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.


  1. I don't see that appeasing the US is going to help the SADR much. The Communist charge is transparent propaganda which I doubt anybody takes seriously. If critics didn't have that to fling they'd just invent something else. Even if the SADR were to receive US support it is notoriously capricious (as the Kurds learnt to their cost).

  2. Not sure the Kurds learned anything, they're going to be backstabbed by the US third time around now (1975, 1991 before). But that's the problem with having hundreds of enemies and no allies -- you can't be choosy when the world's only superpower turns up at your doorstep with a Plan.

    That, of course, is also the reason Abdelaziz is trying to be friends with the leftist new caudillos in Latin America - they are the ONLY players of ANY weight that are showing any interest in the issue (and they're just doing it to be friends with Algeria and in search for third world causes). What can the man do? Still, precautions are in order, because they are going down sooner or later, and it would be helpful to underline Polisario friendliness to Washington even more now, if only as a preventive strike on Moroccan red-under-the-bed propaganda (which I agree is so poorly crafted as to probably be counter-productive).

    On Abdelaziz, I agree that he needs to step down and open up the movement: if not by resigning, then by handing over power to a directly elected SADR government/prime minister and/or by increasing institutional separation between Polisario and SADR. Both things would take constitutional reform, but unfortunately I don't think that's planned for the XII congress this month. (See

    The Polisario internal democracy has serious issues, and does not work well -- or at all -- in the top levels. That is demoralizing for activists, and the way that pro-war militance and pro-democracy reformism (plus outside meddling) is now coming together in the Khat Achahid faction should be a warning sign both to Polisario leaders and to the West, if it expects to be able to keep the lid on the Western Sahara situation for many more years to come. In many ways, WS resembles Palestine, and when the PLO had stagnated both in the armed struggle and internally, with increasing corruption, was precisely when Hamas rose through the Intifada.

  3. Alle and DK, you've made me reconsider the wisdom of befriending Latin America's leftists. As long as overtures are still made to the older, dominant P5 nations, there's no reason SADR shouldn't make tentative links with the other countries.

    If the ceasefire breaks down, though, I hope Polisario doesn't take weapons from those countries, no matter how appealing it might seem. Accepting weapons from Chavez and his adherents would make it too easy to paint Abdelaziz and his supporters as soldiers in a proxy war.

    That's an interesting comparison between Hamas and the PLO, and one I've considered myself. Just as PLO and Arafat lost their legitimacy by losing sight of independence, Polisario and Abdelaziz could find themselves ousted by a more vigorous, perhaps Islamist organization if they don't take positive steps towards reform.

  4. The Hamas/Fatah (rather than the PLO per se) conflict is an interesting analogy.

    Bear in mind, however, that although Hamas has been building its power base for over a decade it wasn't able to turn this into concrete success in the political sphere until after Arafat's death. Despite the corruption of the Tunis elite, there was a widespread and strongly felt personal loyalty to Arafat. Is there a similar respect for Abdelaziz?

    Are there any organisations in a position to unseat Polisario's hegemonic position within the Saharawi struggle? According to Wikipedia, there's a group called the Front Polisario Khat al-Shahid, but do they amount to anything on the ground?

    Hamas' success as I suggested was built up over years. They demonstrated their commitment to the struggle against Israel (parenthetically it's worth noting here that if Robert Pape is right, suicide bombing is an unlikely tactic in the Saharawi context); appeared incorruptible; and supplied social services (schools, mosques, food, healthcare etc.) where Fatah were unable or unwilling.

  5. Anonymous2:15 PM

    He should have done so a long time ago and just let everybody go Home, that is Morocco!
    El Tiburon

  6. DK, you make a good point about Hamas's social services and legitimacy against Israel. I'm not sure whether rival factions in Polisario could provide charity (where would they get the money from, unless Algeria decided they were sick of the Polisario leadership?) or combat legitimacy unless a majority favored a return to war.

    I think there might be a lot of information about the rival Polisario factions, but it's probably all in Arabic, Spanish, or French, so I don't know.

    Tiburon, you're grand. We need a pro-Moroccan around here. You'll even get free rent if you can show me one thing about your constant claim that Tindouf is a hostage camp: non-Moroccan evidence that says so. You say the proof is that Sahrawis are always sneaking out, but in Endgame in the Western Sahara, Toby Shelley says they're sneaking in, too.

  7. El Tiburon3:16 PM

    Hi Will
    Yes,Pro-Moroccan and very proud of it. Who's gonna pay my free rent? The same guys who steal humanitarian aid an pay yours? Come on Will, let's keep it a clean debate. As for Shelley's book, as far as I know, it has not made it yet to the level of Holy Scriptures and is therefore subject to debate. Now, if your standpoint is stuffed with prejudice and is based on one-way truths that sound like music to your ears than there can be no debate.
    Have a good one,
    El Tiburon

  8. I put my hoof in my mouth with that one. I meant free rent in a metaphoric sense, like a thing we'd do to encourage you to stick around. I'm sure you're more than capable of paying for housing, and don't need any help from Polisario.

    Alas, Endgame in the Western Sahara is not Holy Scripture (yet). But you haven't offered any evidence that no one escapes to the camps besides your word. Until then, while not infallible, it's as good as anything the Moroccan government produces.

  9. I've met a couple of Sahrawis who've fled Moroccan-controlled WS to go to the camps, but I'm not sure El Tiburon is going to be convinced by that. Still would appreciate it if you could get Polisario to pay my rent though.

    Anyway, nowadays Abdelaziz and the Polisario leadership are urging people to stay in the country (one must assume, for Intifada-related purposes), so even the little trickle of people that were continuing up until now must be closing down.

    About Khat al-Shahid, no, I don't think they have any money. They're basically positioning themselves as a reformist and pro-war faction within Polisario, and they're vehemently anti-Abdelaziz. Of course, there may also be an element of sour grapes involved, that they don't get their cut of whatever corruption they're accusing him of...

    Either way, I don't think Polisario is on the way to be replaced by another organization, antime soon, but there could quite conceivably sprout smaller networks on the fringe of it (like Khat al-Shahid) who are willing to start placing bombs.

    There was a very suspicious explosion some time ago at the Bou Craa phosphate mines, which (if it really happened) probably was the work of such disgruntled Sahrawis. It only takes a few of them to fall out of line even more and blow up people too, and that would have immense impact (for good and bad) on the diplomatic scene.

  10. Btw, I'm quite convinced that a majority favors a return to war. At least ordinary people in the camps I've spoken to are far more militant about it than Polisario leaders, to the point where the latter at times tried to sweeten the translations, or "forgot" to translate those parts...

    General attitude there was that, during the war years we were making progress, but now, we're just sitting here stewing in our own misery while Morocco is bringing in settlers and the world is forgetting about us. And as far as political analysis goes, they're absolutely correct too. Non-violence is the worst idea the Sahrawis ever came up with, and I personally think nothing is holding them to it except Algeria, which has made clear there will be no more war as long as it doesn't suit its interests.

    Also, in an Internet poll held by, with quite a lot of respondents, the score was like 80-20 in favor of resuming war, pronto. I know you can't trust Internet polls, but on an Arabic-language site, the only real factor to be able to significantly alter the result would be Moroccan web surfers ... and that would've gone the other way, right?

  11. Anonymous12:44 PM


    Polisario did go to war and did lose miserably, especially after Qaddhafi stopped arming them.

    A return to war will be a lost cause. peaceful autonomy is the solution.

    let reason speak.

  12. Well, if they "lost miserably", I fail to see why king Hassan agreed to a referendum in 1989. Winners rarely accept to vote over the outcome.

    I do agree however that a return to guerrilla war would be a risky move, even if it was possible.

    On peaceful autonomy, perhaps that is the solution. Or perhaps its peaceful independence. Let's follow Hassan's advice and let Sahrawis decide if it is.

  13. Anonymous10:48 AM

    am a pure moroccan!! am for polisario removing!!!i think its time for a final war!!and delete your asses from the planet!