Remember the Australian filmmakers Polisario detained in May? They said Polisario was mad at them because they had uncovered evidence of slavery in Tindouf. At the time certain blogs threw fits at the idea of Polisario holding slaves, but then the story went cold.
Now, though, the filmmakers, Daniel Fallshaw and Violeta Ayala, have released a press release through the "Together Foundation" that got picked up by a bunch of websites including AOL News, Yahoo, and Forbes. The press release expands their claims and introduces some new characters to the drama, namely, the Together Foundation. Their allegations might be true, but I've done some digging and it looks fishy.
First, I called Philippe Elghouayel, the contact listed on the press release (you can too: 914-231-6804). Philippe was less than pleased to talk with me. The first thing he said was "Where are you calling from?!". I deal with a lot of PR flaks working for the Voice, but I've never had one react like that. After I said I just wanted to find the Together Foundation's website because it didn't come up in Google searches, he snarled it at me. I'll probably be paying Philippe a call again soon.
Anyway, check out their website. It's an organization that's existed since 2005 and is dedicated to ending slavery in Tindouf, but I've never heard of them before, and no one else I've talked to has either. The Foundation's mediocre website says it's going to launch an expedition to Tindouf to investigate slavery. I emailed them to sign up--why don't you?
Looking at their website, I'm thinking "clumsy hatchet job", but where's the Morocco link? Check out the About page, which lists 5 people associated with the Foundation. Turns out Philippe's their president and Gregory Temkin (also written Tyomkin in the press release) is the vice-president. The board of advisors has three members: Emily Toll, Steve Pershing, and a director at the Maghreb Center.
At this point, the only people I've found information. But what information it is! Philippe Elghouayel was the head of the UN Development Program's Russia Office and was linked to fraud (credit to Chasli of Western Sahara Endgame). The Maghreb Center is where the real juice is, though.
It's not officially run by Morocco. But I attended one of its events at Georgetown that touched only briefly Western Sahara using milquetoast Jacques Rousselier. Its website doesn't list Western Sahara as a Maghreb country and autonomy fan I. William Zartman is on the advisory board. Update: After further talk with the Center's director, I've been convinced of its nonpartisanship on the Western Sahara issue. Their group also has pro-independence academics.
[redacted because this person, at director Maghreb Center claims he's never worked for the Together Foundation, and even I sometimes appreciate not ruining reputations. The point is the Together Foundation claimed him as their own just because he talked to them about slavery]
People are saying Morocco's agents in the US are tied to this. For his part, Robert Holley of the Moroccan-American Center for Policy pleads ignorance. If he's telling the truth, that doesn't mean Morocco's hands are clean--there's a bizarre interlocking web of PR and lobbying firms that are working for Morocco outside of the MACP.
Right now, it's a lot of potential links but nothing definite as to who's backing these allegations. aMore as I find it. If you have any information about the Together Foundation and its members or slavery in Tindouf, please comment or email me.
Flickr photo from Saveena.