Spurious academic credibility

A new book has been published on the Western Sahara conflict, with the title: Saharan Conflict: Towards Territorial Autonomy as a Right to Democratic Self Determination.

Before those of you interested in the region rush out and buy this to add to your reference materials on the conflict, you might want to think about whether it’s a worthwhile investment. The publisher’s blurb includes the following paragraph:

“In The Saharan Conflict, Abdelhamid El Ouali espouses the establishment of a Moroccan-administered Western Sahara AR [autonomous region], and outlines Rabat’s vision for the Region, its implementation, governance and economic prospects. Professor El Ouali provides a much-needed scholarly account of the struggle for one of the last remaining white spaces on today’s political map of the world – and makes the timely case for its resolution.”

According to the blurb, Abdelhamid El Ouali is a professor with the Faculty of Law at the University of Casablanca. He is described as an international authority on Western Sahara, whose writing on the subject is widely published. A Google search (last checked 21 June) turns up a lot of links to promotional material on the above book, with a good smattering of Moroccan sources, but little else. (Confusingly, some of the Moroccan links refer to a book called “Autonomy for Sahara”, with the same cover graphic – presumably this is the same book.)

From the publisher’s description, it seems pretty clear that this book represents an attempt to give Rabat’s “autonomy plan” some academic legitimacy and produce a “respectable” work to which policy makers can refer when making the case for supporting Morocco’s consolidation, and possible extension, of is occupation of Western Sahara. As such it appears to be part of Morocco’s increasingly sophisticated and well-resourced propaganda and PR campaign (more on this in future posts). One purpose of the book is, no doubt, to give the appearance that “objective” academic analysis favours Morocco’s position.

As an “author many books on international justice, international legal order and refugees” [sic] professor El Ouali is presumably in a good position to make the case that the causes of justice and self-determination are served by denying the population of a partially occupied, disputed, non-self governing territory the right to vote on whether it wants its military occupation by an aggressive expansionist neighbour to continue or not. I’m interested to see whether he proposes any legal and just solutions to the plight of the 160,000 exiled Sahrawi refugees, perhaps involving their return to an occupied Western Sahara or on their dispersal throughout neighbouring countries. The former would not seem wise, given that it would result in the population of a Moroccan-controlled Western Sahara being dominated by Sahrawi who may not relish Morocco’s overlordship. The latter, a “solution” often proposed by Morocco and its supporters, does not seem particularly just. The only alternative to these two possibilities is for the Sahrawi to stay where they are, in the camps, which would hardly fulfill the lofty humanitarian ideals suggested by the publishers’ summary. Whatever one thinks of Morocco’s plans for Western Sahara in principle, it falls down when it comes to the practicalities of how to address the large population of exiled Sahrawi refugees (who are not keen on living in a greater Morocco), and the parts of Western Sahara not occupied by Morocco but controlled by the Polisario independence movement.

The book is being launched in London on Tuesday 24 June, at Westminster Hall. You can request further information (including perhaps an invitation to the launch) from the publishers (Stacey International) at:


Many thanks to Ronnie Hansen for alerting me to this.


3 Responses to Spurious academic credibility

  1. Laroussi says:

    Apparently Mr Abdelhamid El Ouali has been the representative of the UNHCR in Syria.

    It’s interesting that a man that has been working presumably seriously with refugee issues, and who has a university degree in law, writes a book like this. On the other hand as some one pointed out at the blog One Hump or Two, it would be a criminal offence for any one in Morocco to publish a book that questions the sovereignty of Morocco over Western Sahara…

    Maybe someone could be brave enough to ask Mr El Ouali about this latter issue when the book is released in London.

  2. nickbrooks says:

    I’m trying to find out more about the book launch. If I can I’ll attend and (politely) put some of these questions to him. They are indeed very pertinent, and I agree with your assessment about the constraints under which he must be operating.

  3. […] Conflict: Towards Territorial Autonomy as a Right to Democratic Self-Determination (see an earlier entry). The launch was held in the Houses of Parliament, presumably a symbolic choice meant to emphasise […]

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