Tuesday, December 02, 2008

McDonald's tells truth about Western Sahara, apologizes

Ronald McDonald in Fez

McDonald's accidentally blundered into the Western Sahara conflict last week by printing kid's meals packages in Morocco with maps that didn't include Western Sahara as part of Morocco.

For a second I thought they were apologizing for including Western Sahara as part of Morocco, but that's just wishful thinking.

Photo by Josiehen

Monday, November 17, 2008

Western Sahara is a big lake!

Well, almost. Via blog friend Justin Anthony Knapp, an article about African aquifers and the potential they hold to cause or avert water wars.

The first thing you notice, as Justin pointed out to me, is that Tindouf sadly has nothing. On the plus side, so much underground water in Western Sahara could mean water for Western Saharan agriculture once extraction methods improve.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Aminatou Haidar rocks the Senate

More later (including pictures), but UPES has the speeches.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Morocco Board fumes over Haidar RFK award

Today, a bunch of good people and I will attend a ceremony in Congress where Aminatou Haidar will receive the RFK Human Rights award she won in September. It's thrilling that she's getting such prestigious recognition for her work, and the support the RFK Center will give her in the future is even better. Plus, whenever Western Sahara people get together there's fun to be had.

But not everyone is so thrilled! Morocco Board, for example, is downright grumpy:
Several Moroccan-American grassroots organizations such as the Moroccan American Coalition (MAC) and the Moroccan Congress of USA (MCU) have expressed their displeasure with this decision and have urged those who have made it to consider that Ms. Haidar enjoys the freedom of travel in and out of morocco and has recently accepted a large amount of money from the Moroccan government as restitution and compensation but she still has not renounced violence and continues to incite violent acts
Later, Morocco Board complains that choosing this wild-eyed terrorist will embolden Polisario and sabotage the next round of Manhasset talks. That's absurd in two ways: everyone who knows her story realizes Haidar is about as non-violent as activists come, and Manhasset is dead in the water, RFK award or no.

More coverage later today of the ceremony and reception.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Polisario Confidential takes me prime time

Polisario Confidential, the anti-Western Sahara blog run by a Moroccan spy agency, is finally paying me back for all the love I've shown them. They used the above picture in a post (translated) about SADR president Mohammed Abdelaziz meeting image consultants in New York City.

You might think the charmer on the right is some big New York mover-shaker, but it's actually me. They used a picture from when I met Abdelaziz last year, and Alle caught them. One imagines Polisario Confidential's thought process went like this:
Q:Where can we find a picture of Abdelaziz with a white guy?
A: One Hump or Two!
The whole thing's a treat, and I have to thank Polisario Confidential for brightening my day.

I wasn't in New York City for that picture, but I will be there next week for the United Nations IV Committee. If you're going to be around Tuesday or Wednesday, send me an email and we'll hang out.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Let's do some links

The agents in Operation: Back to Blogging have been neutralized this week by their rivals in Operation: Girlfriend Visit, but we should have another team in the field Monday. Until then, some links to things that could've been posts:
  • Malawi drops recognition of SADR. They said they're doing it to encourage a UN-backed negotiated solution, but their way of supporting negotiations (undermining one of the parties) is unorthodox.
  • Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb attacked some Mauritanian soldiers, and killed or captured them. Nick Brooks ruminates.
  • 21 year-old Sahrawi political prisoner Bachir Khadda was released this week after serving his ten month sentence. Congratulations to Mr. Khadda and his family.
Here's hoping more prisoners will be coming out soon.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Aminatou Haidar wins RFK Memorial Human Rights Award

All right! 21 years after Moroccan police arrested her for a pro-referendum demonstration, Aminatou Haidar is winning the RFK Memorial Human Rights Award. There was talk of this Monday, but it's twice as exciting now that it's official. Suzanne Scholte (who knows a little about human rights awards herself) nominated Haidar, and the usual cast of characters, including the irascible Frank Ruddy, helped out with references.

In the press release I linked above, Ted Kennedy congratulates Haidar for winning and for her human rights work. Here's the best part:
“The RFK Human Rights Award not only recognizes a courageous human rights defender but marks the beginning of the RFK Center’s long-term partnership with Ms. Haidar and our commitment to work closely with her to realize the right to self-determination for the Sahrawi people,” said Monika Kalra Varma, Director of the RFK Memorial Center for Human Rights.
Getting a first family of American politics behind self-determination? That's a pretty good deal. There's a reception in November, so if I go to that we'll get pictures and, fingers-crossed, video.

I feel like this is a coming-out party for US Western Sahara activists. There've been great scores in the past, but I think this is the biggest thing in the past couple of years. We're here, we want a referendum, get used to it.

Polisario Confidential's top sources: news agencies and hallucinogens

Whatever Morocco is paying the spies who run Polisario Confidential, it's too much. The site's first big scoop was Polisario's hiring of Independent Diplomat, something most people following the Front knew about months before. Polisario Confidential's new big story comes courtesy of unnamed sources, so you know it's heavy stuff: Christopher WS Ross is the new Western Sahara mediator:
According to Polisario-Confidential sources and less than three weeks after the departure of UN secretary-General’s Personal Envoy to the Western Sahara, Mr. Peter Van Walsum, it seems that Christopher Ross will be his successor as mediator in the Sahara issue.
Emphasis mine. Polisario Confidential must be sharing sources with Agence France-Presse, but no matter--they know the next president of Afghanistan.
The very skilful ambassador of the United States to the UN, Zalmay Khalilzad probable candidate to the presidency… of Afghanistan, has led the negotiations between Morocco and Algeria and tried to identify a new envoy on what the parties could agree on.
Morocco could enjoy these Keystone Cops shenanigans, but there's a boom in underage marriages to avert.

By the way, I was AWOL during Van Walsum's resignation and Ross's appointment, but Alle covered it.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Aminatou Haidar wins Robert Kennedy award?

Maybe. UPES is saying (translated) Haidar, the Sahrawi human rights activist, won the RFK Memorial Human Rights Award. I called Saranah Holmes at the RFK Memorial, and she said they can't talk about whether Haidar won until a press release coming later this week.

I expect she did win, though, and UPES is just acting on inside information. If they weren't sure, why would they put Sahrawis and Haidar at risk for embarassment? Haidar would be a great choice, anyway. From the Memorial's description of the award:

The Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award was established in 1984 by his eldest child, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, to honor courageous and innovative individuals striving for social justice throughout the world. Each year, the Memorial awards an individual whose courageous activism is at the heart of the human rights movement and in the spirit of Robert F. Kennedy’s vision and legacy. The Human Rights Award winners or "Laureates" have made significant contributions to their countries through years of dedicated work....The Memorial offers not only a monetary contribution to their cause, but a partnership, through RFK Center, in the fight against human rights violations.
Emphasis mine. Winning would mean not only better attention for Haidar and Sahrawi human rights, but another third party interested in protecting Haidar from Moroccan attacks.

Via anonymous commenter

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Moroccan police brutalize protester in Sidi Ifni

This guy is getting beaten up for participating in protests last month in Sidi Ifni, Morocco. The protests weren't related to Western Sahara, but the video gives you a sense of the way Moroccan police treat protesters.

Republican party platform praises Morocco

While Republicans in and out of elected office do great work for Western Sahara, there's more evidence that Democratic candidates stand the best chance of helping Western Sahara this year. From the Republican election platform:
The momentum of change in the Middle East has been in the right direction. From Morocco to the Gulf States, the overall trend has been toward cooperation and social and economic development, especially with regard to the rights of women. We acknowledge the substantial assistance the U.S. has received from most governments in the region in the war on terror.
This might be only a rhetorical flourish, but singling out Morocco for its enlightened government (changes Sahrawi beat them to) while it continues to oppress Western Sahara means a tacit endorsement of the occupation. The Democrats are just as bad at ignoring Western Sahara, but at least they aren't giving Morocco pats on the back.

Via Stephen Zunes

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Suzanne Scholte wins prize for Western Saharan activism

Props are in order for Western Sahara activist Suzanne Scholte, who won the Seoul Peace Prize two weeks ago for her work for North Koreans and Sahrawis in the Defense Forum Foundation. Suzanne does great work for Western Sahara, so she more than deserves the $200,000 (!) prize money.

To get a sense of what a big deal this prize is, it's been won in the past by Muhammed Yunus, Kofi Annan, and Vaclav Havel. Nice work, Suzanne.

Monday, August 25, 2008

And the Maghreb Olympic winner is

Tunisia, with one gold. Unfortunately, the Olympics didn't help us decide if Morocco or Algeria is the better country, because they both got one silver and one bronze. Maybe in 2010.

Sorry about my terrible posting lately. I'm working on a really hot story for the Georgetown paper, but once that's done this week I'll start talking Western Sahara again. What do you want to hear about?

Thursday, August 07, 2008

A video for you and a blogiversary for me

2 years ago today I launched this fine blog with a post about how I didn't know anything about Western Sahara. I've gotten a little more knowledgeable since then, and I've had a great time blogging.

Thanks to all the readers and commenters who made this a great place to talk Western Sahara, and thanks to the Sahrawis for keeping their humor in an awful situation. Most of all, though, thanks to the Together Foundation for being so incompetent that they put me on the map.

You didn't think I'd celebrate our blogiversary without giving you a gift, did you? I made this video earlier in the summer, and now's a perfect time to show it. It mashes up videos of Sahrawi protests and the Clash's "Rock the Casbah", and I think it'll delight you.

Stick around, because the third year is going to be even crazier.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Mauritanian coup's effect on Western Sahara

I'd like to hear from people who know better (calling you out, Alle) what effect Mauritania's coup today will have on Western Sahara's chances for independence. I was getting the sense that Mauritania's president was moving closer towards Morocco than past leaders--will the coup leaders reverse this trend?

Same coup, second verse: military takes over in Mauritania

Mauritania's military overthrew its elected government in a coup today, arresting both the president and prime minister. Language and general ignorance collude to keep me uninformed on Mauritania, so I'll let Alle at Western Sahara Info take it away:
A tragedy for Mauritanian democracy, on the one hand, but that didn't stand much of a chance anyway; but more importantly, a giant setback for the country's broader chances of political development. While President Abdellahi and his cronies aren't exactly angels, Generals Ghazouani and Abdelaziz represent the very worst military-parasitic element of the Mauritanian regime, and their refusal to let the civilian side of the regime settle down in power threatens to undo it completely in the long run.

If the last coup, in August 2005, could be met with cautious understanding by the international community, having unseated President ould Tayaa, and eventually with praise as it led to a real transformation, this time around it is different. What happened in 2005 was that a military-personal-tribal dictatorship was overthrown and the chance arrived to replace it with a civilian semi-authoritarian structure that respected most democratic norms most of the time, and which made sensible moves towards national reconciliation, refugee return and economic development; not heaven, but infinitely better.

This change is now being reversed. The putschists -- even though they are some of the same people as acted in 2005 -- must be condemned and the result of the coup overturned if possible; Mauritania had a golden opportunity to break its vicious circle, and it is now slipping away.
Emphasis and paragraphing mine. Military coups of this sort--friction between civilian and military leaders, civilians try to take out the military, military responds with a coup--are much scarcer today than in 1960's Africa. It's too bad Mauritania had to suffer one.

The coup is good a time as any to share a favorite song of mine, The Loud Family's "Why We Don't Live in Mauritania". I like the song, but its reason for not living in Mauritania ("we like something else going on") seems pretty flimsy. Between coups, restive Sahrawis, and al-Qaeda, what more excitement do you need?

Monday, July 28, 2008

Wahda camps closed--Moroccan government's first smart move in a long time

At times it seems like the Moroccan occupation is deliberately trying to screw up. Rather than win Sahrawi hearts and minds, it wounds their hearts and acts like they don't have minds. So when they actually do something right, it's surprising. When it actually helps Sahrawis, it's even better.

The dismantling of the Wahda camps is exactly that. The camps were constructed after the 1991 Settlement Plan was signed. They were built to house Moroccans from the south of Morocco who were forced into Western Sahara to vote (unfairly) in the referendum. Many of the people shipped in were ethnic Sahrawis.

Conditions in the camps were so bad that Alle at Western Sahara Info calls the camps another Tindouf. The poor conditions seem to have radicalized the imported population--Sahrawi activist Ali Salem Tamek was one of the Sahrawis brought in 1991(not actually true), and Wahda Sahrawis participated in the 2005 Intifada. Morocco's decision to stop this politicizing was wise, but I don't think they'll be able to win back their former pet Sahrawis any time soon.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Update on Dakhla fishermen attack

Cahiers du Sahara has more (translation) on Tuesday's attack on Sahrawi fishermen. 42 people were injured, shops were burned, and one person is still missing.

Things were a lot better when Morocco tried to rule a country through internet antics, rather than random violence.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

I. William Zartman likes his presidents white, old

Morocco's hatchet man in academia, I. William Zartman, has the same tastes in politicians as some of Morocco's other favorite US citizens.

Like Moroccan-American Center for Policy employee Paul Jordan, Zartman likes Republicans, and puts money on it. He and his wife each gave the maximum limit of $2,300 to Mitt Romney's failed presidential campaign, and more recently they have John McCain $650 and $550, respectively.

Between this and Robert Holley's donations to Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama is clearly the choice of Western Sahara supporters.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Bleeding Dakhla: Moroccan settlers attack Sahrawis, injure 60

Whenever someone tells you unrest is Western Sahara is just about economic concerns, call him a liar. In Western Sahara (like everywhere else), the economic is political and the political is ethnic. It's all a Gordian knot that will only be cut with a referendum, but until then, Sahrawis are going to get the crap kicked out of them (from translated version):
Yesterday afternoon, hundreds of Moroccans, mostly engaged in fishing, attacked in the town of Itereft, 100 kilometers from the city of Dajla, Western Sahara, fishermen and fish traders established Saharans in the area, causing dozens of injuries.

So far it is 57 wounded, five of them extremely serious, and two of those still missing are unaware of the whereabouts, said the chairman of the Committee Against Torture Dajla, El Mami Amar Salem, the Communication Service Saharawi in the Canary Islands (SCSC), through a note sent to afrol News.
The Moroccans, "thousands", according to witnesses, attacked the fishermen and traders Saharans with sticks, knives, diesel and even several axes, burning at least seven vehicle.
Emphasis mine. The article says the attack was meant to dislodge Sahrawis from Dakhla's fishery industry, and speculates that the two missing Sahrawis might have been thrown into the ocean.

This is the kind of outrageous stuff that people like Edward Gabriel and Robert Holley perpetuate from their comfy DC offices, and it's what people like me allow by sitting in identical offices and not doing nearly enough.

The worst thing is that these weren't even all activist Sahrawis--some of them were just trying to make a living, and now they have axe wounds. Occupation advocates will tell you that an independent Sahrawi state couldn't govern itself, that it would descend into lawlessness. They don't realize that this is lawlessness.

Via Sahara Libre and a fast commenter

Pentagon approves Moroccan arms deal

In the latest act of the United States's hit play, We Don't Support Territorial Aggression (Wink Wink)™, the U.S. military has approved the sale of missiles, bombs, and F-16 planes to Morocco. Congress has 30 days to block the sales, but I don't expect anything. It's unfortunate to see US weapons going to perpetuate the occupation of Western Sahara and militarize the Maghreb.

This isn't as upsetting as other weapons deals to Morocco, like Spain's sale of Humvee-like vehicles. Those can be easily used against Sahrawi dissidents, while Morocco's government will have to get a lot crazier to start using bombs and planes against them.

West Papua: Western Sahara in the Pacific

Justin Anthony Knapp comments here prolifically, in addition to frequently sending me great articles about Western Sahara. I asked Justin to write about another colonial issue close to his heart--West Papua.

An intractable dispute between a marginalized colonial possession and a regional power with an ideological agenda. A referendum that promises to be neither to be free or fair. United Nations intervention that only helps the aggressor. Political prisoners held in secret prisons for indefinite sentences. A Western world that has ignored the conflict or given low-level assistance to the aggressor. If this all sounds old hat to you, you may be familiar with West Papua.

Situated on the western half of the island of New Guinea (Papua New Guinea is the other half), West Papua has been in a struggle for self-determination even longer than the Sahrawis have. Under colonialism, Papua was divided between British, Dutch, and German spheres of influence, but like Spanish Sahara, the process of colonization was altogether light and did not destroy the indigenous culture – to this day, over 900 languages are spoken on the island.

As World War II ended, it became evident that Britain's empire could not hold and the Dutch were not interested in maintaining a presence half-way across the globe. The eastern half of the island achieved independence in phases from Australia and the United Kingdom through 1975. The western half of the island, however, was targeted by the nascent Republic of Indonesia, who threatened the Dutch with military action if Papua was not ceded to them.

In 1959, the Netherlands allowed for the first instruments of self-rule on the island: local elections and the creation of national symbols such as a flag. Indonesia, watching its chance for a new possession slip away, invaded in 1962.

By the end of that year, the United Nations Temporary Executive Authority became the first UN agency to administer a territory and was tasked with organizing a referendum to gauge the will of the Papuans. Unable and unwilling to force out the invading Indonesians, the "referendum" devolved into a tribal council of slightly more than 1,000 tribal elders who voted unanimously for integration with Indonesia.

An indigenous movement – the Organisasi Papua Merdeka (Free Papua Movement or OPM) waged an armed struggle against the Indonesian power, but disarmed in 2006. As a product of the democratization of Indonesia and the disastrous razing of Timor-Leste, Papua was granted autonomy in 2000.

OPM sympathizers claim that this autonomy really a sham (sound familiar?) and rather than self-rule, Indonesia is pursuing a policy of genocide through cultural destruction, religious suppression, and actual mass killings. A high-profile case in 2005-2006 of 43 Papuan refugees fleeing to Australia briefly brought the case national attention there and there are several Australians sympathetic to the OPM cause.

To learn more about the conflict in West Papua:

  • See Peter D. King's West Papua and Indonesia Since Suharto: Independence, Autonomy or Chaos?. This 2004 book is the only mass-market English book available on the conflict. King, an Australian, has been studying Papua for over a quarter century.

  • TAPOL's web page. "Tapol" is a Bahasa Indonesian word for "political prisoner;" the group focuses on human rights issues throughout Indonesia, with a special focus on Aceh, Papua, and Timor.

  • Koteka.net. Few Papuan news sites are maintained, and Koteka is the best of them(the name comes from the penis-gourd worn in traditional Papuan garb.)
Anyone who can appreciate the plight of the Sahrawis can understand the anti-colonial struggle in West Papua as well. Papua Merdeka!

Flickr photo from user naturemandala used under a Creative Commons license

Monday, July 21, 2008

Should he stay or should he go?

King Mohammed VI is said to be mulling an abdication. This rumor is in response to his reluctance to leave Europe and actually govern his country. Both of those links come from the same Spanish reporter, Pedro Canales, so they shouldn't be trusted entirely, but it's interesting to ponder consider whether Mohammed VI's abdication would be good or bad for Western Sahara.

The king would probably be replaced by Moulay Rachid, his brother who is said to be wavering on supporting the king. Rachid would hold the country in regency until the king's son came of age. What are Moulay's opinions about Western Sahara?

I'm not sure if an abdication would improve Western Sahara's chances for self-determination. Mohammed VI has treated Sahrawis nearly as brutally as his father did, but the power vacuum resulting from his abdication might encourage nervous army officers and politicians to react harshly to perceived Sahrawi threats.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Polisario Confidential: last year's scoops, today!

Polisario Confidential must really be run by Morocco's best spies, because they've found out something that only someone with top-secret Google Alert technology could know--Polisario has hired Independent Diplomat to help their public relations! Read on only if you can stand some muck on your shoes, because Polisario Confidential is raking it all over the internet:
It is via Sidi Omar, the representative of the Front in England and Ireland that the contact with this lobbying group was made for, according to the contract terms which offers counseling and support to the Front to enhance its international diplomacy, such as helping draft letters to the Security Council.

The classic formula “refunding of expenses” was put in the contract in order to hide the actual “Independent Diplomat Inc” fees.

In fact and as revealed on several occasions by “polisario-confidential.org”, the Polisario Front regularly uses lobbying companies which would be, according to experts in international relations, paid for by Algeria.
Shocking! There's more:
UN-managed talks between the Polisario Front, the government-in-exile of the Saharawis, and Morocco began in the summer of 2007. Independent Diplomat is advising the Polisario on its objective of securing self-determination for the Saharawi people – in the face of strong international backing for Morocco on the Western Sahara for unrelated geo-political reasons.
Wait, I mixed that up. That last quote is actually from Independent Diplomat's website, only two clicks away from the company's homepage. Huh.

Moroccan blogs fume about Western Sahara Global Voices spot

While many people are happy that blog mavens Global Voices started covering Western Sahara, some in Morocco aren't. A blog about Moroccan blogs grumbles (translation from a pal):
The event went unnoticed in the Moroccan blogosphere but as of July

Global Voices is an international site visited by tens of thousands of Internet users each day and covers countries and their blogospheres around the world, and offers translations of blog content.

After three articles devoted to this "new country," the bloggers of the Polisario separatists have welcomed with grand fanfare the consideration of "their country" as an independent entitty within Harvard's site
I'm the listed "bloggers of the Polisario separatists"! Cool. Anyway, this site and any other Moroccans who take issue should realize that Global Voices bases what countries they cover on a list that they don't control.

Now seems like a good to point Renata Avila's post about Sahrawi poetry.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Morocco's Olympic chances

I'm obviously no fan of Morocco's occupation of Western Sahara, but I like Morocco the country--everyone I know who's been there has liked it, and the Moroccan government is nice enough to let my friend study there this semester, despite his affiliation with separatists like me. That's why I hope Morocco and whatever Sahrawis are on its team win as many medals as they want at next month's Olympics.

View from Fez took in Morocco's chances, and pointed out that Morocco has won medals in the past in boxing and track. The taekwondo team is apparently good, too, so I predict a sweep.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Should SADR focus more on Latin America?

thinks so., the co-founder of the Western Sahara Association in California, says in an email he's been circulating that Polisario's past diplomacy has failed and now requires a turn to Latin America:
The ASDR has to focus its attention towards the Latin American realm. Having seen that the Organization of the African Unity is unable to provide both in the United Nations and in its own summits a common voice towards the Saharawi conflict, the only Arab country Spanish speaking has to swing its strategy towards its west. Ahmed Bukhari the Polisario delegate in the United Nations already stated in the Mexican upper congressional house, the Parliament, that from now on the ASDR will try hardly to gather all Latin American countries into the Saharawi cause and certainly it seems to be one of the few open doors for rekindling the hopes of the 200.000 saharawi refugees awaiting good news in westernmost Algeria.
Western Sahara's linguistic link to Spanish-seeking countries in the Americas isn't something that's often discussed, besides the Cuba thing. I'm glad bringing it up.

Still, I wonder how much more Latin America can do for Polisario. Several Latin American countries have extended recognition, and Abdelaziz visited Ecuador. What else remains for them to do?

No Latin American countries are permanent Security Council members, and none of them are aiding the Moroccan occupation. If there's a war they could funnel SADR some weapons and funds, but Algeria can already do that. I think SADR would be better off spending its money on better lobbying efforts in Morocco's allies, France and the United States.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Another attack on Mohammed Daddach

Two days ago, Moroccan police again assaulted Sahrawi human rights activist Mohammed Daddach. They beat him up just for trying to go to a trial of other Sahrawi political prisoners. I'm amazed that Daddach keeps can stand up to all this abuse (he's not a young man) and keep his commitment to Sahrawi self-determination.

Also in that post, Sahrawi political prisoner Abderrahman Zawani is on a hunger strike. His demands seem pretty reasonable: he wants to receive visits and reading material, be classified as a political prisoner, and be held with the other Sahrawi political prisoners. Still, I doubt the Moroccan authorities will allow that easily.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Winter in Miami for Lincoln Diaz-Balart

Lincoln Diaz-Balart (R-FL) is one of Morocco's favorite congressmen, drawn to the occupation by his hatred for part-time Polisario friend Fidel Castro. He shills all the time for Morocco, including co-authoring a letter supporting autonomy.

His shilling days may soon be over, though. Diaz-Balart is only 4% ahead of his Democratic challenger, Raul Martinez, in his congressional race. If Martinez campaigns hard, Morocco might lose one of its favorite backers. Interestingly, Diaz-Balart's brother Mario is only doing a little better in his congressional race.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Western Sahara earns its own Global Voices spot

Global Voices, a site that plucks interesting stories from blogs across the world, has usually lumped Western Sahara stories in with Moroccan news. That changed that last week as Global Voices launched its first glimpse from the Sahrawi blogosphere, a post from Sahrawi TV station RASD-TV.

I'm a little disappointed that the first blog Global Voices chose to profile was a SADR-government one, ignoring in their inaugural post the rich Sahrawi blogosphere unaffiliated with Moroccan or Sahrawi government.

Still, it's a start, and I'm looking forward to learning more about Western Sahara from Global Voices. The writers will look at Sahrawi blogs in all languages, so those of us who can't read Arabic, French, Spanish, and English will get to look at more.

Global Voices is looking for more Sahrawi blogs (including non-political foreign ones--good luck with that!) to write about. If you have any suggestions, comment on the first article.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

I know there's fish out there: EU fishing in Western Sahara

Tell my wife I am trolling Atlantis

In 2006, the European Union made a much-reviled deal with Morocco that allowed EU vessels to fish off Moroccan waters. The agreement didn't ban fishing off of Western Sahara's abundant fishery. It didn't specifically allow it, either, but now it turns out EU vessels went ahead and fished anyway.

It took several questions from EU parliament members to find out, but eventually the EU Commission admitted ships had fished in Western Sahara. At minimum, ships from Spain, Lithuania, and the United Kingdom have fished illegally.

The EU is supposed to be a triumph for international law, but it's a failure here. The countries in it don't recognize Morocco's occupation, so it's worse than a Moroccan fishing in Western Sahara who might believe it belongs to his country. Instead, European countries know it's wrong and are doing it anyway.

Stories like these make me wish Polisario still had access to the Atlantic Ocean. In Western Sahara: Roots of a Desert War, there's a story about Polisario soldiers kidnapping Moroccan fishermen in Western Saharan waters. They spirited them to Algeria and, as a diss to Morocco, handed them over to a Canary Islands delegation instead of to their home country's.

Props to the people at Western Sahara Resource Watch for following this so closely. Flickr photo used under a Creative Commons license

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Moroccan king more interested in Europe than Morocco?

That's what Spain's El Imparcial is saying (translation). According to the paper, Mohammed has been staying in France for more than 30 days, and everyone from Moulay Rachid to Nicholas Sarkozy are begging him to go home.

The article goes on to say that the king's absence has caused a shutdown in the government because he is too busy in France to exercise his absolute authority over the country. He's skipping conferences that he's invited to, like the Tokyo Conference on African Development. Moroccan elites are apparently so afraid that they're sending their families out of the country until things calm down.

If it's true, it's a great opening for Sahrawis, both in Polisario and under occupation.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Polisario joins Socialist International as observer

Good on them. Western Sahara Info has more information, but this'll allow Polisario more contact with some of its biggest European supporters. The Moroccan socialist party voted against Polisario's admission, but they were the only ones.

Of course, it'll also give Lincoln Diaz-Balart and the crew at the National Clergy Council another chance to tie Polisario with Cuba, Che, and evil socialism/communism. I was originally going to say that doesn't matter, but I think there's a slim chance a primary challenger on the right of someone like Senator Jim Inhofe could tell voters he supports socialists and win some votes.

Other thoughts, especially from European readers more familiar with these socialist parties?

A little Western Sahara publicity

From your humble blog servant, through Ezra Klein, to you.

The comments about Palestine versus Western Sahara are unnecessary and unproductive (why not free both?), and I wish he hadn't linked to the mediocre Times article about Western Sahara. Still, Phase I of Operation No Living Thing (Not Aware of Western Sahara) is complete.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Sahara Conflict goes stateside

By landing in my lap! Publisher Stacey International was nice enough to send me a review copy of the pro-autonomy book Saharan Conflict by Abdelhamid El Ouali. Last week Nick Brooks went to the book's launch party and got his own free copy, so he's got my back on this one.

I'll get to it and review it as soon as I finish my current Western Sahara reading assignment. While Saharan Conflict's website says it's 3200 pages, it isn't really, so the review will come relatively soon.

Until then, my assessment of the first two pages is that it's prone to the jargon of a lot of international relations books, which bodes ill for my IR theory allergy but might please other readers.

Anyone else with Western Sahara promo schwag, you know my email.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Have Sahrawis started naming streets after activists?

While researching the earlier post about torturer Ichi Aboulhassan, I noticed something strange: a couple sites, when describing where one of Ichi's assaults occurred, referred to streets named after Sahrawi activists.

For example, this page mentions "Ali Salem Tamek Place" as well as Daddach Street. One called a street Sidi Mohammed Daddach street, but I can't find it now.

It's puzzling because I doubt Morocco would be eager to name streets after dissidents. This might be an error translating text that's meant to mean they were visiting a person's home, but if not it's interesting.

Ichi Aboulhasssan out of Western Sahara: no country for this old man

The cheese stands alone

Ichi Aboulhassan, one of Morocco's chief torturers, has been moved out of Western Sahara. The information comes from a Western Saharan human rights activist. This transfer is great news for Sahrawis but bad news for the Moroccan people. Before I tell you why, here are some of Ichi's greatest hits (literally):
  • Commanding the Urban Security Group (GUS), a leading instrument in the occupation
  • Dragging Aminatou Haidar from her emergency room bed
  • Torturing Sahrawi political prisoners in September 2005
  • Leading a GUS force that threw Sahrawi Sidi Mohammed Ould Taleb from the roof of a building.
Aboulhassan has been transferred to Bensliman, near Casablanca. It's good that such a vicious man can no longer reach the Sahrawis. Still, his material gains he earned with his Western Saharan brutality--he came poor and left wealthy, his new post is closer to power--means torture in Morocco, as in my own country, has become a lucrative career path.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Nick Brooks emerges from the belly of the autonomy beast

Nick Brooks, Western Sahara's archaeologist about town, went to the launch and book signing of Sahara Conflict, a pro-autonomy book. He ran into the civil kind of occupation proponent, which is nicer to talk with but less fun to see lie their teeth:
However, he then went on to say (I’m paraphrasing, but this is a pretty faithful rendition) “You’re talking about the ‘Liberated Territories’ - this is a myth. Polisario has never liberated any of this land. It is a buffer zone set up by Morocco.” Needless to say I pointed out to him that I run a research project in these very territories, and work with the Polisario in this context. Having travelled extensively in the Polisario-controlled areas (Lajuad, Mijek, Tifariti, Zug, you name it), I’m fully aware that the “buffer zone” is a face-saving Moroccan flim-flam, a story concocted to conceal the reality that Western Sahara is in fact already partitioned between the two warring parties.
The author gave Nick a copy of the book, so we can all look forward to a review (my attempt ata review copy has been ignored). Nick also found out that the Moroccan embassy is familiar with his blog--good deal! Why can't those embassy personnel be bothered to comment on blogs in response?

That was fast: Polisario talking war again

Couldn't even wait a week, could they? SADR Prime Minister Abdelkader Taleb Omar rumbled ominously about an "explosion" in Moroccan-Sahrawi relations yesterday, 6 days after SADR President Abdelaziz said war is not an option.

Ordinarily such contradictory statements coming so soon from the heads of the same government would suggest a power struggle, but Abdelaziz appoints the prime minister. Oh, well.

$520,154: how much the Moroccan-Center for Policy costs in a year

Or: make Robert Holley pay for dinner. Continuing yesterday's lobbyist disclosure fun, check out the Moroccan-American Center for Policy's disclosure statement (PDF). Written way back in 2004, it includes some interesting documents setting out the MACP's goals, though no mention of Western Sahara.

It also has a 3 year budget projection of the MACP's expenses from 2004-2006 (page 22). Total expenses are expected to come to $228,345, $491,756, and $520,154, respectively. A lot of that money goes to pay the salary of executive director Robert Holley, who was supposed to be paid $200,000 in 2006 (not counting food and travel).

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Edward Gabriel's married to the Game, and he loves his wifey

Turns out Moroccan lobbyist and former ambassador Edward Gabriel is married to another lobbyist with just as little concern for human welfare: Kathleen "Buffy" Linehan, a lobbyist for tobacco company Phillip Morris:
In 1992, as head of Philip Morris’s lobbying group, she was deposed in a lawsuit against B.J. Reynolds Tobacco (KUEPER v. R.J. REYNOLDS TOBACCO CO). Sourcewatch, a project of the Center for Media and Democracy, comments about her deposition: “…Linehan indicated that she was involved in lobbying against the banning of smoking on commercial aircraft, and that she does not consider the health consequences of the product she is lobbying (cigarettes).” And at another deposition in 1995, Sourcewatch adds that “Linehan stated that she did not believe that cigarette smoking is addictive."
It's sweet when two people with so much in common can find each other. For bonus Ed Gabriel fun, check out the foreign lobbyist registration form (PDF) his company, the Gabriel Company LLC, filed to work for Morocco. The surprise is that Gabriel doesn't get paid:
Registrant will provide advice on an informal unpaid basis to Morocco. Registrant will be reimbursed by foreign principal for out-of-pocket expenses.
Huh. Maybe he's doing his high school service project.

George W. Bush likes autonomy--so what?

So a lot of Moroccans (including commenters) are happy that President Bush sent Mohammed VI a letter saying he's pretty fond of autonomy. I don't want to rain on Morocco's parade, but the letter is irrelevant. Here's why:
  • The letter isn't a reversal of US policy. If the leader of a major Polisario backer like South Africa had sent the king a letter supporting autonomy I could understand the excitement, but the US is already a big fan of autonomy. This just makes it official that the big guy likes it.
  • Bush is leaving office in January, has to work with a hostile Congress until then, and is the most disliked president in US history. If anything, Morocco should want Bush to oppose autonomy.
  • White House Press Secretary Dana Perino, the woman who announced the letter, doesn't know about the Cuban missile crisis.
If that's what Morocco counts as a victory for its occupation, they can have it.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Moroccan secret service agents run Polisario Confidential, comment on blogs

So says this article by brave Moroccan paper Le Journal Hebdomaire (their site is down, so I published the article and an auto-translation in the blog archives). The article, "Cyberwar against Polisario," is a great read for anyone interested in Moroccan lobbying efforts. It cover pro-Sahrawi work both online ("une armada de bloggers") and offline. Suzanne Scholte of the Defense Forum Foundation is mentioned, as is SADR ambassador Mouloud Said setting up a headquarters in the US Congress's cafeteria.

The real meat, though, comes with the previously-suspected but never certified involvement of Moroccan spies in the creation of pro-occupation internet propaganda, especially at Polisario Confidential. Not only was the Moroccan spy agency DST involved in Polisario Confidential, they did a terrible job running it. Highlights about spy involvement on Western Saharan websites:
  • Polisario Confidential and its sister sites are run by "a specialized service of the DST created for that purpose in Rabat."
  • The sites' Google Ads are paid for by the Moroccan government, but the author's article thinks buying ads was a bad idea because it suggests a moneyed backer.
  • Polisario Confidential and Co. sites include links to sites mainly read by the espionage community, making clear the webmasters' affiliations.
  • A DST agent took a picture of a DST office for a site post about Manhasset.
  • "Forums" where Moroccan "patriots" argue with Sahrawi activists "turn to ridicule". I'm not sure if that means they're ridiculed or they fail to make real points and just ridicule others, and it's not clear if forums include blog comments, but that's definitely what's been going on at this blog.
If this is the quality of the people running Morocco's intelligence services, Moroccans should be very afraid.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Two exceptions to the "Polisario is awful at lobbying" rule

Blogs may have been too hard on Polisario's lack of lobbying/public relations prowess. While it's an especially big problem in light of Morocco's comparative strength in that area, both Malainin Lakhal and Kamal Fadel, SADR's ambassador to Australia and New Zealand, are holding it down in that part of the world.

Lakhal was recently the subject of an Australian television report on Western Sahara, while Fadel produces opinion pieces for Australian media at a consistent rate and is also the frequent focus of interviews. With the help of activists and media prowess, they're making sure Western Sahara gets in front of people in New Zealand and Australia.

I'd like if some more of that action happened over in the US, but the next time you get down about a Moroccan press release circulating as gospel in newspapers that should know better, remember that things are going better down under.

Happy Zemla Intifada and Brahim Sabbar freedom day (belated)

38 years and 6 days ago, Sahrawis in the Zemla neighborhood of El Aiaun read a petition calling for an end to the Spanish occupation. Spanish police swooped in to arrest the Sahrawi leaders, the Sahrawis resisted, and eleven Sahrawis were killed.

In happier news, Brahim Sabbar got out of jail Tuesday! Sabbar's house has been monitored since his release, and visitors (including Mohammed Daddach) have been harassed and even assaulted by Moroccan police.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Moroccan American Center for Policy gives a new reason to vote for Obama

Looks like the Moroccan American Center for Policy is for anyone but Obama. Executive Director (and Tindouf Challenge winner) Robert Holley donated $1,000 to Hillary Clinton's campaign, and MACP employee Paul Jordan kicked the maximum amount of $2,300 to John McCain. This makes me feel better about Obama because the MACP has a history of backing losers--Holley gave money to Wesley Clark's failed 2004 primary campaign, and they support an endless occupation of Western Sahara.

Did I ever tell you about the insane picture Holley has behind his desk? I hope not, because I really want to make a Paint drawing explaining it.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Abdelaziz says war won't work in Western Sahara

Darn right. He said it in an interview with bold Moroccan magazines Nichane and Tel Quel:
"The Polisario is convinced that there can be no military solution to this conflict," head of the group Mohamed Abdelaziz said in an interview published by the weekly publications Nichane and Tel Quel.

"A conflict of this kind, that has lasted for so many years, can only be resolved around the negotiating table," said Abdelaziz, adding that the Polisario had never said it wanted to solve the problem militarily.
Hopefully this will put a rest to threats of war coming from Polisario and blog commenters. What do you think about the possibilities of Polisario ending the ceasefire, and what effect would that have on Western Sahara? I feel like the international community would get mad at Algeria for letting the war erupt again.

On a related note, I was so excited to see in a Google search that Mohammed Abdelaziz has a blog, but I guess that's a different Mohammed Abdelaziz.

Beast with two Pushbacks

There's a new widget on the right-hand sidebar showing stories from Pushback, a new blog written by liberal college students. I doubt any of the stories will be Western Sahara-related, but there's a method to my widget madness: I'm trying to target Western Sahara to Pushback's valuable audience (American, politically-active, tech-savvy young people) and maybe trick them into helping out.

Also, shame on Saddam Hussein for stealing this blog's title gimmick.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Moroccan court stops publication of Ould Rachid testimony

A Moroccan court has ordered Al-Jarida Al-Oula to stop publishing testimonies from a Moroccan human rights panel, including the testimony from CORCAS chief Khalihenna Ould Rachid that Morocco committed war crimes in Western Sahara. Al-Jarida's owner Ali Anouzla isn't happy:

"The verdict shows that press freedom has moved backwards," he told AFP.

"It is in flagrant contradiction with the spirit of the IER [human rights panel] because it takes away the possibility for citizens to be informed about the leaden years, while the IER wanted precisely the opposite to enable the page to be turned."

Meanwhile, the head of the Consulative Council on Human Rights, which wanted publication to stop, was pleased with the verdict. He said the publications would leave the testimonies for examination by historians, not journalists hustling for scoops. If you forgot your government-stooge to English translator at home, he means that he wants to hide the testimony until everyone accused in it is dead.

I hope Al-Jarida Al-Oula, if it decides the risk of continuing to publish the testimony isn't worth it, is able to give or sell the documents to a foreign paper (I think Spain would be best). That's not an ideal solution, though, because it makes the information more difficult for Moroccans to reach.

The Councill's censorious action seem like a continuation of the schizophrenia in a lot of Moroccan human rights work--the Council's recommendations on the Years of Lead (ending torture, for example) make it sound like it's made up of reasonable people, but their reaction to the publication of Ould Rachid's testimony suggests it's willing to trash Sahrawis to achieve their own goals.

It reminds me of the commission set up to examine human rights after the Years of Lead that was only too eager to disavow Sahrawi concerns and abandon its Sahara Section. I understand the motivation in both cases--specifically, being able to turn to more conservative Moroccans and say, "Sure, we're liberal on these issues, but at least we're not troublemaking Sahrawis"--but that kind of attitude needs to be ditched if human rights are to be respected in either country.

Obviously a lot of reformers like Ali Lmrabet are honest about Western Sahara. There just aren't enough of them.

Via Laroussi

El Aiaun, stop looking so cool

It's distracting.

Flickr photo from user Sand Run used under a Creative Commons license

Flashback: Moroccan police beating Sahrawi students last year

Looks like Moroccan police always get hot-headed around this time of year. Last month's attack on Sahrawi students wasn't a unique event, as this Associated Press story that ran in the International Herald Tribune last year shows:
Students pointed to red stains on the pavement that they said were blood from three injured students. They said police arrested 10 students, bundling them into vans while still wrapped in blankets. Police took money and mobile phones from students, Slimane added.

Police then blockaded an avenue running in front of the housing complex. In mid-morning, around 60 riot police wielding truncheons charged some 50 Saharawi students who had remained at the scene. The students retaliated by throwing stones before scattering as police chased them through university grounds.
Emphasis mine. That attack went down at Mohammed V University in Rabat instead of Marrakesh University, the lessons are the same: Morocco is doing a terrible job convincing young Sahrawis they can live peacefully in Morocco.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

CORCAS chief Khalihenna Ould Rachid accuses Moroccans of war crimes

Once the head of Spanish-backed party PUNS, Khalihenna "Kelly" Ould Rachid is now the head of Mohammed VI's CORCAS. Basically, his career hasn't changed much in 33 years--lying for one colonial power isn't that different from lying for another. In 2005, however, he did something new: speaking truth to power.

According to documents published by Moroccan newspaper Al-Jarida Al-Oula this month, Ould Rachid told a Moroccan human rights commission that Moroccan officials committed war crimes against Sahrawis. Rachid said some high-ranking Moroccans abused prisoners of war and had civilian Sahrawis thrown out of helicopters or buried alive.

The testimony was supposed to be kept private, but Al-Jarida Al-Oula was able to obtain the trascript anyway. Despite pressure to cease publication, they say they'll continue printing more of Ould Rachid's testimony. I'm looking forward to more, especially since this could impact Spanish judge Baltasar Garzon's investigation in Moroccan war crimes in the invasion and occupation of Western Sahara.

I'm sure Kelly's bosses aren't happy with him right now.

New book promotes Moroccan autonomy plan

Nick Brooks, last known for exposing MINURSO graffiti, writes about Saharan Conflict, a soon-to-be-published pro-autonomy book by Moroccan professor Abdelhamid El Ouali:
From the publisher’s description, it seems pretty clear that this book represents an attempt to give Rabat’s “autonomy plan” some academic legitimacy and produce a “respectable” work to which policy makers can refer when making the case for supporting Morocco’s consolidation, and possible extension, of is occupation of Western Sahara. As such it appears to be part of Morocco’s increasingly sophisticated and well-resourced propaganda and PR campaign (more on this in future posts). One purpose of the book is, no doubt, to give the appearance that “objective” academic analysis favours Morocco’s position.
More as this develops. I've requested a review copy from the publisher, so hopefully soon all will be revealed about

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Damn, Burundi know how to treat the girls (and SADR)

"We recognize SADR again? AWESOME."

Burundi's has diplomatic relations with SADR again. Burundi originally recognized SADR soon after in 1976, the same year the state was founded, but froze recognition in 2006. It just couldn't resist SADR's advances, though, so on Monday Burundi's foreign minister gave a SADR diplomat a note reestablishing relations. Rumor has it that she also sang "I'm Getting Back to Getting Back Into You" by the Silver Jews:
Baby won't you take this magnet
Maybe put my picture back on the fridge
I must've been crazy to let you get away like you did
Nice of Burundi to unfreeze relations, but boy is that a messed-up country. Rwanda gets more press for Hutu-Tutsi trouble, but Burundi has more than its fair share. I bring it up because I was reading in Dangerous Places, my go-to for travel porn, about all Burundi's roving bands of murderers.

Flickr photo from user enricod used under a Creative Commons license

Monday, June 16, 2008

Yours, Landmine, and Ours: Polisario destroys another stockpile

Land mines, along with cluster bombs and poisoned gas, are some of the most noxious weapons. That's why Polisario deserves to be commended for destroying 2,000 mines in its stockpile last month.

According to the Polisario spokesman in that press release, Morocco has been less enthusiastic about destroying their own mines. I think Morocco has more of a use for land mines than Polisario, primarily because in the last war Morocco played a more defensive role. All the pragmatic excuses on either side, though, won't be enough the next time a civilian steps on one of the mines. Morocco and Polisario need to continue demining with MINURSO's help.

SADR oil deal boosts company's stock

Investors can make or lose fortunes on the results of one stock bet, and in at least one case they're betting on Western Sahara. Tower Resources, a British oil exploration company, experienced a bump in its stock price after announcing it had acquired a license to explore for oil off Western Sahara's coast. Unlike other companies, though, Tower's deal is different: its deal is with SADR, so it can only explore once Western Sahara is independent.

Tower obtained the license by buying Comet, which previously held the license. I would've thought the SADR license wouldn't have had a great effect on Tower's stock, given the seemingly-remote chances for Western Saharan independence any time soon. Apparently stock buyers feel more optimistic. It's heartening to see people who are probably more interested in profits than self-determination placing money on independence.

What happened to Western Sahara Online

The passing of Western Sahara Online into the lapsed domain ether is a great loss for Western Sahara on the internet. It offered the best English-language introduction to the conflict available on the internet (ARSO is more of a fantastic tip sheet for the already converted), and the cartoons were cool too. It also handily beat its Moroccan doppelganger. So what happened?

Webmaster Khatry Beirouk was just too busy. He said he had some other reasons, but that seems to be at the core of it. Khatry has saved the website's information and may someday relaunch WSO. Until then, though, there is a great opportunity for a new, well-designed site to introduce people to Western Sahara.

While I'm sad to see the site go on hiatus, the work Khatry did through it was invaluable. I know at least one person who linked to the site in their email signature, and I put the URL on flyers distributed on cars around the Moroccan embassy (including Ambassador Aziz Mekouar's). It'll be hard to imitate WSO's success, but I hope someone will try.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Claude Moniquet Story Corner

Time to check in again with Claude Moniquet. Nothing hinders his rise as a premier quote-generator, not even publishing the worst Western Sahara report of its generation. He appeared in a late May article in the New York Times about terrorist women on the internet, freaking out about Muslims as usual:
“Women are coming of age in jihad and are entering a world once reserved for men,” said Claude Moniquet, president of the Brussels-based European Strategic Intelligence and Security Center. “Malika is a role model, an icon who is bold enough to identify herself. She plays a very important strategic role as a source of inspiration. She’s very clever — and extremely dangerous.
I bet Claude's heard that Che Guevara's sleeping on her couch. Anyway, this is just a roundabout way of telling you about the most exciting moment in my Western Sahara time, and how it became my most disappointing.

Like a lot of other hipsters, I went to the UN's IV Committee on Decolonization. When I went with Chasli to get our gallery badges, I only saw one name I recognized on the visitor's passes: Claude Moniquet! The idea of being in a confined space with Morocco's Own Hobbit got me hot and bothered. My anticipation turned to despair, however, as the Committee closed with no sign of Claude.

Do you have a Claude Moniquet story, preferably one where he jilted you? Share it in the comments.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Algeria and Portugal work together for Sahrawi self-determination

Or so says Portugal News Online. Unlike its neighbor that's actually responsible for a lot of Western Sahara, Portugal chose self-determination over imposed autonomy.

Sahrawi human rights worker released for no given reason

Asfari being led away by police

Ennaâma Asfari, founder of the Sahrawi human rights organization CORELSO and until recently a political prisoner, was released from jail this morning only three days before his trial. There's no official reason for his release, but attention from Amnesty didn't hurt. I did a bad job covering Asfari's case, but ASVDH has a lot of information about it.

Asfari's far from done with the Moroccan "justice" system, of course--rare is the politically active Sahrawi who can stay away from it for long. He might have to go back to jail anyway to get his belongings, which weren't returned to him when he was released. Getting out of jail and not getting mugged by police? These Sahrawis keep getting more demanding.

Flickr photo from Saharauiak used under a Creative Commons license

Thursday, June 12, 2008

If you were occupying Western Sahara, how would you win Sahrawi hearts?

These guys don't know what to do.

The Moroccan administrators of Western Sahara and the Sahrawis who work with them aren't exactly experts at winning Sahrawi hearts and minds. The frustrating status quo continues in Western Sahara, but authorities seem more interested in antagonizing Sahrawis over stupid things than in convincing them Moroccan rule is a pretty good second choice to independence.

Play Devil's Advocate (or Stephen Levitt) and think about what you would do if you were trying to keep Western Sahara quiet.

The first thing I would do is crack down on the harassment and assault of Sahrawis, especially students, by Moroccans. All it does is convince Sahrawis they can't live freely with Moroccans and force them to rely on one another, creating the kind of tight-knit ethnic groups Moroccan authorities should avoid.

What would you do to keep Sahrawis under occupation happy, or at least not unhappy enough to demonstrate?

Flickr photo from user Saharauiak used under a Creative Commons license

If you can make it in Agadir, you can make it anywhere

Sup Agadir? According to my analytics, readers in that town in southern Morocco (i.e. not Western Sahara) spend an average of almost 10 minutes on One Hump per visit, which is longer than any other Moroccan city. To celebrate, some facts about Agadir:
  • It's the world's largest tuna port.
  • In 1960, 15,000 people were killed there by an earthquake. Hassan II's pop was kind enough to undertake a massive rebuilding effort.
  • The picture of its beach on Wikipedia seems to feature a dead cow. Can't someone please take another picture of Agadir's beach?
Have any readers been to Agadir? What did you think of it?

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Stopping the occupation on the high seas

A Jinhui shipping vessel

Looks like asking nicely does work sometimes, as long as they're a little shaming mixed in. Through a campaign that, at its heart, just told shipping companies what they were doing was wrong, Western Sahara Resource Watch convinced three shipping companies to stop carrying plundered Western Saharan phosphates. The three companies--Hong Kong's Jinhui, and Norway's Arnesen and R-Bulk--agreed to stop taking contracts for Western Sahara's phosphates, though Jinhui insists it was just carrying out an old contract made by a boat's previous owner.

Along with getting France and the United States to stop supporting Morocco and convincing ordinary Moroccans of the referendum's righteousness, the other part of ending the occupation is making repressing Western Sahara more expensive to Morocco. Making it more difficult for Morocco to hock plundered phosphate on the global market is a necessary part of that campaign, and becomes even more important as the price of phosphates rises.

There's even more good news to come: Afrol News predicts more shipping companies will soon stop working with Western Sahara's phosphate extracters.

Photo from Western Sahara Resource Watch

King Mohammed VI stars in a music video

Update: I took down the link to the video because I realized I was doing exactly what I always say is a bad idea: needlessly antagonizing ordinary Moroccans. It's a learning opportunity.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Chinese journalist signs on for risky mission in Western Sahara

The South China Morning Post has a great article about Western Sahara that interviews people on both sides of the Berm, including the vice-president of ASVDH, the current commander of MINURSO, and a Sahrawi whose grandson was killed by a cluster bomb. The writer also talks to two Sahrawi women who make an unusual request:
Muda and her friends, all grandmothers, are keen to show they are still engaged in the struggle. Gathering swathes of red, green, black and white cloth, they stitch together a Polisario flag on their Chinese sewing machine. 'Take this with you when you go to the occupied territory and bury it in the sand of our birthplace,' they request. 'And when you are safely away from the Moroccan oppressors, the east wind will blow away the sand and our flag will be free.'
Surprisingly, the writer agrees and takes the flag with him after talking to another elderly Sahrawi:
Shaking hands with the nearly blind septuagenarian, I take my leave from his tent and begin my journey back to the occupied territory. There I will fulfil my promise to the Sahrawi grandmothers and plant their flag in the Western Sahara sands. Who knows where the east wind will take it when freed.
That takes guts. Any Moroccan guard who searches the writer's baggage isn't going to be too pleased to find a Polisario flag. It's a good piece and meatier than what usually passes for media coverage of Western Sahara. There's also an unusually good explanation of the beginnings of the Western Sahara conflict.

Flickr photo from user Saharauiak used under a Creative Commons license

Hey, ustaata, leave those kids alone!

Students in Morocco took their college entrance exams for last week. Good on you, Moroccan and Sahrawi students. I hope everyone gets into the school of their choice.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Great Australian video about plundered Western Saharan phosphates

The 7.30 Report on Australia's ABC network produced an excellent piece on Australia's addiction to Western Saharan phosphates. The video focuses on Malainin Lakhal's efforts to raise awareness of Western Sahara's exploitation in Australia and convince Australian fertilizer companies to stop using phosphates from Western Sahara.

The saddest part for me were the Australian farmers who seemed like nice people but were unable to find alternatives to fertilizers containing plundered phosphate. The happiest part was the surprise appearance by Stephen Zunes.

Overall, excellent effort by both ABC's journalists, Malainin, Zunes, and the Australian activists who doubtless worked behind the scenes to make this report happen.

Beat government censorship and access Wordpress blogs

Lorelle on Wordpress has ways to access blocked Wordpress blogs that I want to pass along. I don't know of any Western Sahara blogs that are on Wordpress, but given the Moroccan government's penchant for banning everything good on the internet, from Youtube to ARSO, it can't be long before one's created then blocked.

Besides, the tips in the post on accessing blocked blogs (proxies, mainly) work for other sites too.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Pro-Sahrawi singer Khaled assaulted in Morocco

Who could hate that face?

In 2003, American country listeners boycotted the Dixie Chicks for opposing the invasion of Iraq. The boycott was unnecessary and, as it turns out, on the wrong side of history. The reaction to the Dixie Chicks, though, looks downright reasonable compared to Moroccan attack Algerian rai singer Khaled just for waving a SADR flag in Spain.
Spectators had thrown items at the singer while on stage and a glass bottle reportedly hit his leg. Khaled thus interrupted his performance but later got back on stage. The act was understood as "a reprisal against the singer who waved the flag of the Western Sahara - occupied by Morocco - in one of his concerts in Spain."
Obviously, assaulting a rai singer puts the Moroccan culprits in great company. I would understand their anger a little more if Khaled was waving a SADR flag at the Moroccan concert (even though that kind of full-frontal honesty is exactly what's needed), but he was in another country when he waved the flag. Also, was anyone actually surprised that an Algerian supports Polisario?

The saddest part is that Khaled seems like such a nice guy. He's apparently all about democracy and feminism, going so far as to sing a song about a woman who refuses a suitor's gifts because what she really wants are equal rights and respect

Thanks to the internet, I'm currently jamming to Khaled's "El Harba". What other rai is worth checking out?

Update: Alle points out that Khaled was scheduled to play this year's Dakhla Festival in occupied Western Sahara, but this article about the festival suggests he cancelled: "Sunday evening, Khaled declared fixed price for health reasons, officially, but the festival ones was convainced that Algeria had made pressure on the icon of the raï."

Friday, June 06, 2008

Hacker hits SADR website

It looks like SADR site RASD-State has been visited by a hacker. Calling him or herself "The X-Hacker," the hacker changed the front page so it delivered an invalid character message. An Arabic message left behind by the hacker translates to "This is hacked by ThE X-HaCkEr
my regards to the dreaded/destructive scorpion", according to commenter Desertman.

As hacking attacks go, it's not that effective. The site's running, the political message (if there was one) is oblique, and pages away past from main page are untouched. Still, it's time for Polisario to round up some script kiddies and get revenge.

Via an astute commenter

Polisario blogging in the icy north

Reindeer, universal health care, lutefisk--Scandinavians get all the best stuff. They also had one more good thing I wasn't aware of: Polisario Sweden, the only Polisario government blog in English and maybe the only one, period.

It's been a while since the last update (almost 8 months), but the first post was in November 2005. Scandinavians sure are crazy about Western Sahara (with admirable results), and I think this blog has something to do with it. Will SADR ambassador to North America Mouloud Said soon be compiling his blogroll and setting up a Photobucket account? I hope so!

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Join the Western Sahara Facebook group

You know you want to. With 897 members, we're only 3 away from 900! When last I wrote about Western Sahara Facebook skirmishes, we weren't nearly as big. Check out the benefits to joining:
  • Mobilizing like-minded people for Western Sahara campaigns. I have a broadcast message coming up about a petition that will go out to all 897 members--score!
  • Contacting cool people from all over the world (all right, mainly Scandinavia).
  • A Real-Sahara-Watch-esque troll named Moroccan Saharoui who has added some great pics of Western Sahara's cities
  • Dedicated One Hump readers get a little officer title, as long as I can think of something clever
  • Opportunities to raid pro-occupation Facebook groups.
I'd say the best thing about joining the group (and making an account if you don't have one already), though, is that for every new member Moulay Rachid cries a little more.

New York Times covers Western Sahara

Kudos to the New York Times, which published the most balanced take yet on the Moroccan-American Center for Policy's traveling Sahrawi show (otherwise known as Holley Bonus Pay Tour '08). Compared to the other articles that took the MACP's word as gospel, the Times does something interesting--essentially, writing a story about the human rights violations in Tindouf story.
But were the refugees’ depictions of life in the camps overstated, as some human rights workers wonder? And were they brought to the United States to advance a foreign country’s claim on their homeland?
I liked that this article, unless the Associated Press's, used persuasive sources to talk about human rights abuses in Western Sahara. There wasn't nearly as much talk about Moroccan human rights

Two other things about the article annoyed me. First, Robert Holley gets the last word, seemingly reasserting his point of view against the earlier doubts. Why not quote SADR ambassador Mouloud Said in the end, or an unbiased NGO? I know I sound like a talk radio caller railing against the biased liberal media, but there it is.

Second, why does the Times need a Moroccan-sponsored publicity tour to write an article about Western Sahara? It's one of the most oppressed places in the world, but they can't bother to send a reporter. Potential stories abound--union busting at Bou Craa, students being thrown out of windows--but unless the interviewees are only a few blocks from the Times office, no one there thinks about Western Sahara.

A lot better than what's generally been coming out of this lobbying offensive, though. Plus, this is a great time to get a letter in the most respected U.S. newspaper about Western Sahara.

Photo from Flickr user wallyg used under a Creative Commons license.