About this blog

Division of Western Sahara under the terms of the 1991 ceasefire agreement. Map from MINURSO.

This is a blog about the Western Sahara conflict, from the perspective of someone (that’s me, Nick Brooks) who works in, and visits, Western Sahara on a regular basis.

Western Sahara is a disputed, non-self governing territory claimed by both Morocco, which occupies the majority of the territory, and the indigenous Polisario independence movement, which controls the remainder. Click the map on the left to see the current status of Western Sahara under the 1991 UN-brokered ceasefire agreement,  the division of the territory into different zones, and the de facto partition by the Moroccan-built “Berm” that runs through the territory. The map is from the UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara, the increasingly inappropriately named peacekeeping force; the holding of the long-promised referendum on self-determination for Western Sahara seems increasingly unlikely.

Since 2002 I have been directing a research project in the Polisario-controlled zone (known locally as the “Free Zone”). This project combines archaeology with studies of past environmental change, and aims to understand past social and cultural changes in the region within the context of the large changes in climate and environmental which have affected the Sahara in the past. In particular, the project focuses on understanding how people responded to the last period of desiccation in the Sahara between about 6000 and 4000 years ago (possibly occurring later in Western Sahara than in other Sahara regions). Further details of, and results from, this scientific work can be found on the Western Sahara Project website.

The purpose of this blog, which is not officially associated with the Western Sahara Project, is to discuss issues relating to the political conflict in Western Sahara, and to provide a context within which to do so that is separate from the scientific work. While the logistics of working in Western Sahara demand that one navigate the complex regional politics, politics is politics and science is science. Hence the deliberate separation of science and politics by presenting the former on the official Project website, and restricting the latter to the blog.  This blog is a vehicle for my personal views on and observations of the conflict and related issues. It does not represent any unified stance of the Project or those involved in it, or reflect the views of any organisation linked with the Project or any of my other work.

If there is an official Project view on the political situation in Western Sahara, it is that the archaeology has nothing whatsoever to say about the current political situation, and that when archaeology is deployed in order to justify contemporary territorial claims, it ceases to be archaeology and becomes nothing more than pseudo-science and propaganda. Archaeology can tell us much about ourselves and our origins, but it cannot tell us who has a right to live in a particular land. The settlement of such arguments must be based on moral, ethical and legal considerations – they cannot be resolved “scientifically”. Anyone who tells you otherwise is a charlatan or an idiot, or both. If one of the consequences of our research is that more people become aware of the situation in Western Sahara that’s great and I’ll be absolutely delighted, but the focus of the work is strictly academic.

Nonetheless, it is my view that scientists are as entitled as anyone else to voice their political opinions, provided they keep in mind where science stops and politics starts. Being a scientist doesn’t mean you have to be amoral and blind to injustice. This is the spirit in which I blog about the conflict in Western Sahara.

Furthermore, while science is science and politics is politics, the conduct of research within the highly sensitive political context of the Western Sahara, the uses to which research results are put, and the impacts of research findings on the political and cultural landscape of the region, are also legitimate subjects of enquiry. These are not explicitly addressed by the Western Sahara Project, but are tackled here.

So, on this blog you will find material informed by my ethical stance, which is that Morocco’s occupation of Western Sahara is illegal and unjust, as well as discussions of how archaeology relates to the wider regional context of conflict and competing territorial claims. Both of these themes are based on my experiences in the region.

Comments

Please post comments under the relevant blog entries – I’ve disabled comments on the “About” pages as these have been subject to rants in support of the Moroccan occupation of Western Sahara. Such rants are very welcome, but please post them under the relevant blog entries – i.e. the ones that have moved you to post a comment in the first place.

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5 Responses to About this blog

  1. TAOUFIQ GAZOULIT says:

    DIRECT NEGOCIATIONS A CHALLENGE FOR A PEACE

    BY : TAOUFIQ GAZOULIT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  2. nickbrooks says:

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

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

    and then

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  3. […] a referendum on self-determination. Self determination might be compatible with annexation in the tortuous Byzantine arguments of Morocco and it’s supporters, but the Polisario and the exiled Sahrawi (as well as many if not most of those living under […]

  4. Zak says:

    To be honest with you Nick, Morocco has put way to much effort and ressources into these regions to ever consider full independance for the region.

    Morrocans (not only the country but its people too) will not allow these territories to be lost, ever. It does not matter what you or anyone can bring in as argument (being factual or not) . No country in the world will ever be able to change the outcome.

    Now the real question is: let the territory prosper under some autonomy, or let the situation as is, ie a status quo with people not really getting anything out of it?

  5. Pete says:

    I have stumbled on this blog from Australia, taking an interest in most of the issues in this blog. I think Zak’s latest post is typical of “ends justifies means” types of arguments – the very attitude that gets those who are being disadvantaged very angry and willing to take up arms. If people are treated unjustly they will not like it. They will not be easily bought off by promises of peace and prosperity, simply because being treated justly will, for most, count more than money (ie “prosperity”). It’s what is causing most of the conflict in the world.

    Britain (and other colonialists) put “way too much effort and resources” into many countries in the past only to be forced to abandon them to local rule when those who were colonised started to resist. Why is Morocco any different to other past colonial powers in this case?

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