Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Rahm Emmanuel supports autonomy

While I was reading this Zunes article I noticed that Rahm Emanuel is among the US congressmen supporting Morocco's autonomy proposal. For those who don't know, Rahm Emanuel is the head of the Democratic caucus in the House who gets a lot of credit for the Democratic victory in 2006.

I've never liked him, though, and now I have an even more concrete reason why. Someone so willing to sell out self-determination isn't someone I want running the Democratic Party. Plus, he's a total gangster: he sent a dead fish to someone who crossed him. Here's a case where a rare intersection of Maghreb and US politics illuminates both sides.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Where's ARSO?

ARSO, the grandpappy of Western Sahara websites, hasn't updated its invaluable news section in a month and a half. I thought I was just anxious for more news round-ups, but apparently not. The most recent news article covered June 3 through June 16th. Has the internet gone down in Switzerland?

Comment of the week, 'Bongs Hit 4 Sahrawis' edition

In the grand tradition of the Comics Curmudgeon, I'm going to start highlighting a comment each week that particularly caught my eye.

In the future I'll be on the lookout for particularly well-reasoned argument on either side or Mohammed VI jokes. We'll kick it off, though, with a nod to inscrutability and narco-politics courtesy of an anonymous comment. Sic is implied.
let me give you a small advice if i may i think you should see your doctor (pronto) ,you may have what we call a moroccan syndrome luckily morocco does have a cure for such illness and the moroccans we'll be happy to help you (pronto)silly me i repeat the word pronto twice ,anyway this is what you need for your cure,you need to get your hands on couple of ounces of moroccan honey i think you know what i mean& you shouuuuld smoke couple of joint every night before your bedtime for 3 months and that my friend will do the trick , feel free to give my solution to your bodies,once you finish the cure you'll become in love with the moroccans
yous Moroccan formula
You laugh, but a smoke-up was part of the first Baker proposal.

Pictures from Western Sahara rally in Washington

Sahrawis and Americans rallying for self-determination

Last week, the US-Western Sahara Foundation, along with members of Christ the Rock Church in Wisconsin and Sahrawis visiting the US with the church's help hit Washington hard with their demands for self-determination.

On Thursday, they rallied in Lafayette Park. Several cool people, including Frank Ruddy and Suzanne Scholte, spoke.

That night, there was a congressional reception that was sponsored by reliable House allies Zach Wamp, Joseph Pitts, and Donald Payne. They were joined by Tim Ryan (D-OH), who seems like a snazzy up-and-comer. On the Senate side, there was Russ Feingold (my hero!), James Inhofe, and Jim DeMint. It's nice to see someone on the Hill is standing up for Sahrawis.

Here are some pictures from the rally courtesy of Mohammed of Western Sahara Echo. If you know of any more, tell me!
A woman I don't know gives a speech. Below her, Frank Ruddy waves a Polisario flag.

The rally was postponed until gravity returned to normal.

I'm jealous of those brown shirts. On the front they say, "Be their voice."

I'm glad Christ the Rock, US-WS Foundation, and everyone else involved pulled it together. Mrs. Lenz at the church said they were feeling optimistic after the great embassy protest of 2006, so I can only imagine how well this is playing in Tindouf. And how sourly it's being received in Rabat.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Aminatou Haidar wins Silver Rose human rights award

Aminatou Haidar, an international face for both Sahrawi women and the Western Sahara struggle in general, has been chosen for another prestigious human rights award. This time, she's receiving the Silver Rose award, given by the SOLIDAR organization and presented at a dinner of the European Parliament in October.

SOLIDAR is an "an international alliance of social and economic justice non-governmental organisations (NGOs) working in development and humanitarian aid, social policy, social service provision and life-long learning." Haidar was recommended by an Austrian NGO, Volkshilfe. Rumor has it Volkshilfe is the coolest thing to come out of Austria since this man.

After all her work for Sahrawi independence, Haidar certainly deserves this new accolade. The Norwegian Support Committee for Western Sahara has SOLIDAR's explanation for why she was chosen. It's also worth checking out Haidar's testimony about the abuse she received in prison.

And to think, I knew her before she was famous.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Nelson Mandela and Co. should start in Western Sahara

For his 89th birthday last week, Nelson Mandela announced that he's starting a group with other political, business, and artistic luminaries to solve the world's problems. They're called the Elders, and it's an impressive group that includes Mandela, Richard Branson, Desmond Tutu, irrepressible cool guy Mohammed Yunus, Jimmy Carter, and Peter Gabriel (?).

It's exciting to imagine these people using their connections and the respect they command for good. Why not start with Western Sahara? It's a long-standing problem that still has a clear solution--a referendum--and isn't as intractable as Israel/Palestine or as vague as ending hunger.

It would be exactly the kind of high-profile campaign the Western Sahara needs. Here's hoping.

New Stephen Zunes article on Western Sahara: "Out of my way, I'm a famous historian!"

This dashing fourth fifth Gibbs brother is Stephen Zunes, Western Sahara scholar and co-author with Jacob Mundy of Western Sahara: Nationalist and Conflict Irresolution in Northwest Africa. Why is he smiling? Because he has an excellent new article out about the United States's support of the Moroccan autonomy plan!

In the article, Zunes argues that American support for the autonomy plan isn't about a "third way" or a compromise, but a shameless sell-out to Moroccan aggression. He says no country has been allowed to expand by war since World War II and had that expansion recognized by the international community, a standard he fears autonomy would undermine.

Zunes also mentions a depressingly bipartisan list of autonomy supporters. It includes Senate Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, Minority Leader John Boehner and Georgetown's own Madeline Albright. So much for the Democratic takeover meaning more respect for self-determination.

It's not all gloom, though. Zunes recalls the international movement to free East Timor as hope for Western Sahara:
In the comparable case of East Timor, only after human rights organizations, church groups, and other activists forced the U.S. government to end its support for Indonesia’s occupation did the Jakarta regime finally offer a referendum that gave the East Timorese their right to self-determination. It may take similar grassroots campaigns to ensure that the United States lives up to its international legal obligations and pressures Morocco to allow the people of Western Sahara to determine their own destiny.
Human rights organizations, church groups, and "other activists"? We've got all three. Now it's just a matter of doing the work.

Western Sahara Info has more.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Plundering Western Sahara can't get Island Oil & Gas a new office

Apparently exploiting Western Sahara's resources isn't as lucrative as previously thought. From the Norwegian Support Committee for Western Sahara, here's a picture of Island Oil and Gas's container ship-like offices. It's probably pretty sweet on a road trip, but as an office it leaves something to be desired.

Island Oil and Gas became notorious in the Western Sahara after they signed an exploratory deal with Morocco to look for Western Saharan oil. Don't feel too bad for them--this might not be their main office. Still, it looks like all the occupation booty is going to Morocco's other cronies.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Avoiding civil war in Western Sahara

At the best dinner ever, a videographer whose name escapes me asked a question I think people more involved in the Western Sahara gloss over, namely, "What's going to happen to all the Moroccans in Western Sahara when it becomes independent?"

It's a question that deserves all of our attentions. After all, the ratio of Moroccans to Sahrawis in Western Sahara is something like __ to ___. Even if all the Sahrawis from the diaspora came back and some Moroccans left, Moroccans would still be in the majority. That majority probably wouldn't be happy about separating from its homeland. The fear of ethnic death squads has been mentioned by others, and I think it's a real one.

Presuming the Moroccans are unhappy with independence, that would leave the Western Saharan government with two options: losing its Sahrawi character and perhaps its independence through democracy, or having an apartheid-like system where only Sahrawis are granted full political rights. Neither are desirable options, and to my mind neither are adequate results after 30 years of exile and war.

There'd be no need to choose between the two if some things took place. A worsening opinion of the Moroccan government would make Moroccans more amenable to a change of government. But Polisario and Sahrawis can't control that, so they should work towards two other goals.

First, Moroccan settlers should be included in any referendum a la Baker II. It's not attractive for Sahrawis, and it's only marginally fairer than autonomy, but if Moroccans don't participate in the vote they won't feel they have a stake in the what comes after.

A more difficult task will be persuaded Moroccans in and outside Western Sahara that an independent Western Sahara is in their best interests. I don't know how that can be done, but it'll take more dialogue with Moroccans and less bitterness on both sides. The UN-sponsored negotiations make Polisario seem more palatable to Moroccans, I think, so at least they're good for that.

Of course, I'm putting the referendum before voter registration, as it were. Still, if the Western Sahara is going to be a successful republic, how to integrate Moroccans into a post-independence Western Sahara needs to be considered before and during the referendum process, not after.

What do you think? How can an independent Western Sahara square with its Moroccan citizens?

Photo from Nick Brooks

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Morocco's unhappy with Italy's support for Polisario

While some rejoiced at the news that a chamber of the Italian parliament passed a resolution calling for diplomatic recognition of Polisario, the Moroccan government was less pleased.

A Moroccan diplomat said, "We can’t understand why, despite the government expressing its opposition, the Chamber approved a motion that amounts to a torpedo launched against the direct negotiations currently underway between the two sides." Morocco is so concerned now because it didn't mention its concerns at all when the United States endorsed autonomy.

The one sad thing about this article is that clarifies the Italian foreign ministry's position on Western Sahara--apparently, they don't want to recognize Polisario.

Moroccans living in Italy are planning to protest, which they ought to if they feel so strongly about it. They shouldn't lie, though. In the article, they claim Cuba is the only country with diplomatic relations with the Polisario Front. That will surprise South Africa, Algeria, 50 or so other countries, and the African Union.

Thanks to Laroussi for pointing me to this article

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Fnaireiacs rejoice--more Fnaire and Western Sahara

New commenter Tangerino, who I'd call the new El Tiburon if El Tiburon weren't still around, pointed me to this music video from Fnaire, a Moroccan rap group.

I mentioned Fnaire before when I thought one of their music videos was ironic considering Morocco's treatment of Western Sahara, but this song, Yed El Henna, is definitely about Western Sahara. There's even a little Green March reenactment!

It's clear the Sahrawis are happy to see Fnaire invading their country. The question is, what is Fnaire rapping about? Is it related to Western Sahara, or just a shout-out to how cool Fnaire is (a fact I can't dispute)?

Problems with Palestinians? Dump them in Western Sahara!

Not really worth a full post, but this post on a Windows Live blog (warning bells should already be going off) was weird enough to merit mention.

The writer seems concerned that Palestinians and Israelis aren't getting along. His solution is to move Palestinians to another country (huh), and he has several criteria for selecting that country. It has to be Muslim, Arab, sparsely populated, and not embroiled in conflict. Western Sahara, which for some reason isn't considered disputed, beats Central African Republic and Congo to win the Palestinians:
The "Western Sahara" with 266,000 people and 240,000 kilometers area (about the size of Colorado) seems a good candidate. The "Polisarios" or "Saharwis" (native movement) were able to get the nation of Mauritania to give up it's claim of the southern 1/3 it had claimed. Morocco now rules the northern 2/3's without any international recognition of it's claim. It is large, internationally without any recognition, has a small native populace, and 'ex-'palestinians' could be developed in conjunction with the native population. It is Islamic and Arab and available. It could be the new homeland for Palestinians without the current problems besetting them....

Monday, July 16, 2007

Italy recognizes Polisario, is the first European country to do so

Western Sahara news taketh away, but it also giveth. In a diplomatic coup, Italy's lower house of Parliament has asked its government to recognize the Polisario mission in Italy as an official diplomatic mission.

The Sahara Occidental blog has links to a bunch of articles in Italian and one in French, but the UPES article I linked to above is in English. According to the article, several Italian political parties supported the resolution, which also includes a call for the Italian government to oppose "any solution that does not respect the right of the Saharawi people right to self-determination."

Now, Italy isn't a permanent member of the Security Council, but this is huge. Being recognized by Italy will give Polisario more credibility in its dealings with other nations, but even better it shows nations outside the developing world are willing to work with Polisario. I suppose it'll also prevent Italian companies from participating in arrangements that plunder Western Sahara's resources.

I hope this is the first domino knocking down many European states that curiously haven't recognize Polisario. Where, for example, is Norway?

Update: as always-on-his-game Laroussi pointed out, only the Italian lower parliament passed the resolution, not the entire government as I said earlier. This Sahara Press Service article makes that clearer. Still, the UPES said the Italian Deputy Foreign Minister was there. Doesn't that bode well for the resolution's eventual success?


US supports autonomy, Woodrow Wilson "surprised"

In a blatant dismissal of international law and United Nations precedent, the United States came out last Wednesday in favor of Morocco's autonomy proposal. Most people expected the United States preferred Morocco over SADR in negotiations, but it's surprising the US would be so bold about it.

The official stance was delivered by Jackie Sanders, the US's alternate representative to the UN, pictured here with Western Sahara fan John Bolton. Why didn't John talk some sense into her? Anyway, here's what she said:

"We believe a promising and realistic way forward on the Western Sahara is meaningful autonomy. Morocco’s initiative could provide a realistic framework to begin negotiations on a plan that would provide for real autonomy contingent on the approval of the local populations. We hope both sides will engage realistically."
Check out this inspired bit of obfuscation from Ambassador Sanders, when a reporter questioned her during the same stakeout:
Reporter: But the U.S. voted yes on resolution 1754, which acknowledges both proposals, so I am wondering why there is a back step right now based on this statement that you just said?

Ambassador Sanders: I would not call it a “back step,” I would call it forward movement. We want to see forward movement with the parties and I think we are seeing that.
Maybe I'm not versed enough in diplomacy to understand, but I think supporting self-determination aces an imposed political solution any day. This strikes me as another maneuver to force Polisario into negotiating terms of autonomy, and not whether to accept autonomy at all. To help that more, Sanders refused to treat Polisario's plan equally.

For those who think the United States will have a lot to say about any non-violent resolution to the conflict, there is a bit of good news. People with connections to politics tell me Democrats are more disposed to supporting the Sahrawi side of things, and the mood in the U.S. is leaning towards a Dem victory in 2008. Universal health care and a referendum? 2009 will see an embarrassment of riches.

Alle at Western Sahara Info has more on Sanders's statement, and Canada's annexation of the U.S.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

English version of video about Gearbulk's phosphate exploitation now available

The Dagbladet article I mentioned earlier this month about Gearbulk transporting Western Saharan phosphates now has an accompanying video in English. I hope this doesn't convince Morocco to block Youtube again.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Jacob Mundy talks about Western Sahara on LA radio station

You remember Jacob Mundy. He's written a lot about Western Sahara, and soon he'll have the book he wrote with Stephen Zunes about Western Sahara published. But have you heard his voice?

You can now, thanks to the wonders of the internet. Wednesday, Jacob was on Uprising, a show on Los Angeles's Pacifica station. Here's the link to his segment.

Jacob touches on a lot of the ideas he's written about before. For example, Elliot Abrams and Henry Kissinger are slinking around in the background, and Jacob wonders like we all sometimes do why Morocco rejected Baker II's cushy deal.

Even if you've kept up with your Mundy required reading, it's a good listen. The interviewer asks good questions, including one Jacob's not written on before, as far as I know: how Western Sahara is viewed in Morocco.

I'm glad to see such an articulate and knowledgeable person representing Western Sahara to a wider audience. If LA Pacifica's audience is like Houston Pacifica's, they won't be content to do nothing when they hear about the occupation.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Human Rights Watch quiet on Western Sahara

I'm a nominal member of Amnesty International, which means I get all the emails and occasionally respond to action alerts but I don't pay the dues like I should. Yesterday, I was asked to take a survey about Amnesty's future priorities.

Part of the survey asked about how I felt about other humanitarian organizations like Human Rights Watch, the ONE Campaign, and Oxfam. I rated the latter two favorably, but said I view HRW poorly.

Now, I love human rights ruckus-making as much as the next person, but Human Rights Watch's silence on abuses in the Western Sahara has turned me against them. Look at HRW's page on Morocco/Western Sahara--the last Western Sahara-related complaint was written in December 2005.

Since then, a Sahrawi has died from poor medical care in prison, the head of a human rights organization has been sentenced to two years in prison for doing his job, and pro-independence Sahrawis have been beaten. Not one word from Human Rights Watch.

If you doubt the veracity of some of these outrages, that's your right--but we deserve to have human rights NGO's telling us whether they're true or not. Human Rights Watch does itself, its members, and most of all the Sahrawis an injustice by ignoring the repression in Western Sahara.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Because some memes never die...

Western Sahara fan art courtesy of Alex from Houstonist, Pearl of the Mediterranean, and now Off the Kuff.

Update: for the record, no diss at all to Aminatou Haidar. She's a courageous woman and an inspiration to people in the Western Sahara and abroad. Internet foolishness is all.

Sarkozy likes Abdelaziz Bouteflika, Mohammed VI is broken-hearted

France, Morocco's most dedicated patron, might be moving away from its position of uncritical support. France's new president, Nicolas Sarkozy, decided to visit Algeria before Morocco, and Rabat is mad. So mad Mohammed VI refused to even see Sarkozy.

The surprising news comes from Echorouk Online, which seems to be Algeria's answer to MAP. Sarkozy was going on a tour of the Francophone Maghreb, and he had the gall to visit Algeria first. Worse, in the makhzen's eyes, he didn't want to discuss the Western Sahara.

In response, Mohammed VI said he wouldn't meet with Sarkozy. Now, I'm only a sophomore in the School of Foreign Service, but it seems to me that it's unwise to throw a fit at your biggest backer over a bit of protocol. Here's hoping Morocco hears that Sarkozy prefers The Battle of Algiers to Casablanca, or will only drink Moroccan coffee with a lot of sugar.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Happy Independence Day, Algeria

Yesterday was Algerian Independence Day. Hurray for a good people who deserve a better government. I'm often grateful for Algeria's support for Sahrawi self-determination, and I know the Sahrawis are too.

Here's a silly picture of Algeria's president, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, taking a break from supporting Polisario and suppressing criticism with a game of foosball. The picture comes from Or Does It Explode?, the king of Middle East-North Africa human rights blog.

Abdelaziz might've needed the break after the Benchicou Prize, a press freedom award named after Algerian opposition writer Mohamed Benchicou, was awarded to a murdered Algerian journalist. Here's Western Sahara Info's take.

Those informative posts left me wondering, though: "Is Bouteflika tacky enough to slam the foosball poles?"

Monday, July 02, 2007

Gearbulk is helping to plunder Western Sahara's phosphates

There's disagreement about why Morocco invaded Western Sahara in the first place--was it Greater Morocco nationalism, a lure to keep a restless army occupied, or a distraction from Hassan II's domestic problems? One thing is for sure, though--the phosphates from the Bou Craa Mine (pictured) didn't convince anyone to give peace a chance. Since the occupation began Morocco has been trying to peddle its ill-gotten phosphates, despite the best efforts of Polisario fighters and human rights activists.

Now, Norwegians and others are mad at Gearbulk, a British-based shipping company, for its role in the illegal phosphate trade. One of Gearbulk's ships, the Bulk Saturn, has been transporting phosphates extracted from Western Sahara to New Zealand. Here's an article in Norwegian about the controversy, and here's a video of the Bulk Saturn with its phosphates.

Companies that work with Western Saharan phosphates prolong the occupation by keeping it financially bearable for Morocco. That's why members of parliament from the UK, New Zealand, Norway, and Japan (!) wrote an open letter to Gearbulk urging it to sever its shameful relationship with Morocco. With the successful campaign against Kerr-McGee behind them, Western Sahara advocates are hoping that raising awareness of Gearbulk's profiteering will convince the company the game's not worth the phosphate.

Update: There's now an English version of the video.