Saturday, April 05, 2008

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?


  1. One of the strengths of the U.S. presidential system is that the commander-in-chief is a civilian; this stops the nepotism and croneyism inherent in a unified general/head of state. Abdelaziz being both is basically consistent with the Arab strongman that is so prevalent in North Africa - sometimes it's a military dictator (Qaddahfi), sometimes it's a king (Mohamed VI - who also constitutionally controls the military.) It's also a weakness of presidential systems that only a handful of them have lasted more than 30 years without devolving into anti-democracies (e.g. Egypt.) Unifying the head of government, head of state, military leader, and leader of the only significant political party is obviously consolidation.

  2. Anonymous5:35 AM

    The SADR minister of defence is called Mohamed Lamine Ould El Bouhali.

    It is not unusual to find in democracies that the President holding the title of army chief. Isn't George Bush the Commander in Chief of the US army or supreme commander?

    this is even more necessary when the state is still a project and there is a country to fully liberate. Polisario is a liberation movement and because of the conditions of war and occupation there is a need to have a leader that is able to take decisions and coordinate efforts to liberation easily.

    If you look back at the history of liberation movements you will find that that was the case in almost all of them.

  3. Anonymous is right. The president of the USA is both head of state and Commander in Chief of the US' army.

    What's the big difference here compared to the Saharawi republic?

  4. Yes, the president of the United States is head of state, head of government, and Commander in Chief. The difference is that he is popularly elected as a civilian, rather than appointed through a military hierarchy.

  5. Anonymous6:45 PM

    The Saharawi president is elected every 3/4 years and is not appointed at all.

  6. Laroussi6:11 AM

    The Saharawi president is not "appointed through a military hierarchy", Justin. As anonymous wrote, the president is elected. This takes place at the Polisario congress.

    Where ever did you learn that the president is "appointed through a military hierarchy"???

  7. As people have pointed out, I don't think there's a formal difference between the military role of Abdelaziz and Bush in their respective systems. Both are commanders in chief ex officio, by being presidents. Although, in A's case, he's really SADR president AND commander in chief ex officio, because the only top post to which elections are held is Polisario secretary-general, and this automatically grants the other two as long as the provisional constitution is in force (i.e, until independence).

    What is open to (very serious) question is how fair the elections for Polisario secretary-general is. On the other hand, maybe that falls outside the scope of your paper, if you don't look at the informal side of things. If you do, a military role may give an advantage in elections, because civilian elections are in fact dominated by the military, by force or resources, or through an intelligence apparatus or tribes, or by Algerian pressure, or whatever the case may be. Info on that won't be easy to come by, though.

  8. Oh, and having said that: that the commander-in-chief post is constitutionally joined to the top post in the organization/state is not the least surprising given African and Arab constitutional tradition, and especially not (and this overlaps a lot) given the fact that it's still a pre-state structure fighting for independence. I doubt you can find more than a few historical cases where the military command of a national liberation movement was split from the political top post, except in so far as collective/democratic leadership structures worked.

    One pertinent example is the FLN in Algeria, which similarly to Polisario was organizationally almost indistinguishable from its armed wing (ALN), and then set up an exile government (GPRA). Unlike Polisario, there were two different leaderships for the two, with one commander-in-chief (Houari Boumedienne) and one president-in-exile (first Ferhat Abbas, then Krim Belkacem), both of them inside the larger framework of FLN. When push came to shove at independence in 1962, Belkacem found that he had no hard support on which to rest, and accordingly he was swept aside by the real body of the movement, the army (which installed Ben Bella as president, following which Boumedienne took power himself within a few years -- and the army still basically runs the place). So for good and bad, joining the two posts have mostly been the realistic option.

    As for the joining of the twin political-military top posts of SADR (pres) and Polisario (sec-gen), now, that's another matter. Also common in the same situations, but not for the same obvious reasons.

  9. Thanks for the help, guys. I think the fact that president of SADR is determined by who is elected SG of Polisario is something, since that basically means the head of the army/movement is in charge of SADR.

    I also saw the FLN comparison in my reading, Alle. Isn't it wild that everything in the camps is organized into 11 person cells? That's what Toby Shelley says in his book, at least.

  10. Yes, yes, the president is not appointed per se, but is also not freely elected. It's clear that Abdelaziz has maintained power despite free and fair elections with genuine alternatives. I realize that there are Congresses and that he is up for (indefinite) re-election.

  11. Just one note about the SADR president not being
    "freely elected".
    I don't know about any report of independent observers at the Sahrawi elections but I do know about a lot of fundamental problems in the USA because of the privatisation of their elections. The American votes are counted by non-transparant vote-counting machines, and so the corporate world controls the USA elections. Sahrawi's do not copy it and they are right about that. The Sahrawi manual counting process is better. Ofcourse the Sahrawi way to select candidates for the election is different as well. But would the USA way be better? Or more democratic?

  12. To say that American elections are "privatized" is a bit misleading, but yes, there are some serious problems with American democracy. That having been said, it is certainly more democratic than any democracy in North Africa. Would the American way to elect a president be better than the Sahrawi way? In terms of vote-counting, no probably not, but in terms of genuine alternatives, certainly. I should also point out that constitutionally, elections are the domain of states, and states have broad authority to determine how elections are run within their borders, even for our national election of the president. The issues that you raise are pretty broad and include some legitimate criticism of democracy in America. That having been said, it is light years more legitimate as a democracy than any Arab democracy and there are several reasons why this is the case. Arab states have a lot to learn from Americans in terms of creating genuine democrat institutions and Americans could learn a little themselves.

  13. Anonymous7:06 PM

    I don't believe that the American do have real and genuine alternatives in the Presidential elections.

    The candidates have to be rich and raise hundreds of millions of dollars, then there the process of preselections and the issue of super delegates...etc

    The questions is how come one family (Bush) had tow presidents and one Governor and there also the other Kennedy family too. So perhaps US is not so different from other Arab states!

  14. Justin's on the money here. Obviously, there are problems with American democracy. I'm not a fan of paperless voting either, or that we had the misfortune to elect 2 Bushes. But that's not the same as electing a man for 32 years, especially when he's presided over human rights abuses like the Moroccan POWs. I say Polisario/SADR needs a new secretary-general: if Aminatou Haidar isn't up for it, why not El Ouali's brother who just came back from Canada?

  15. Anon: the problem of money campaigns is definitely a real issue, but at the same time, there are genuine outsiders who get into office (e.g. Jimmy Carter) and there are some real political Cinderella stories (e.g. Barack Obama.) Again, this is fundamentally different from, say, Syria. In the case of the Bushes, they were both elected in free and fair elections (2000 less so than the others, but there was genuine opposition) and there are term limits, whereas the Bashars are just handed an indefinite presidency.

  16. Ofcourse the Sahrawi way to select candidates for the election is different as well. But would the USA way be better? Or more democratic?

    In the US, there are semi-direct elections of the president, where the results are transparently counted, observed and respected, whatever complaints one may (for good reasons) have about the role of money in the process, or about the weighting of votes between different states, and so on.

    In the Polisario system, even if we assume that the election procedures are fully respected -- and the lack of transparency makes me doubt that -- the secretary-general isn't directly elected. He's elected by the Polisario congress, which itself is elected in highly un-transparent local and branch elections, through several levels. Add to that that a (minor) part of the congress is effectively appointed from above.

    It's like if the US president was appointed by the Senate, which was itself appointed by state legislatures, military regiments, student bodies and government agency boards -- most of which were headed by presidential appointees -- and also included the top military brass, the government and local governors, all of which are designated by the president himself. Even if elections are free under those conditions (and again, I doubt it), they wouldn't be very fair, since the president could through appointments and pressure massively weight the composition of the Senate in his own favor. "Croneyism" doesn't even begin to describe the abuses such a system is open to.

    On the other hand, there are arguments in favor of multi-tier elections like these too, if not necessarily this exact system. The fractured and tribal nature of Sahrawi society (and the fact that half of the population can't vote, being under Moroccan rule), the difficulties of organizing a nation-wide election in exile, and the sensitiveness of leadership issues for a military movement involved in a war, may well mean that there is a need for some sort of internally negotiated system-consensual appointment process for leaders, rather than direct elections that risk splitting the community every time. External influences would also be a factor in that, and of course there's always a huge risk for a organization-cum-nation like this, in a situation like this, to radically revise the way leadership issues are negotiated -- it could easily blow the whole movement apart. The important thing is rather to preserve general legitimacy for the way political offices are found, for as long as this situation persists, and that I simply don't know if Polisario has managed to do. Also doubtful.

    And to preempt the obvious: yes, whatever the flaws of Polisario's internal elections, they are still infinitely more democratic than the way Moroccan kings are found.

  17. Laroussi12:26 PM

    "I say Polisario/SADR needs a new secretary-general: if Aminatou Haidar isn't up for it, why not El Ouali's brother who just came back from Canada?"

    Well, first of all I do not think that Baba M. Sayed is interested in becoming the Secretary General of Polisario. He has not even been interested in being elected for other posts with Polisario.

    Secondly, why should you have a say about who the Saharawis should elect their president? ;)

    Abdelaziz was elected Secretary Genaral in due course at the congress of Frente Polisario.

    You might criticize the election system of Polisario, but the truth is that there are no candidates for the post of the General Secretary except for Mohamed Abdelaziz.

    There are of course Saharawis who are tired of the current leadership, but no real alternative exists or is presented. The main problem remains the Moroccan occupation and not the Polisario leadership.

    Finally it is most likely not half the Saharawi population that is living under Moroccan occupation. Reliable figures are hard to get, but it might be about 100.000 Saharawis who live in Moroccan controlled Sahara, roughly about one third of the total Saharawi population.