Gdaim Izik

There’s been a fair bit of coverage of the Burmese elections in the UK media over the past few days, including the displacement of some 20,000 people as a result of election-related violence. However, there’s been barely a whisper about a comparable eruption of violence much closer to home, on Europe’s doorstep.

Over the past month or so, many thousands of Sahrawi, protesting against the ongoing Moroccan occupation of Western Sahara, set up a camp – Gdaim Izik – outside Western Sahara’s principal city, El Aaiun (Laayoune). Over the past week reports from Western Sahara indicated that Moroccan forces were gathering to “disperse” the camp. Reports of clashes were filtering out of the region as early as 24 October, and on 25 October EL Pais reported the death of a 14 year old boy at the hands of Moroccan security forces. Yesterday (8 November) reports were coming thick and fast from activists, Sahrawi support groups  and some international media indicating that such a dispersal was underway (check the ever-informative Sahara Occidental website for links to daily news reports on Western Sahara in several languages).

Morocco appears to have implemented a media blackout – a representative of a major foreign media organisation told me that they hadn’t been able to contact anyone in Western Sahara, or their staff reporter in Rabat, by phone. Nonetheless, plenty of reports have been getting out, including a number in the form of short videos of the confrontation between Sahrawi protestors and Moroccan security forces in the camp and in El Aaiun itself, posted on YouTube. Today the BBC posted an article on its website in which it reported that the setting up of the camp “was the biggest protest against Moroccan rule in 35 years” (mainstream coverage is there, but you have to look for it – most people haven’t heard anything about what’s going on in Western Sahara, and remain unaware of the territory’s existence). Unusually for a mainstream media organisation, the BBC included in its article a map showing the partition of Western Sahara. Usually Western Sahara is reported simply as having been “annexed” by Morocco, when in reality a sizable portion of this disputed, non-self governing territory is actually controlled by the Polisario independence movement (the BBC repeated this cut and paste simplification in the main text of the article). This “Free Zone” is separated from the occupied areas by the “Berm”, a “wall” or series of defensive earthworks build by Morocco.

In a communication issued today, the Polisario claimed that 11 Sahrawi had been killed and 723 injured in clashes with Moroccan security forces, and that 159 people were missing. The Polisario also suggested that the timing of the raid on the camp was chosen to coincide with, and to sabotage, UN sponsored talks between Morocco and the Polisario. After arranging a ceasefire between the two parties in 1991, the UN promised a referendum on self determination for Western Sahara. The referendum has never happened. While the Polisario has softened their line on the conditions of such a referendum, indicating that the vote could include the options of independence, limited autonomy within Morocco, or full integration within Morocco, Morocco has refused to countenance any vote that offers independence. Instead it is offering limited autonomy under Moroccan sovereignty, a solution its apologists have referred to as an “advanced form of autonomy”, apparently without irony.

While the mainstream domestic media in the UK is keeping silent on the clashes at Gdaim Izik, there is more coverage in ex-colonial power Spain. El Pais today warned that Rabat was risking “civil war” in Western Sahara. Web news services are also carrying stories about the clashes.

How all this will play in the rest of the EU (if at all) remains to be seen. Unfortunately, and based on recent performance, the EU is likely to ignore the violence, or at best make some limp statement of general concern, as it continues to collaborate with the new colonial power, Morocco, in the illegal exploitation of Western Sahara’s resources, principally fisheries, which its granting of Advanced Status to Morocco was meant to lubricate.


33 Responses to Gdaim Izik

  1. Hi Nick,

    I hope you are well.

    I see that you are still in the same side with the same motivated arguments. Anyway, you are what you are and nobody is perfect :). Regarding Laayoune events, some separatists tried to divert the legitimate social claims of people to a separatist political claim. That’s all folks! Anything else would be the usual propaganda of Algeria and Polisario Front. Please do consult the reactions of the unionist saharawis.

    Good luck

    Ahmed Salem

  2. nickbrooks says:

    Ahmed Salem,

    Welcome back. Nice to know you’re keeping an eye on the blog 😉

    You make a fair point about the “social claims”. It seems that the setting up of the protest camp was as much about the social and economic situation of the Sahrawi in the Moroccan-controlled areas of Western Sahara as it was about the occupation per se. However, the two are not exactly unrelated, with many Sahrawi apparently feeling like second class citizens in their own land. And there seemed to be plenty of indications that occupation and independence were on the minds of at least some Sahrawi taking part in the camp and the protest. Morocco’s heavy handed response will only add to the desire for independence among people who already feel alienated.

    Happy to have you post some links to sources detailing the views and reactions of unionist Sahrawis here.



  3. Nick,

    I will post some links later. You can watch the reaction of the president of the region of Laayoune and many other representatives of the municipality of Laayoune who are all unionist sahrawis on the SNRT website ( Again I am not looking for your trust but separatism and independence has always been the blackmail of some people to negotiate with the local authorities. The very bizarre situation is that the majority of the separatists come from the north of the Western Sahara region!!! The reaction is as follows : I am with you if you cancel all my legal proceedings and give me social advantages, I am with the others (Polisario Front) if not. Unfortunately, there is other conviction. For people outside the region who base their knowledge on what is seen on Internet, it’s about repression and persecution. For the unionist sahraouis, social claims are legitimates as much as there is no deterioration of public buildings.



  4. Brahim Boussaid says:

    The Kingdom of Morocco has legitimate roots in the old “Sudan”. Morocco rules the area for hundred of years, the European colonization create the current border , The Berbers are the people of the land of Tamazgha, and the Berbers are in fact the people of the land par excellence. I do not understand why a colonial state claims the land.
    The colonial claims to Moroccan territories either up North or in the South. The history, the geography and culture proves that Sahara is Moroccan. If the autonomy is an option, it should include the Great Sahara in other countries Algeria, Mauritania, Morocco, Libya, and Mali. And if there is a legitimate people should be the Touregs.Unity is the best option, we have seen economic and political alliance in Europe and in Asia. Why we want Africa separated into small entities? Africa is not a cake that foreign countries will have a piece.
    To conclude, history goes forwards and backward. Morocco is in his Sahara and Sahara is in it country.
    Brahim Boussaid

  5. nickbrooks says:

    No-one is advocating that Western Sahara be given to a foreign country as “a piece” of the “cake” of Africa. I’m not sure which “colonial state claims the land”, other than Morocco. What we have is a situation in which one colonial power (Spain) has been replaced by another (Morocco). Morocco’s claim was examined and found not to be legitimate by the International Court of Justice back in the 1970s, which examined the situation at Morocco’s request. Morocco and its supporters dismiss this ruling as irrelevant, but it represents the nearest thing we have to international law. This view is reflected by the UN, which still views the issue as one of decolonisation. Morocco can dismiss as irrelevant the ICJ, the UN, the African Union and anyone else whose position it finds inconvenient, but this leaves it rather isolated (although thankfully for Morocco there are a number of countries that publicly support the principle of self-determination in Western Sahara but private support Rabat for economic reasons).

    The fact that a country or power exercised some degree of control over another territory at some point in the past is not a sound basis for forcing peoples or regions into political unity. Furthermore, it is reasonable to oppose Morocco’s claim to Western Sahara on the basis of the fact that the inhabitants of Western Sahara did not want to be part of Morocco. The rejection of Morocco’s claim by the International Court the people of Western Sahara at the time of Morocco’s colonisation of the territory is sufficient to illustrate the claim is illegitimate. Most other African countries oppose Morocco’s claim on the grounds that it represents a new form of colonialism, and the UN and international community at large support the idea of self-determination, which does not just mean rubber-stamping approval of Morocco’s occupation and relabelling it autonomy.

    I’m not sure if your comment that “if there is a legitimate people [it] should be the Touregs” is meant to apply to Western Sahara. The Toureg do not extend into Western Sahara, and the indigenous people are the Sahrawi, who are not Toureg. If Toureg in other countries want autonomy or independence that is a matter for them, as it is for any people who seek self-determination. We are talking about Western Sahara here.

  6. Brahim Boussaid says:

    I really do not know what are you talking about, Morocco has legimate links to the people of Sahara for hundred years and if examine history objectively .The idea of self-determination is baked by Algerian diplomacy and last year documents have been released where the current president of Algeria, when he was a minister of foreign affairs, they pass that game of autonomy and self-determination. The only indigenous of North Africa are the Berbers. Sahrawi is a colonial fabrication. I never heard of a Sahrawi dynasty in the history of North Africa while there is a Moroccan Kingdom since 15th century and there are Berber Kingdoms since 26 century B.C.
    Colonial powers (Spain and France) at time managed to shrink Morocco borders in all direction. Even Algeria was a state was created by the French during the colonial time. A large part of people in North Africa were nomads, meaning to travel across the desert to feed their camels and to look for a green land. People moved up north and some move south.

  7. nickbrooks says:

    Hmm. Sure Morocco has links to the Sahara. Lots of places have links with lots of other places. Egypt had links with Puntland in the distant past, but that isn’t a good argument for Egyptian colonisation of Somalia today. We’ve seen the problems that Israel’s historical claims to Judea and Samaria have caused in the Palestinian territories. The English Crown could no doubt lay claim to large parts of France based on historical links and agreements. Austria and Hungary could try and reconstitute their empire. But I don’t think any this would be constructive.

    As for the Sahrawi being a colonial fabrication, this is nonsense. The Sahrawi speak their own distinct language (Hassaniya), and identify themselves as a distinct culture. Their cultural identity has certainly been mediated by the conflict within the nationalist context of Western Sahara/SADR. But they identify themselves as a distinct group, and they are not limited to Western Sahara, so their identity is certainly not just about a people defining themselves within a colonial context.

    You seem to be suggesting that the only legitimacy in terms of territorial control in Africa relates to the pre-colonial period. Most African borders were created as a result of colonialism and, while some of these borders may be arbitrary and not particularly sensible, African countries keep them as to do otherwise would invite chaos and territorial claims and counter-claims. Morocco and Western Sahara illustrate what happens when post-colonial borders are not respected.

    Of course the Sahrawi (who have a Berber heritage, as well as a claim to an Arab heritage) were nomads. One of the reasons they have had to give up their nomadic traditions is Morocco’s carving up of Western Sahara and the restrictions on their movement resulting from the conflict. The area of Western Sahara was historically inhabited and exploited by the Sahrawi, along with areas of what are now neighbouring countries. As the people who inhabited the land they have a claim to it that Morocco can only match by assertion – did Morocco inhabit or use the land of Western Sahara? No, it just claimed influence and some limited control over it, not a presence.

    To dismiss the Sahrawi identify and say the only indigenous identity in North Africa is Berber is simplistic (and probably wrong – the Sahara was inhabited by people of sub-Saharan origin before the arrival of the Berbers, and some relict populations of these groups still exist in pockets in parts of the Sahara, particularly in the east). The Tuareg are also Berbers – are you suggesting they should not call themselves Tuareg, or that they are the same as Moroccan Berbers? Does Morocco also lay claim to the central Sahara by the same ethnic arguments as it lays claim to Western Sahara?

    As for Algeria, I see little evidence of it supporting the Moroccan position, as the poisonous relationship between the two countries and Algeria’s support for the Polisario amply demonstrates.

    Using politicised versions of distant history to try and legitimise territorial claims is an old and dirty tactic. To apply it universally would result in multiple disasters. In any case Morocco’s “historical claims” have been widely rejected by all concerned, except Morocco. You’re arguing for replacing one form of colonialism with another, and with strengthening asserted “links” between Morocco and Western Sahara to such an extent that asserted historical influence becomes direct control – in this sense you’re arguing for a new Moroccan colonialism in the region that didn’t exist before the Spanish colonisation.

    We have to address the conflicts of today, and in Africa accepting post-colonial borders has been adopted as the least problematic solution. Where conflicts exist, the principle of self-determination provides a good basis for deciding control, particularly where one country’s claim over another country or territory has never been formally recognised, and where international law demands self determination.

  8. Brahim Boussaid says:

    I am a Berber, I have the historical legitimacy to North Africa , more than any ethnic group in Africa , but I do not to be a racist , The Berber and Arabs share a common history and cultural background that make live for hundred of years in harmony , let me inform you that the majority of Moroccan dynasties started in the Sahara they were Berbers from the Sahara , The Sahrawi identity is indeed a colonial fabrication that never existed in the history of the region, the only indigenous population is the Berbers, and they are the only ethnic that should claim the land in North Africa. If accepted your claim why we did not include the people in other parts of the big Sahara in Mali, Algeria, Mali, Mauritania, Libya; all these countries have a part in the Big Sahara, let have then one entity for all those people? You are takning about “Hassaniya” is a mixture of Berber language and Arabic, does it have something special as any dialect in the region? Among Arab tribe that comes to North Africa in the 6th century is Bani Hassan, which mean literary the tribe of Hassan. How comes then they should claim a land that is not there? Why should we accept the colonial borders? They are made by colonial powers; France for instance dreamt that they will never quit Algeria! That why France annexed many lands that never belong to Algeria, even Algeria before France Colonization never existed, except small state in Tilimsan. I think you need to read deeply in the history of the region to know how dynamics were in the region.

    As a European citizen, let me ask this question Europe is becoming one strong continent-state through European Union, where people enjoy unity politically, economically? Why we wanted other countries to a small satellite state? Are serving big countries in creating small states within a country , I think the problem is between Algeria and Morocco , the independence of Sahara is baked by Algerian diplomacy , I am sure if you read some of the classified document were released couple mouths ago about the role of Algeria in the fabricated conflict. Of course Algeria would love to have access to Atlantic Ocean.
    Probably there is a minority that you talking about , but Berbers and Arabs either they are from the Sahara “ the desert” , the Plaines or the Mountain will live in harmony , the same way our forefathers did.
    As a Berber and Moroccan citizen, I will do what take to keep my country safe.

  9. nickbrooks says:

    I’m not disputing the Berber heritage of Morocco. However, I don’t agree that Sahrawi is a colonial fabrication. In terms of culture and language the Sahrawi are not the same as other Berber groups. They are not the Berbers of the Atals, and they are not the Tuareg, or the Garamantes. The Sahrawi national (as opposed to cultural or ethnic) identity certainly is a product of colonialism, and equally of the conflict with Morocco. One of the outcomes of Morocco’s claim to Western Sahara has been an increasingly strong Sahrawi identify, as the Sahrawi define themselves in terms of the conflict. Interestingly, very similar arguments are heard about the Palestinians – those who oppose a Palestinian State often claim that ‘Palestinian’ is a colonial invention, and that there is no such people as the Palestinians. But try telling that to a Palestinian and see how far you get.

    You seem to be suggesting a rejection of all colonial borders, and arguing that it is legitimate for modern states to claim land occupied by others on the basis of distant historical links. Would you reconstitute all the empires of the past? Are you proposing that Morocco claim and take any areas that it feel it used to exert some influence over? Would Moroccan forces be marching into Mauritania if the Western Sahara dispute was resolved in Morocco’s favour? The Berm already transits through part of Mauritania, indicating that Morocco certainly has little respect for Mauritania’s borders. Would you abolish all African national borders and propose that political geography is rewritten based on some ancient template? Morocco tries very hard to portray itself as “modern”, “developed” and “progressive”, and its apologists often portray the Sahrawi as the opposite, yet Morocco is living in the past in terms of political geography, and wants to go back centuries to revive ancient political patterns (in fact it wants to go beyond this and formalise borders around areas it used to influence, but which were never part of a geographically well-defined greater Moroccan state).

    Many African borders may be based on European stupidity, but to dismantle them now would only result in bloodshed. It might sometimes make sense to change borders, but only where this can be done with the mutual agreement of the parties concerned. We do not disagree on the grounds of history (although I suspect the versions of it that you have been schooled in as a Moroccan citizen and now promote have been designed with certain nationalistic purposes in mind), but on the grounds of politics and ethics. I’m not interested in defending the Algerian State, but can’t help thinking that its suspicion of Morocco is justified when I constantly hear people such as yourself talk about how Algeria never existed in the past but Morocco did, and look at those Moroccan maps that done’ show the border (even a provisional, disputed one). The overwhelming impression is that Morocco and its citizens seem to believe that they have a right to rule most of the Maghreb. Of course Algeria has strategic interests in Western Sahara, and of course these play a role in its support for the Polisario, but that doesn’t alter the fact of Morocco’s invasion of Western Sahara, its subsequent contempt for international law, and the ethical dimensions of the conflict.

    Regarding Europe, you miss a crucial point that European integration is based on consent, which comes either from representative elected parliaments or from – you guessed it – popular referendums. If Western Sahara was integrated into Morocco through a free and fair referendum then I’d be happy to shut up. But Morocco has ruled out such a referendum. In addition, while the role of governance at the European level is becoming more important in Europe as integration proceeds (although some see this process faltering now with concern over the Euro), so is the role of governance at the sub-national scale. At the same time that Europe is integrating, smaller nations (e.g. Scotland and Wales in the UK) are getting more independence. In Scotland there is a Scottish National Party that is working for an independent Scotland within Europe. Where is the Saharan Nationalist Party? Ah – that’s the Polisario and they’re banned by Morocco.

    Regional integration based on consent and gradual convergence, delivered through democratic means such as referendums, is one thing. National imperialism based on the taking of territory by force and subsequent military occupation and colonisation, is another. Use the first approach in Western Sahara and see what happens. Then Morocco might have a good case for pressuring Spain to use it in Ceuta and Mellila – if the inhabitants of those enclaves want to be Moroccan then they can vote for it, and we can iron out another unresolved colonial issue.

  10. Brahim Boussaid says:

    You are talking about referendum , technically it is not applicable for many reasons , as I mentioned the majority of population in the south of Morocco , are Nomads , people historically move to north and some move to the south , the main concern at that time to find water and food for their animals , I am from Ouarzazate , many people have Sahrawi roots , same things in other cities in Morocco , they are loyal citizens of Moroccan government most those people are excluded from United Nation referendum , we make a referendum by excluding a large part of the population, I wanted to clear one thing , my analysis is based on facts give European university, there is a French historian , that lectures on Algeria as colonial fabrication , I forget his name , I will let you know as soon as I remember. Go and check see if the word “Algeria” exist before 1830 and let me know.
    I do not have to go by democratic means as they known in the West, for countries with different backgrounds democracy as the West see it is an option among many options; in Islamic law there is consent between the Moroccan Crown and the people of Morocco, “البيعة” a legal framework that link the rulers to the people. I think you are one-sided in your analysis, do not you see that they are people in the south and mainly in the Sahara willing to defend Moroccan territorial integrity.
    Morocco has a lot of offer its people, while what Polisario can offer in Tindouft, if they let those captures, they will come back to homeland Morocco, a young country that is done lot of projects towards democratization.
    If “ Sahrawi Party” wanted to work within the Moroccan framework , respecting the territorial integrity and unity , they are welcome , and many ex-leaders of Poliosario are back in Morocco , for instance the new Governor of Layyoune , and the new ambassador to Spain just to mention a few!
    Even that movement was created in Morocco by Moroccans, imagine many of their leaders are not even “Sahrawi” and they claiming a Sahrawi Identity, the current leader, his father served in Moroccan Army against colonial power.
    I will come back to legal relationship between Sahrawi tribes and the Moroccan Crown, many Sahrawi fighted Spanish and the French colonial power, hands in hands.
    Any Party is welcome to work within Moroccan Constitution, but if that party is serving outside masters, it is the same in any country, if I am UK or USA; I have to go by their laws.
    What is your stand on Gibraltar? If I follow your logic, Scotland and Wales and North Ireland should be independent countries away from the British Crown! And The Basque in Spain should be independent and Breton land in France should be independent. Then we will create a micro-state within states.

  11. Brahim Boussaid says:

    Please see what Bernard Lugun thinks about this conflict and his claim that Algeria is a colinal fabrication.

  12. nickbrooks says:

    Why, is he the ultimate authority on the issue?

    By the same argument, nearly ALL the countries of modern day Africa are colonial fabrications. Are you proposing that Algeria should be abolished? If you are using this argument to argue for the destruction of a nation state that is internationally recognised with a seat on the UN then I think that tells us all we need to know. Are you perhaps proposing that Africa should be divided up between Morocco, Ethiopia and Egypt? These (along with maybe a few others arguably including some West African states) have a long pre-colonial history where most modern African states don’t. You seem to be suggesting that any modern nation that didn’t exist before the colonial period is somehow illegitimate and does not deserve to exist. I don’t think this sort of argument can be taken very seriously, whatever we think of the colonial borders.

    Applying your argument further east, maybe Turkey should regain control of most of the Middle East, given it’s historical links with the region from Ottoman times?

  13. nickbrooks says:

    BB, I hear a lot of Moroccan spokespeople (formal or informal) say that a referendum is not applicable. This is just a self-serving assertion, and one that many would disagree with.

    See last comment for response about Algeria. If you want to extent the debate to the historical legitimacy of the Algerian state I’m sure you can find somewhere to do it. But that is not the issue here. Do you accept everything that French historians say, but the way?

    You give a confused message about democracy, saying that you do not have to go down a democratic route, and then praising Morocco for its efforts towards democratisation. It was you who made the original comparison with Europe, so I was only running with it.

    Another point of confusion – you are invoking Morocco’s ancient lineage, but you are also talking about Morocco as a young country. By young surely you don’t mean….post-colonial! So which is it?

    As for those who support Morocco in Western Sahara, there are indeed many, and many of them are settlers. Sure, some Sahrawi have decided to throw in their lot with Morocco – when one country occupies another there are always those willing to work with it. But there are many who are deeply unhappy with Morocco’s presence in Western Sahara, and many more living in exile as a result of the occupation. Would Morocco welcome them “back”, along with the Polisario? I doubt it.

    As for the legal relationship between the Saharan tribes and Morocco, go ahead. As far as I’m concerned it’s irrelevant. The only party to believe this is a legitimate basis for Morocco’s acquisition of Western Sahara is Morocco. Given a choice between going with a self-serving Morocco or the International Court, I’ll go with the Court, which examined these claims and found them wanting.

    As for Gibralter and all the other nations you mention (Scotland and Wales are counted as nations within the wider context of the UK), fine with me if they all become independent or integrate with Spain or wherever, based on referendums and the wishes of their inhabitants.

  14. Brahim Boussaid says:

    I refer to Morocco as young nation we it comes to your definition of democratic country as western wanted, but Morocco as country goes beyond prehistoric time, the Berbers’ kingdoms were omni-present even before 26 century BC.As I am concerned we are in part of our country, the Berber Land is from Siwa Oasis in Egypt till Canary Islands, so if there any ethnic group that should claim the land, it must the Berbers.
    I give the French historian as a source because you are claiming that my schooling in Morocco has impacts on my opinions. As a French Historian , he knows better what kind of damage they made to north Africa and mainly to Morocco , I just wanted to see his point before judging him I am here to praise any political regime , I am point is the land is our , if the Sahrawi as I mentioned , part of them were Arabs that immigrated in 6 century as I mentioned Bani Hassan , a tribe that migrated from Arabian Peninsula , let me consider your logic , since they speak a common language then we have to give country , what we will do about countries where over 350 dialects like India for instance. Just tell me what a “government” based in camps of captives will offer to those people, if let them make a choice they will join Morocco, as many groups did for years.
    I will tell you something, democracy as you see the west will not working in eastern courtiers or countries that have different social and cultural backgrounds, as the Berber Proverbs says: like the one who seeks bones in meats. Saying this I am pro-democratization of the country but in the light of our culture , our religion norms, not a democracy dictated by outsiders, United Nation is an other big story who they represent ? Five big countries defending their interests in Middle East and other part of the world, they are doing us favor, all there work is full of hidden agendas.
    Unless you talking about real democracy where all nations without exception have a voice in UN, then we talk about the UN.What did UN to prevent unpopular war in Iraq in 2003?
    UN is only a game for interests of (UK, USA, China, Russia and France), poor countries have no voice what kind of democracy you are taking about. Can you impose you democracy on other people, as you see it”, but yes for local democracy within!

  15. nickbrooks says:

    I’m not giving any definition of democracy here, and the issue is one of self determination and decolonisation rather than of democracy.

    You’re right about the extent of the Berbers throughout North Africa, and the migration of the Beni Hassan from the Arabian Peninsula plays an important role in the Sahrawi’s historical identify. However, I’m not suggesting that all ethnic groups need to be given their own country wherever they are found. This is a straw man that you are setting up for your own rhetorical purposes.

    The Sahrawis’ claim to Western Sahara is based on the fact that at the time of decolonisation, Western Sahara was a distinct geopolitical entity – the Spanish Sahara, which was to be decolonised like any other African colony. Most African colonies became independent countries in one form or another, with some, such as Namibia, being colonised a second time by neighbouring countries before finally gaining independence. The parallels with Namibia are striking. At the time of decolonisation Western Sahara was inhabited pretty much solely by the Sahrawi, who also extended into Morocco, Mauritania and Algeria. In Western Sahara they had fought for independence from Spain, and had some support from elements in Morocco. However, rather than helping them gain independence Morocco stepped into the old colonial master’s shoes – a pretty bad betrayal by anyone’s standards.

    The issue is one of decolonisation, self determination and international law combined – not about some assertion that every ethnic group should have its own state. The opinion of the International Court and the United Nations (and by extension the international community) was, and remains, that Western Sahara has not completed the process of decolonisation, and that this should be done through a referendum on self determination with voter lists based on the old Spanish census. The African Union also takes this position.

    Morocco has done everything it can to block the referendum, and misrepresent the situation, and has rejected the views of the UN, the International Court of Justice, the African Union, international law, and the international community at large. Even Morocco’s biggest supporters – France the United States, don’t formally endorse the occupation, and pay lip service to self determination (although France is a bit less fastidious about this than the US). I wouldn’t be too hard on the UN security council if I were you – it is the French and American vetoes that have allowed Morocco to get away with its occupation for so long, and that are preventing outside scrutiny of the recent events in and around El Aaiun. That amply demonstrates your point that the UN isn’t perfect. You’re right that it’s not very good at preventing aggressions, whether they be against Iraq or Western Sahara. And of course it is a combination of vested interests, but when countries such as France are not exercising their vetoes resolutions can reflect the will of the international community, however imperfectly. If you want to dismiss all of these organisations then go ahead – I don’t think it will win you any friends as it looks extremely arrogant. You end up saying that the only legitimate arbiter of what is acceptable in the world is the Moroccan monarchy. I know Morocco has ambitions outside its borders, but that seems to be taking it way too far!

    The decolonisation problem has merely shifted from occupation by Spain to occupation by Morocco. Talk all you like about ancient history – it’s not relevant and is not the issue here. You’re justifying an occupation on the basis so often used by states that want to take land and subsume their neighbours – ancient historical rights that don’t stand up to the scrutiny of anyone except those who want to believe. There should be no place for this sort of perversion of history for political ends in the modern world. The bottom line is that Morocco took another territory by force against the wishes of the vast majority of its people. That’s enough for me to oppose the occupation.

  16. Brahim Boussaid says:

    When you talk about vast majority, do you have any valid data? Or you talk from a vacuum? I was a university student with students from South of Morocco, they are happy to join in Morocco, I am talking from experience , what is the number of the population in Tindouft Camps , couples hundreds , they are gathering people from Mali and Mauritania and Algeria to make their claim , the so called Sahrawi Party , was created in Morocco , meaning if the conflict exist it is an internal problem that Moroccan people will take care of , look at the ongoing development done in those years , the land was abused when Spain left.
    The reality is the ground is the measure , Morocco is in his Sahara and Sahara is in it country , we said that I am building my argument of ancient history , history and culture makes the country , any country without a history and a culture is not a country ! Sahara was a dominion of the Moroccan state before the Spanish colonization, I think you are one-sided in your analysis, I am from south-east of Morocco, I have rights in those places too.
    Let me ask you this, are you paid to do all this propaganda? You are neither a Moroccan national nor Algerian national nor in between, are you doing this just for doing it? Or for fun? I am just wondering, if you are “human rights” activist, human rights groups do have their hidden agendas, they are tools used by the superpower to maintain the influence and pressure on other small countries. If so you tackle human rights in Europe and UK, discrimination of minorities; including immigrants and working class in Europe.
    At least Morocco offered a third solution to the problem, regional autonomy within Moroccan legal framework, what the enemy offers, if they have something to offer. I think the regional autonomy is a golden opportunity that needs a deep thought otherwise this small group of captives in Tindouft will wait dreams that will never happen on earth, because Moroccans including Berbers and Arabs will fight till the last drop to keep our homeland safe and a proud country. The enemy is only a group of pundits that are hidden under the belly of their master.

  17. Brahim El-guabli says:

    Dear Nick,
    I have seen your posts and as much as I salute your concern for human rights and dignity I do not understand the point that are you making for the liberation of a people that does not exist or that exists only in the minds of people who are trying to find their names under the spotlight. I am from Sahrawi origins, I have 40 people in my family and NONE of my family members would be able to cast their vote if the referendum ever happened. You know why? My grand father’s name, who was persecuted by the Spanish and left Samara, is not on the Spanish census of early seventies. The issue is who is a Sahrawi? Does defining sahrawis mean taking into consideration the movements of tribes from south to north or does it ONLY mean the people whom Spain censused in its 1970s politically motivated census? Again, there is no answer for this question. How many Mauritanians, Malians, Algerians and Chadians are in the camps? Could you please have the magnanimity to define a Sahrawi for me? Besides, what do you say of the lands that the French, the British and all the colonial powers took from other historically known countries and were annexed to countries that look huge and fat today like Algeria? Could you be able to stand up for me and my family and the hundreds of thousands of Moroccans whose parents and grandparents left the Sahara for different reasons and who can’t vote?
    I am not going to give a historical insight into the region’s history because apparently you have your “own facts” from and which after a long time of strong belief become dogmas which of course become also obsolete. I will admit to you that Morocco has made the error of accepting an incomplete independence and today it is paying the price for it. If you need to talk about these internal Moroccan politics and how they shaped a lot of the problems that are happening in the region I will be willing to talk to you about it.
    Go back to the 1970s and asked about who Mustapha El Wali was and where was he studying and how he was active in the Moroccan student groups at the university of Rabat. These were times of turmoil and we know that Hassan II sent a lot of young people to jail if not worse. In these conditions of dual polarity between the US and The Soviet Union the Polisario was born as movement backed the Soviet Union and the Communist bloc then to thwart the strategic interests of the Western Bloc in the region. Go back to this history and maybe you will find some light to illuminate your assumptions with some historical strategic goals of the different powers.
    Who is financing the Polisario today? Who is training them? Who is putting their diplomatic mission, money, resources and human resources at its service? You know the answer. Look at the investment side of things. There is NO STATE in this world that would invest 100 billion dollars in a movement JUST because they believe in FREEDOM< HUMAN RIGHTS and the RIGHT to SELF-determination. Charity begins at home!!
    I am willing to have a very long detailed respectful discussion with you. I hope we will be able to prove to each other that the future of the region is not in ceceding or in cancerous insidious fragmentation of the national-states in the region. The biggest project that needs everybody's efforts is recognizing the need for more democratization, respect of human dignity of all citizens and allocating economic and social rights to people. I think the Polisario, with the UN"s backing and guarantees, can liberate the Moroccan politics from lethargy and instead of fighting to free the Sahara–which by the way would never happen for various reasons that we can discuss again if you want– will free the Moroccan politics from corruption, under-representation of the people's will and most of all will a catalyst of regional stability, friendship-building and strengthening f alliance between the countries of the region. This should give you an image of the future of the region with a strong Polisario requesting UN guarantees for a real Moroccan democracy a l'anglaise ou a l'espagnole!
    Thank you for your attention and I look forward to reading your response!

  18. Brahim Boussaid says:

    I do know why you did not publish my last comment , are we still debating the issue , you have to convince me , or I have to convince you , I think you are censoring the blog then we should have open and respectful debate , I really appreciate that you are worried about the future of the region.

  19. Brahim Boussaid says:

    Let me ask you one more question , a very important question who is funding your project? Give a list of firms that support this project ?
    Thank You,

  20. nickbrooks says:

    All the Sahrawi I’ve ever met (and that’s a considerable number) have stated their support for independence. I have never met a Sahrawi who does not openly support independence, although I’m sure they exist. I just doubt that they form a majority. The proportions may be different in the Moroccan-controlled areas to the numbers outside this zone. Who knows? Actually, nobody knows, because Morocco will not permit the referendum that would allow us to find out.

    The accusation of people in the camps coming from neihghbouring countries is a common assertion in the Moroccan propaganda arsenal. I can turn your question around and ask if you can speak from experience about the camps. I’ve spent quite some time there and the Moroccan accusation, as usual, don’t reflect what I’ve seen on the ground. Numbers, well 165,000 is a widely accepted figure, some say more, some say less. I know Morocco plays down the figures. But the World Food programme estimated 125,000 vulnerable people there (a good proportion but not all of the population) some years ago, so well over 100,000 seems reasonable. And the camps are big, and densely populated.

    Despite links with Morocco, and support from Morocco, the Polisario has always fought for independence. I don’t think they sold their souls to Morocco – just looked to it initially for support. In any case, I’d go back to the various international bodies (whom you don’t recognise) that have ruled on this issue, and the desires of the exiled Sahrawi, and by all accounts a least a decent proportion of those living under occupation.

    I think you’ll find that the links between Morocco and Western Sahara were more complex than the latter simply being a “dominion” of the former. Again, International Court ruling.

    One sided? Well that makes two of us – we each have our views and they are opposed, obviously. You say you have rights there. Well, so should the Sahrawi I know who were born in areas now occupied by Morocco, from which they are now excluded.

    My motivation here is moral and personal. I have been working with the Sahrawi on the other side of the Berm, in the “Free Zone”, since 2002. I count Sahrawi among my friends and colleagues, and they want independence. They have very little voice compared to Morocco, with its greater resources and powerful foreign friends. They have been the victims of a great injustice, and frankly it just makes me angry. So I try to expose the situation for what it is. I never have like bullies or aggressors, and that is a good motivation to oppose Morocco’s aggression too.

    And no, nobody pays me to do this. That is why I often have long periods of silence on the blog – I have precious little time to spend on it, but do try and find the time when I can. I’m not a human rights activist, and this is done in a personal capacity.

    How about you?

    Morocco offers one solution – so-called regional autonomy with no room for negotiation or debate, and ultimate rule from Rabat.

    The Polisario eventually accepted the principle of a referendum with options of independence, autonomy within Morocco, or full integration into Morocco. They have given ground here and it is Morocco that is inflexible.

    I think the Moroccan autonomy proposal is a distraction – a publicity stunt to legitimise the occupation. It won’t work because it won’t solve the issue of the refugees or the partition of Western Sahara.

    The Sahrawi are prepared to fight just as much as the Moroccans, from what I can see. So I guess that’s a stalemate.

  21. nickbrooks says:

    BB – I obviously don’t have your stamina! You post a comment at 3:41 am, and then at 5:54 am you ask why I have not replied and accuse me of censoring the blog! Maybe you Moroccan propagandist guys don’t need to sleep, but I’m just a mere mortal.

    Anyway, thanks for making me chuckle. As for censoring, that’s my prerogative. It’s a blog, not a democracy. And you should be used to censorship in Morocco in any case. But no, I’m not censoring you. Although I sometimes do stop approving comments when the posters start repeating themselves ad nauseum. Life is short and there are limits to the number of times I’m prepared to have the same dialogue of the deaf countering zombie arguments and unfounded assertions.

  22. nickbrooks says:

    BB, in response to your post stating “Let me ask you one more question , a very important question who is funding your project? Give a list of firms that support this project”

    First, that’s very aggressive – are you the tax man now or something?

    Second, which project are you talking about? If you are talking about the Western Sahara Project involving archaeology, then I would say that this is not relevant to the political discussion – the project is concerned with scientific research, and here we are discussing different, non-scientific issues. This blog is for my own personal observations on the region, and is not a Project blog.

    But since you ask, and assuming you are referring to the Western Sahara Project (I don’t know what else you would mean), I can tell you that currently we have no funding. We intend to apply for some next year once we have published some more of our results. The last few field seasons in Western Sahara (in the Free Zone) have been funded through the participation of paying volunteers.

    If we manage to get more funding the details of the funders will be posted on the Project website, as are details of previous contributors. But we have had no formal funding for a long time now.

    As for my “propagandising” – that’s all voluntary. Is yours?

  23. nickbrooks says:

    Dear Brahim

    That’s a good opening gambit: “I do not understand the point that are you making for the liberation of a people that does not exist.”

    That may be your view, but I know many, many people who call themselves Sahrawi who would object in very strong terms to that statement.

    Look back at my responses to the other Brahim about the ethnicity issue. I’m not arguing on the basis of a country for every ethnicity. The referendum would involve those living in Western Sahara at the time of the Spanish departure – not everyone who calls themselves a Sahrawi.

    I think when we go back to precolonial history things are so murky that anyone can take what they like from it – and they have, on both sides. The decolonisation approach based on existing geographical entities is the most practical and sensible given the ambiguities of going back to earlier epochs. And in the end, if a colonial power is leaving a territory it has occupied, the subsequent political settlement should be based on the will of the inhabitants of the decolonised territory. That’s just practically and ethically sound. You can argue otherwise, and that the will of the people of a territory should be ignored in favour of territorial claims by a bigger state, but that’s just imperialism and new colonialism.

    I understand your point about the desirability of all parties working for political change in the context of a Morocco that includes Western Sahara. But take that to its logical conclusion and you end up with self-determination anyway. It would be a long and probably painful struggle, and the Sahrawi who have suffered exile and occupation might wonder why they should have to be the ones to liberate Moroccans from authoritarianism. All they want is freedom to determine their own political future (I accept that some Sahrawi in Morocco and occupied Western Sahara might be happy being part of Morocco, although I’m sceptical about the numbers). And i really doubt that Morocco would welcome the exiled Sahrawi and the Polisario.

    Regarding the Polisario’s relationship with Algeria, of course Algeria has its own strategic agenda here. But you take your support where you can get it when someone’s invaded your country and your list of useful allies is thin.

    By the way, I don’t buy the propaganda about the camps being full of people from Sahelian Africa. It’s just an assertion used by Morocco for political purposes.

    As for other lands annexed and subsumed, there are plenty of them, sure. But Western Sahara remains one of a very small number of “non-self governing territories”, where the issue is technically one of decolonisation in the context of international law. I’m all for other peoples being able to determine their own futures too – I just have a special interest in, and attachment to, Western Sahara, and the legal and technical case is strongest there.

  24. nickbrooks says:

    I’m off for a few days, so the blog will be quiet. If I don’t approve comments it doesn’t necessarily mean I’m censoring you. Although I might be in the case of exasperatingly repetitive comments that are saying nothing new – but I’m sure my faithful commenters won’t fall foul of that criterion!

  25. Brahim Boussaid says:

    Dear Nick,
    I find it bizarre that you would allege that I am a propagandist and you insinuate in your comment that I might be working for the government. Let me make these two disclaimers. first of all, I live in the USA and the time difference between us is five hours. It is totally normal that by the time I post on your blog, it is already late in the UK. I post a comment early morning because of the time difference, you are on the internet, a virtual space that does not have time or space boundaries. You allege that I am a propagandist; I am a Moroccan patriotic person. I have every reason to be defending the country where I grew up and whose diversity and values I cherish. If you call me a propagandist, I hope you will open your eyes to see the propagandists by proxy also.
    It saddens me that you use double-talk and you provide misleading information when it works for you. I think you are you using double standards, sometimes you are you using international legality to explain you side, let me remind you that what you call a “free-zone” is in fact a no-man land that Morocco withdrew from in accordance with UN cease fire in 1991.
    I invite to travel to Morocco and see the other side of the story, instead on relying on one side.
    I believe in open and free debate that respect both parties, if my tone is defensive I did not mean it. I am not a tax collector but I am a proud Berber defending my country! , but running projects in universities needs transparency about funding and the names of contributor is very crucial to the project , no body will fund your project for free !
    Since you are working on archeology project, let me ask you about this, you did not find of course any Berber artifacts on the site, like libyco-writing and drawings?

  26. nickbrooks says:

    Dear BB

    By definition you are a propagandist, as you are pushing propaganda. You might say the same about me. We could get into a discussion about what propaganda is, and whether something is propaganda if it’s not sponsored by a government, and so on. Maybe you truly believe everything you are saying. If so, in my view your beliefs are mistaken. No doubt you think the same about me. But let’s not get too upset about the fact that we disagree and that each of us thinks the other is wrong. If that was not the case we would not be having the discussion.
    I don’t know whether you are working for the Moroccan government or not. But it’s hardly outlandish to suggest that a government has people working for it who monitor the web and put across the government’s point of view (Morocco certainly does this). There have been a few people commenting on the blog in great detail over the years, and they tend to use the same arguments and crop up one after the other, as if they are pushing a specific set of approved arguments, and are stepping into the last person’s shoes. This may be entirely coincidental or it may not. Of course no-one who is an agent of the government masquerading as a “concerned citizen” (although you and I are both technically subjects, not citizens) is going to admit to it. I’m not accusing you – but I don’t know your credentials any more than you know mine.
    I do know that representatives of the Moroccan government read the blog, as I was told as much at the London launch of Abdelhamid El Ouali’s book on the autonomy plan, which was attended by embassy staff.
    I’d like you to point out where you think I’m using “double talk”. I certainly have no interested in making anything up or misleading anyone. The only thing that Morocco appears to be afraid of is the truth about the conflict, the camps, and the partition.
    That brings me to the next point, which is about the “free zone”. What you say about this being a no-mans land is, I’m sorry to have to point out, utter nonsense. Under the terms of the ceasefire, Western Sahara was divided into two “areas with limited restrictions” (the areas controlled by Morocco and the Polisario, in which normal activities are allowed provided these do not involve the build up of troops), two “restricted areas”, which are the areas extending 30 km either side of the berm in which there is to be no military activity, and a buffer strip extending for 5 km into the Polisario-held areas, and contained within the restricted area on the Polisario side of the berm. I’ve written about this before here (see MINURSO map and briefing note linked in the short article).
    What you refer to as the no-mans land is actually the entire area to the east and south of the berm including the buffer strip, the restricted area and the area with limited restrictions. The only area that is actually a no-mans land is the 5 km buffer strip. The remainder of the land on the Polisario side of the berm is basically a rump Western Saharan state controlled by the Polisario, just as the area on the other side of the berm is controlled by Morocco. In terms of what they can do in the areas they control under the terms of the ceasefire, there is equivalence between Morocco and the Polisario. The erroneous equating of the 5km buffer strip with the entire area under Polisario control is a favourite Moroccan propaganda tactic (but no doubt also something believed by ordinary Moroccans – so I’m not accusing you!), and is designed to give the impression that Morocco controls all of Western Sahara, and that the occupation is basically a fact on the ground that the international community should just accept. The reality is that Western Sahara is partitioned, and that the autonomy plan does not address the partition – it is, in other words, based on a fictional situation.
    I know this very well because the work I do in Western Sahara all takes place in what the local Sahrawi call the Free Zone, and you (wrongly) call the no-man’s land. I know Morocco’s position on this because Abdelhamid El Ouali lied to my face about the status of the Polisario controlled areas and had nothing to say in response when I told him I knew his claims were wrong as I worked there. He looked shocked, like a kid found with his hand in the cookie jar, made his excuses and left to check me out with the Moroccan embassy staff (we later had a long discussion, once he’d recovered his composure).
    As for archaeology, yes, we’ve found some, but not very much, Libyco-Berber script in the areas in which we work. I understand from old Spanish works that there is more in the Moroccan-controlled areas. No doubt there is more to find in the areas in which we work too. I previously worked in Libya, and it is very abundant there (at least in the Fezzan).
    And I didn’t think you were a tax collector – I was just joking about your demand to know about funding! There is a link to the project website on the blog, and the website has a funding page. I need to update it. We haven’t had any funding from Ophir for a few years now. Maybe you should join us as a volunteer!

  27. Brahim Boussaid says:

    Dear Nick,
    Thank you so much for you offer, I will give it a full consideration. I will be happy to promote peace and unity, since the people in the region are tired of this conflict, the people of Morocco mainly civic community wanted to wrap this ongoing unsolved issue. I will go back to our debate, I do want you to be upset as some issues might seem respective but they are very important (at least to me!) .My question is what is wrong with the Moroccan offer of autonomy, one of the best of option as no party will give up their perspective, I see it a compromise that will make everybody, happy with that the Sahrawi will have their local government and regional institution. Churchill once said about capitalism, is the worse political system but it is the best we have , I would say the same thought about autonomy , it is indeed the best solution we have , I wanted to bear in mind that I am not a Moroccan diplomat that work within the government framework , my analysis based on nobody , the Moroccan people , will give up even a square feet on the homeland, when it comes to homeland , Moroccan civic community , Moroccan people will forget they issues that divide them and unite to keep the homeland, the best example will the voluntary demonstration in Casablanca where over 3 millions Moroccan went outside to let the world that the homeland is over all issues!
    Even within Polisario, there are people pro-autonomy, the best example is Mustapha Salma, who was tortured in Tindouft Camps, for one only reason he declared, autonomy is the best option for him and his tribe, and he see the autonomy as an allure of light, and he has an obligation to refer his family and tribe that there is that light.
    My second question, you refer to Polisario as a state, personally I do not see them as a state probably a group of opposition, for many reasons; number one the leaders of Polisario can not cast a vote in case there is a referendum since most of them are Moroccan-born, it is not consistent with survey made by Spain in 1970 (which you wanted and UN to be the platform of identity of who is Sahrawi or not!).If the leaders are not even born in the Sahara then the claim is kind suspicious.
    What did Polisario accomplished in 35 years?
    Thank You , I hope I did not bother you with many questions , if so I can give up this debate.

  28. nickbrooks says:


    If Morocco is not prepared to consider “even a square feet on the homeland”, then I think your talk of compromise is somewhat disingenuous. This is particularly so as part of what you refer to is not the Moroccan homeland, but a territory Morocco has taken by force from the people – the Sahrawi – who inhabited it. These people also regard it as their homeland. So we have a territory that is claimed by two parties, both of whom call it their homeland. Given such conflicting claims I would go with the inhabitants rather than the invader. You can assert all you like that something is so, but that does not make it the case. I do not recognise Morocco’s claim to Western Sahara. Neither does the international community, or the people who have struggled against the Moroccan occupation for 35 years.

    You are emphasising that many people are pro-autonomy. Well, fine, let them express this through the mandated referendum. As long as Morocco refuses to hold the referendum all the assertions by yourself and others defending the Moroccan position look like lies, and your position is not credible. As I always say, I’ll be happy to shut up if the referendum is held and people vote for integration.

    My problem with autonomy is that it is meant to legitimise an occupation, and a partial occupation at that. It will not address the issue of the partition of Western Sahara, or the refugees. I don’t believe Morocco will welcome many pro-independence Sahrawi, and Morocco’s constant underestimation of the numbers of refugees in Algeria, and its insistence that many of them are not even Sahrawi, indicates that it would not accept them back.

    As for who can vote, Morocco has a long history of obstruction here. The Spanish census was meant to form the basis of the voting list, and I’m sure a voter roll could be constructed if people were prepared to cooperate. If some of the Polisario leadership can’t vote then fine – those eligible will vote and those who are not will not, whoever they are.

    As for Polisario’s accomplishments, it’s not my job to defend them. The injustice of Morocco’s occupation stands regardless of the actions of the Polisario. However, I would say that they fought a very effective guerilla war against a much stronger force, they saw off Mauritania’s territorial claim, the managed to retain a sizable portion of territory, and they have held together the exiled Sahrawi population and engaged in successful nation building, albeit mostly in exile. They have a well-educate population by African standards, and have campaigned for independence without resorting to terrorism. I think that, under the circumstances, they have done rather well.

  29. Brahim Boussaid says:

    Dear Nick,
    I am back, this distinction is very important, I refer the Moroccan people rather than Morocco state, which two different things, here you are using different terminology, I do not see any occupation, and you can not invade a land that is yours? Sahara was part of morocco before Spanish colonized the region, we can refer to conference held by colonial powers to divide Morocco into three colonial dominion, the north and the south to Spain and France colonized the middle of morocco, and Germany was given land in Congo, Prayers were done in the name of Moroccan Sultan, and Caids and other officials were appointed by central government. Why should we apply this logic to Morocco, “Sahrawi” means the people of the desert no more than that! “Sahrawi” are in Algeria, Libya and Mauritania, and other part of the big Sahara; shall we make all microscopic states in those countries?
    Why I called a compromise because independence will an extreme solution to the problem, ruling the land without all citizens involved is an extreme, so the compromise is the autonomy, if the parties are willing to solve the problem that the only exist, otherwise the conflict will go back to point zero either through the military machine or frozen situation without any talks? Part of being wise and pragmatic is having autonomy while fighting for other rights and unwise will be dreaming about impossible independence, the power of the Moroccan people will not give any more!
    I think, it is a good time to rethink and ask about Moroccan territories annexed by Algeria in South-East of Morocco, for instance Tindouft and Twat are Moroccan lands. Polisario is backed up by Algeria otherwise they will vanish three decades ago!
    Those refugees you are talking about , give accurate numbers about them , and are you sure they are not from neighboring countries , we need evidence that are people of the south of Morocco.

  30. nickbrooks says:


    I think we’ve discussed the historical aspect already. For me the bottom line is that, when Spain withdrew from Western Sahara, there was an international framework for decolonisation that involved a referendum on Western Sahara’s status. Within Western Sahara there was a movement for independence, that had already been fighting against Spanish rule. The International Court of Justice examined Morocco’s claim and found that, while there were historical links, these did not constitute direct rule of Western Sahara by Morocco. Given the competing claims to the territory, a referendum was the most equitable and practical solution. However, Morocco ignored this, organised the Green March and at the same time sent troops into Western Sahara to secure it through military means. Morocco demonstrated that its preferred approach was to take the territory by force rather than the abide by international law and respect the rights of the inhabitants of Western Sahara to determine their own future. One form of colonialism was replaced by another. Throughout Africa, decolonisation was based broadly on accepting the colonial borders. To do anything else was to risk chaos, bloodshed and protracted conflict as people fought over competing claims to land. I think Western Sahara demonstrates precisely what happens when this approach is not respected. Moroccans in favour of the integration of Western Sahara into Morocco (and that seems to be most of them) always go on and on about historical rights to land. This is the argument of colonialism, imperialism and fanatical nationalism.

    So, on the one hand we have international law, a pragmatic solution to post-colonial settlement, and respect for the principle of self-determination, all of which Morocco has ignored. You will no doubt argue that Morocco’s solution is practical, but I would argue that the fact that it has led to an intractable 35 year old conflict demonstrates quite the opposite. On the other hand we have the fact that the people who inhabited Western Sahara at the time of decolonisation did not want, by and large, to be Moroccan. Now, you may argue that this is a misrepresentation of the situation, and that many would have welcomed Moroccan rule. But if this was the case, why did Morocco not allow the referendum? Morocco’s refusal to do so suggests very strongly that it knew its presence was not wanted. I don’t believe that one people has the right to rule over another, when the latter do not want the former’s rule.

    You are also arguing for the taking by Morocco of Algerian territory. Where would you stop? If this is the view of the Moroccan state then Morocco is a dangerous, expansionist power that does not respect the borders with its neighbours. I don’t know where this sense of entitlement to the land of other people comes from, but it looks pretty sinister to me. Remember we had the same situation in Europe, and look where that got us. The borders of the countries in Europe today are not as they were in the past, and European countries have learned the hard way that to always look to the imperial past leads only to death and disaster.

    No-one knows the precise numbers of the refugees in the camps, and a census would help to resolve this. So we can agree on that. However, the 165,000 estimate is more convincing than the much lower estimates quoted in anti-Polisario propaganda. The view of people working for foreign NGOs in the camps is that this is a reasonably figure. The World Food Programme originally fed some 158,000 people, then around 98,000 “most vulnerable” (according to a senior manager for a foreign NGO I spoke to this reduction was the result of pressure from donors), and this then went back up to some 125,000.

    I see no evidence that the people in the camps are a mixture of people from other countries. This is a common claim, but I would ask those making it to supply evidence. We know the history of the camps and how they came into existence, and everything I have seen tells me they are populated by Hassanniya speaking Sahrawi. I think this talk of other migrants is just disinformation. If you ever went to the camps you would see how unattractive the environment is for anyone migrating from other areas – they are in some of the most arid, barren and inhospitable desert I have ever seen, and I’ve travelled widely in the Sahara. And they would, of course, not say they were from the south of Morocco, but from Western Sahara.

    You are engaging in a sort of intellectual cultural genocide when you talk about the Sahrawi being the same as the other inhabitants of the Sahara. They are culturally distinct from the Tuareg and other groups, with their own language and traditions. And to argue for a Western Sahara state based on the borders at the end of the colonial period is not the same as arguing that every ethnic group should have its own state. The case for Western Sahara is not based on ethnicity per se, but on political geography.

    To sum up, you are denying the existence of a distinct cultural and ethnic group, and advocating not only the forcible acquisition of Western Sahara by Morocco, but also the further acquisition by Morocco of the territory of other nations. No wonder the Algerians are nervous. For all their faults, I sympathise with them on this point!

  31. Brahim Boussaid says:

    Dear Nick,

    Thank you so much for the numbers, I have some concerns about you moral obligation about the people of Tinduft Camps, while I did not see any moral obligations towards other part of the world, as British Citizen, what you did to oppose an unjustified war in Iraq where at least one million children died? How about the role of UK in creating a state in the heart of Middle East that fueled a never-ending conflict in the region. How when UK attacked Argentina in 1987 over an island that is thousand miles away from UK? All these questions lead me to question your selective moral obligation?
    I thought that you are a neutral observer that interested in building peace not fueling a war in the region. I think I was wrong about that.
    I think you have hatred towards Moroccan state , during our talks , you never said something good about Moroccan state , while you praise the other side either directly or indirectly , this make your analysis biased , in stead of offering a balanced analysis that will respect the history and geography of the region.
    Morocco was the only independent nation in the region when North Africa and Middle East were Ottoman provinces, we go back to maps around 1830-1912, we will find that who has the sovereignty over the disputed land and others, When I talk about the Moroccan-Algerian borders on Eastern Sahara, this a reality that was ignored, the French that colonized Algeria knows about it? Once again this my person view as a Berber and Moroccan citizen born and raised in the Eastern Sahara, I do not have any colonial agenda nor I wanted to expand towards Algeria, my point was to question those ignored areas, you confuse my talk with you with probably your talk with Moroccan diplomats, If I have a colonial agenda, I would claim London or Bath as Moroccan land, which I did said my last comment. You are accusing me of cultural genocide; my point is clear there are lot similarities between people in Eastern Sahara and Western Sahara, so claiming a unique identity for one group only? Is not fair equation? We not should abuse cultural anthropology or political geography to divide people of the same nation.
    You are too possessed with colonialism; I wanted to remind you and my self that the Europeans and mainly the British are the masters of colonialism; we know how the Europeans abused native people in the New World, Africa, Asia and other part of the world, where real bloody genocide happened where nations and civilizations were destroyed to the end. Europeans are the teachers of colialism par excellence. Poor nations that were European colonies deserved at least an apology for the dirty exploitations, even the wealth of poor nation was robbed by the “moral” Europeans.
    International Community can not solve a problem if there is no will between the partners to solve the issue, one last question you are talking about injustice in Morocco as Morocco is the Garden of Eden, even in the “democratic” countries, there are lots of injustices, and did those countries deal with underserved groups and minorities fairly? I do not think so? Morocco is in fact not bad comparing to other military-regimes in African Continent.

  32. Brahim says:

    Sorry for this Delay , I am on vacation but I am back , as a regular Moroccan from the mainstream ; I am defending my opinion. I do not claim nobody`s opinion ,except mine , I think many moroccans think the same way.Let me ask you this question? as a British citizen , what do you think about colonial power such as Isreal ? who kills kids and women daily? what is your stand on the NATO invasion to an independent state ? I think the West are masters in double standards and abusing International Law? I hope you will use the same logic in anlysing these situations.
    As per Moroccan-Algerian borders ; both countries can goes back the situation before 1912 , and we will find who has the right of the land .The refrundum was a big mistake that morocco accpeted the idea , because by doing so we give a chance to the enemies of Moroccan Unity , an opportunity to agrue about our land , next time they might claim Tangiers ?

  33. nickbrooks says:

    Brahim B, to answer some of your points.

    Actually, I did oppose the Iraq war, for all the good that it did (i.e. not much). I’m very much opposed to uncritical support for Israel – the way the Israeli state treats the Palestinians is a disgrace to the world. I’d put Morocco in the same category, qualitatively at least. While I deplore Israel’s actions, I can at least understand the motivation of a persecuted people to establish their own state, even if they do build that state on genocide – there is a certain (admittedly unsavoury) logic to taking someone else’s land if you have no secure homeland yourself. Morocco has no such excuse for its occupation of Western Sahara, and its approach to the Sahrawi often echoes Israel’s approach to the Palestinians (marginalisation , treating as second class citizens or external enemies, denying the existence of the Palestinian people as a distinct group, etc).

    I don’t see how a Moroccan colonial agenda would necessarily involve claims to Bath or London, although perhaps I’m not keeping up to date with Greater Morocco. I don’t think there’s any danger of anyone laying claim to Tangiers, which is within the internationally recognised borders of Morocco. The claims are to territory that is disputed, which is technically classified as “non self governing”, and whose post-colonial status is yet to be clarified.

    Any obsession with colonialism on my part is because that is precisely what Morocco’s forcible taking and colonisation of Western Sahara constitutes. Morocco’s presence in Western Sahara is recognised as a colonial issue by the UN and the African Union and many others (the “Last Colony in Africa”). You’re right about the horrors and wrongs of European colonialism (and colonialism anywhere), and I condemn that as much as I condemn Morocco’s. Living in an ex-colonial (and some would say currently neocolonial) country I’m particularly sensitive to the evils of colonialism. Morocco should exercise some maturity and step back from colonialism, just as Europe did (however imperfectly).

    My particular interest in Western Sahara is a result of seven trips to the territory, and much time spent in the company of the exiled Sahrawi. It would be great if I had the time actively to oppose all the wrongs in the world, but unfortunately I don’t. With finite time one has to pick one’s battles and causes – it’s impossible to attend to all the things of which one disapproves. And Western Sahara suffers from a chronic lack of coverage and attention. The other issues you mention get plenty of media coverage and attract a lot of activism. I would be one more small voice that would make little difference. The need for additional voices is greater in the case of the Western Sahara conflict than in the case of, say Israel-Palestine or the Iraq war.

    You allude to the NATO bombardment of Libya. I’ve spent quite a lot of time in Libya, and have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand it’s great to see people overthrowing an autocratic regime and moving towards self-determination. On the other hand, there are some nasty reprisals going on, and the new Libyan regime is engaging in playground politics, snubbing Algeria and favouring Morocco, because Algeria didn’t support them (as if the Algerian regime would support the overthrow of a neighbouring government given its own tenuous situation). You should approve of this – apparently the new Libyan government has withdrawn recognition of the SADR. So the NATO action in Libya has been in Morocco’s facour. The sight of British and other politicians jockying for position to get contracts from the new Libyan regime on the back of their military action is certainly pretty nauseating.

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