Foreign friends

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: (Western Sahara Info)


12 Responses to Foreign friends

  1. MOE says:

    There is no morocco’s occupation of western Sahara.That’s a Moroccan territory.Can we dare to say that Ceuta , and Melilla are occupied by Spain? No,no ,they are Spanish territory !!!! Please !

  2. nickbrooks says:

    Really? Then why can I not travel from Tifariti to Smaara, or from Mijek to Aouserd? What is the purpose of the berm that partitions the country if there is no Moroccan occupation? Why are Sahrawi living in the areas controlled by Morocco harassed for expressing a desire for independence, or even for better treatment?

    As for Ceuta and Melilla, they are certainly geographic anomalies resulting from colonialism. I was always under the impression that Morocco rather wanted to incorporate them into its territory. And I can understand that sentiment, as I can understand the sentiment of the Spanish who would like to regain control of Gibraltar. Perhaps we should leave it to the people who live in these enclaves to vote on which country they want to belong to. I’d certainly support that, as I would a similar process in Western Sahara.

  3. Jesse says:

    Interesting, why don’t you write about your recent research!

  4. nickbrooks says:

    Jesse – two reasons. First, I don’t want to mix politics with science on this particular blog, which I use to talk about more subjective matters and give my opinion on issues such as politics and heritage (as far as Western Sahara is concerned). I’ve thought about setting up a separate blog for the Western Sahara Project. And that leads on to the second reason, which is a question of time – I’d love to blog about everything I get up to (at least insofar as it might be of interest to others), but I’m just too busy. And while my research is of great interest to me, it doesn’t get me as wound up as the political situation in Western Sahara – my frustration at all the misinformation about the conflict is my main motivation here.

  5. Wooow what a hero ! I am trying again to post even if I know you will probably discard my post as you did for all the last ones.
    Anyway, I will be more than happy to be part of your unbelievable blog to congratulate you for sacrificing your time to support Polisario & Algeria. You are a real hero to make points to politics than the research you are sponsored for. I am sure that many moroccans as well as international people will be more interested on sharing scientific outcomes about your research in the buffer zone than misinformation relayed in polisario propaganda. All who are interested on the subject knows your support and your thoughts on the WS issue. They also know websites of Polisario and acolytes. The thing I can say after many months of give & take ideas with you is that you are simply wasting your time & energy in a lost cause based on lies and intellectual miseries. That’s the real reason why the West is supporting Morocco in his noble and juste cause.

    Take care.

    Ahmed Salem

  6. nickbrooks says:

    Ahmed Salem. Congratulations – another abusive comment. You’re getting quite good at them. No problem approving this just to confound you and give you the rope.

    By the way, Ophir have pulled their sponsorship of the Project, citing the financial crisis. I’m sure you’ll be pleased about this given that you often cite Ophir as a branch of the Algerian state (actually an oil/energy company majority owned by South Africa interests, run by British and based mostly – as far as I can tell – in London and Perth, Australia). We’ll be applying to the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council for funding next, but I’m sure you can find an Algerian connection there.

    You, and anyone else who is interested in our scientific work, can always read our publications. These are linked from the Western Sahara Website, a link to which is on the right. We have a paper coming out in Antiquity soon, so an update on our work will be available there. The Project website will be updated in due course – I’m sure you and your colleagues who are really interested in our scientific work will check it regularly.

    Oh, and you’re doing the buffer zone thing again – we don’t restrict our work to the 5 km strip east of the Berm (this is the buffer zone as described by the UN ceasefire agreement). Instead, we conduct it in the Area of Limited Restrictions, in which all normal activity is permitted under the ceasefire rules as long as it doesn’t constitute military escalation. You know – the same rules that apply to the Moroccan-occupied zone in this divided, disputed, non-self governing territory that currently “belongs” to neither Morocco nor the Polisario as far as the UN and the international community are concerned.

  7. Jan Forbes says:

    Hi Nick, I haven’t read all your blog here just the begining. I came across it earlier when looking for a balanced view and saw signs of that here and read other stuff there. My comment is that although I can understand where you’re coming from in your comments on Morocco, I’m afraid I agree with the Moroccan statement about the Polisario. They lack a democratic structure and from what I’ve seen of their recent behaviour here in Australia they are so blindly committed to furthering their cause for independence that they have lost allegiance to the truth. They are not the liberation movement of student idealists that they once were. It seems to me that the fight for control of rich resources may have bred corruption on both sides of the fence.

  8. nickbrooks says:

    HI Jan. You seem to have been influenced by Ahmed Salem’s casting of the Western Sahara conflict as a beauty contest between Morocco and the Polisario. I’m not here to act as an apologist for the Polisario – they are not perfect (shock horror). Perhaps you think that the Sahrawi do not deserve independence because their leadership exhibits some shortcomings. I don’t – for me the issue is one of justice rather than democratic credentials. I’ve spent a lot of time in the region, in the camps, and cooperating with the Polisario on a logistical basis for my work. It seems to me that they have done a pretty good job despite any shortcomings (and a shaky start), given that they’ve been operating in exile, and in a context of conflict, with an existential threat hanging over their head. I wouldn’t award them any prizes for democracy, but they run a reasonably show – especially by the standards of the region.

    I’m not sure if you are contrasting the Polisario unfavourably with the Moroccan state – perhaps you think an unelected Monarchy that calls all shots and approves political appointments is more democratic than a de facto one-party state. I wouldn’t really want to call it on that front. President Abdellaziz may not look as if he’s going to be ejected in a free election any time soon, but neither does Hassan II. Having said that, I suspect that democracy might stand a better chance in an independent Western Sahara than in a Morocco that retains its Monarchy.

    I’ve never really understood the arguments against independence based on the politics of the Polisario as compared to those of the Moroccan state, given the democratic deficit on both sides – I assume this is your point.

    On the “evolution” of the Polisario, by all accounts they did some pretty nasty things in the past, in their more ideologically-driven days, and have actually improved in terms of human rights.

    You refer to my “comments on Morocco” – it is my intention to comment on Western Sahara, not Morocco per se. You won’t find many (or any) posts on my blog analysing the political situation in the Kingdom at large. I’ll leave that to the likes of Maghreb Politics Review.

    I’ll be interested to hear specific examples of how the Polisario have “lost allegiance to the truth”. All sides in a conflict engage in propaganda, but from where I’m standing most of that appears to come from the Moroccan side. I’d welcome examples of Polisario propaganda based on pure fabrication, in the name of balance. Embarrassingly I generally can’t find any – just earnest assertions of the the right of the Sahrawi to real self-determination and claims of Moroccan brutality that might be over-egged, but are based on reality.

  9. Mohamed B. says:

    so your goal is to have an independent mini state in southern morocco run by Polisario tribe.
    yet another failed state in Africa that will destabilize a whole region.
    a state with no basis for existence.
    if you are for human rights, as you claim to be,
    go ahead call for the rights of all Moroccans , sahrawi and northerners.
    but you are not.
    you are at the pay of Polisario and their Algerian military backers, both have a lot of blood on their hands.

  10. Moroccan says:

    you make some valid point. I have my reservations with the autocratic Moroccan Menarche system . I have chosen to not be part of a Moroccan system that subjugate it citizen to all kind of humiliations from hand kissing to stockpiling away the phosphate money in foreign banks while the Moroccan people are starving and begging in Europe.
    as far as I am concern, being Moroccan at this point means being a Berber with a History in north Africa that is much older than that of all the King of Morocco, older than Spain, the Polisario or Algeria.
    Careful what you which for because after Morocco received it independence from France, these so called Independence leaders allied themselves with the King and the colonizing powers to split the pie and they left the people wondering what would it be like if they didn’t kick The French out of the country.
    Look at the History! do we really have to put the Inhabitant of north Africa through further divisions and mini-kings.
    The solution I propose is for the Sahrawi’s in the camps to demand in the negotiations that the Moroccan constitution changes, the king get stripped of all his powers and make him a ceremonial figure like that of England and Spain, before they can accept to be part of Morocco.
    If they achieve this condition, they willfree the Sahrawis, the population of Morocco and North Africa

  11. nickbrooks says:


    I have a lot of sympathy with your position. My own personal prejudices make me deeply suspicious of the concept of the nation state and all the arguments designed to legitimize political models based on nation states, national borders and national governments.

    Nonetheless, I don’t expect the world to embark on a programme of happy cooperative stateless anarchy any time soon. I also suspect that it’s more realistic to push for the long-promised referendum than to demand that the Moroccan king is stripped of his powers. Don’t get me wrong – I’d approve of your solution but I think it’s unlikely in the foreseeable future (maybe my solution is too, but there you go). At least there is an international legal framework for the referendum and for independence resulting from decolonisation.

    Also we should remember that the Polisario, whatever it’s democratic deficit, is not a formal monarchical system, and there is, at least in principle, more potential there for the development of a truly open democracy than there is under a system in which a monarch rules absolutely under a self-declared “divine right”. I think it’s entirely possible that a Sahrawi state in Western Sahara would work reasonably well (as long as it’s neighbours were kept in check).

    To ask that the Sahrawi in the camps go and live under occupation and work for reform within the system is to ask them to voluntarily put themselves in the way of harassment, marginalisation, torture and possibly death. I can’t believe that any transition to a republican model in Moroccan would be smooth – I’m sure a significant amount of blood would be spilled in the process. Now this is a matter for the Moroccans, and I’d say it’s probably unreasonable to expect the Sahrawi to sacrifice themselves for the sake of changing the nature of the Moroccan government. If the Sahrawi did engage with political change in Morocco along these lines they’d soon end up as scapegoats and results could be very ugly indeed. In any case it’s a decision for them.

    Finally, there does seem to be genuine and widespread support among the Sahrawi for an independent state in the entire territory of Western Sahara. So as far as “the people” are concerned in this instance, the establishment of such a state, internationally recognised, would conform with their wishes.

    In the long run I’d be happy with the abolition of borders and a real devolution of power to people rather than governments (and not just in the Maghreb). But I think this is a bigger issue, and a very long-term one. In the meantime the Sahrawi have suffered long enough.

  12. nickbrooks says:

    Not a mini state but a full independent state, as long as that’s what the Sahrawi (and hell, even the Moroccan settlers, who could be allowed to vote) want. Such a state would have every chance of succeeding, as long as it wasn’t prevented from doing so by its belligerent neighbours. I think the basis for the existence of such a state is strong – the territory is already well defined, there is a government in waiting that may not be perfect but is preferable to those of the rest of the region by many standards, and there is a clear mandate for a referendum – endorsed by the international community and the UN – that could initiate such a state.

    The Polisario isn’t a tribe, but a grouping of tribes (sure some will pull more weight than others) – it’s a “front” not a party. There is even dissent within it.

    I’d love to see the Moroccans have the freedom that I hope the Sahrawi will one day have, and not just them but all people in the world. However, here I’m concerned with Western Sahara – freedom for the Sahrawi shouldn’t preclude freedom for anyone else.

    Not everyone who disagrees with you has to be paid to do so. That’s a very egocentric belief.

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