We welcome your unreasonable comments

March 18, 2008

Magharebia, a news site sponsored by the United States Africa Command, recently ran a story about the postponement of a planned march on Tifariti by the Moroccan “NGO” the Association Sahara Marocaine (“Sahara tension mounts as Tifariti march postponed“). The Magharebia story made the common mistake of confusing the buffer zone, which extends for 5 km either side of the berm that partitions Western Sahara, with the Polisario-controlled areas east and south of the Berm. This reflects the usual Moroccan rhetoric, which presents the Polisario areas as an official buffer zone rather than areas of Western Sahara that Morocco has failed to occupy, in which Morocco has no presence, and which are firmly controlled by a government with a competing claim to the territory. The confusion about the nature and extent of the buffer zone is common among journalists, so I thought I’d give Magharebia the benefit of the doubt, and point out their mistake. The site says that it welcomes comments, so I duly sent off a clarification, with links to MINRUSO maps showing the buffer zone, the berm and the Moroccan and Polisario-controlled areas. I pointed out that the (often overlooked) existence of the Polisario controlled areas has important implications for the viability of the Moroccan autonomy plan as a “solution” to the conflict.

As of today my comment has not been published [Note: see below for update]. However, this one has:

“truth: west sahara is moroccans and was moroccans and remains moroccans, we hope that tifariti and surroundings in as soon as possible conquered and free become, there is no other solution. political agression of algerian generals against morocco is total unacceptable, we hope that they think well after because they have two keys in hands them can choose between peace and war, we hope that they choose for peace, because war means a large calamity in north africa and surroundings. peace!”

So has another opposing comment, so full of cut and paste anti-American bile that it appears to be from a wannabe Jihadi sitting in his bedroom watching Osama videos, rather than a nationalist Sahrawi. Or perhaps it’s a put up job (maybe in the interest of balance?. Maybe it’s real, and an early indication that this festering conflict and the West’s support for Morocco is pushing some Sahrawi into the familiar territory of angry fundamentalism.

Anyway, it seems that you’re allowed to comment on this US military sponsored website if you’re a belligerent, ranting, hate-filled fundamentalist of whatever persuasion, but not if you’re someone with a valid and reasonably worded comment that takes issue with a misleading factual inaccuracy in one of Magharebia’s articles. I know I can be quite verbose, but I did stick within the word limit. I wonder if there is a political agenda here (surely not!). Morocco certainly doesn’t want anyone to know that there is a significant chunk of Western Sahara outside of its control. Now that the US has come out firmly in favour of Morocco’s partition – sorry, autonomy – plan, perhaps US military-sponsored news sites have been instructed to keep quiet about this matter too.

UPDATE: After I published the above entry my blog saw much more activity than usual (about 8 times the normal number of hits, with plenty of time still to go before the day is out). I’ve just checked the article on the Magharebia website and my comment has now been published. The comment was submitted 5 days ago, and has been published some time after comments submitted 4 and 2 days ago. A number of other comments submitted 4 days ago have also been published today (18 March 2008). Anyway, whether these comments have been “released” in response to this post, or whether the delay was just due to a glitch or distracted moderator, it’s good to see them there.

Of all the 8 comments currently visible on the site, one is mine, one is a request for impartiality in the administration of the site, one is pro-Sahrawi, and the remaining 5 are pro-Moroccan. Interestingly, one of the pro-Moroccan comments accuses the Algerian authorities of “playing the game of the Zionists”. So Israel has been dragged into this by both sides in these comments (see also the one pro-Sahrawi comment, which is rather belligerent, but it is hardly alone in this respect). Neither of these (pro- nor anti-Moroccan) comments acknowledges the fact that, as part of a mutual back-scratching agreement between Morocco and Israel, there is an understanding that Israel will help to promote Moroccan interests. The author of the pro-Moroccan post who attacks Algeria for being like “the Zionists” might want to rethink his comments and take a more positive position regarding this new Moroccan ally.