Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Morocco bans Youtube, then unbans it

Why does King Mohammed VI hate these two millionaires? I don't know, but he does. From sometime Sunday to today, Youtube was blocked on Morocco's major internet provider, Maroc Telecom, according to Maghrebism.

Fortunately, access was restored today. Bloggers are claiming victory, and they certainly publicized the blocking. They were helped by Reporters Without Borders and the Associated Press, both of which wrote pieces about the block. Youtube probably got the ax because of its pro-Western Saharan independence videos, some of which are admittedly pretty awesome. Other people cited Islamic revivalist or anti-monarchist sentiments on Youtube as the reason for the ban.

Youtube was joined in Maroc Telecom's Index Librorum Prohibitorum by previous inductees Livejournal and Google Earth. Kudos to Taamarbuuta of Morocco Report for her criticism of those in Morocco who take a "What me worry?" approach to censorship. She also aggregated some of the links I've mentioned here.

The whole affair is odd because only Maroc Telecom customers couldn't reach Youtube. As Netdur explains, the smaller ISPs still let people reach Youtube, suggesting that Maroc Telecom was either anticipating a government ruling or acting on its own.

Speaking of censorship, according to Morocco Report, One Hump is one of the few pro-Western Sahara blogs available in Morocco. I used to think all Blogger accounts had been blocked long ago, but Google Analytics metrics told me otherwise. After the United States, this blog is viewed most often in Morocco, with 114 of the 202 visits coming from Rabat.

Thanks to Morocco Report and commenter Laroussi for simultaneously tipping me off to the Youtube blocking. Orangutans for all people, regardless of nation.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Orangutan goes on rampage for Western Saharan independence

As an apology for how much working in the petroleum industry sucks up my blogging time, how about some speedlinking?
  • An orangutan in Taiwan trashed motorcycles and fell asleep after his own bid for self-determination. Not Western Sahara related, per se, but I think it's adorable.
  • Australia once got close to recognizing SADR, after the Australian senate passed a resolution last November calling for extension of diplomatic relations. What happened after that? Either way, good work, AWSA.
  • Claude Moniquet of the European Strategic Intelligence and Security Center got called out for being a paranoid neocon meatball, this time about Iran. You may remember Claude from the ESISC's special report on Polisario which supported all kinds of fallacies, including the Cuba-sex slavery lie. The post links to Western Sahara Endgame's aptly named "What is Claude Moniquet's Problem?". Indeed.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Center for American Progress panel on Western Sahara: Not much more than an excuse to wear a blazer

On May 10th, I went to the Center for American Progress's panel on the Western Sahara, "Morocco's Proposal for Western Sahara." You might say I'm old news with this, but enough people were nice enough to recommend it to me that I'll write about it. If only they had known how boring it would be.

To understand how stultifying it was, consider this: I left before it was over. I've sat through the Maghreb Symposium's backscratching just to see Jacques Rousselier tell me what I already knew about Western Sahara, but this was too much even for me.

The panel consisted of Rousselier, MINURSO's former spokesman; Ian Lesser, a commentator on Mediterranean affairs; Claude Salhani, an editor for United Press International; and Robert Malley, the MENA director for International Crisis Group and a former assistant of Sandy Berger's and member of the National Security Council.

Malley (pictured) came out best, and not just because his closest competition was Rousselier (In fairness to Claude "Great, Big, Bushy Beard" Salhani, I missed his remarks). He had several dynamite points, not least of which was that Morocco does not support self-determination. He said that doesn't mean the autonomy plan isn't good, but it does mean Morocco should stop pretending that it supports self-determination. He also called for Algeria to stop pretending like it's not an interested party in the Western Sahara.

Here is a video of his remarks. The rest of the presentation can be seen on the the event's page.

I was disappointed because I didn't see my boys from the Moroccan-American Center for Policy. Fortunately, former ambassador to Morocco Edward Gabriel was there in their place to ask asinine questions for dirhams.

He had two comments for Malley, to the effect that self-determination doesn't require a vote (ICJ and the Settlement Plan, not to mention countless UN resolutions notwithstanding). Then he avoided a harsh rebuke from the Malley Mallet and asked Rousselier a softball.

All I'm saying is, Rob Malley for Secretary-General envoy to Western Sahara.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Western Sahara is my new drug

Due to my tragic entry into the ranks of the gainfully employed, the blog is going to be woozy for the next day or two. Don't think that means no Western Sahara news, though.
  • The Algerian elections went down last week. Western Sahara Info has it covered. The North African "president" who supports Western Sahara (besides Abdelaziz) benefited. Celebrate the Littlest President's increased power at Or Does It Explode's photo gallery.
  • ARSO released another update on the Western Sahara. More blogs! Unfortunately, they're not in English.
  • Terrible wave of oppression sweeping the occupied territory. Western Sahara Info steps in once again. ASDVH also has coverage.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Arzu Aliyev is not a businessman, he's a business, man

Wikipedia tells me that this is a picture of musicians from Azerbaijan. I imagine that when Arzu Aliyev pays back the loan he owes me, I will celebrate by hiring a band similar, if not identical, to this one.

Some background: last month, in keeping with my habit of tying my fortune to faraway, disadvantaged groups with potential, I adopted a delightful Azeri businessman named Arzu Aliyev by lending him $25 through a microcredit loan. The loan was made through Kiva, a website that facilitates microfinance transactions from the West into developing countries.

I promised Arzu updates, and I aim to deliver. Soon after I tossed in my 25, Arzu made his $600 target. At the end of April, he got the money and began to expand his store's product line. In 12-16 months, I should be getting my money back. Until my Paypal is plump again, however, Arzu should know that I won't hesitate to cap a few knees.

In conclusion, microcredit seems like such a good idea. I hope once Western Sahara is free they can get a system up and running for it. I know I'd like to help bankroll a Sahrawi goatherd or pizzeria.

Morocco Board to pro-Polisario Wikipedia editors: "Use the sandbox next time."

The editors of Morocco Board are really getting the hang of this internet thing. They thought Western Sahara blogs were pretty cool, but now that they've discovered Wikipedia, you'll never be able to tear them off the computer.

Morocco Board likes Wikipedia, but thinks it'd be even better if Moroccans could swamp it with anti-Western Sahara opinions. That's why, in "Pro Polisario Activists abuse of the freedom of the free global encyclopaedia to push anti-Morocco agenda," Morocco Board shares some tips of the editing trade. Incidentally, the title of the article requires at least a revert.

Here are my favorite parts. I haven't seen such alarmism about Wikipedia since Encyclopedia Brittanica's annual report:

Wikipedia has now evolved to one of the most searched references by journalists and all active people in the academia, in the civic society and in the international public opinion, and there is almost not topic in the world that is not treated in this.

There are articles on Morocco as well. However they are sadly not always accurate as fanatic pro Polisario activists abuse of the free global encyclopaedia to push anti-Morocco propaganda. Unfortunately only few Moroccans are aware and participate actively to stop this.
So please, don't leave space for polisarian activists. The more you participate the more you country is presented in a fair and objective manner.
To the writer's credit, she or he later goes on to urge potential editors to follow Wikipedia's rules, and outlines the basics well.

Plus, they're right to be concerned. One Hump commenter Justin is permanently banned from Wikipedia for his pro-Polisario revisionism, and Western Sahara Info's Arre is active too. There are also a bunch of other people involved in disputes that are too complicated to explain here, even if I had any idea what went on. If you're interested in Western Sahara on Wikipedia, or just learning a bunch about Western Sahara through Wikipedia, check out this list of Western Sahara articles.

I'm pretty fond of Wikipedia's Western Sahara articles since the information I read there convinced me to get involved. Hurray for the dedicated people on both sides who try to balance one another out, but hurray especially for the pro-self-determination people, because I think they're right.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

I'm looking for the head of the Italian NGO who commented

Buona sera! I'm looking to get in touch with the commenter who said he was the head of an Italian NGO in this post. I'm interested in the slavery issue, and some other reputable people are intrigued too. My e-mail's in the sidebar.

Non-Italian NGO readers will probably want something fun, too. Check out Western Sahara Endgame's post about more Moroccan disinformation, as well as Western Sahara Info's post about the potential alliance between the Israeli and Moroccan occupations. The gist is, Morocco may be considering recognizing Israel in exchange for lobbying help in the U.S. over Western Sahara. Even if Israeli influence in American politics is sometimes overblown, that'd be a bad scene for the Sahrawis.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Sleeping under a Paper Moon: My letter in the Washington Times

The Washington Times has, for a currently unexplained reason, a love for all things Moroccan and occupation-y. It came as no surprise, then, when the paper that Reverend Moon built called on Polisario and Algeria to stop their silly self-determination racket and submit to autonomy.

The editorial praises the letter signed by congressmen supporting the autonomy plan, but failed to mention the anti-autonomy letter that also earned congressional support.

It also failed to mention Polisario's proposal, and ignored the negotiating trap Polisario would fall into by meeting Morocco about autonomy: "The Polisario now needs to be convinced that the interest of the Sahrawi people is served by negotiating an autonomy agreement, and Algeria needs to understand that its role in the Maghreb should be cooperative, not hegemonic."

It seems like invading another country is more of a grab at hegemony than supporting a government-in-exile and its accompanying refugees, but that's a trifling disagreement compared with the larger autonomy plan.

I'd had enough of the alliance between the cult of Greater Morocco and the cult of the Unification Church, so I sent a letter to the Times (CTRL-F Western Sahara to find it). I appreciate that they gave me a chance to support Western Sahara through their newspaper. Ameur Betka, the Algerian embassy's press officer in Washington, also had a letter about Western Sahara published. I liked his, but thought mine was punchier.

Frank "Slick" Ruddy also made an appearance in last week's Times. Check out their coverage of his appearance before Congress.

Incidentally, I got the "Paper Moon" joke from the reliably awesome Christopher Hitchens.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Sahrawi couscous looks yummy

Jenny Jaffe, a Dutch blogger, is trying to eat 80 meals, each made by a cook of a different nationality. This week she had some Sahrawi couscous, and her description of it only makes me want to go to the Western Sahara more.

Interestingly, her meal was made by Polisario's representative in the Netherlands, a Sahrawi named Ali. According to Jaffe, Ali worked in the Polisario Red Cross (Red Crescent?) during the war of independence. Their conversation about Western Sahara while Ali prepared the couscous gives a bittersweet portrait of life in exile:
During the preparations for the meal, we speak about the past and present of his country and I am impressed by his gentle spirit. His attitude seems to be a mix of sadness, frustration, determination and hope.
At least Ali is able to recreate a little Western Sahara in the Netherlands through the couscous, which sounds delicious:
Again, the couscous is steamed twice, with a lot of attention to the "fluffing" in between, as seen at right. It is served with succulent lamb, chick peas and a multitude of vegetables. Squash, carrots, cabbage, bell peppers, tomatoes and nabos, turnips.
I don't know what nabos are, but the rest sounds delicious. If Polisario did more of its diplomacy through stomachs, we might see a referendum sooner.

Speaking of Polisario representatives, Sahara Views has a new post about Polisario's status as the sole representative of Sahrawis.

Friday, May 11, 2007

While I'm away, Sidi Omar will play

Returning to Houston has meant updating Firefox, getting Photobucket and ARSO in my favorites, and other dreariness.

I've been thinking about the slavery controversy I'm happy to host in the comments section. If there is slavery in the camps, which is quite possible from information that's come out, why hasn't Morocco talked about it? It seems much more likely than the Cuba-slavery foolishness.

While I'm restarting Netflix (no Blood and Sand?), check out Alle's excellent post on Morocco and Press Freedom Day, as well as his round-up on news in Western Sahara and surrounding countries.

Sahara-Watch posted this awesome debate on Al-Jazeera (in English, natch) between Toby Shelley (of Endgame in the Western Sahara), Sidi Omar, Polisario's classy UK ambassador, and the Moroccan minister of foreign affairs. I think you can guess who wins.

My favorite part is when Toby Shelley says, "Self-determination, which as I understand it is in the UN charter..."

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Morocco Board linked to One Hump!

According to my Google Analytics account, I've been getting a lot of visitors from Morocco Board. I couldn't figure out why, though, until I did the usual vanity search for "Robert Holley Morocco" (the first hit is Chasli's excellent post). The second result is this, on Morocco Board: "Pro-Polisario Blog unhappy about U.S. Congress Positive Reaction toward Morocco's Initiative".

This is awesome, and I can't thank Morocco Board enough. Several points, though:
  • I'm going to get jacked on Google for duplicate content. Alas!
  • If you click on the second "letter" link, which should lead here, it's been changed to link to the pro-autonomy plan letter.
  • I'm delighted that they kept the Judy Blume picture.
  • My Arabic-congressional handwriting joke was funny.
Anyway, if you're coming from Morocco Board say hi, and I hope you stick around. The more varied the views on Western Sahara that get presented are, the better.

For those of you who've been around the whole time, I ask, "Is this one of the most exciting developments in the history of this blog?" Quite possibly.

Australian journalists weren't detained by Polisario, sort of

It seems like Koalagate is at last over for the Polisario Front. Still, it's not exactly clear what happened. I'll try and explain what is known.

Violeta Ayala and Daniel Fallshaw, Australians working on The Wall of Shame, a documentary about the Western Sahara and the refugee camps, were filming in Tindouf. Then, things got weird.

According to a statement Fallshaw and Ayala released through Wall's producer Zom Zubrycki in this article about the possible detainments, Polisario officials were angry that they were filming about race issues in the camps:

"The Polisario began to believe we were straying from the focus of our film, that of family separation and giving too much attention to Fetim's (a key protagonist) black extended family and friends"

After that, Polisario held them for a few hours and only released them after negotiations in front of MINURSO. Presuming that this is all true, Polisario should apologize for hassling people who seem to be pro-self-determination.

And about the earlier report that the film Ayala and Fallshaw are working on is about slavery:
"That's a real distortion," [Tom Zubrycki] said. "There could be an element of slavery ... but that is part of a bigger film but not part of the main story." (Emphasis mine)
What? If there is slavery in the camps, let's hear about it whether or not it's the documentary's focus. What is Zubrycki being so cagey about?

As for how this story got distorted by the media, One Hump commenters have some ideas. One anonymous commenter suggests that Moroccan security forces are working inside the camps, and it was them who harassed Ayala and Fallshaw. That seems about as likely as Morocco's child slavery in Cuba slavery. Instead of blaming Morocco for all of Polisario's bad press, let's hold them accountable so that someday the Front will deserve its claim to represent Sahrawis.

Also worth checking out: another anonymous commenter who claims to know Ayala complains about her behavior with Polisario. Translation nicely done by Justin Anthony Knapp.

With luck, things will become clearer as Wall of Shame's release date nears. I'm glad the journalists weren't held for long in Tindouf, if they were held at all, both for their sakes and the public relations disaster SADR avoided. I still want to know what the deal is with slavery.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Speedlinking it: Finals edition

In honor of my hopefully continued enrollment at Georgetown, I'm making a short post with good stuff tangentially related to the Western Sahara.
  • Western Sahara sympathizer Alex has a new blog, The Pearl of the Mediterranean. You might recall that she used to have another blog that I plugged here, but it's fallen into disrepair so a new one is needed. Thrill as she describes her fantasy baseball team!
  • Nerd Report, the blog of frequent commenter Justin, sometimes features Western Sahara stuff. When he's not posting about the Western Sahara, though, he links to videos and supports self-determination. This guy is so hard he was banned from Wikipedia for standing up to Moroccan distortions--respect.
  • This article about China's forced resettlement of Tibetans put me in a foul mood. If you're like me, you read about new injustices every day, but this struck me as particularly abominable.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Australian filmmakers detained by Polisario in Tindouf

Via an anonymous commenter in this post, a piece of worrisome news from Tindouf:
Two Australian journalists who were making a documentary on slavery in refugee camps in north-west Africa were briefly detained in Algeria by separatists, an official said on Monday.
"We are aware that two Australian journalists who were making a documentary in the Western Sahara, in the border area between Algeria and Mauritania, have encountered difficulties with the Polisario Front," [a Foreign Ministry spokesman] said.
According to the article, the Australians are Violeta Ayala and Daniel Fallshaw. Now, the only Australian journalists interested in Tindouf that I know of are associated with The Wall of Shame. And indeed, a Google search reveals confirms that (CTRL-F Ayala or Fallshaw to see that they're working on the project).

I'm surprised that Polisario detained them, as Wall looks like it's going to be mainly critical of the Moroccan occupation. Still, I suppose Polisario takes a dim view of any criticism the Australians might have found.

Google Analytics tells me I have readers in Australia. Any idea what happened? Whatever did, I'm glad Ms. Ayala and Mr. Fallshaw are OK.

UPDATE: According to a commenter, this story is being refuted by the people involved. More as it develops.

UPDATE 2: I misspelled "Australian." I'm hearing a lot that this story is being denied by the people behind "Wall of Shame," but I'm not finding anything online. Links?

Also, good Spanish speakers are encouraged to check out a long post in the comments in Spanish. It's by someone who says Ayala and Fallshaw stayed with him.

Scandinavia moves closer to recognizing Western Sahara

Each diplomatic recognition the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic receives moves Western Sahara closer to self-determination. That's why it's so exciting that European countries, none of which has recognized SADR, are being pressured by some liberal parties, according to this Afrol News article.

The European Liberal Youth, an organization with 250,000 members in 37 European countries, passed a resolution in April at its congress calling for Western Saharan recognition. With luck, this youth group can convince the liberal parties in power in their respective countries to support SADR, or at least stop arming Morocco.

Norway's also involved, naturally:
Nevertheless, the Norwegian Labour Party demanded the Sahrawi people were given the right to decide on independence in a referendum and condemned the Moroccan human rights violations in the "annexed territory", which the UN peacekeepers there should get a widened mandate to supervise. Together with the Socialist Left, the party agreed to work actively against trade with goods emanating from Western Sahara "until there is a solution to the conflict."
Sweden and Denmark are also moving closer to recognition, with Sweden irritated by the EU fishing agreement. Interestingly, the article says the recent EU-Morocco fishing agreement may have garnered Western Sahara more supporters in Europe.

If this article is accurate, it looks like very good news for the Western Sahara. As the writer says, "The heat is slowly being turned up on Morocco."

In other European activism news, ARSO's indispensable fortnightly Western Sahara news update now includes a Best of Blogs round-up. This week: Western Sahara Info's post analyzing the UNSC resolution, Inner City Press's article about the Polisario blackout at the UNSC, and my very own post about the resolution. This is a great idea on ARSO's part because it draws attention to the vibrant online Western Sahara scene and makes me work harder to get on it.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Jose Ramos Horta's advice on helping occupied countries

Jose Ramos Horta, East Timor's prime minister and a Nobel Peace Prize recipient for his work to end Indonesia's occupation of his country, knows about fighting for self-determination. East Timor and Western Sahara have had similar historical trajectories--trajectories that only diverged when East Timor won its independence. Ramos Horta even wrote the preface to Endgame in the Western Sahara.

I was reading a 1996 online chat with Ramos Horta, after he won the Peace Prize but 6 years before East Timor became independent. He was asked how Americans could help East Timor become independent. I think his answer is useful for people interested in the Western Sahara or self-determination anywhere.
"We believe that the key to change is pressure on the Suharto dictatorship of Indonesia. This pressure should come from the key economic partner of Indonesia, i.e. the major Western democracies. To obtain this, a change in policy towards Indonesia is required. That will need continued domestic pressure on governments by their constituents.

Any contributions you can make in terms of campaigns to change your country' s unquestioned support for the Suharto regime, would be very valuable. Contact your Representatives, join support groups, campaign etc. Also, the Indonesian pro-democracy movement needs support. The amount of domestic dissent is growing, and pressure is needed overseas regarding the regime's labor relations, human rights violations including basic civil rights."
Ramos Horta thinks that outside advocacy groups are effective, and I agree. Since Morocco derives so much support from France and the US, concerted campaigns targeting aid to Morocco could be effective. Something I hadn't considered before is the link between Western Sahara and Moroccan democracy reformers. What Moroccan parties advocate a referendum in Western Sahara?

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Ain't no party like a UN party because a UN party don't stop: UN renews MINURSO, calls for direct negotiations

The UN renewed MINURSO for another six months. The world breathed a sigh of "Eh." It also called for direct negotiations between Polisario and Morocco, which are actually going to happen.

Here's the resolution, courtesy of Sahara-Watch. Morocco didn't really get what it wanted, Polisario didn't really get what it wanted, France and the US didn't get what they wanted, but no one got screwed.

Personally, I'm pleased. It would have been nice if the UNSC would've stepped away from diplomacy-ese for a moment and hammered Morocco's autonomy proposal, but that's as likely as Driss Basri calling for a fair referendum. Plus, I'm kind of fond of MINURSO's general buffoonery.

Now, because it's finals week and I don't get credit for Western Sahara blogging (it's only a pass-fail course) , here's a round-up of what other people said about Western Sahara's big week at the UN:
  • Sahara-Watch, as mentioned above, was bored with the resolution.
  • Western Sahara Info wrote a nice breakdown of who is on whose side in the UNSC.
  • Sahara Views knows that if Algeria ain't happy, ain't nobody happy.
  • Finally, Deadline Pundit (aka Ian Williams), who frequently writes nice things about Western Sahara, writes that the UNSC's television cameras were knocked out when a Polisario representative was speaking. He goes on to say the Western Sahara dispute presents a challenge for international law and the UN, and that Arab states would do well not to set a precedent for annexation if they care about the Palestinians.
All of this still leaves a question unanswered: did MINURSO ever get a secretary?

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Jacob Mundy on Morocco's autonomy plan

Jacob Mundy, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Exeter, spends most of his time proving that people without blogs can still write about the Western Sahara. Not content with already writing two dynamite articles and collaborating with Stephen Zunes on a book, Mundy's struck again. This time, he's written an essay against Morocco's autonomy proposal for Foreign Policy In Focus.

Like many people interested in the Western Sahara, I had a negative gut reaction to Morocco's autonomy plan when I first heard about it. My feeling didn't change once I read the English version. Still, I didn't really have articulated reasons for not liking it, besides that Western Sahara has never been Morocco's

That's where Mundy's article comes in. He points out several flaws with autonomy:
  • It'll require commitments from Morocco, the UN Security Council, and Polisario. I can't imagine Morocco and Polisario changing their minds and cooperating soon, or the UNSC actually starting to invest serious resources into resolution.
  • If Polisario accepts autonomy, it could lose all its position as the legitimate representative of Sahrawis. Mundy points out that lately, Sahrawi nationalism has been growing. Only a self-determination scheme that pleases Sahrawis will end unrest in the territory. If last month's crackdown was any indication, Sahrawis don't see autonomy as a legitimate option.
  • Autonomy would be just as complicated to implement as a referendum was, if not more. Since that's the case, why should it be chosen as the "easier" option?
Check out Western Sahara Info's post about the article. It's good stuff, but it gets even better when Student in the US (of Sahara Views) and Mohammed Brahim (of Western Sahara Echo) go at it in the comments:
Student: These analysts forget a MAJOR aspect of the conflict : people. Did you go to Laayoune and talk with people in the street and they told you that they want Polisario to govern them ? Did you go to the refugee camps to talk to people and they told you that they live in a prison and that Morocco is their salvation ? if you didn't do so, it's better to keep quiet.

Mohammed: When i read your article, all i could do was simply to laugh so hard because you set a trap and you fell into it.
Snap! Mohammed went on to say that most Sahrawis agree with Jacob Mundy. He also points out that Jacob Mundy has been all over Western Sahara and Tindouf. What a cosmopolitan!