Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Together Foundation: Keystone Cops abolitionists

Pity the hapless Together Foundation. First they jumped on the slavery in Tindouf story without enough evidence, then they lost their entire board of advisors. The latest bad news is that they can't keep even keep important evidence straight. From the Foundation's news page, March 30th:
Meeting with alleged Sahrawi slaves in Mauritania.

We were contacted by two people who alleged that they were Sahrawi slaves from the refugee camps. Our president met them in Nouakchott, Mauritania, early February, received their statements and recorded the answers of one of them.

On the way back to New York the tape mysteriously disappeared from the luggage. Therefore the Foundation has a rather stunning report, which cannot be verified by direct testimony.
They had proof of Sahrawi slavery, but they lost it! What are the chances? The Together Foundation would be modern day John Browns and William Lloyd Garrisons if it weren't for their darned butterfingers.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Nocturnal manumission

Smoking gun?

It looks like the US Committee for Refugees and Immigrants has laxer evidence standards than bloggers. They've picked up the Tindouf slavery story like Mohammed Abdelaziz himself runs a slave market, even though all the evidence thus far comes from the Ayala-Fallshaw team.

Someone who was in the camps at the same time as the Ayala/Fallshaw crew pointed me to this document above, which the Committee says is the manumission document for the release of a slave. The big deal is it's ostensibly signed by a Polisario official.

Presuming that this says in Arabic what it's supposed to, papers can easily be forged, so more evidence is still needed before we say Polisario condones slaveholding. I wish the US Committee for Refugees and Immigrants felt the same way.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Bomb the suburbs: Sahrawi graffiti

Speaking of Sahrawi Youtube videos, check out this guy spraypainting pro-independence slogans and the SADR flag on walls and doors in El Aiun. At least, that's what I think is happening--I can't figure out the Arabic. Wherever it's going down, it's neat. I love how good his Arabic looks even though he's using spraypaint.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Dan Newman dishes on TV, is ambivalent about Western Sahara

My Arabic and newspaper pal Daniel Newman has started a TV blog, A Newman Scorned. He's the Marlo Stanfield of television blogging (young, fierce, and entirely amoral), as I think his episode review of The Paper on MTV demonstrates. Dan's turned me on to so many good shows this year (Battlestar Galactica, The Wire, and even a little Veronica Mars) that I'm sure he can do the same for you if you read his blog.

Even if you're the kind of person who doesn't enjoy puckish wit and spritely writing, however, there's another reason you should read his blog if you love Western Sahara--he's living in Morocco next semester. I'm sure if a lot of Western Sahara fans read his blog he'll be won over to the cause.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Sahrawi students under attack in Marrakesh

The irrepressible Rabab Amidane, whose brother El Ouali is serving time in a Moroccan jail for his independence work, has two videos of harassment of Sahrawi students at Marrakesh University. This month Sahrawi students have been assaulted for their activism on behalf of self-determination by roving gangs, according to CODESA.

In the first video, Rabab interviews some Sahrawi students who have moved into a central building to protect themselves from further attacks. Perversely, seeing them eat in this redoubt made me really want some Sahrawi food.

It looks like the younger generation has learned human rights lessons well from --in the video, a group of students record who was attacked and how for future complaints. They'll need the information, because it looks like the attacks have been serious. Assaulted student Letif Lahbib just lies on a stretcher moaning in the video, while his friends outside demonstrate by waving his bloody shirt.

In the second video, Sahrawis angry at the attacks march through the university. People walking by seemed pretty blase about the march, which I take to be a good sign. All the best to those in Marrakesh.

Human Rights Watch on Morocco

Human Rights Watch released its report on human rights in Morocco earlier this month. Their conclusion: Morocco's not so hot, especially for a supposedly liberalizing friend of the West.

The report mentions abuses against Sahrawis, saying that police are harsher with Sahrawi human rights activists and mentioning repression of Sahrawi student protests.

Morocco's press freedom's also pitiful, according to the report. It talks about the Nichane/Tel Quel travesty we know well, as well as the imprisonment of another newspaper's editor who published a classified document related to terrorism. He was charged with concealing information related to a crime. Can you think a better way to not conceal something than publishing it in a major paper?

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

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Morocco and Algeria, together at last (at least in my MidEast class)

I'm taking a survey course on Middle Eastern history, and I just had to read the book and watch the movie version of Bab el-Oued, about Algerian Islamic extremism. Yesterday I read Year of the Elephant, a book about the Moroccan struggle for independence and those it left behind. Reading Year of the Elephant (in Arabic, عام الفيل), I was struck by how brave the Moroccan revolutionaries in the book were--and how quickly they forgot that the thirst for self-determination is unquenchable.

Have you read these two books, and what did you think? I promise I'm not looking for a plot summary so I don't have to read them myself.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Polisario officials write opinion pieces, but where are the occupied Sahrawi voices?

Emhamed Khadad isn't someone I've heard of before, but he's described as Polisario's coordinator with the UN (I guess that means he's the MINURSO liaison, because I thought Boukhari's the UN representative). He recently wrote two pieces for European audiences: one in the European Wall Street Journal argues that MINURSO needs a human rights component, while another in European Voice complains that the French idea of a European-Mediterranean trade sphere including Morocco strengthens the occupation.

I'm left to wonder, though, why we aren't seeing anything similarly from human rights activists inside Western Sahara like Ali Salem Tamek, Mohammed Daddach, Aminatou Haidar, or Brahim Sabbar. I can see some problems: activists might not know as many languages or be as educated as Polisario leaders, they could face repercussions from Moroccan authorities, or they don't have the connections that Polisario has to get a piece in a major paper. They also can't be as open about support for independence as a Polisario Front representative, certainly.

Still, they're more effective images for readers, and they can comment on Western Saharan issues without overtly opposing Moroccan sovereignty. Even an integrationist could want a human rights component for MINURSO, for example. Polisario should use the contacts it doubtless has with dissidents inside the territory and media elites in Europe and the United States to get articles by Sahrawi activists under the occupation published.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Aziz Mekouar: bull doggin' hos like them Georgetown Hoyas

Aziz "Wreck you all" Mekouar, Morocco's ambassador to the US, is hitting up Georgetown Thursday to have a 'private conversation' with whoever wants in. Lunch will be served. I'm there. You can be too, maybe, if you RSVP. The whole shindig starts at 12:30 in the Intercultural Center.

Update: So, I've been missing Arabic class a bit lately, so I decided to go to that instead of see Mekouar. Later in the day, I had class in the conference room he ate in, and the chalkboard had a message that was rife with spelling errors--"chaplin" "glade to see you". Intellectual birds of a feather...

Thursday, April 10, 2008

An idea I don't have the skills to implement

Getting a majority of Moroccans behind a referendum on Western Sahara would be a total game-changer. That's a tricky proposition, but I think the younger generation is more likely to be receptive to overtures than older Moroccans, who've had longer exposure to Greater Morocco propaganda and might've lost family and friends in the war with Polisario. Plus, Morocco's youth bulge means they're going to be the dominant group soon.

To that end, I think the Western Saharan cause needs an internet game with pro-self-determination overtones targeted at young Moroccans. It shouldn't hit them over the head with the Sahrawi message, just something subtle that's presented along with the main game. A bowling game called Frente Bowlisario? Maybe.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Wheelchair-bound Sahrawi turned back at airport

This will be remembered as the week we uncovered the Moroccan government's distaste for people in wheelchairs. Apparently that distaste includes Sahrawis too. According to ARSO's latest news update (required reading for fans of self-determination), a Sahrawi wounded in the Polisario-Moroccan war wasn't allowed to visit his family in Western Sahara after flying all the way from Spain.
Yarba Mahfoud Mohamed arrived by plane in El Ayoun to visit his relatives, coming from Spain where he lives. Paralysed following a war injury in the ranks of the Polisario, he is in a wheelchair. As he was not returning to the Sahara to defect to the regime, the Moroccan authorities refused to let him enter. Thanks to the insistence of his relatives, he was finally able to meet them for four minutes before being sent back on an aeroplane.
He got to see them for four minutes? What's the matter, Moroccan government, going soft?

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Why Sahrawi women cover up

Photo by Marcello; scarves, mittens, and sunglasses by a lot of other people

Writer Marcello di Cintio's working on a book about the world's walls, so he visited the Berm early in March. He's got a couple of posts about seeing the Berm and hanging out with Sahrawis, but my favorite is the post where he offers an explanation for why Sahrawi women in Tindouf wear so many layers.

I figured it was a combination of Muslim hair-covering and wanting to keep sand out of their faces, but he says it's because Sahrawi culture loves pale skin. Considering how easily I burn, I'd be worth my weight in gold in Western Sahara.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Mohammed VI pardons people who dared speak freely

Abdelaziz might rule SADR like a king, but as this article makes clear, at least he isn't a real king. King Mohammed VI recently pardoned 8 Moroccans who were in prison for insulting the king. Sweet of Mohammed to pardon them, but it just exposes the ridiculousness of lèse majesté laws:
Amine said one young man had been jailed after unwittingly ripping up a magazine that contained a picture of the king. A woman seeking a divorce was imprisoned last year for saying her husband sat around at home all day doing nothing "like a king", said Amine.
Worst of all, the article talks about a 95 year-old man in a wheelchair, Ahmed Nacer, who said something to his bus driver that "harmed Morocco's sacred values." He was sentenced in September and died in prison in February. And people wonder why the Sahrawis want out.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Chasli on Edelman

Chasli at Western Sahara Endgame a post about Edelman's connections with Morocco. Poor Edelman can't get a break.

I'm writing a paper about civil-military relations in SADR

As you might expect, it's not a glowing review of Abdelaziz. What do you think about the president and the head of the army being one in the same?

Moroccan minister spreads misinformation in DC

Nouzha Skalli, Morocco's minister of social development, family, and solidarity, was in Washington last week meeting with Morocco-philes and members of the U.S. government. She also met with two Deputy Assistant Secretaries of State to complain about Tindouf. From the MAP article that got picked up by ReliefWeb, she performed the usual song and dance:
The Polisario separatist movement which has, since 1976, lured thousands of Sahrawis into joining it in the Tindouf camps where it continues to hold them against their will, lays claims over Morocco's Southern Provinces -the Sahara.
I bring up this pretty typical performance because this woman was supposed to speak at Georgetown but her event was inexplicably canceled the day of. I wasn't even going to go in Western Sahara mode, figuring she just talking about Moroccan women's rights and that sort of thing. Now it looks like I should have.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Carlos "Children of the Clouds" Gonzalez was the cameraman on the Violeta-Fallshaw trip to Tindouf?

Gonzalez says he didn't see an evidence of slavery. But still, the guy gets around! My mind: blown.

Via email from a trusted source, so there's nothing to link to.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Edelman: friends to tyrants foreign and domestic

Edelman, the United States PR firm that runs the king's hatchet men at the Moroccan-American Center for Policy, also does shifty work for Wal-Mart. This is notable now because Wal-Mart sued a brain-damaged former employee to get money from her injury lawsuit, and Edelman has had to take the flak. In 2006, Edelman also set up a fake blog two years ago to brag about Wal-Mart.

Do you think the good people at Edelman ever get tired of making the incompetent and the malevolent (often both) look good?

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Abderrahim Lemsaoud and Mustapha Rochdi, Hamdi Lembarki's killers, released 8 years early

Hamdi Lembarki (pictured) was beaten to death by Moroccan security forces during the 2005 intifada. His killers, Abderrahim Lemsaoud and Mustapha Rochdi, were sentenced to 10 years in prison but only served 2 after being released early last month. Pretty outrageous stuff, and just one example of the flippant attitude the Moroccan government takes toward human rights in Western Sahara.

I'm pretty behind the times on this, but it's too depressing not to mention. Giving his killers a little negative Google juice, even in their transliterated names, is a little justice but not near as much as Lembarki deserves.

Edward Gabriel to blog at One Hump

It's my great honor to introduce former US ambassador Edward Gabriel as the second member of the One Hump blogging team. A lot of us have disagreed with Ed in the past, but I'm confident he'll make his posts interesting. Since I haven't been able to convince him that Western Sahara deserves a referendum, one thing is for sure: his posts will be controversial. Please join me in welcoming Ed to the blog.

Update: So, as one commenter noticed, it was an April Fool's joke. Edward Gabriel isn't writing for One Hump...yet.

Algeria shutting down churches

Three Algerian churches and two independent Christian groups have been told to shut down by the Algerian government. Algeria's help with Western Sahara is great, but they need to leave Christians (and every other religious group) alone. You think they'd be nicer considering how helpful evangelical Christians in the US have been on Western Sahara.

Morocco agrees with Algeria on religious freedom for Christians.

More on gender equality in Morocco

Continuing with yesterday's post about divorce in Western Sahara, here's the 2008 report on gender equality from Social Watch. Morocco is ranked only slightly higher than Pakistan, and is several notches down from Saudi Arabia. But then, how could a modernizing democracy like Morocco possibly compete with Saudi Arabia on women's rights? They're so enlightened there.

Like in many reports like this, Western Sahara's not included, probably because of the difficulty of separating trends in Morocco and the occupied territory.