Sunday, May 18, 2008
Taking our lumps and hitting back
It's been a crappy week for Western Sahara supporters in the United States. A Moroccan-American Center for Policy tour of Sahrawi refugees from Tindouf (who may or may not be telling the truth) managed to dominate the internet, even getting an article in the Associated Press (and so in several other major American media outlets).
Several emails I got from a Western Sahara supporter with the stories expressed the way I think a lot of us are feeling--first amused by MACP and Robert Holley's machinations, then outraged that the story was getting more play, then resigned as the AP story was circulated.
The story of Sahrawi refugees abused in Tindouf is frustrating for several reasons. Human rights abuses have happened in Tindouf before--from the Moroccan POWs to the suppression of domestic Abdelaziz opponents--so it wouldn't be that wild of a thing. Tindouf's distance from DC and other American media centers and a language barrier make checking the MACP's unappetizing. The MACP's meetings were closed to the public, so opposing ideas were excluded. The end result is a battered image for Polisario and the entire Western Saharan independence movement.
What now? Alle wants to know why Algeria isn't throwing any hydrocarbon money at Western Saharan lobbying efforts. That's a damn good question. If Algeria would put its back into and Polisario would make itself more public relations friendly (cough Baba Sayed cough), great strides could be made in a short period of time. Instead, Morocco's the one putting time into lobbying and public relations--the MACP office isn't on DC's famed K Street, but it's close.
Even now, though, those of us unaffiliated with Polisario and without much money can help. I know some Sahrawis read my blog, and I hope they'll be inspired by the past week's disaster to tell their stories more often to American media sources. Speaking as a journalist, I assure you most writers are always hard-up for stories. If I got pitched a story as compelling as Western Sahara, I'd be grateful.
Those of us who aren't Sahrawis can keep spreading the gospel through media. One Scandinavian is trying to place an article attacking one of Morocco's favorite congressional reps, Lincoln Diaz-Balart in one of the Miami papers that cover him. I've been planning to write an article about Western Sahara for Dissident Voices, an open leftist site. Add pitching guest blog posts to other bloggers, and we can sway public opinion and google results.
Like the recent "realism" from the UN, the MACP's current popularity is depressing. But look: Western Sahara is helped by Sahrawis, Algerians, Moroccans, Mauritanians, South Africans, Americans, Brits, Australians, French, Scandinavians, Spaniards, and at least one man from Japan. Shoot, democratic dissidents in Swaziland work on precious internet connections to help Western Sahara. Reading that list of nationalities, I find it hard to believe a cut-rate PR firm and their unwitting media accomplices can deny the Sahrawis their right to self-determination.
Picture from Flickr user Saharauiak used under a Creative Commons license