Friday, November 13, 2009

Aminatou Haidar abducted by Moroccan security forces

Sad news: Aminatou Haidar, the face of Western Saharan activism, was arrested around noon today in El Aiun. Here's a release from CODESA, the human rights organization Haidar belongs to:
"Aminatou Haidar" was arrested and abducted at Laayoune airport / Western Sahara immediately after getting out of the plane which as she was coming from Las Palmas, Canary Islands. Her family reported that they were waiting outside the airport and that they were hindered from meeting her or seeing her. The whole airport was surrounded by secret services and by different police and intelligence agents.

The family "Aminatou Haidar," had to wait for an hour at least, but to no avail especially that all the passengers got off the plane and left the airport except for their daughter Amiantou and two Spanish journalists who were taking photos of Amiantou Haidar when she was getting out of the plane at the airport in question and subjected to harassment and arrest by the officers and agents of the Moroccan police.
This shows Moroccan police will go after any Sahrawi who supports a referendum, even those with international connections and support. Haidar's awards (most recently the Civil Courage Prize) weresupposed to place her outside these dangers by showing the Moroccan government the world is watching them.

Last month, I saw Haidar at a reception in Washington. One of the speakers suggested asking the US Ambassador in Rabat to send an embassy car to meet Haidar at the airport so she wouldn't be arrested upon landing. It seemed unlikely to me that she would be arrested, since she's so well-known. Looks like that was wrong.

Photo from Saharauiak used under a Creative Commons license

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

How much does Western Sahara cost Morocco?

The latest edition of Moroccan magazine Tel Quel says it has the answers:

  • 20 million dirhams on the military
  • 3.25 million dirhams on "exonerations, subventions, et prebendes". I don't know what that means.
  • 4.87 million dirhams on diplomacy
  • 3.25 million dirhams on "irrationnels" investments
  • 3.25 million dirhams on governance
  • 9.75 million dirhams on "synergies a degager du Maghreb"

That makes for a 44.5 million dirham total. That actually doesn't seem like that much compared to King Mohammed VI's salary (248 million dirhams), according to the same issue of Tel Quel.

The issue also compares how much goods cost in Morocco versus how much they cost in Western Sahara because of government subsides. A liter of cooking oil is 10.2 dirhams in Morocco, while it's less than half that (5 dirhams) in Western Sahara. A liter of diesel gasoline is 7.5 dirhams in Morocco, while it's only 5 dirhams in Western Sahara.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Taking action on Sahrawi hunger strikers

Dear Ambassador Mekouar...
Three Sahrawi political prisoners in Marrakesh have been on a hunger strike for a month now, and their health is deteriorating. CODESA has requested that the international community help out, and the Western Sahara Facebook group is in. Join us below by sending Moroccan embassies an e-mail applying political pressure.

The three prisoners, Brahim Baryaz, Khallihanna Aboulhassan, and Ali Salem Ablagh, are refusing to eat until conditions in their jail improve. Yesterday, Baryaz was sent to a hospital because he was vomiting a yellow liquid, and the others aren't doing much better.

Below is the e-mail I'm sending to Morocco's US ambassador, Aziz Mekouar. To find the contact information for your country's Moroccan ambassador, Morocco has a handy list.

Dear Ambassador Mekouar,

I'm writing to you today about the status of three Sahrawi prisoners held in a Marrakesh jail: Brahim Baryaz, Khallihanna Aboulhassan, and Ali Salem Ablagh. Since February they have been on a hunger strike to improve the conditions in their jail.

These men only want to be afforded the same dignity that all people deserve. Giving them their requests will speak volumes about the state of Morocco's government and the hearts of the Moroccan people. Many people in my country are following this situation, and we urge you to relay our requests for better treatment of the three hunger strikers to the authorities in Marrakesh.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

New blogs, Western Sahara-related and not

People hungry for North Africa news or journalism writing are in luck:
  • Alle, the great blogger behind Western Sahara Info, is refocusing his North Africa writing on a new group blog, Maghreb Politics Review. He kicked off his new empire with Algerian politics. While it'll let him share his expertise beyond Western Sahara (he knows a lot more about North Africa than that), he better not abandon WSI. It's an institution.
  • Meanwhile, I launched the cleverly-named Will Sommer, a blog about the changes affecting journalism as it moves online (and the cool stuff that move creates). Check it out!
Before I get on with the business of managing two blogs at once, though, an apology: I haven't been up on Western Sahara lately. I got disheartened with how nothing ever changed in Western Sahara, and how it looked like nothing ever would. Before you say, "Try living it for 30 years," I know.

Fortunately, I'm reinvigorated by studying abroad in Cairo and a potential visit to Morocco. Most of all, though, commenters and readers seem to have stuck around and still care about this issue. So let's get to it! Please leave any new Western Sahara blogs in the comments so I can catch up.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Christopher Ross demands self-determination

Beguiling Morocco with his grandfatherly appearance

Delightful news out of Western Sahara, where things have been relatively lately. The new UN envoy on Western Sahara, US diplomat Christopher Ross, isn't taking up last envoy Peter Van Walsum's weak stance on self-determination.

After visiting Morocco, he went to the Polisario-controlled part of Western Sahara to read a speech to Mohammed Abdelaziz and some soldiers. He won't accept any solution that doesn't have self-determination:

Negotiations must tend to "a solution that includes the right of the Saharawi people to self-determination," Ross said in speech he read in Arabic to the Saharawi president-in-exile and an assembly of ministers and chiefs from the nomadic tribes that make up Western Sahara.
Sweet! If he keeps up he'll earn the envoy theme song.

Alternately, this could mean nothing. Some people think self-determination includes autonomy, and he hasn't mentioned a referendum. But at least he isn't endorsing autonomy like Van Walsum.

UPDATE: Reading a comment from blogger Van Kaas makes me think it's a good sign that Ross went to a Polisario-controlled part of Western Sahara instead of the refugee camps in Tindouf.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Rabab Amidane wins Student's Peace Prize

Rabab Amidane, the sister of imprisoned Sahrawi activist El-Ouali Amidane and an advocate for the rights of Sahrawis in her own right, has won the Student's Peace Prize for her work on Western Sahara:
Amidane travels abroad to tell the rest of the world about the conditions of the Sahrawis in Western Sahara. When she visited Norway in 2007, Amidane met the Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg, and she asked the Norwegian state to support Western Sahara's demands for independence. By meeting political leaders and people with a lot of resources, Amidane could make the world recognize the conflict in Western Sahara. In cooperation with Norwegian youth's political parties and the Norwegian Support Committee for Western Sahara, Amidane has been able to make the present conflict in Western Sahara relevant in Norway.
One of the members of the committee that awarded the prize used to be on the Nobel committee. I think this, and Aminatou Haidar's RFK Award, signal that the human rights community is moving towards awarding a Nobel Peace Prize to a Sahrawi.

Photo by Wikdmessenger

Monday, January 05, 2009

What happened?

Moroccan army fort in Guerguerat
During my embarrassing absence, a lot of Western Sahara-related things happened:
  • In December, Morocco began reinforcing its position on the Berm, a violation of the ceasefire. Polisario complained to the UN.
  • Human Rights Watch released its annual Western Sahara report. The report focuses on the abuses the Moroccan government inflicts on pro-independence Sahrawis. Here's a description of the torture of a Sahrawi activist named Asfari:
    After two, two and-a-half-hours, [the police] said, “Let’s try something else.” While I was still seated, they lifted my feet onto a second chair in front of me and hit the soles of my feet with what felt like hard plastic batons, for two, three minutes…One of them burned me with cigarettes on my wrists.

  • Two Sahrawi students, Mustapha Abd Daiem and Laktif el-Houssin, were crushed by a bus in a sit-in at a Marrakesh bus stop.
That last one is the one I'm saddest about effectively ignoring. It's a huge story, and the kind that shows how unpleasant life in Morocco can get if you're on the government's bad side. Interestingly, the incident also shows how good the Western Sahara conflict is, compared to other conflicts. An unjust death in DR Congo or Palestine would garner much less attention, considering the violence in those areas.

I know as well as anyone that a lot of stories on blogs are treated like a big deal, but then . If you want more coverage of one of these events or one I didn't name, say so in the comments. I'll do follow up reporting, and maybe post an interview with someone involved. It'll be a way to make up for the coverage these issues missed when I stopped blogging.

Photo from Flickr user Zongo769 used under a Creative Commons license.