, just a reason to work harder. As my gift to you, here's a link to a generous collection of pictures from the Western Sahara. A group went to the Western Sahara to document the archaeological and paleontological treasures there, and posted the pictures on the internet. For an idea of what Tifariti looks like, check out this ancient tank and these curious standing stones.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

The Independence Day Gift Guide

Independence Day is only one day away, and you're without an appropriate gift for the Sahrawi closest to your heart. Fortunately for you, One Hump is all about service journalism. With that in mind, here's the Western Saharan Independence Day Gift Guide.

For the Harassed Activist
What could be a better gift for a Sahrawi in the occupied territory who wants to see the world than a Moroccan passport? Even if he or she doesn't accept Moroccan sovereignty, a press tour or trip to the Canaries does wonders for post-hungry strike health. Mohammed Daddach finally got one, and it made his week.

For the Wikipedia Scrounger
This one's a tough case. Just having heard about the Western Sahara and astounded by what's going on there, she has to resort to stub articles on Wikipedia to learn anything about the conflict. Worse, when you got her Western Sahara: The Roots of a Desert War for Valentine's Day, the only sound coming out of her bedroom was snoring.

Get her Endgame in the Western Sahara! Compelling, thankfully short, and well-researched, Toby Shelley filled the gap in our knowledge that had been left open since Roots. $28 might seem steep, but considering that it's going for $68 on eBay, you can't afford not to buy it.

For the Aspiring MINURSO Member
Everyone wants to work in MINURSO, but not everyone is good at Excel. Your pal who's too short-sighted or club-footed for Tifariti can still pretend with a MINURSO medal. A few waves of that thing around a bar, and he'll get a free round. If he takes that to Cancun on Spring Break he'll never be at a loss for someone to peel his sunburn.

I hope that helped you decide. It'll be the best Independence Day ever! Apologies to Wonkette for cribbing.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Moroccan Embassy protest features big flag, bigger hopes for self-determination

In front of the embassy and conspicuously not stepping on Moroccan territory

Last Friday Mikael Simble (of the Norwegian Support Committee for the Western Sahara) and I protested the occupation of the Western Sahara at Morocco's embassy in Washington. The protest went well, and I think we educated the embassy's neighbors about Moroccan policy towards its southern neighbor.

Mikael brought a bunch of leaflets about the Western Sahara that we put in the windshields of cars parked around the embassy. They had a map of the Maghreb showing where Western Sahara is, as well as a short history of the Polisario struggle. We even got a few on cars with diplomat license plates.

After that, we set up across from the embassy with the SADR flag and a sign Mikael brought that said Free Western Sahara. Apparently, there's a torrid affair behind how that sign was made, but whatever it is, the young lady involved was an excellent sign maker.

We got the attention of several passerby who asked what we were protesting. At one point, two girls whose car was stuck in the snow asked for our help. I think we impressed on them that Western Sahara fans are not only socially-conscious but surprisingly muscled.

We also had an improvised chant for people going into the embassy (1, 2, 3, 4, Viva Polisario!). The 5,6,7,8 part hasn't been decided yet, but suggestions are welcome. All in all, it was a successful day, and a satisfying celebration of Western Saharan independence day.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

"The woes of the Western Sahara" in the Georgetown Voice

No post yesterday because I was writing for The Georgetown Voice about the Western Sahara. Check it out.

The article features quotes from two Western Sahara muckity-mucks: Mikael Simble of the Norwegian Support Committee for the Western Sahara, and Robert Holley of the Moroccan-American Center for Policy. They were both nice enough to grant me interviews.

The issue is just being distributed on campus now, and we've already received an opposing, well-argued e-mail from someone in Pennsylvania.

The only problem is, of all the maps of North Africa they could've chosen, the editors picked one that erases the line between Western Sahara and Morocco. Still, I appreciate that they let me write about my passion, and I hope it'll raise support on campus and elsewhere for self-determination.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Spain sells vehicles, boats to Morocco

The government of Spain sold 12000 Humvee-like vehicles (pictured) to the Moroccan government this month, along with 800 military trucks and 10 patrol boats. The price of Spanish complicity in the Western Saharan occupation? 200 million Euros.

Since Morocco isn't fighting any wars, these vehicles will go towards policing the Western Sahara. Given recent events, it wouldn't be surprising if some of these vehicles were used to assault peaceful protests in the territory.

It would be one thing if Morocco were getting its goods from another African country, or another member of the European Union (France probably wouldn't have any qualms). That the vehicles are coming from Spain is surprising both because of the government's ambiguous relation to its former colony and because Spanish public opinion seems to support a referendum.

I hope this doesn't signal a sea change on Madrid' Western Sahara policy. Even if it isn't, I sent a letter to the Spanish ambassador in Washington. Join me? He's has the tremendous last name "Westendorp y Cabeza," so he'll be sympathetic to our concerns.

Monday, February 19, 2007

New Western Sahara blog is delicious, highly recommended if you have the means

New, knowledgeable One Hump commenter Alle has started a Western Sahara blog of his own, Western Sahara Info. Like his comments, it's entertaining and informative.

He (or she) does his (or her) research. Check out this exhaustive post on Mauritanian elections and what they mean for the Western Sahara. I also enjoyed the predictions about the future of CORCAS's autonomy plan.

Speaking of CORCAS, using his translation skills, Alle discovered that King Hassan II himself said autonomy was illegal. Speaking of it, he said, "That is, quite simply, impossible. I have no right to do it."

My favorite post so far, though, has been his dissection of different names for Western Sahara's capital, El Aaiún or Laâyoune (depending on which side you're on). According to Alle, El Aaiun emphasizes Western Sahara's separate colonial history, while the latter transliteration extends Morocco's Frenchness. I'll use whichever version doesn't require hard-to-place accent marks.

So, with Western Sahara Info starting and Sahara-Watch undergoing a revival, the Western Sahara blog community continues to grow. Writing this post, I discovered Sahara Views is back! It won't be long before we can't walk from our fat Technorati links.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Enter the Tindouf Challenge and prove me wrong

There's been talk lately that the Sahrawis in Tindouf aren't so much refugees as they are hostages. The thinking goes that Polisario bandits hold the Sahrawis against their will so they can rule the refugee camps and skim off international aid. It's well-substantiated in Moroccan media.

The only problem I see with this is that, outside of Morocco, no one talks about it. At a time when interest in humanitarianism is so prevalent, how could roughly 100,000 people be held without anyone outside of the region noticing?

The answer is, I think, that they're not actually hostages at all. They're just what Polisario says they are--indigenous people from the Western Sahara who don't want to live under Moroccan rule. Judging from recent comments, though, some of you think I'm wrong. That's why I'm introducing...The Tindouf Challenge!

In order to win the Tindouf Challenge, you have to provide me with non-Moroccan evidence that the Sahrawis in Tindouf are held against their will. Books, magazine articles, newspaper reports...anything goes in the Tindouf Challenge. You don't even have to convince me. All you have to do is show that a non-Moroccan source actually said that the refugees in Tindouf were held against their will.

The prize is extravagant, even for this blog. If I'm proven wrong, I'll put the sign below in my dorm window for 3 weeks. It'll be a great embarassment for me and my staunchly anti-self-determination dorm hall, but the pursuit of truth has its costs. Also pictured is my roommate, another staunch advocate of the free exchange of ideas who nevertheless looks unhappy about being associated with the sign.
I've been told to make this unGoogleable, so H3nry can still get a job. CORCAS = resume slayer.

My dorm window is prime autonomy-promoting real estate, because it's across from a classroom. Every day, bored students will look out the window and be intrigued by CORCAS.

I hope you have Lexis-Nexis on your favorites and your library's research assistant on speed dial, because the contest ends in two weeks. Send entries to wfs8 /at/ georgetown dot edu.

Here are the other rules/loopholes.
  • The source can't be from Moroccan media or a Moroccan-associated think tank like the Moroccan-American Center for Policy.
  • The Washington Times is out because they crossed Polisario long ago.
  • Since a lot of stuff about the Western Sahara is unavailable in English, Spanish or French is OK, too. I hope some people who read the site know those languages and can help out. Arabic will probably be fine, too.
I'm looking forward to a deluge of entries.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

The Washington Times misunderstands the Western Sahara

The always-mischievous Washington Times has decided employing pedophiles isn't going to forestall the heralded Death of Newspapers. No, they'll need something grander this time, a new angle. That new niche, it seems, is anthologizing Moroccan-American Center for Policy press releases.
First, it published a weirdly skewed editorial on behalf of the imprisoned Moroccan POWS who have seen been released by Polisario. Holding the POWs for so long after the ceasefire was a crucial mistake on Polisario's part. Still, does it justify choice lines like this?
The same rationale governing terrorist organizations must apply to the Polisario Front. As long as it continues to hold human beings in bondage, it must be regarded as an enemy of civilization.
I thought this was the end of the Reverend Sun Myung Moon's beef with Sahrawis, but I was wrong. In Wednesday's edition, the Times ran an article, this time in the World News section, about the CORCAS autonomy plan. It's nice that someone is caring about the Western Sahara, but not when it comes out like this.

Every political group thinks it's being marginalized in the media. Still, the article betrays the Times's bias. For example, it stresses that Polisario is Algeria-backed, and says referendums were blocked without ever saying which government blocked them. The entire article is devoted to a Moroccan minister's fondness for CORCAS's autonomy plan, and ends with one of his quotes:
This is not a tactical move but a strategic approach from us to deal with all the problems holding back our region.
Speaking as a journalist, albeit a college one, I think most journalists intend the last quote in the article to have a thrust. More egregiously the Moroccan minister holds forth for an entire article, while notoriously cool character Mohamed Salem Ould Salek is only given two sentences.
Now we know The Washington Times doesn't like the Western Sahara. The only thing I'm wondering about is when the Times will merge with MarocPost.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

World Food Program finds Tindouf camps in desperate need of food

Late last year, food aid to the Sahrawi refugee camps in Tindouf reached dangerously low levels. The aid has since been partially restored, but the refugees still live on a nutritional precipice. A recent World Food Program report on Tindouf confirmed that the Sahrawis need more and better supplies if they're to avoid lethal malnutrition.

Some people think Western nations are pressuring the Sahrawis to give up their struggle by reducing food aid. Originally, I disagreed, thinking the situation had to do with the developed world's apathy for humanitarianism involving people without oil. Still, it would be convenient for the United States and France if the Sahrawis were forced to return to Western Sahara because the camps were starving. Then, they could get Algeria to give up Sahrawi self-determination and go ahead with Maghreb integration.

Fortunately, it doesn't look like that will happen soon. Hurray for the refugees in Tindouf. I hope they get the soy supplement that the World Food Program recommended.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Western Sahara Independence Day is coming up

Forget Valentine's Day--the real holiday in February is Western Sahara Independence Day, on February 27th. 31 years ago, the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic was founded by Western Saharan fighters and refugees in Bir Lehlou, Western Sahara, a town that remains under Polisario control.

I hope you do something to celebrate the day, because the rest of the SADR calendar isn't particularly fun. In May, there is a day to commemorate Polisario's founding, as well as one for the start of revolution against Spain. After that, though, there's Day of the Disappeared, Day of the Martyrs, and National Unity Day. In other words, if you're looking to wear a turban and drink champagne, Tuesday's the day.

More information as the 27th approaches, including a gift guide. For a good time, call your congressman, send a letter to the Moroccan ambassador, or tell your friends about the Western Sahara. I'm not sure what I'll be doing, but I assure you, flyers will be involved.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Sahara-Watch on autonomy and confederation

While he spends most of time acting as a go-between for small arms traders, Sahara-Watch devotes a few minutes every month to reminding me I'm not the only Anglophone Western Sahara blog. He's written two posts recently that explore a compromise between independence and CORCAS's autonomy proposal: confederation.

In the first post, Sahara-Watch wonders if a confederal system wouldn't work well for the Western Sahara. It would retain most of the benefits of independence without humiliating Moroccans and their king. Moreover, it would allay their fears that Western Sahara would become an Algerian satellite. It sounds good to me, but I don't think it'll work for two reasons. First, Morocco seems content with the status quo, and will only accept increased integration. Also, Polisario/SADR are reluctant to compromise because, at least by international law, they have all the moral and legal capital.

UPDATE: Apparently, I misinterpreted Arre's comments. Revisions to follow.

The second post draws attention to a comment made by Arre on the first. Among other things, Arre sets out the requirements for any successful autonomy proposal:
  • Foreign commitment to prevent Morocco from subverting autonomy provisions, like Ethiopia did to Eritrea.
  • Foreign money to support the new government and assuage Morocco.
  • Enough devolution that the autonomy plan doesn't seem as unfair as CORCAS's
  • A clause distinguishing Western Sahara from other separatist regions.
  • Something that exercises Sahrawi self-determination, whether it be a referendum or a more legitimate CORCAS-style commission.
In all, some of the most astute writing I've recently read on political developments in the Western Sahara.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Jacob Mundy on US-Moroccan collusion in the Western Sahara

Western Sahara scholar and international diamond thief Jacob Mundy wrote an article for last month's Monde Diplomatique about the Western Sahara. It's an interesting exploration of great power interference in Western Saharan decolonization.

I especially enjoyed the part about Gerald Ford and Henry Kissinger discussing the International Court of Justice ruling that refused Moroccan and Mauritanian sovereignty claims:
Kissinger: Morocco is threatening a massive march on Spanish Sahara. The ICJ gave an opinion which said sovereignty had been decided between Morocco and Mauritania. That basically is what Hassan wanted.

The President: What is likely to happen?

Kissinger: Spain is leaning to independence. That is what Algeria would like. I will talk to the Moroccan Ambassador today.

The court, as noted above, had said something quite the opposite. Perhaps the only other person in the world who shared Kissinger’s highly partisan reading of the ICJ’s opinion was Hassan.
In other Mundy-related news, I'm terribly excited for the book he's co-writing with Stephen Zunes. You'll remember Stephen Zunes from an article detailing Gerald Ford's foreign policy villainies. I've heard rumblings about the book for some time now, but I'm told it won't be coming out until early 2008. That should give you enough time to read the last good book about the Western Sahara.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Maghreb Symposium today

I'm all over this. The Maghreb Center, a new organization promoting integration between Morocco, Tunisia, Libya, and Algeria (Western Sahara is conspicuously absent from the map) is hosting its inaugural conference at Georgetown.

I'd like to blow the day at panels, but Thursday's my busy day. I am, however, more than willing to skip International Relations to attend "The Security Environment in the Maghreb". Former MINURSO spokesman Jacques Roussellier is presenting his paper, "Western Sahara: Disputed Sovereignty or Regional Conflict?". While there are rumors about which country is founding the Center, Western Sahara discussions are invariably fun. I'll be circulating my homemade business cards to add to the Georgetown flavor.

I hope the Center continues to have events like this. They pretty much have to, since Georgetown's conference room (left) is so well-appointed.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

It's time for Mohammed Abdelaziz to retire

Mohammed Abdelaziz, president of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic and trickster, must be working off a wicked spell of jetlag. He's been jetting all over Latin America garnering support for Western Sahara independence, most recently visiting Ecuador to visit its leftist president, Rafael Correa.

The countries share a language, a legacy of colonial and Cold War abuse, and Abdelaziz is right to seek support outside of his traditional sub-Saharan African base. His new friends can send a strong international message for a referendum and increased aid for the camps. Abdelaziz is sending the strongest message, though: "I should retire."

Abdelaziz has been president of SADR since 1976. I've found Abdelaziz's interminable presidency, along with the Moroccan POW affair, to be one of the most difficult things about SADR to defend. After all, one of SADR's biggest draws is that it's an Arab democracy. A democracy, say SADR's detractors, can't have the same president for 30 years. There's some truth in what they say.

Still, until now I thought SADR was benefited by Abdelaziz's presidency. He's been with the struggle since the beginning, accruing allies and legitimacy. He seems committed to averting war. Toby Shelley wrote that Hassan II was the only leader from whom Moroccans would accept a diplomatic solution to the Western Sahara. The same may be true of the Sahrawis and Abdelaziz.

This latest diplomatic blitz, though, seems short-sighted at best and self-sabotaging at worst. By buddying up to the lightweight disciples of chavismo, Abdelaziz is antagonizing the United States, the country best situated to help his country.

Maybe this is my American exceptionalism writing, but Ecuador, Nicaragua, and even Venezuela can't do anywhere near what the United States can as far as securing self-determination goes. To make things worse, by affiliating himself with these men Abdelaziz lends weight to Moroccan calumnies that he and SADR are Communists.

Mohammed Abdelaziz is a hero to Sahrawis and their allies abroad. His service to the cause has been nearly lifelong, and whatever happens, he certainly won't defect for Moroccan bribes like other Polisario members have. Still, because his reign alienates potential allies and calls into question Sahrawi democracy, Mohammed Abdelaziz should retire.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Ladies doing it for themselves: Mauritanian women found political party

Or Does It Explode?, a Middle East-North Africa civil rights blog, has a post about post-dictatorship Mauritania, where a new political party called Mauritanian Hope aims for a 50% male and 50% female membership. The original article's in Arabic, so I'll presume Or Does It Explode? isn't tricking me. I don't think it is, since we have the whole interrogative blog title thing going on.

Doesn't the woman in the orange and pink hijab look like Aminatou Haidar? More equal gender roles in Mauritania should help the troubled country. Invading the Western Sahara certainly didn't. More liberal civil rights policies in Mauritania can only help Sahrawis, who are ethnically close to the Mauritanian people.

This is the first time I've mentioned Or Does It Explode?, but it won't be the last. It's a well-run blog that promotes a cause close to my heart, democracy and civil rights in MENA countries. It named the Western Sahara 2006's forgotten outrage, but hopes that will change. It doesn't play favorites, either, mocking Algerian president Abdelaziz Bouteflika's personality cult.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Namibia supports Sahrawi self-determination

Namibians, no strangers to failed decolonization themselves, have thrown their support behind the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic. In a diplomatic reception, Namibia's president Hifikepunye Pohamba demanded resolution of the Western Sahara conflict:
I therefore call on the international community to intensify efforts in ensuring that the people of Palestine and Western Sahara achieve freedom and independence
It's nice that the Namibians, who were occupied for so long by South Africa's Afrikaaner regime, recognize the importance of self-determination.

Incidentally, there are 8 "Democratic Republics" in the world. Giving Sao Tome and Principe, East Timor, and Sri Lanka the benefit of doubt, I would say the SADR is the 4 freest Democratic Republic in the world.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Morocco to abolish death penalty

Those Moroccans. Just when it seems like their distaste for press freedom is matched only by their zeal for protest crushing, they do something profoundly right. The good news out of Morocco now is that by April it will be the first Arab state to abolish the death penalty.

According to the president of the Consultative Committee on Human Rights, members of parliament and the king have been working together to strike capital punishment from the constitution.

While Muslims in Nigeria, for example, move closer to the unforgiving punishments prescribed in Shar'ia law, the Moroccan government is protecting human dignity and its secular nature. Once this law is passed, in another way Morocco will be more progressive than my home state, Texas.

It's also pleasing to see that the King isn't just working his policy through royal fiat but seems to be following the legal process.

I'm not sure how this will affect the Western Sahara. Have any Sahrawis been executed? I suppose if there were executions they'd be of the "shot while trying to escape" variety. It's startling how Morocco can be so enlightened on some issues while opposing others (like self-determination, free speech, and free assembly) vigorously.

But I'm not going to ruin Morocco's human rights parade. Congratulations, Morocco, you're my third favorite Arab country.

MINURSO's looking for a young lady who's OK with typing 90+ WPM, sand in everything she owns

Employees in MINURSO, the United Nations peacekeeping contingent in the Western Sahara and Algeria, are a lovable, ineffective bunch. Last week, everyone went to the lot behind the cafeteria to watch the Pakistani and Bangladeshi observers settle post-partition rivalries with a game of cricket. The Guineans keep to themselves mostly, but they win every spooky story contest.

It's a nice time, but something's missing. Beer cans are piling up, and the bunk beds haven't been made in weeks. Worse, Force Commander Kurt Mosgaard was late to meet with Mohammed Abdelaziz because he couldn't find anyone to tie his tie.

The UN High Command knew barracks need a woman's touch, so they put in a call for a personnel clerk ("Women candidates are encouraged to apply"). Kurt, you rascal!

I hate to see MINURSO going understaffed, so as a public service I will expound on the virtues of MINURSO service.
  • Desert climate helps tuberculosis.
  • The landmines are getting better.
  • The Mongolians are doing a killer My Fair Lady this fall.
Sounds like a good deal. I've never wanted so badly to be proficient in Excel. The obvious drawback, though, is no job security.