Interrogating the occupation

Last night I ventured into Westminster to attend the UK launch of Professor Abdelhamid El Ouali’s argument for Morocco’s Autonomy Plan for Western Sahara, in the form of a book entitled Saharan 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 the democratic nature of the Autonomy Plan (a link made by the professor in his speech). In brief, the autonomy plan provides for limited self-determination for the disputed territory of Western Sahara within a greater Morocco, while precluding the possibility of full independence for the territory.

It was a fairly low-key affair. Most of the audience consisted of Moroccans, including the ambassador to the UK (apparently not the one who complained to the Foreign Office about my academic activities in 2004), and a fair few embassy staff. Lord someone-or-other introduced Professor El Ouali, but apart from that members of the Commons and Lords were conspicuous by their absence. One or two civil servants (one of whom apparently advised the UK government on rendition), a previous British Ambassador to Rabat, less than a handful of journalists, and a few others with regional interests were also present. Representatives of the publishers, Stacey International, were also there, overseeing sales of the book (£16.95 – no sign of it on Amazon yet).

I went hoping to raise some concerns about the autonomy plan in the question and answer session that I assumed would follow a comprehensive presentation. However, I was disappointed. Professor El Ouali gave a short, fairly informal talk, the gist of which was that times had changed and we had to deal with new realities, independence was no longer relevant or appropriate as an option, autonomy was all about building democracy and securing human rights, and the fact that things weren’t panning out as they should was all down to those awkward Algerians. No mention was made of Polisario. Immediately after his talk, we were invited to enjoy the hospitality (wine, soft drinks, no nibbles), buy the book, and mingle. There was no opportunity for questions or discussion.

Determined not to waste my six hour round trip to the Mother of Parliaments, I duly joined the queue of embassy staff and autonomy sympathisers eagerly lining up to have their copies signed. After a while being bypassed by the queue of admirers, I took my chance to introduce myself to Professor El Ouali and ask the question that has been bothering me for some time.

The question in question is, what is the plan for the Polisario-controlled areas of Western Sahara (i.e. the “Free Zone”) under the autonomy proposal? Are these to be left as a rump Sahrawi state, or will Morocco attempt to complete its acquisition of Western Sahara by force, risking further regional instability and conflict? The professor answered that the autonomy plan could only be implemented if it had the agreement of all the parties to the conflict, including the Polisario.

So far, so good. However, he then went on to say (I’m paraphrasing, but this is a pretty faithful rendition) “You’re talking about the ‘Liberated Territories’ – this is a myth. Polisario has never liberated any of this land. it is a buffer zone set up by Morocco.” Needless to say I pointed out to him that I run a research project in these very territories, and work with the Polisario in this context. Having travelled extensively in the Polisario-controlled areas (Lajuad, Mijek, Tifariti, Zug, you name it), I’m fully aware that the “buffer zone” is a face-saving Moroccan flim-flam, a story concocted to conceal the reality that Western Sahara is in fact already partitioned between the two warring parties.

My unmasking as someone from “the other side” seemed to cause some discomfort, but to his credit the Professor regained his composure and suggested that we talk at greater length later on, which we duly did (after he’d apparently checked up on me with his embassy colleagues – apparently both I and this blog are quite familiar to them, so ahlan wa sahlan if you’re reading).

In our subsequent discussion, Professor El Ouali was very keen to persuade me of the value of the autonomy plan, and of both his sincerity and his credentials (as someone who has worked extensively with refugees and at a high level in UNHCR). He, and some of the other Moroccans there, said that they were very keen on the idea of finding common ground and real, practical, and just solutions to the conflict. I even received an invitation to explore the issue at greater length in Morocco – flattering given that when it comes to politics I’m not exactly anyone’s representative, just a blogger with a point of view and some relevant travel experience.

On the surface this is all very encouraging, and the Moroccans I spoke to all gave the impression that they were keen to find common ground to resolve the conflict (and they were all very personable and friendly, in stark contrast to some of their compatriots who haunt the blogosphere). However, I’m very, very sceptical as to how much will there really is in the Moroccan establishment to find a real solution to the Western Sahara conflict.

Professor El Ouali kindly gave me a copy of his book, and I will make good on my promise to read it. Time permitting, I might even write a review. Having had a quick flick through it, I have to say that I don’t disagree with everything he writes. For example, I concur with his comments about globalisation. However, I think we will continue to disagree about the autonomy plan, for the reasons outlined below. What follows is a general argument about autonomy, not a response to the particulars of Professor El Ouali’s book. However, the argument does hark back to his comments about the nature of the Polisario-controlled areas.

The existence of the Free Zone and of the exiled Sahrawi refugees in the camps around Tindouf together represent a very serious stumbling block to the autonomy plan, under which there seem to be three broad possible outcomes (assuming the plan is to go ahead):

i. Polisario, with the support of the exiled Sahrawi community, voluntarily gives up the Free Zone so that it can become part of an autonomous Saharan region within a greater Morocco. The refugees return home and everyone lives happily ever after. A problem with this scenario is that, even if Morocco granted the refugees the right of return, it’s far from certain that they would want to take it (1). Furthermore, does Morocco really want all those potentially troublesome Sahrawi nationalists flooding back into an autonomous Saharan province, where they may well form a majority of the population? I hear that for all the infrastructure development that is going on in the occupied territories, no plans have been laid to build homes for returning refugees. I don’t think the Moroccans are expecting them back any time soon.

ii. The autonomy plan is implemented, but only in the regions currently occupied by Morocco. The Free Zone is left as a rump Sahrawi state under the control of the Polisario or whatever form of government may evolve among the exiled Sahrawi community. Refugees settle in the Free Zone to the extent that resources (principally water) permit. Whether the Free Zone could support some 160,000 people is debatable. If the Free Zone was settled, Morocco would have to live with a Sahrawi state full of disgruntled inhabitants who would still hanker after their old homeland across the border. This, presumably, is not on the Moroccan agenda. Under this scenario the autonomy plan would merely crystalise the current situation, and might increase tension in the region over the long term.

iii. Morocco extends its control throughout the entire territory of Western Sahara by invading the Free Zone. This would result in conflict with the Polisario, possible conflict with Algeria, and could destabilise the Maghreb as a whole.

Of course there is a fourth option – that the implementation of the autonomy plan depends of the agreement of all the parties to the conflict, that this is not forthcoming, and, er, nothing happens. At the moment this seems to be the most likely outcome, at least in the short term. So what exactly is the purpose of the plan?

The autonomy plan is predicated on two fictions. First, that Western Sahara is simply a part of Morocco with a troublesome secessionist movement, when in reality it is a partially occupied territory that has been partitioned between Morocco and the Polisario. Second, that the refugees in the camps around Tindouf would be happy, and welcome, to return to their homeland as Moroccan subjects. While the proponents of the plan are presumably aware of these problems, they are never addressed, suggesting that the plan does not represent a serious attempt to resolve the conflict. It is the view of this blogger that the autonomy plan is a stalling tactic designed to defuse criticism of Morocco’s occupation of Western Sahara, and to discredit the Polisario (2). It seems to be the latest ruse via which Morocco seeks to avoid the holding of a referendum, while appearing to act constructively on the issue. It may seem like a solution to those not familiar with the realities of partition, which is why Morocco tries so hard to play down the existence of the Free Zone, and consistently underestimates the number, and misrepresents the aspirations, of the Sahrawi refugees in the Tindouf camps. I look forward to finding out if these issues are addressed in Professor El Ouali’s book, but I won’t be holding my breath as I turn the pages.



(1) I’ve often heard from Moroccan sources that the refugees are held in the camps against their will by the Polisario, that they are effectively Moroccan citizens (well, subjects) being held as hostages by a secessionist group, and that they would welcome the opportunity to return to the Moroccan homeland. The truth is somewhat different. The exiles are in the camps as the result of the Moroccan invasion and occupation of Western Sahara (they weren’t kidnapped from their homes by marauding Polisario snatch teams). They are more-or-less free to leave subject to having the right paperwork (as citizens of any country who are lucky enough to have a passport are free to leave their national territories). Sahrawi from the camps travel widely, and they are a pretty cosmopolitan bunch as a result. Many have studied abroad, and international exchanges with solidarity groups in a variety of countries are common. When rains in the Free Zone are good, some of the inhabitants of the camps take their camels there for pasture. So, whatever their flaws and democratic deficits, the camps are not prisons with Polisario troops acting as gaolers. The exiled Sahrawi that I’ve spoken to certainly want to return to Western Sahara, but they do not want to live under Moroccan sovereignty. In their decades in the camps, the exiled Sahrawi have developed a strong sense of national identity. It seems to me that they are more inclined to return to Western Sahara with Kalashnikovs, to attempt to liberate it, than they are to return to live as Moroccan subjects.

(2) As long as the Polisario refused to entertain the possibility of the full integration of Western Sahara into Morocco, Morocco accepted the idea of a referendum with options of full integration, limited autonomy within a greater Morocco, and full independence. However, the Polisario eventually agreed to a referendum including these three options. Having had its bluff called, Morocco rapidly went off the idea – presumably Rabat suffered from a sudden loss of confidence that the Sahrawi (and perhaps even Moroccan settlers in Western Sahara) would vote to be part of the Moroccan motherland.


30 Responses to Interrogating the occupation

  1. devoteeofwsahara says:

    Nicholas i think you made me feel ashamed because am a sahrawi but did not have plenty of information as yours i think you are doing good job for the cause i just came across you at will’s blog as a commenter but i think you are more a great scientist interested more in human values than stones it is my first time here at your blog i found it really interesting with important political and arceological news,you got nice pictures in the liberated zone and the refugee camps also a good coverage in UK thank you so much for the efforts that you made for our cause.

  2. devoteeofwsahara says:

    good political analysis and good coverage for a climate and archeaological scientist .
    keep us informed

  3. devoteeofwsahara says:

    there is a great mention of your works one entitled The geoarchaeology of Western Sahara: Preliminary results of the first Anglo-Italian expedition in the “free zone” and The prehistory of Western Sahara in a regional context: the archaeology of the “free zone” in a work of a sahrawi writer D.GHALI ZOBAIR in a research entitled The Prehistory Civilizations in western sahara in arabic published in parts very interesting.
    thank you all.

  4. nickbrooks says:

    Devotee – welcome to the blog and many thanks for your comments. The blog is a way of expressing views on the political situation outside the context of the research project that takes me to the Free Zone. I am against the politicisation of science, but scientists can still have political views, as long as politics is politics and science is science. It’s great to hear that D. Ghali Zobair has been citing our work – it means that it is useful for the Sahrawi, which is important. I believe he is based in the occupied territories.

  5. nickbrooks says:

    Ronnie Hansen points out that the book is available on Amazon in the US ( I just had a look and there is one copy via a third party on Amazon marketplace. However it doesn’t appear to be available direct from Amazon, and doesn’t show up on a search using the key words “Saharan conflict territorial autonomy” on either the US or UK sites.

  6. devoteeofwsahara says:

    do you have a copy of the book? i wish i could read it but i think it is just the same old story,because for a moroccan writer there is nothing new just what the royal palace allow to be said.

  7. nickbrooks says:

    Devotee – yes, I have a copy. They were for sale at the event, but I didn’t buy one. The Prof. took me to task for commenting about the book without having read it (I was responding to the publisher’s description and talking from a broad awareness of the autonomy plan, but I can understand his point). Anyway, I told him I’d be happy to read it if he wanted to give me a copy, so he gave me a free one (smooth work, if I say so myself). He even signed it. So I’ll read it, when I have time. But from my brief flick through, it does seem to be the same old stuff, packed out with some more academic “analysis”.

    I’ll try and read it and post a review of it, but it might be a while before I get a chance. But I’ll do it.

  8. devoteeofwsahara says:

    i think Mr ouali invitation to visit morocco is so questionable because what can they told you?and what arguments could they give you?i think nice things is waiting for you in morocco so i advise you not rejecting his invitation.

  9. devoteeofwsahara says:

    as you said it might not deserve to be read

  10. Matthew says:

    i’m sorry, but you people are the ones that do not deserve to be read. I cannot believe you actually think you are doing a scientific job. Usually, people read books and then give comments on the book. You can’t judge a book without reading it…
    From the very beginning you wrote an article entitled “spurious academic credibility” which actually makes me wonder about your own credibility. This book is one of the most neutral and objective piece of work on the question.
    All your articles and comments point out that you are clearly not someone who knows a lot about this issue’s history. You are not someone who can be called a scientist. And clearly you are not someone who can give a fair judgment, knowing that your opinion is made up and will not by any chance change.

    What i recommend is that you and that “devotee” read carefully this book. Even though, i will surely not read your comments on the book after reading it. why ?

    Simply because : The opinion of someone that doesn’t know the meaning of the saying ” do not judge a book by its cover” is strictly worthless.

  11. nickbrooks says:

    Matthew, thanks for you comment. As you should have noticed, I haven’t offered a review of the book. I have commented on the basis of (i) a quick scan through it, (ii) a conversation with the author, (iii) the publisher’s description, and (iv) the wide promotion of the autonomy plan in a variety of media. If these together have given me a false impression of the book then the author must be misrepresenting his own work, the publishers are not doing their job, and the book must be inconsistent and incoherent.

    I will read the book in full in good time, and write a review. In the meantime I believe that Will over at One Hump of Two ( might beat me to it, so you can always get another opinion, or perhaps you will dismiss him as a patsy too. I will be very happy for you not to read my review if you think it is not worth the bother. If you think my articles are not worth reading that is your opinion, and you are entitled to it. As it is, you have not only read my latest entry, but have obviously decided that it is worth engaging with via your comment. So thank you for your interest.

    That the author of the book in question is a propagandist for the Moroccan government was indicated to me when he tried to deny the existence of the Polisario-controlled zone of Western Sahara, a region in which I work and of which I have wide experience. This obvious distortion of the truth (I’m being generous) was simply a repetition of the Moroccan propaganda assertion that these areas constitute a “buffer zone” set up by Morocco for security purposes. The truth is that they are areas that Morocco for one reason or another either never occupied or from which it pulled back or was driven out. They certainly do not constitute a Moroccan security zone. But to admit this would be to undermine the autonomy plan, which fails to address the fact that Western Sahara is partitioned. Unless partition is addressed, the conflict will not be resolved.

    I’m afraid that, even on the basis of my brief scan through the book, I can’t possible agree with your assessment that “This book is one of the most neutral and objective piece [sic] of work on the question”. This comment is, frankly, laughable.

    You say that I am “not someone who can be called a scientist”. On what grounds do you make this claim? Have you read any of my scientific work? Perhaps I need to point out that this is blog dealing with politics – it is not a peer reviewed journal dealing with science. My entries on Western Sahara are not dealing with scientific issues, so your comment is simply a cheap personal insult that illustrates a lack of understanding of what science is. Anyone with an ounce of understanding of science will see that this blog is not, and does not purport to be, a blog about science. But perhaps you think that scientists should not be allowed to engage with politics, or be entitled to opinions about non-scientific matters. This is a common conceit among non-scientists.

    You say that one shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. Generally I agree with this sentiment. However, the cover of this book sports the title “Saharan Conflict: Towards Territorial Autonomy as a Right to Democratic Self-Determination”. This clearly states that the book will be an argument that the “requirement” of self-determination can be fulfilled by Morocco’s autonomy plan, and this is indeed what the book sets out to do (I’ve read enough of the book for that to be obvious). Given the fact that the book has the support of the Moroccan government, and was launched at an event packed with Moroccan embassy staff, I think we can safely assume that this is a text that reflects the Moroccan position.

    I’m very happy to engage with the contents of the book. In that spirit, here is a quote: “The admission of the SADR to the OAU then constituted a blatant violation of the fundamental principles that are the basis of the notion of the State. This supposes, we know, the existence of three fundamental elements: a territory, a population, and an effective and sovereign power. The SADR was only a state in name, as it had no territory, apart from Tindouf which was under the sovereignty of Algeria. Secondly, it had no population as such, apart from a minority of Sahrawi held, for the most part, against their will in Tindouf and a large number of economic refugees fleeing the drought prevalent at that time in the countries of the Sahel. Lastly, it had no effective and sovereign power over the territory and population of the Sahara.” This is on p. 107.

    The only citation the author gives in this passage is for his idea of the basis of the state. The rest of this passage is riddled with propaganda and factual inaccuracy. The SADR may not exert practical sovereign control over the entirety of Western Sahara. However, it does control what the exiled Sahrawi refer to as the Free Zone (an area in which I have travelled widely, so I can speak from experience). So the claim that it has no territory is wrong, and the author must know that. But then the facts of the situation have never presented a problem to the Moroccan propagandists.

    To move onto another of the author’s points, the exiled Sahrawi constitute the majority of the indigenous Sahrawi population of Western Sahara and their descendants. They are not held against their will – many travel widely, and their predicament is one of displaced persons, not of hostages, as international aid organisations working int the camps will testify. This idea that a good proportion of the refugees actually originated in the Sahel and fled to Tindouf as a result of the drought is bizarre, and the author simply presents it as an assertion with no supporting evidence, which is a common tactic throughout the book.

    There is lots more there, and I could go on. In due course, I will. Of course you won’t be reading it, but that’s fine – others will.

  12. Roman says:

    I agree with mathew. You’re giving us your opinion on a book that you didnt read. You’re obviously defending the polisario. and you give us the impression that what ever book written on the question should be favorable to the polisario (and therefore algeria) and if it isn’t, then it’s a book that sells lies.
    I think (and anyone who can think and reason) that you are bought by the polisario (tyrans). I get the feeling this thing is way out of your league…
    No hard feelings…

  13. nickbrooks says:

    Well Roman, I refer you my response to Matthew’s comments. I am responding to the publicity surrounding the book, my conversation with it’s author, and a brief skim through it – I did actually read the passage I quoted and responded to above. Maybe to you didn’t read the material that I wrote, which you are now judging.

    I’m not claiming that everything in the book is a lie, but there are definitely things in it that are at least factually inaccurate and which reflect Moroccan propaganda pretty much verbatim.

    There are a number of foreign lobbyists who have accepted money from Rabat to argue on its behalf. To my knowledge there aren’t any foreign lobbyists in the pay of the Polisario. Of course I may be wrong, but I haven’t encountered any, and the Polisario are not as well resourced as the Moroccan monarchy.

    As for defending the Polisario, well I will up to a point, as they are the target of numerous smears by pro-Moroccan propagandists (such as yourself, when you call them tyrans – I assume you mean tyrants). However, my interest is not in defending the Polisario per se. My interest is in responding to the Moroccan propaganda machine and the lies that dribble incontinently from it (although lately it has become more of a spew than a dribble). This relates to my old fashioned, sentimental interest in the Sahrawi’s right to determine their own future, based on a combination of my sense of morality and the fact that I have spent a lot of time in the company of exiled Sahrawi, and I respect them and their aspirations. On top of that my over-developed sense of social justice means that I just get mad when I see a dodgy regime like that of Mohamed VI cynically playing peacemaker while in actual fact consolidating an illegal occupation and engaging in violent suppression.

    As for being favourable to the Polisario, well, they’re not perfect by any means – they are a government after all. I’m even less inclined to defend the Algerian regime – I do not believe it is a regime worth defending. And as for being bought by them, well that’s a cheap, shoddy and unimaginative shot on your part, and I suspect you know that it’s not true, but think it’s a good smear tactic. My own view is that you (and probably Matt) are probably Moroccan functionaries of some kind or paid lobbyists, hiding behind false names. But that’s what I expect, especially given that you have suddenly both (if you are separate people that is) “discovered” this blog after I rubbed shoulders with your colleagues at the book launch. I can’t believe that this particular post has generated a sudden rush of public interest, given the low traffic, especially when compared to some previous posts (and the far from wide public appeal of the book in question – let none of us kid ourselves here). I have a vision of you sitting somewhere in a lobbying organisation’s Washington offices, typing away for the great patriotic cause of a greater Morocco. So, we can sling mud at each other all day. I’m game if you are. Alternatively, if you are just genuinely interested, neutral third parties (yeah right), why not reveal you identities? No of course not. I have never understood what motivates people to defend the illegal and immoral actions of foreign governments. At least I have the excuse of a romantic (some would say naive and unrealistic) belief in and desire for justice. What’s your excuse? What’s your interest? Mine, as should be clear, is one of personal experience with the people in question, and of working in the region in question. How much time do you spend in the disputed areas?

    But back to the Polisario. You’re missing the point. You seem to be unable to differentiate between support for a cause and support for a government. My support for the Polisario exists insofar as they articulate the aspirations of the Sahrawi people with respect to independence, and work to turn those aspirations into a reality. There are those who would argue that the Polisario haven’t been very effective in this respect. Maybe, but they seem to be in the best position to represent the Sahrawi politically (at least the majority of Sahrawi who appear not to want to be Moroccan). It’s not all party politics my friend – the Polisario could disappear tomorrow and I would still support the cause of independence, or at the very least the right of the Sahrawi to vote on it (something that Morocco originally signed up for, before doing everything it could to sabotage the holding of the referendum).

    I would be very interested to hear you elaborate when you say that this is way out of my league. What, precisely, do you mean by this? Is it meant to be a threat?

    As for ending with “no hard feelings”, why so shy? I don’t believe you for a minute. Come on, be brave and say what you really think!

  14. nickbrooks says:

    Let’s have some more comments telling me off for daring to speak about the bits of El Ouali’s book that I have read, my conversation with him, the publicity surrounding the book, and the autonomy plan in geneal, without having read the book from cover to cover. Odd that people seem to think that the publisher’s description of the book, the comments of El Ouali himself, and selected passages from the book, do not represent the book.

    As for those defending the book – have you read it all, from cover to cover, in detail?

    If I get enough of these reprimands I promise to read the whole damned thing, and then write a comprehensive review.

    So please, keep them coming – I need the motivation.

  15. devoteeofwsahara says:

    i think that you give the DST lessons in argumantation well done Nick,it will be their last comments on your blog believe me i know they did not like scientific argumentation so they shall never try their tactics with you once again,good analysis too Nick.As arabs said “the caravan passes and the dogs bark” means that the dogs could not prevent the caravan from passing,they just make noise all around.If you like your “sudden guests” to keep on commenting on your blog you have to answer them the way they expect you to reply ,your scientific way of argumenting will scare them away.

  16. nickbrooks says:

    Their arguments are a bit schoolboy-ish, bless them. As usual, simplistic, at times self-contradictory, and generally based on assertion and a lack of attention to the detail of what their attacking. Interestingly both of these comments originate from the same network (African Network Information Center, based in Mauritius), with their “most likely” geographical location being Washington DC. This is the same network and location as a much earlier (and I have to say more articulate) comment defending the autonomy plan in much more detail (I’m reproducing this below, with my response, as it was originally posted under one of the general pages of the blog which didn’t relate to this particular debate and I closed comments on the page). So, while this is not entirely conclusive, it suggests that these comments from “joe public” are emanating from a single organisation or related organisations in a place that is home to innumerable lobbyists bent on influencing the US political scene and global public opinion. Hmmm. Shame they’re wasting their time on my blog, which averages a mere 20-30 hits a day.

  17. nickbrooks says:

    This comment originally posted on 2007/06/04 at 4:04 PM. Reproduced here as it was posted under an unrelated page on which I later closed comments due to off topic rants. My response (originally posted under same page) below.



    The unanimous adoption of the United Nations security council of the 1754 resolution, concerning the future of Western Sahara is seen by western observers as a break-point with the previous reports and resolutions advocated by the UN since 1990. In this respect the newly nominated secretary general of the UN IN Ban Ki-moon in his report to the security council reiterated his call to the parties, including Algeria to accept the principle of direct negotiations, without any preconditions in order to reach a settlement to the over three decade old Sahara conflict, he also quoted his personal envoy’s analysis saying that “the security council had consistently made it clear that it would not impose a solution to the question of western Sahara, which had led him to the conclusion that there were only two options: either indefinite prolongation of the impasse, or negotiations without preconditions between the parties aimed at achieving a mutually acceptable political solution.
    In its 1754 resolution, on Monday, April 30, 2007 the UN Security Council “calls upon the parties to enter into negotiations without preconditions in good faith, taking into account the developments of the last months, with a view to achieving a just, lasting and mutually acceptable political solution”. It is worth mentioning that the security council in its resolution concerning western Sahara has taken note of the Moroccan proposal presented to the UN secretary general “…and welcoming serious and credible Moroccan efforts to move the process forward towards resolution” it is an explicit recognition to the efforts made by Morocco, after long and various consultations with the international community .In fact if we take into account that two proposals were submitted to the UN,members of the security council consider the Moroccan proposal not only the unique ,serious and credible towards a political settlement to the conflict but also a basis for any future potential negotiations, whereas the Polisario proposal did not bring any new elements nor practical alternative to the present deadlock .
    The 1754 resolution is a consecration of Moroccan endless efforts to overcome the present deadlock concerning the Western Sahara issue, in this respect Morocco managed to gain support of a big number of countries all over the world, most of them are influential within the international community, among others the USA ,France, and Spain which openly congratulated Morocco for the colossal efforts made by proposing and submitting a courageous and revolutionary project entitled “Moroccan initiative for Negotiating an
    Autonomy Statute for the Sahara region” whereas the Polisario proposal as the UN’s secretary general personal envoy for Sahara, Peter Van Walsum described it «it is consistent
    With Polisario well known positions” he added that self- determination does not have to mean independence. There are many examples in the world where concerned populations chose, following referendum consultations or other, autonomy or total integration”
    The main strategic aim of the Moroccan proposal is that Sahraouis claims will be satisfied, and Algeria will keep its dignity, provided Morocco remains sovereign over its southern territories. The Moroccan proposal is an answer to the UN Security Council previous resolutions and to the constant international community appeals for a political solution to the Western Sahara issue, as it is a fruit of national and international consultations. The Moroccan young King Mohamed VI supervised closely the process of drawing up such a proposal that guarantees peace, security, and stability in the region of North Africa on one hand, and gives the Western Sahara sufficient autonomy to become effectively self-governing on the other hand.
    It is in my view and also of the international law experts that the Moroccan proposal is a form of self-determination which does not mean necessarily independence .The UN charter, the ultimate international jurisprudence stipulates that self-determination must take into account the territory integrity and unity, so autonomy remains one of the best solutions for self – determination, this type of substantial autonomy exists in the most highly developed countries across the world
    The Moroccan Substantial autonomy Plan should be seen by parties concerned as an initiative that achieves the principal of self- determination, through a free, modern and democratic expression regarding the autonomy statute .It is in no doubt in conformity with international legality as well as with international norms, and standards applicable in area of autonomy. Therefore it is wise for all parties concerned, and particularly the Polisario to consider the substantial autonomy proposal as a basis for any future settlement because it aims to come up with a peaceful solution where there is neither a winner nor a loser, and in respect of dignity of all parties.
    The UN security council is calling upon the parties to enter into negotiations, while Algeria welcomed the UN resolution, and Polisario declared its readiness to negotiate directly the issue with Morocco, the Moroccan Substantial Autonomy Proposal, is widely seen by both members of the UN security council, and the international community as an historical opportunity to the leadership of the Polisario, to negotiate a final settlement .The Moroccan proposal meets international standards, transfers competences, and creates local institutions (legislative and executive) within the framework of Moroccan sovereignty; while leaving room for negotiations. It is notable that autonomy is an advanced form of self-determination. The Moroccan proposal was prepared upon the request of the international community, and it has been a subject to large consultations with sahraouis. IT is wise that all parties concerned including Algeria consider the Moroccan proposal as a basis for any future settlement
    The Moroccan plan was conceived to allow for open debate, Morocco remains open to any solution that preserves its territorial integrity, and gives once and for all sahraouis the opportunity to run democratically their local affairs .Morocco is ready to cooperate with other parties, and particularly with Algeria, as well as with the UN general secretary, and his special representative to reach a final and fair solution that is accepted by all parties.

    The kingdom of Morocco is willing to participate in a constructive negotiation, and to contribute to its success. In the pursuit of this objective the kingdom of Morocco is relying on the good will of parties concerned in order to create healthy atmosphere, and rebuild trust which is vital to pave the way to achieve a settlement that enables the populations in the refugee camps inside Algeria to finally join their families and that allows Maghreb states to find unity, solidarity, and stability.

    The council calls upon direct negociations, which should take place in the nearest future, and would be guaranteed by a report to be submitted to the UN Security Council at the end of June. The question remains: On what basis these negotiations will take place?

    Nobody , for the time being is fully aware of the mechanism that would apply for such direct negotiations, particularly that the UN special envoy consultations has started and finished in Algeria, without visiting the other parties concerned , but facts on the ground shows that neither the Polisario front , nor Algiers are willing to put an end to this conflict. Algeria’s strategic goals in terms of Western Sahara issue are neither compatible with the content of the UN Security Council resolution nor with the Moroccan proposal, whereas the present polisario proposal, or at least the leader Mohammed Abdelaziz, and his small entourage would find it difficult to manoeuvre Vis a Vis Algiers.

    Morocco is prepared to open negotiations with no preconditions with polisario over the future of the disputed Western Sahara, but the polisario according to various statements made by its leaders agrees to resume talks on the basis of an agreement of a referendum on independence,
    Its representative at the UN Ahmed boukhari said “talks will go nowhere if Morocco refuses to discuss a referendum on independence” this attitude of the separatist movement not only is in contradiction with the “direct good faith negotiations” urged by the Un security council, but also is not acceptable by Moroccans, or by the international community that advocates a political solution to the conflict.

    The polisario leadership should perfectly understand that Western Sahara is an integral part of the Kingdom of Morocco, and the security council resolution (1754) was an endorsement of the Moroccan position, the Moroccan initiative provides a concrete and credible response to the principle of self determination and the opportunity to put an end to 30 years of hardship and family separation

    It is no secret that Mohammed Abdelaziz is the Algeria’s man in the conflict; he is leading the polisario with an iron grip entirely supported by the Algerian political and military leadership .This strategic relationship between Abdelaziz and Algiers regime has led during the past few years to deep differences within the front, on one hand between those who have linked their future and destiny with Algiers at the expense of sahraoui refugee wellbeing, and on the other hand those who believe strongly that they are Moroccan sahraoui and therefore the principle of separatism has never been in the heart and soul of their fathers and ancestors throughout the history, and that Algeria is using them to achieve its own geopolitical goals they also see the Moroccan autonomy proposal as a golden opportunity to put an end to a such long conflict.

    Although the international community “means business”, and insists to put pressure on parties concerned to achieve a political settlement. The question remains to what extent the Algerians are willing to change their politics towards Morocco, and towards the future of Western Sahara, and allow the moderate leadership of the front to effectively negotiate with Moroccan under the umbrella of the United Nations, and on the basis of the Moroccan substantial autonomy. The answer remains to be heard and seen.

    From About this blog, 2007/06/04 at 4:04 PM

  18. nickbrooks says:

    My response to Taoufiq Gazoulit’s comment (originally posted on 2007/06/04 at 4:47 PM)

    Thanks for this nicely illustrative, if somewhat lengthy, piece of pro-Moroccan propaganda. You actually hit the nail on the head when you say first that:

    “Morocco remains open to any solution that preserves its territorial integrity” – i.e. that incorporates Western Sahara into a greater Morocco,

    and then

    “Morocco is prepared to open negotiations with no preconditions with polisario over the future of the disputed Western Sahara.”

    But you’ve already identified a precondition – that full independence is not an option. These two statements are mutually contradictory. The Polisario is prepared to negotiate a deal that includes the possibility of full integration into Morocco, but Morocco isn’t prepared to entertain the possibility of full independence. It seems that, however much you dress it up, and however much support Morocco garners from its friends in the west, the Polisario position is actually more flexible.

    Of course Morocco and its apologists are delighted that the UN and various national governments have been complimentary about their recent rebranding of the occupation under the “autonomy” proposal. The UN runs on diplomacy and shady deals between its member states (I know, I work for them occasionally), and the fact that a lot of governments are fed up with the conflict and are prepared to endorse Morocco’s annexation of Western Sahara doesn’t mean that military occupation, imperial expansion and colonialism are reasonable or desirable modes of behaviour. The UN is just washing its hands of a situation that it sees as intractable. It is doing so at the behest of its most powerful member states (and the UN is just the sum of its member states), who want access to Moroccan markets and Western Saharan resources, and who have been taken in by all the misinformation about the Sahara being a haven for terrorists (when terrorism is a feature of the urban areas that fringe the Sahara – the closely governed areas, not the “empty space” of the Saharan interior). Morocco is at a distinct advantage when it comes to getting its way at the UN, being a member of the UN where the Polisario government-in-exile is not.

    There may be a number of Sahrawi living in the Moroccan-occupied zone of Western Sahara who are happy to see themsleves as Moroccan. But many are not, as illustrated by continuing protests and reports of crack-downs and human rights abuses in the occupied territories. Whatever the situation in the Moroccan-occupied territories, I can tell you at first hand that you would have to search for a very long time to find a Sahrawi exile who saw themselves as a “Moroccan Sahrawi”.

    As for Polisario’s “iron grip” and its internal divisions, I certainly wouldn’t suggest that everything is rosy and that there is total agreement within the organisation (not that I’m party to their debates in any case). However, the Polisario does appear to enjoy widespread popular support among the Sahrawi exiles, and to an extent that I have found quite surprising. In fact there appears to be more appetite for a renewal of the conflict among the Sahrawi exile population at large than among the political leadership – a lot of ordinary Sahrawi in the camps have been ready to take up arms again for many years.

    Abdelaziz as Algeria’s man? Well, when you’ve spent time with the exiled Sahrawi it’s very apparent that they believe in their cause. While there are of course close links between the Polisario and the Algerians who host them, the Polisario is far from simply an Algerian proxy. Morocco likes to cast the Polisario as an Algerian puppet, as this detracts from its credibility as an independence movement in its own right. But this is disingenuous.

    The UN may endorse Morocco’s occupation, but this won’t make it any less of an occupation. And what does Morocco propose happens to the parts of Western Sahara it does not occupy, and to the refugees around Tindouf? As you seem to speak for Morocco, I’d be very interested to hear what the Moroccan “solution” to these issues is. Will it attempt to complete its occupation of Western Sahara, or will it tolerate a rump Sahrawi state in what the exiled Sahrawi refer to as the “Free Zone”. Will it try to engineer a crisis so that it can invade the Free Zone with western support, claiming it is weeding out “terrorists”? I’d be very interested to hear what Morocco’s plans are for this part of Western Sahara.

    From About this blog, 2007/06/04 at 4:47 PM

  19. nickbrooks says:

    Needless to say Taoufiq never replied to address my questions about what would happen to the unoccupied areas of Western Sahara if the autonomy plan was ever endorsed and implemented. There seems to be a wall of silence on this issue. Maybe it’s just too difficult for the poor lambs who are singing the praises of autonomy. Maybe the autonomy plan was never meant to be a solution, but just a distraction and a PR exercise.

  20. devoteeofwsahara says:

    it seems like it is prepared by the MACP Moroccan lobby in the USA because it addressed to the western people with the way they think and the very stricking points that attract the western supporters who hear about the conflict for the very first time,the speech of the Moroccan officials within Morocco or in the occupied zone of western sahara is totally different the words sahrawi people right ,self-determination and western sahara are absolutely absent or forbidden and we came across many other words such as Moroccan sahara,Moroccan integrity and the Moroccan sahrawi the duality of speechs in the Moroccan officials revealed that neither is true.

  21. […] blogs) focus on resource disputes and human rights violations. There was an interesting post on politics and one of the plans put forth to resolve the dispute by Nick Brooks, a climate […]

  22. Nick, fortunately I “discovered” your blog only a few days ago. I have printed your article and all comments and I’ll try to read them more carefully.

    But for the moment, I wish to leave here the websites addresses where everybody can read two of my essays concerning Western Sahara.

    My last one has the title: “HYPOCRITES! In defense of the Sahrawi people”

    It is a broad critique of politics practiced with Western Sahara (following the publication of several articles in the Spanish newspapers approaching the Moroccan point of view), and has been translated into six languages and sent to more than fifty media.

    A few weeks ago it was released on the website of PTT, where it has sparked an intense debate, as you can see in the addresse her under:

    You can read it in 6 languages here:

    The other article is: “Western Sahara: The Legitimate Reasons of the Saharawi People”, also translated and published in several languages. You can read the English translation here:

    I hope both works will tell something to some commenters of this blog.

    By the way, those who really wish be well informed about the Sahrawi cause can check the web , also in several languages.

    Thankyou very much for your attention. It’s too late now: I will come back soon.

    Luis Portillo (Spain).

  23. FredC says:

    Hi Nick,
    This is a great blog and I’ve commended it to all the members of the Facebook group. I particularly like how you raised the issue of how Morocco have made no provision for refugees to return to the occupied territory and have no plans within the Autonomy Proposal for integration of the Liberated Zone. It certainly gives the lie to all those politicians who have welcomed the Autonomy Proposal as a viable option for the future of the territory.

  24. Khalifornian says:

    Hi There,

    Regarding the buffer zone that you visited and which you asked the professor about, here is a question that should answer your question:

    Polisario has been making war threats recently, how long do you think will Polisario last in that zone should warfare erupt? It will be a long drive to Algeria and I would hate to see another highway of death, reminiscent of the highway of death between Kuwait city and Basra. The only reason Polisario has been venturing in that zone is because Morocco has been respecting the cease fire and has been adhering to its engagements with the United Nations.
    Without the UN on the terrain in that area, Morocco would eat those guys for lunch.

    Having said that, you come across as unfair and unjust. Ask yourself, do Sahraouis exits in the former Spanish Sahara only? I am sure you would say no. If the Sahraouis wish to have self determination, then all the Sahraouis must receive that right, including the Sahraouis from Algeria and other countries. And all these Saharaouis must establish a republic that territorially spans all the areas where there is a Sahara, and not just where spain was the occupant.

    Incidentally, why didn’t the United Kingdom grant full independence to Ireland?

  25. nickbrooks says:

    I think the most likely cause of any new conflict would be Morocco feeling confident enough, as a result of sufficient international support, to invade the Free Zone, aka the “area with limited restrictions” on the Polisario side of the berm. The buffer zone is only 5 km wide and you are deliberately confusing the these two areas for propaganda purposes.

    You’re right that Morocco has significantly more firepower than the Polisario and an conflict would be highly loaded in Morocco’s favour. I’m not here to engage in childish posturing about who would win a conflict. But any conflict between Morocco and the Polisario would be likely to draw in Algeria and spread to Mauritania. That’s just the nature of the situation given the close links between all the actors. Algeria would be unlikely to stand back and do nothing in the face of what it would see as further Moroccan expansionism. The outcome of a conflict between Morocco and Algeria would be less certain.

    Both sides have been respecting the ceasefire, more or less, and this allows for Polisario activity in the area with limited restrictions east and south of the berm, as it does for Moroccan activity north and west of it – both within certain limits. Without a UN presence there would, as you say, certainly be a much greater risk of renewed conflict. But remember that the UN are there principally to organise a referendum on self-determination. This is all I, and others who are against the appeasement of Moroccan expansionism, ask. If you think that’s unfair and unjust, well that’s your affair.

    I wouldn’t object to a national home for the Sahrawi including all the areas they have traditionally inhabited, including northern Mauritania, Western Algeria and southern Morocco (southern Morocco proper that it), as well as Western Sahara. However, this is unnecessary – Western Sahara itself is more than big enough. A reason why this is neither necessary nor proposed is that before the Moroccan invasion, Western Sahara was a well-defined territorial entity, and it’s the status of this territorial entity that is the subject of (a) the conflict, and (b) the various UN resolutions and all the negotiations. To my knowledge Polisario isn’t laying claim to territory outside of Western Sahara.

    As for Ireland, you should ask the UK government about that – not me. I do not represent them. I’m not sure why you think I would. As far as I’m aware there are no laws in Northern Ireland that forbid discussion of succession in the name of protecting the UK’s “territorial integrity”. So, unlink in Morocco and occupied Western Sahara, this can at least be discussed and there would be political processes through which it might be pursued. The UK and its stupid government has its faults, believe you me, but it’s not Morocco. Personally I’d be happy for Northern Ireland to have a referendum on joining the Irish Republic, for Scotland to have one on Independence, and so on. Wherever people want to determine their own fate outside of existing national frameworks they should have the right to do so. You guys are always failing to distinguish between people and their governments, and making the laughable mistake of thinking that you get to people like me by criticising our government. That’s actually quite sweet.

  26. gazoulit Taoufiq says:

    to whom it may concern

    i had the chance to read the article entitled “interrogating the occupation” without knowing the author of such an article, although the person in question does not seem to agree with the principle of autonomy proposed by Moprocco , he made clear hat Western sahara is colonized by Morocco , without giving any practical proofs that support his claim, although ther was throughout the history a legal and historical relationship between Morocco and the inhabitants of western sahara, the author who obviously needs in my view to go back to history , and legal documents kept in the French , Spanish , and Even British to find out about the the real problem of Western Sahara , and to what extend the western world in the past recognized the Moroccan SUltans as being he rulers of W sahara

  27. nickbrooks says:

    Ah, the old going back to history argument. Going back to history is precisely what the International Court of Justice did when Morocco took its claim there prior to its invasion, on the eve of Spanish decolonisation. The Court considered all the historical evidence and concluded that it was insuffieint to back up Morocco’s claim that Western Sahara was historically a part of Morocco. This assessment of the historical background thus formed the basis for the ICJ’s ruling on Western Sahara, for the UN’s position on the territory’s status (formalised in a number of UN resolutions), and for the UN’s demand for a referendum on self-determination, in pursuit of which it established the MINURSO observer/peacekeeping mission. The historical background and its interpretation also forms the basis for the non-recognition (at least formally) of Morocco’s claim to Western Sahara by the international community.

    Another commenter has dismissed the ICJ’s ruling as the result of a communist plot, but there you go.

  28. parsa says:

    thank you
    you promissed to to read the book:
    Towards Territorial Autonomy as a Right to Democratic Self Determination.
    and give ud a brif. i am willing to have your breif.

  29. nickbrooks says:

    Time has not been on my side in keeping this promise at this stage, but I will endeavour to find time to plough through it. I haven’t forgotten. There might be a slight delay though…..

  30. […] There currently seems to be no resolution in sight to the Western Sahara conflict. This has frustrated key players within the UN and internationally. As detailed in Stephen Zunes’ and Jacob Mundy’s recent, and excellent, book, Western Sahara: War, Nationalism and Conflict Irresolution, key members of the UN security council (France and the United States) have long been gung ho in their support of Morocco’s occupation of Western Sahara. In the amoral world of realpolitik, these countries in particular view the integration of Western Sahara into a greater Morocco as a practical solution to the conflict. Accordingly, they support Morocco’s “Autonomy Plan”, which would make Western Sahara part of Morocco and give it some token limited autonomy under a partially devolved administration rubber stamped or appointed by the Moroccan monarchy. I’ve written elsewhere about why this “solution” is dubious at best (also here). […]

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