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.


  1. Anonymous9:56 PM

    If Polisario is really ruling as the only authorized party, then it becomes interesting to consider how Polisario asks for the voice of sahrawis in the Western Sahara to be heard through a referundum, while it denies the right of political expression to people under its control in the camps .

  2. I haven't seen evidence that Polisario is suppressing free speech, press, or association in the camps. If such evidence exists, I'm more concerned.

    Since I haven't seen it, though, I grudgingly allow for coexistence the one-party state until independence reality and the self-determination rhetoric. Still, there should be multiple parties and some real elections (Is Abdelaziz that overwhelmingly popular?)

  3. I don't see how self-determination, as a right and decolonization method, and democracy or lack thereof, as an organizational model within an independence movement, are related at all. If Sahrawis have a right to determine their future, they have it whether Muhammad Abdelaziz is good, bad, short or tall; and if they don't, they don't. Nobody asked Morocco to democratize before France would leave, to just name one example.

    And, more importantly, it would have been absurd to expect it to happen. I can't think of a single protest movement that has been effectively and fully democratic while still engaged in war for independence: at most, they've had some level of popular participation and a solid popular consensus around their goals and methods. If you compare them with similar movements, Polisario seem to be doing very well on both accounts -- a far cry from the love-in image they're trying to sell, but still very well, given the circumstances and historical precedent.

    Apart from that, there's a myriad reasons why Polisario/SADR should get serious about reforms again. Not least that stagnant institutions seem to be handicapping them pretty badly as a movement and risks limiting their popular appeal -- that should be cause for concern even for those diehards who think the independence struggle has priority over internal democracy.