Friday, March 30, 2007

The Tindouf Challenge ends gloriously

It's been four weeks since Robert Holley of the Moroccan American Center for Policy won the Tindouf Challenge, and what a time it's been. I haven't gotten any responses from people who've seen the sign, but I can report on some changes in my behavior and my roommate's.
  • We've become generally better liars.
  • I personally have taken to speaking for entire groups of people without consulting them or their usual representatives. Last week, I stole my roommate's toothpaste. When he asked why, I said I was representing the will of the South Ossetian people.
  • The King of Spain gave me a high-five.

The sign is out of the window, and I'll decide how to dispose of it soon. The Robert Holley fun need not stop here, though. To know more about the first winner of a One Hump challenge, check out Western Sahara Endgame's opinion of Robert Holley.

Linkdump: good stuff I've been meaning to get to

  • The New York Times reviews an album by Western Saharan band Group Doueh (and promoted by the guy who does Sublime Frequencies, of Radio Algeria fame). I've downloaded and so far, it rivals my Congolese compilations for favorite African music CD.
  • A Wisconsin pastor writes about his church's activities with Sahrawis in Tindouf. His congregation has hosted Sahrawi students and sent English teachers to the camps. I'm trying to learn more about their work.
  • Here's a review of Toby Shelley's Endgame in the Western Sahara from when it came out. It's not recent, but I thought it was interesting to see what someone who isn't involved in the issue thought of the book.
  • Because I love Norwegians so, and vice versa, here's a description of a speech Aminatou Haidar gave in Norway. She asks Western journalists to try and report from the occupied territories, and thinks Norway could be the first Western European nation to recognize SADR. I think Norway is SADR's best chance for Western European recognition, not counting some surprising events in Spain.
  • Not so much Western Sahara related as cool people related: Voice writer Mike Stewart is in Argentina for the semester and is blogging about it on The Intrepid Viajero. I'm worried about his lack of capitalization, but I'm sure encouragement from Western Sahara fans will show him the err of his ways.
I was able to hang on to so many links because of, which is absurdly useful if you get the accompanying Firefox plug-ins. lets you save websites to come back to them later, but in a much more intuitive way than bookmarking it.

If you're not using, what're you waiting for? Here's my page (not all Western Sahara related, and some with nonsensical notes).

I got this post idea from I Help You Blog's post 101 Blog Posting Ideas that Will Make Your Blog Sizzle to write this post on speedlinking.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Sahrawis should start building civil society now

In addition to elections, a country needs a developed civil society, liberal institutions, and liberal norms like the peaceful transfer of power and the rights of minorities. For many countries a liberal society takes decades or centuries to develop. The Western Sahara is wasting time on one-party dictatorship when it could be developing its own.

Sahrawis in the camps have little to do unless they go back to war or return to Western Sahara. Instead, the Polisario Front and SADR could save a future Western Saharan state expense and pain by working on its civil institutions now.

For example, Polisario is the only legal party in the Tindouf camps, according to the SADR constitution. The constitution also states this will change after the government returns from exile, but that might be years from now. Instead, Polisario should allow independent political parties with a goal towards holding elections. Additionally, an independent judiciary should be established that is not beholden to either Sahrawi or Algerian authorities.

Polisario repeatedly claims it’s too dangerous to allow multiple parties, or that an election would mean gains for radical elements. This is a specious argument, used repeatedly by dictators the world over who pretend that you can make a trade between free expression and stability.

Sahrawis are already appeal to American for their democracy. Imagine how much more attention and support they would attract with an unbiased election and judiciary.

Until we see developments in the Western Sahara, the Sahrawis in Tindouf have an infinite amount of time to develop their future country. They should stop languishing under Polisario’s monopoly on political power and seize this opportunity.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

The reason your relatives in Lagwira never call back

Remember when the Moroccan magazine Nichane got in trouble for publishing an issue full of Moroccan jokes? They were charged with insulting Islam, even though most people in the country knew the jokes. They got off easy, but according to Khatry Beirouk of Western Sahara Online, the Western Sahara might've been why they got in trouble.

Apparently, there's a slogan about Morocco that goes "From Tangiers to Lagwira." Tangiers is in the north of Morocco, while Lagwira is a city in Western Sahara's south. When Moroccans say "Morocco: From Tangiers to Lagwira" they mean Western Sahara belongs to Morocco.

But here's the rub: Lagwira is outside the Berm, and outside of Moroccan control. The Moroccan government doesn't want this to be widely known, but the editors of Nichane knew better. They went to a government office and asked for a copy of the Lagwira phone book. Since they couldn't give them a phone book, they gave them a lawsuit, instead.

Update: Commenter Larbi Mansour for telling me Tangiers is the first city in the slogan. Thanks, Larbi.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Videos chronicle Sahrawi protests inside Western Sahara

Youtube is a great way to see what's going on in the Moroccan-occupied portion of Western Sahara, even more so because traditional journalists are often denied access to the country. Previously, I wrote about videos of Mohammed Daddach on the site. There is also a wealth of footage of Sahrawis protesting, along with subsequent Moroccan repression.

Here are two of my favorite videos of Sahrawi resistance inside Western Sahara.

If you stick with this video, you'll be rewarded. At first I thought it was just hooded Sahrawis holding a Polisario flag, but actually, there's an enjoyable ending when they try and display the flag.

In this clip, Moroccan police assault Sahrawis demonstrating for self-determination. They kick and hit the youths, including some women. I realize Youtube videos aren't paragons of accuracy, and this makes me even more suspicious. I mean, Morocco would have to be insane to let images like this get out of the country.

There are a lot of other videos to choose from, although most are from SADR television and have crummy quality and martial music. I liked this one of confrontations between Sahrawis and Moroccan police, though. It opens with Sahrawis lowering Morocco's flag and replacing it with Polisario's!

Hopefully, we'll get more videos like these. Until Morocco increases journalistic access to the territories, they're one of the best resources we have to gauge the mood of Sahrawis inside the Berm.

A John Stewart Mill quote Western Sahara's supporters should remember

Thursday, I said Morocco would do well to remember J.S. Mill's words about free speech and repression. Mill is slick enough to enlighten both sides, though, and that's why today I'll quote something he said that, if followed, would make discourse about the Western Sahara a lot more civil:

"The worse offence of this kind can be committed by a polemic, is to stigmatize those who hold the contrary opinion as bad and immoral men"

With a large country (as well as a homeland) at stake, and with abuses on both sides, it's easy to characterize the opposition as stupid or evil men. Instead, let's recognize the legitimate reasons Moroccans want to hold onto Western Sahara, and that many of us would feel threatened if someone suggested cutting away half of our country.

Incidentally, pleasant Britisher Disillusioned Kid was rude enough to shatter my Mill illusions in a comment on the earlier post. In "A Few Words on Non-Intervention", Mill calls for British intervention in the affairs of foreign countries, and praises Britain's noble restraint regarding its colonies. It's easy to imagine how Mill would've felt about Western Saharan decolonization if it was a British colony, but it wasn't, so let's agree not to stigmatize our enemies.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Times admits Fred Vreeland loves dirhams more than accuracy

I only mentioned it in a link, but former ambassador to Morocco Frederick Vreeland's article in The New York Times (free registration required) caused quite a stir. Read it yourself, but the gist is Ambassador Vreeland is fond of the autonomy plan. Now the Times is admitting Ambassador Vreeland has financial interests with the Moroccan government.

A Times correction (caught by Sahara-Watch, natch) Thursday admitted that Vreeland has more than regional peace at mind when he writes for Morocco:
Editors' Note : An Op-Ed article on March 3, about Morocco’s proposal for an autonomous Western Sahara, should have more fully disclosed the background of the author, Frederick Vreeland. Mr. Vreeland, a former American ambassador to Morocco, is also the chairman of a solar-energy company that has had contracts with the Moroccan government.
A quick Google search revealed that Ambassador Vreeland owns at least 10% of Noor Web, a corporation that sets up solar panels to electrify rural Morocco. A noble goal, certainly, and not one an Al Gore disciple like myself can dispute. It is ridiculous, though, that a qualifier didn't run next to Vreeland's article.

I'm looking into NoorWeb, but I can't read documents in Arabic or French. If anyone can find proof NoorWeb gets special treatment from the Moroccan government--like, say, no-bid contracts--that'd be a great story.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

3 John Stuart Mill quotes Morocco should consider

I'm reading J.S. Mill's On Liberty for class, and I'm struck by how appropriate much of what he wrote can be applied to the Western Sahara, especially in regards to censorship. If only Morocco paid more attention to J.S. Mill and less to its internet-monitoring technology, maybe ARSO wouldn't be blocked in Dakhla.

1. "If any opinion is compelled to silence, that opinion may for aught we can certainly know, be true. To deny this is assume our own infallibility." While I'm sure some people would have no problem attributing infallibility to the Moroccan government, for those of us who do, Mill is right--by suppressing different opinions in the Western Sahara and online, Morocco is only giving them more credibility.

2. "Many opinions now general will be rejected by future ages, as it is that many, once general, are rejected by the present." The Sahrawi cause might seem hopeless sometimes, and a majority of Moroccans may think of Western Sahara as the southern provinces. But circumstances and ideas change with time.

3. "If all mankind minus one were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing than one person than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind." This is my favorite, and I think most relevant to the situation in the occupied territory. Witness Moroccan security forces vs. Hamdi Lembarki, Aminatou Haidar, Ali Salem Tamek, Mohammed Daddach, or countless others.

New at 9: Global warming is whacky!

I was looking at the Washington NBC affiliate's website for news for the Voice blog, and I found this delightful categorization of Al Gore testifying before Congress as "Weird News."

For NBC4, "Weird News" seems to generally mean terrifying ("Pet food maker can't explain deaths"?). Still, this new human-interest take on global issues has potential. Maybe next time they can send one of those crazy bald morning show guys (every local station has one) to Iran for nuclear issues, and he can wear a hijab while locals giggle, and then he looks at the camera and says, "What?"

Belgium sells howitzers to Morocco

Belgium will soon sell 40 howitzers to Morocco, according to Belgium's De Standaard. Despite a domestic outcry against the sale, which will presumably go towards fighting Western Sahara nationalism, only an export license stands in the way of an enlarged Moroccan army.

While usually responsible countries selling weapons to Morocco is nothing new, the sale is interesting for two reasons. First, it raises a perennial questions for people interested in Africa: why is Belgium always doing nefarious things there?

More comfortingly, the howitzers are apparently crummy. According to the article, "The howitzers (self-propelled) are military fossils which fitted within strategic thinking during the Cold War." Still, if another war comes whatever equipment Morocco has will vastly outmatch Polisario's aging army.

Thanks to Sahara-Update for the translation. My Walloon isn't what it used to be.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

What's up with Norway?

People all over the world support self-determination in the Western Sahara. The locations of some of the most active Western Sahara support communities make sense--Spain is interested in its former colony, and hassling Morocco is a very British pastime, which explains Australia and England.

Other countries are stranger. For example, it's hard to explain why, according to Google Analytics, the third most popular language for people who read One Hump is Polish. And then there's Norway.

Norwegians are some of the most active people in the Western Sahara community, despite seemingly no connection to the territory. Nevertheless, they're cool enough to do a ton of things for a referendum.

The Norwegian Rafto Foundation for Human Rights works to protect Sahrawi dissidents in Moroccan-occupied Western Sahara, especially Sidi Mohammed Daddach. In 2002, the Foundation awarded Daddach a prize in human rights, and lobbied the Moroccan government to grant Daddach a passport so he could collect his award.

The Norwegian Support Committee for the Western Sahara is also vocal, complaining about the exploitation of Sahrawi natural resources. I'm not sure about the details of this, but I think they were able to get a Norwegian phosphate company to divest from Western Sahara, a victory against Moroccan mercantilism.

The Committee also runs Sahara-Update, the Yahoo group that's better than Google Alerts for keeping up with the Western Sahara online.

I personally experienced the curious Norwegian affinity for Western Sahara through Mikael Simble, the U.S. representative of the Support Committee made infamous at the Moroccan protest. Mikael, who has since been called back to the tundra where he makes his home, explained that many Norwegians are interested in social justice issues like Western Sahara.

I disagree. I think the Norwegians work so ceaselessly on the Western Sahara to make amends for their barbarian heritage. I imagine Ronny Hansen, the Support Committee's leader, adding posts to Sahara-Update and simultaneously subtracting babies tossed on swords.

Still, that theory doesn't put the question to rest. Whatever the explanation is, Norwegians helping Sahrawis will continue to be the best argument for a welfare state.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

5 Ways The Wild Bunch is like the Western Sahara

Sam Peckinpah's The Wild Bunch is usually considered a eulogy to the Western, or a critique of the Vietnam War's orgiastic violence. The movie portrays a gang of outlaws as they struggle to make their way in an increasingly modernized world. Hunted by bounty hunters, they begin working for the Mexican army, but the relationship is short-lived.

When I watched it recently, I was struck by an interpretation all the "experts" have ignored: The Wild Bunch is an allegory for the Western Sahara! I don't have my thesis ready yet, so here are the five most obvious ways The Wild Bunch is a paean to Sahrawi struggle.

  1. The heroes are outnumbered-Whether they're fighting Mexicans, the U.S. Army, or the bounty hunters, the outlaws are always much fewer than their opponents. In the Western Sahara, the ratio of Sahrawis to Moroccans is something like 1 to 5. Parallels!
  2. Their enemies are backed by powerful Europeans-The bounty hunters are bankrolled by a wealthy railroad man, and the Mexican army has German advisers. German isn't too far from French, and Morocco was thick with French support during the war in Western Sahara.
  3. The heroes do bad stuff-This is tautological considering they're outlaws, but I think using old women for human shields deserves a special shout-out for badness. And as for you, Polisario: having read the France Liberte report on the treatment of Moroccan POWs, I'm sad to say the POW situation was much worse than I realized. But like the (anti) heroes in The Wild Bunch, just because Polisario does bad things doesn't mean their goals aren't fundamentally good.
  4. The outlaws are hunted by a man who used to be their friend-The bounty hunters who hound the gang are led by Deke Thornton, who formerly worked with the gang. Just like Khellihenna Ould Errachid, the head of CORCAS.
  5. The gang's leader is aging-Pike Bishop, the head of the robbers, is grizzled and looking for one last score. His leadership is questioned by the younger Gorch brothers. When you think of Mohammed Abdelaziz as Pike and Khat Achahid as the Gorch brothers, it's only too clear.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Jacob Mundy on the Western Sahara deadlock

Western Sahara popularizer Jacob Mundy is busy. Fresh from writing an article about Western Sahara for Le Monde Diplomatique, he's written an article for the Middle East Report Online about the growing discontent in Western Sahara as Morocco pushes the autonomy plan.

There's nothing earth-shattering in the article, but Mundy has cutting analysis that synthesizes the events of the last few years and months into an understandable whole. For example, he looks at Polisario's confusing reversals on compromises that come right after Moroccan backpedaling, and writes that the moves came "usually much to Morocco’s chagrin and the Security Council’s delight."

The rest of the article touches on the decade-long deadlock between Western Sahara and Morocco during United Nations interference. Mundy thinks Morocco will never allow a fair referendum, which seems about right. Unfortunately, that means the Sahrawis have to choose between fighting or giving in to Morocco. Mundy thinks they'll choose the former.

On a related note, the picture at left is on Mundy's grad student profile. Do you think that's really him, or did he just find a picture of a man in the desert? I hope it's him, because the picture gives the sense that he woke up in Western Sahara, confused and inappropriately dressed, and decide as long as he was there he might as well support self-determination.

Friday, March 16, 2007

How I met President Abdelaziz

Fresh out of the United Nations, Mohammed Abdelaziz and his Fightin' Sahrawis stopped in Washington. I knew I couldn't pass up this chance to meet the President of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic and Polisario.

Mouloud Said, the unofficial SADR ambassador to the U.S., was nice enough to invite me to a reception for the group. I grabbed visiting high school student and belated Western Sahara-phile Patrick Mahoney and we were off.

The event was more intimate than I expected, my only other experience with a Western Sahara event being the Aminatou Haidar reception. Held in a Virginia's family's house, there was a delicious dinner and desert. And Patrick and I were thinking about getting Chipotle!

Anyway, we showed up and from the beginning were treated like we belonged there. Ambassador Said introduced us to everyone, including a big muckity-muck at the Algerian embassy, the Algerian ambassador to the U.S., the SADR United Nations delegate, and (I think) the Algerian UN delegate.

Then I was introduced to President Abdelaziz, who asked me why I haven't been to the camps yet. I'm working on it!

Right after this picture was taken, President Abdelaziz stole all my pots.

Other notables included Suzanne Scholte of the US-Western Sahara Foundation and Khatry Beirouk, who runs Western Sahara Online. One of President Abdelaziz's advisors was there, and he was cool too. It was a love-fest!

The couple that hosted the dinner (whose name I forget, unfortunately) is making a documentary featuring their son and his friends, who went to Tindouf. They're teenagers, and the idea is that the Western Sahara is such a clear issue even teenagers can understand it, so what's your deal, United Nations? Even better, one of the kids in the video made delicious brownies for dessert.

There are serious problems with President Abdelaziz and SADR. For example, he shows no signs of stepping down as president-in-perpetuity, and the treatment of Moroccan POWs was reprehensible. Still, after meeting the President and his entourage I feel surer than ever that the Sahrawi people deserve independence and will be successful once they achieve it.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

"Whoops, there goes another rubber tree": Plant Banditry in Morocco

Morocco isn't just having trouble hanging onto its "southern provinces." According to this article at View from Fez, Morocco is also plagued by palm tree theft.

Apparently, stolen palm trees is quite the thing in Morocco. At first I thought it was because palm trees look nice. It seems, though, that thieves steal the trees for their dates. Are dates that delicious? I don't really like them, and when there's a nut inside, it's an even bigger hassle.

Anyway, palm tree theft has become such a problem the Moroccan government has intervened, threatening hundreds of dollars in fines. Still, some questions remain unanswered, namely:
  • Isn't it hard to steal a palm tree? You'd have to pull up a truck, rip it out, and secure it in the bed before you could get away. Plus, it probably makes a lot of noise.
  • Where do you find a fence for "hot" palm trees?

Monday, March 12, 2007

Tell the Secretary General to defend self-determination

Do online petitions do anything? Maybe not. If any online petition related to the Western Sahara ever helps the Sahrawi people, though, it'll be this one, an appeal to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon to defend self-determination in face of the autonomy plan presentation in April.

The petition has been getting a lot of publicity online, running at the top of ARSO's front page and on several blogs. The petition calls for an immediate referendum on self-determination, as well as protection for Sahrawis in the occupied territory.

There is also a more detailed argument against autonomy. The petition points out that autonomy is expressly against all the previous agreements that supported a referendum.

This petition has already received a lot of signatures. The usual countries are well-represented (Spain, Morocco, Western Sahara, and Algeria), as are Norway, the United States, and France. Still, the petition has been signed by people as diverse as Angolans and Singaporeans.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Western Sahara refuses to take a week-long break, even though I asked nicely

I went on Spring Break and all sorts of things happened. Polisario destroyed more than 3,000 landmines, the New York Times finally remembered the Western Sahara (though not fondly), and even The Economist got in on the action.

The rest of March and April are going to be good times for Western Sahara fans. As Morocco's autonomy presentation before the Security Council nears, both sides are increasing their lobbying efforts. Besides more articles about the Western Sahara, Moroccans and Sahrawis are visiting world capitals. President Abdelaziz of SADR is even coming to Washington this week (more on that later).

It's going to be a good month for the Western Sahara, so I hope you're as rested from your Spring Break as I am.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Robert Holley wins Tindouf Challenge

The Tindouf Challenge, where contestants tried to find non-Moroccan evidence that the Sahrawis in Tindouf are held against their will, has been won. While there were many excellent entries, I finally had to go with the contestant who personally turned his in. That lucky Western Sahara-phile is none other than Robert Holley, executive director of the Moroccan American Center for Policy.

Holley's winning evidence was an Amnesty International report from 2003 that summarized the human rights situation in Algeria. One section, devoted to the Tindouf camps, said this:
This group of refugees does not enjoy the right to freedom of movement in Algeria...

Amnesty International is not aware of Sahrawi refugees being allowed by the Algerian authorities to leave the camps without the authorization of the Polisario authorities and to find safe haven in other parts of Algeria. Reports received by Amnesty International indicate that those refugees who manage to leave the refugee camps without being authorized to do so are often arrested by the Algerian military and returned to the Polisario authorities, with whom they cooperate closely on matters of security.
Seems like pretty damning evidence, and it's certainly enough to win. Still, there are some mitigating factors that make me less concerned that the refugees in Tindouf are held against their will.

First of all, it seems like it's a usual, though still unfortunate, thing for refugees not to be allowed to leave their camps. The 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees said the state the refugees are in must allow them to reside wherever they want in the country, and move around it freely. Unfortunately, as this report shows, the Convention is rarely respected. Thanks to Professor Andy Schoenholtz for the information about warehousing.

Morocco hardly comes across like angels in the report. Morocco could be crueler than it already is to Sahrawis and that still wouldn't make Polisario abuses right. Still, this section of the Amnesty report suggests why Moroccans have such misapprehensions about the Sahrawis in Tindouf, and why so many returned Sahrawis are "eager" to talk about their experiences:
Those Sahrawi refugees who find their way to Morocco normally, it would appear, by travelling southwards through Mauritania rather than through Algeria are only reportedly able to enjoy protection if they are willing to declare their allegiance to Morocco, to renounce any view in favour of the independence of Western Sahara and to denounce publicly to national media the Polisario authorities and the human rights situation in the Tindouf camps.
But hey, Mr. Holley won. The CORCAS sign is up, and will be for 3 weeks, just in time for the autonomy plan unveiling in April.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Western Sahara Online has inscrutable political cartoons

Western Sahara Online is a useful resource for anyone interested in the Western Sahara, as long as you keep in mind that it's written from a pro-SADR point of view. But did you know it also has well done, but strange, political cartoons?

The one at left exemplifies what I mean. I get that it's a take-off on, I think, a cream ad. But who is that character? It doesn't help that I can't read French or Arabic.

Whoever he is, Western Sahara Online doesn't trust him. Later, he shows up obscenely squeezed into a skin-tight Superman suit. In this one, he's in background, smirking away. What a character.

They're not all pleasantly baffling, though. This cartoon does a good job of conveying how many people feel about the food aid shortages. It's not clear to me if Western Sahara Online makes all these, or has collected some from other places, but kudos for making them available.