Foreign friends

February 18, 2009

History demonstrates that unpleasant regimes bent on suppressing dissent and menacing their neighbours can always find foreign apologists who are ready to scurry to their defence without bothering to understand precisely what it is they are defending. It seems that Morocco is no exception in having an army of foreign sycophants ready to fight for its right to expand its territory through force and stamp on anyone who might object to its imperial designs. A growing chorus of appeasement can be heard from lobbyists, politicians and certain elements of the media by anyone who tunes into the news on Western Sahara.

The Francophone world has always been keen on Morocco’s occupation of Western Sahara (with some noble exceptions), and this phenomenon shows no sign of abating. The latest bare-faced brown-nosing comes from the mayor for Woippy (no, I’d never heard of it either), François Grosdidier, who also happens to be vice-president of the French-Moroccan friendship group in the French parliament. In a article in Religious Intelligence (no jokes please) he is quoted regurgitating the Moroccan line. Here are a couple of choice quotes:

“Given Morocco’s legitimacy on the Sahara, this autonomy initiative, under the kingdom’s sovereignty, is wise and generous, and provides an honourable way out for all the parties.”

“[The Polisario] approach is useless, there is no point (for them) in continuing and they are no longer in the sense of history.”

It seems that French politicians love to talk about being part of history – Sarkozy has claimed that one of the problems with Africa is that “the African man has never really entered history“. Oh dear – despite the benefits of colonialism and the heroic attempts of Europe to civilise the benighted continent, not to mention all those fantastically well-conceived post-colonial development initiatives, those ungrateful Africans haven’t grasped the nettle of historical progress and lifted themselves “up” to the same level as Europe. What a pity Sarkozy doesn’t realise that ideas of historical progress are based on perversions of Darwinian evolutionary theory that have more to do with justifying racism and colonialism than they do with rational scientific enquiry. Unfortunately the dogma of historical progress is still used to justify aggression dressed up as the promotion and extension of civilisation – something else I’ve noticed in the arguments of those that support Rabat’s military push into the Sahara. But I digress.

Grosdidier also claims that the Western Sahara conflict is impairing international relations, and uses this as an argument for supporting the autonomy initiative. As I’ve argued on several previous occasions (e.g. here), this is indicative of a poor understanding of the the situation, as the autonomy plan does not address the reality of partition or the issue of the refugees around Tindouf – as if Morocco would welcome tens of thousands of independence-minded Sahrawi and make any real attempt to come to an agreement with the Polisario. Grosdidier says that “pluralism does not exist” in the camps, but I don’t see too much evidence of it in occupied Western Sahara either.

I sometimes wonder what drives certain European politicians (and I include the UK here) who seem so eager to offer their services to foreign governments, effectively acting as agents of foreign powers with little or no regard to the interests of the people whom they have been elected to serve. After Blair’s stint as Bush’s enforcer/poodle (delete according to your preference), which served only to support ill-conceived foreign policy adventures and increase risks to British citizens, some of us are a little annoyed with this sort of behaviour. Well, maybe it’s just the money, the power, the foreign junkets, or a simple messiah complex.

It’s not only politicians that are busy appeasing Moroccan aggression, and not only in Europe. I keep receiving news alerts from the African Press Agency (with the byline “Unity is in Truth”), based in Dakar, Senegal, which could have been written by the Moroccan interior ministry. A common theme is how so-and-so supports the autonomy initiative or hails Morocco’s commitment to solve the conflict. The border between Western Sahara and Morocco is conspicuous by its absence on the the maps on the APA website. Hell, they could even use a dashed line rather than a solid one if they wanted to reflect its unresolved status, but I suppose even that would be too much for their Moroccan friends.

Another unedifying spectacle is this love-in between the author and the outgoing Moroccan ambassador. Reading it is like watching two extremely ugly people make out in public – a nauseating experience which makes you think “is that really necessary?” (No offence intended to the extremely ugly by the way.)

The Lebanese Dar al-Hayat has also been at it, or at least one Mohammed el-Ashab has, writing in its pages. el-Ashab talks about the Sahrawi’s “popular reluctance to unite under one umbrella”, which he claims is the biggest obstacle to solving the conflict. So not the partition or the blocking of the referendum then? To cast the problem as one of divisions between the Sahrawi rather than one of invasion, occupation, displacement and partition is disingenuous to say the least. He also talks about “the cease-fire which classified the areas outside the security fence as buffer zones in which no military or civilian movement is allowed.” Well, actually, it didn’t. The buffer zone, into which neither side is allowed, extends for only 5km east and south of the berm, i.e. in the Polisario controlled areas. Restricted areas extend for 30km either side of the berm, and no arms are to be carried in these areas. Outside of the restricted areas are two vast “areas with limited restrictions” in which normal military activity is allowed with the exception of anything that would constitute a concentration of firepower. As I’ve pointed out before, these conditions of the ceasfire are set out on the MINURSO website, which Mohammed el-Ashab evidently has not bothered to examine before putting pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard. Not that he’s unusual in such uninformed pontificating (or is it deliberate misinformation?). Using elections as his theme, el-Ashab strives to convince us that everyone (the UN, the EU) is happy to see Morocco “practicing sovereignty in all its forms – including holding elections in all parts of the country since 1978”. I assume the country he is referring to is a putative greater Morocco which incorporates all of Western Sahara, although he doesn’t make it clear how Morocco has been or will be holding elections in the parts of Western Sahara that it doesn’t control. From his statement about “the frequent announcement of the “Polisario Front” that it operates in regions described as “liberated lands”” it seems that he might believe Morocco’s propaganda line that the Polisario doesn’t control any territory in Western Sahara, but this is not clear. I like the placing of “Polisario Front” in inverted commas – usually a sign of hostility.

There’s much more where all the above came from, and I’ll perodically highlight it. Of course if you want a real giggle you can always go to any number of websites whose purpose is to promote Moroccan interests and push pro-Morocco propaganda, such as that of the Morocco Board, the Moroccan-American Center for Policy, Maghreb Arabe Presse, CORCAS, or the dedicated anti-Polisario (and personal defamation) sites such as Polisario Confidential, Polisario Think Twice, Polisario Cannibals and Polisario Human Sacrifice. OK, I made the last two up, but those are about the only allegations that Morocco has not leveled at the Polisario.

All of this propaganda is designed to give the impression that the conflict is effectively over and that Moroccan control over Western Sahara is all but a done deal. The point of all the misinformation dissemminated by Morocco and its foreign toadies is to persuade people that all they have to do is endorse the situation on the ground and the issue of Western Sahara will go away, userhing in a new era of regional cooperation, development and progress. But of course it won’t, as long as Western Sahara remains partitioned and between 100,000 and 200,000 disaffected Sahrawi remain in camps in the inhospitable Algerian desert. Even if Morocco’s autonomy plan is officially endorsed by the likes of the EU, the USA and the UN, the reality on the ground will still poison the politics of the region. And the African Union still stands behind the Polisario and the Sahrawi’s right to self-determination. Morocco may be planning to further entrench its position by invading the Polisario controlled areas once its autonomy plan gets the green light from the world’s major political powers, but this is hardly likely to achieve the stated aims of all those foreign politicians and pundits who are so keen to promote autonomy in the name of progress.

Related link: http://w-sahara.blogspot.com/2008/09/polisario-confidential-goes-to.html (Western Sahara Info)

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