A physical manifestation of Moroccan propaganda

November 20, 2012

This via the Moroccan Propaganda Watch page on Facebook:

A two-hour event will be held at the European Parliament in solidarity with the Sahrawi Moroccan children detained in the Polisario camps in Tindouf.

On the occasion of the World Day of the Child on 21.11.2012 , the International Movement for Completion of Territorial Integrity of Morocco , in collaboration with the European Coordination for autonomy in the Sahara Morocco and L’union associations of Alsace and Lorraine, have called for a demonstration at Place de l’Europe, Strasbourg at the headquarters of the European Parliament from 15h to 17h, in solidarity with the operation ‘White Dove’ in favor of Sahrawi children and their families and parents, held on Algerian soil to denounce crimes and violations of human rights committed by the Polisario with Algerian support, against Saharawi children.

This is a pretty shameless hijacking of a day intended to address the plight of children for the promotion of an aggressive imperialist agenda, and the normalisation of an illegal military occupation.

Morocco is now manifesting its propaganda on Western Sahara through ‘popular’ demonstrations arranged by Moroccan state/monarchy front groups, in the heart of Europe. Morocco has long fabricated claims about the evil Pollisario holding people captive in camps in Algeria.

In reality, these camps house indigenous Sahrawi, and their descendants, who have been expelled from their homeland as a result of Morocco’s invasion and occupation of Western Sahara. Many of these people move in and out of the camps, Algeria and other countries, and to the parts of Western Sahara that the Polisario government controls (hence the “Movement for the Completion of Territorial Integrity” – code for completion of the occupation and annexation of Western Sahara). Human Rights Watch has verified the claims of those of us that have spent time in the camps, that Moroccan claims of slavery and widespread other human rights abuses are unfounded. Morocco wants us to see the Polisario, which is the legitimate representative of the Sahrawi people (recognised as such by the UN and Morocco in peace negotiations, and as the rightful government of Western Sahara by the African Union and dozens of nations across the world) as a big bad bogeyman. Morocco can’t win the argument about its “rights” to Western Sahara any other way than to make stuff up and turn the issue into a beauty contest between “good” Morocco and the “bad” Polisario. This is pretty sickening coming from the aggressor in this conflict, but then aggressors always want to cast themselves as the victims.

This nonsense about “Moroccan Sahrawi” suggests that Morocco wants these people “back” in a greater Morocco forged through the invasion and occupation of Western Sahara (and it doesn’t stop if you look at Moroccan maps, or look at discussions about territories over which Morocco claims “historical rights”). In reality Morocco does not want up to 200,000 independence-minded Sahrawi entering territory that it illegally occupies, and that the Sahrawi see as their homeland. In any case, Morocco habitually claims that there are far fewer people in the camps than there actually are, so what about those whose existence it does not recognise? It has also claimed that the people in the camps are not Sahrawi, but are migrants from the Sahel. As usual, it can’t get its made-up stories straight.

The Palace, the King, the Moroccan government, and all Moroccans, should be deeply ashamed of this cynical exploitation of a genuine humanitarian cause. Isn’t it about time the Arab spring got going in earnest in Morocco?


Better to be talked about…

October 31, 2011

As regular readers of this blog will have noticed, my posts come in fits and bursts. By my own (admittedly quite slack) standards I’ve been pretty active lately, with four articles in just over a month. Usually when I’m this active there is a rapid response in the comments spaces from a small cabal representing the official Moroccan position on the Western Sahara conflict, enthusiastically pushing pro-Rabat and anti-Polisario/anti-Sahrawi propaganda. The cheerleader of this little group is someone who goes by the monicker of Ahmed Salem Amr Khadad (see here for a discussion of his approach and a for number of his comments). Ahmed Salem has been the most prolific commenter on my blog posts, and he can be found in many other corners of the internet, pouring scorn and vitriol on anyone critical of Morocco and its occupation of the disputed, non-self governing territory of Western Sahara, which both Morocco and the Polisario claim.

Lately I’ve been wondering where Ahmed Salem has got to, as this blog has been somewhat lacking in comments in recent months. However, thanks to Will Sommer of the currently (and sadly) dormant “One Hump or Two” Western Sahara blog, the mystery of Ahmed Salem’s silence and apparent lack if interest in attacking my material has now been solved. It turns out that he’s not been ignoring me after all. Far from it. Instead, he’s been putting his not inconsiderable talents (and I’m not being entirely facetious there) to use setting up the following Facebook page, of which he appears to be the administrator:

    Against the propaganda of Nick Brooks for the account of Algeria

So if you want to know what nefarious activities I’ve been up to, sitting in my secret eyrie stroking my diamond collared fluffy white cat while counting my millions in Algerian blood money, you now have a one stop shop where you can learn THE TRUTH of my evil plans. Join it and have some fun.

I’ve asked to join myself, and am waiting with baited breath to see if Ahmed Salem will let me in. I can’t wait to see what he cooks up. If the other Moroccan propaganda sites purporting to reveal THE TRUTH about their enemies are anything to go by, there should be some real peaches in the pipeline (1) .

As Will said. “You know you’ve made it when you have a Facebook page devoted to opposing you. Congrats.” A little generous perhaps, but I have to say I am flattered. All fun aside, I’m guessing the Moroccans wouldn’t bother with this sort of thing unless they were at least worried about this blog having some impact. While I have no hard evidence, I suspect that Ahmed Salem is more than just an enthusiastic Moroccan nationalist doing this in his own time. Morocco takes its propaganda very seriously indeed, and invests a lot of effort in it. So, until I have evidence to the contrary, I’m going to take this as an official state-sponsored propaganda undertaking aimed purely at attacking me as an individual, because of my support for the Sahrawi cause and my opposition to Morocco’s occupation of Western Sahara and its supporting propaganda campaign. It gives me quite a nice warm glow to know that I’m having such an impact.

As that great statesman, terrible old colonialist, and sometime genocidal racist Churchill is reported to have said, “You have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life.” Or maybe I’ll just go with the less objectionable and almost as amusing Oscar Wilde, with “it is better to be talked about than no.” (All quotes are unverified and may be apocryphal).

[Update: Ahmed Salem Amr Khaddad has declined my request to join the group unless I put some pro-Moroccan links on my blog. This sounds a little like attempted blackmail to me – you don’t like what someone is saying, so you set up a forum in which to attack them, and then say you will only give them a right of reply if they promote your views. I think this tells you all you need to know about the Moroccan approach to debate and criticism]

(1) See, for example, Polisario Confidential and Polisario Think Twice for Moroccan propaganda sites attacking the Polisario (who knows, maybe there is some real dirt to be found there, but here it’s lost in a far dirtier mire of fabrication), Sahara Developpement and CORCAS for sites extolling the virtues of the Moroccan occupation here rebranded as “decolonisation”, and Morocco Board and the Moroccan American Center for Policy for the muscular promotion of Moroccan views in general (including propaganda on the Western Sahara conflict).

For other views that don’t push the propaganda line of an aggressive expansionist country illegally occupying and partitioning one of its neighbours, look to any of the Western Sahara blogs and news links to the right.

The colonel is dead. Long live the king.

October 21, 2011

The dark hypocrisy that lurks at the heart of the Libyan revolution

So, Colonel Muammar Qadhdhafi – crafty tyrant, political funster and would-be leader of Africa – is dead, and Libya is entering a new era of hope. Hope that its people will live in a more open society in which they are free to determine their individual and collective fates, to talk about politics, to disagree with each other and with the government, to challenge their leaders, to engage with the rest of the world, and to prosper economically. As someone who has spent some time in Libya (some six months in total, between 2000 and 2006), I share this hope. Wars are always horrific, and civil ones often especially so, but I can’t be the only one who has seen the TV footage of plucky, cheerful rebels espousing broadly secular, democratic values in good English and thought, “these guys are, for want of a better way of putting it, pretty cool.” With Qadhdhafi out of the way, the National Transitional Council (NTC) should be free to propagate freedom and democracy throughout the country, so that Libyans can bask in the blossoming of the Arab Spring. It’s a heady prospect.

However, a dark hypocrisy lurks at the heart of the Libyan revolution, or at least at the heart of the NTC. Those who have been following the conflict closely will be aware of the reprisals against black sub-Saharan Africans wrongly labelled as mercenaries (although by all accounts Qadhdhafi did employ some hired guns from the other side of the Sahara). They may also be aware of the reprisals against ordinary Libyans who for reasons of politics and historical tribal loyalty supported Qadhdhafi, or were seen as Qadhdhafi sympathisers. However, few will be aware of the potential implications of Libya’s revolution for the outcome of another conflict 2000 km to the west, and for the futures of the Sahrawi people living under military occupation and oppression, or in exile as a result of the theft of their land by an aggressive expansionist neighbour. These implications are not what you might think, given all the lip service paid by the NTC and its supporters to freedom, democracy, and the need to overthrow autocratic regimes.

Back in 1975, around the time of publication of Qadhdhafi’s Green Book, Morocco was busy invading and laying claim to Western Sahara, which had been governed by Spain during the colonial period. This was despite despite having had its “historical claim” to the territory rejected by the International Court of Justice, which had examined the issue of sovereignty over Western Sahara at Morocco’s behest. The Polisario independence movement of Western Sahara, having fought Spain for independence, now turned its guns on the invading Moroccans (1). War raged until 1991 when the UN brokered a ceasefire and installed a peacekeeping force (MINURSO) to monitor the ceasefire and organise a referendum on self-determination (which has never happened, and looks increasingly unlikely). Since 1991 Western Sahara has been effectively partitioned by a series of defensive walls, often collectively referred to as the Berm, stretching across the entire territory of Western Sahara for some 1500 km, with Morocco controlling the majority (some three quarters) of the territory to the north and west of the Berm, and the Polisario controlling the remainder.

In the early days of the conflict, Polisario was supported by a number of countries, principally Algeria, which still plays host to five vast refugee camps now housing anything up to 200,000 displaced Sahrawi, as well as the Polisario government-in-exile – the government of the self-declared Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), recognised by dozens of countries and a member of the African Union. However, another big supporter of the Western Saharan independence movement was Libya, which for a time was Polisario’s primary supporter, before Algeria gave its full backing to the independence movement when Morocco invaded Western Sahara in 1975. In the early days of the conflict Libya supplied Polisario with arms, with support peaking between 1979 and 1982. In 1980 Libya formally recognised the SADR, after some vacillation by Qadhdhafi. However, active Libyan support for Polisario ceased in the 1980s, with Libya signing the Treaty of Oudja with Morocco in 1984, in which Libya agreed not to challenge Morocco’s claim to Western Sahara (2). Although King Hassan of Morocco revoked the Treaty of Oudja in 1986, active Libyan support for Polisario did not resume (2). Nonetheless, until recently Libya remained one of the few countries in which Sahrawi could travel on their SADR passports, and a number of Sahrawi went to Libya for schooling, although Sahrawi colleagues of mine complained in the 2000s that Libya’s support was minimal and increasingly lukewarm.

Even that lukewarm support seems likely to vanish now, in the new democratic Libya. Seeing an opportunity to change Libya’s position on Western Sahara, Morocco was quick to dispatch its foreign minister, Taeib Fassi Fihri, to Benghazi in August to meet with Libya’s NTC. Presumably grateful for this early recognition of its legitimacy, the NTC in turn was quick to cosy up to Morocco, with NTC spokesman in London Guma al-Gamaty reportedly stating on regional television in Laayoune, occupied Western Sahara’s principal town, that “The future of the Sahara can only be conceived under the sovereignty of Morocco.” (3)

Of course politics is all about horse trading, and a rebel organisation battling an entrenched autocratic regime is going to be eager for support, and will take it where it can get it. That’s certainly what Polisario did, in the face of invasion by a powerful neighbour supported and encouraged in its aggression by even more powerful players, namely the United states and France (2). However, it is rather unedifying to see the liberators of Libya supporting Morocco’s unelected monarch and its illegal military occupation of Western Sahara. For the self-styled champions of freedom, democracy, and the right of Libyans to determine their own future free of autocratic interference to support the suppression of these same principles elsewhere in North Africa is deeply hypocritical.

There may also be an element of sour grapes in the NTC’s favouring of Morocco. It has been reported that Algeria – bête noir of the Moroccan regime for its long-standing support for Polisario – has been holding out on the nascent Libyan regime, refusing to recognise the NTC until it forms a government and pledges to combat al Qaeda, based partly on Algerian fears about the role of Islamist militants in the Libyan revolution. Global Security News reported that Algeria voted against the Arab League’s resolution calling for a no-fly zone over Libya in March 2011, apparently fearing the break-up of Libya and the exploitation of such a scenario by militants with their own agenda. Algeria has a long history of combating such militancy, and conflict between Islamists and security forces in the 1990s turned into a brutal and dirty civil war that cost many tens of thousands of lives, so Algerian sensitivity – some might say paranoia – is understandable. Of course Algeria is also likely to be wary of any movement that seeks to overthrow unaccountable anciens regimes in North Africa, given its own problems of political legitimacy.

While Algeria’s relations with Qadhdhafi’s Libya were hardly smooth, they were certainly more cordial than its relations with Morocco, which were poisoned by Morocco’s occupation of Western Sahara and Algeria’s support for the Polisario.

The NTC has accused Algeria of supporting Qadhdhafi’s forces, accusations which Algeria has denied (see last link). All this suggests that there is an element of playground politics in the NTC’s support for Morocco and its occupation of Western Sahara – supporting Morocco on the basis of that old tribal cliché that “my enemy’s enemy is my friend”, in order to punish Algeria for not giving the Libyan revolution the support it wanted. As usual, the Sahrawi and their reasonable and legitimate demand for self determination have fallen victim to the geopolitics of the region.

Now that Qadhdhafi is out of the way, the NTC is free to move forward with its ostensible project of creating a free and democratic Libya. The new Libyan regime has widespread support, not least from powerful energy-hungry nations desperate to get their hands on Libya’s oil and gas fields. The NTC is not desperate for friends in the face of an existential threat, as the Sahrawi were back in the 1970s (and still are in many respects). It can afford to have some principles. Instead it has betrayed the very principles it claims are its heart, even before it has extended its mandate across the nation it hopes to govern. This is a bad start, and does not bode well for effective, principled, inclusive government in Libya under the new regime.

Deposing a dictator only to offer your support to a foreign king and his colonial aspirations is not good for your revolutionary, or democratic, credentials. Come on Libya – you can do better than this.


(1) And also on Mauritania, whom Morocco had persuaded to join the invasion on its behalf pending a carve-up of Western Sahara. The Polisario successfully countered the Mauritanian incursion in the south of Western Sahara, Mauritania withdrew, and cordial relations were established between Polisario and Mauritania.

(2) Stephen Zunes and Jacob Mundy, 2010. Western Sahara: War, Nationalism and Conflict Irresolution. Syracuse University Press.

(3) Quote from Morocco World News (Gaddafi’s fall strengthens Morocco over Western Sahara), which appears to be relatively impartial on the issue, at least insofar as it discusses it in terms that are quite far from the usual partisan discourse emanating from the official Moroccan press and organisations sympathetic to Morocco’s position. [Qualifying statement, 23.10.2011. Morocco World News talks about “Western Sahara” and recognises the conflict as one between Morocco and the Polisario, whereas official Moroccan propaganda generally talks about the “Moroccan Sahara” or just “the Sahara”, and casts the conflict as one between Morocco and Algeria in order to marginalise and delegitimise the Polisario as a party to the conflict. However, other Morocco World News articles are quite close to the official Moroccan propaganda line in some respects, for example in their generally positive coverage of Morocco’s “Autonomy Plan”, and their reference to the “population held against their will in the Tindouf camps” – a common theme in Moroccan propaganda (and one that is not borne out by the high degree of movement in and out of the camps or by my experiences in the camps and interacting with Sahrawi exiles). I would tentatively suggest that, while Morocco World News does not appear to be an official organ of the Moroccan state, it appears that much of the official Moroccan orthodoxy on Western Sahara is reflected in Morocco World News articles, although these are not simple representations of the official Moroccan line. The name “Morocco World News” does remind me of the wonderfully culture-centric book title “A Basque History of the World”.]

I’ve gone with Zunes and Mundy’s transliteration of “Qadhdhafi”, as they’ve already thought about how best to render the Arabic into English. There is an extensive menu of possible spellings, and I can be a bit of a purist when it comes to Arabic-English transliteration.

Sand and dust

October 20, 2008
Dust storm, Sahrawi refugee camps

Dust storm, Sahrawi refugee camps

My friend and colleague Bachir sent me this photo of a dust storm engulfing one of the Sahrawi refugee camps (Auserd, to be precise) located around the Algerian town of Tindouf. The event occurred on 9 October between 17:00 and 19:00, and arrived from the northeast, heading southwest.

The storm was very unusual. Apparently large dust storms have never approached from the north, and this event was very unusual in being restricted to low altitude with a well-defined upper limit.

I’ve seen images and footage of similar-looking storms in the Sahel, associated with the passage of large, organised convective disturbances that generate rainfall during the monsoon season. These events are usually followed by heavy monsoon rains.

The event pictured here was followed (the next day) by heavy rains around sunset, which damaged homes in Smara camp.

It is reported that rains have been significant this year in the northern Algerian Sahara and Western Sahara. I’m told to expect Tifariti (in Western Sahara) to be very green in December, when I’m hoping to visit.

Whether or not we can expect more such events in the future is an open question. It’s generally expected that the Mediterranean areas north of the Sahara will become much drier, while there are a number of indications that the southern Sahara and the Sahel will become wetter (although this is by no means certain). The climate change projections in the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report suggest extreme drying of the Maghreb and of the most westerly regions of the Sahara south to about 15 degrees north. But again, these are not exactly bankable predictions, particularly towards the Sahelian zone.

Drier conditions may well mean less vegetation cover and more potential for the mobilisation of sand and dust from bare surfaces. On the other hand wetter conditions are likely to mean more powerful atmospheric disturbances that also mobilise dust. So the link between rainfall and dust is complex. Part of my PhD thesis examined the link between atmospheric disturbances and dust mobilisation in the Sahel. It appeared that increases in dust mobilisation were linked with a greater proportion of weak disturbances that were still strong enough to mobilse dust but not sufficiently vigorous to generate rainfall (not othe usual suspects of overgrazing and “inappropriate land use practices”). Stronger disturbances mobilise plenty of dust but the rainfall they subsequently generate behind the area of dust mobilisation washes it out of the atmosphere. Without the rainfall the dust just hangs around. However, that was in a region well to the south of the area in which the event pictured above occurred. When it comes to predicting the behaviour of dust events, things aren’t simply.

For more pictures of the 9 October event, see this photo set on Flickr. All the photos were taken by amateur photographers in the camps, and forwarded to me by Bachir, so credit where it is due.

Way smoothed for genocide in Western Sahara

February 27, 2007
The following is extracted and edited from a letter to Charles Clarke, my Member of Parliament. Morocco is being extremely active in promoting its new plan for the the disputed territory of Western Sahara, which it partially occupies, and has had a number of “constructive” talks with European politicians in recent weeks. Morocco has been praised for its efforts by a number of individuals and bodies, including political representatives of the EU. It appears that the way is being smoothed for Morocco to implement its own, unilateral “solution” to the problem of Western Sahara.The Moroccan plan involves what Morocco calls “regional autonomy” for the territory of Western Sahara within a greater Morocco. This plan rejects any future negotiations with the Polisario Independence government regarding the region’s status, and excludes a referendum on independence, counter to the rulings of the International Court of Justice and the United Nations, and the public position of the government of the United Kingdom, all of which claim to support the right of self-determination of the indigenous Sahrawi people. Morocco’s strategy appears to be to normalise its occupation of Western Sahara by appearing to give ground by granting autonomy, while in actual fact consolidating its control and neutralising the efforts of the international community to achieve a just and lasting peace in the region.

Western Sahara is in reality partitioned between a Moroccan-occupied zone (the majority of the territory) and what the Sahrawi refer to as the “Free Zone”. The latter consists of most of the regions bordering Algeria and Mauritania in the east, and is of significant size. It is in the Free Zone that I and my colleagues conduct our field research, so I can speak on this matter on the basis of first hand experience.

If the international community supports Morocco’s plan to incorporate Western Sahara into a greater Morocco, the status of the Free Zone will be a key issue. Most commentators and politicians seem to be under the impression that Morocco occupies the entire territory of Western Sahara, and that support for its position would simply involve accepting the existing annexation, meaning nothing much would change. I suspect that if the reality of the situation (and the geography of the region) was understood better, there would be more concern about the security implications of the Moroccan approach.

Accepting the Moroccan position that Western Sahara is a part of Morocco is likely to lead to one of the following outcomes, all of which have severe security implications:

1. Morocco consolidates its occupation of existing territory but does not attempt to occupy the Free Zone, which remains under Polisario control, essentially becoming a de facto Sahrawi state. An uneasy peace continues as Algeria exerts pressure on the Polisario to avoid conflict with Morocco, but continues to support them as part of its ongoing political conflict with Morocco.

2. Morocco consolidates its occupation but does not enter the Free Zone. However, under pressure from the exiled Sahrawi population the Polisario declares war against Morocco, once it is apparent that they have nothing to lose, the international community having washed its hands of the issue. The scale and consequences of the ensuing conflict depend largely on the position of Algeria.

3. Morocco immediately attempts to occupy the Free Zone to extend its control over the entire territory of Western Sahara and in order to remove a potential future threat from a Polisario-controlled Free Zone. The Polisario resist, and the conflict drags in Algeria, and possibly Mauritania. (The Moroccan wall which separates the occupied territories from the Free Zone has already annexed a small area of Mauritanian territory. This is not shown on any maps – perhaps to avoid embarrassment to Mauritania – but is apparent on the ground and visible on satellite imagery.)

4. With the help of the West, Morocco makes a deal with Algeria in which Algeria agrees to restrain the Polisario from restarting the conflict as Morocco completes its occupation. A best case outcome under this scenario would be the dispersal of the exiled Sahrawi population in Algeria, Mauritania and other countries (including the EU and countries such as the UK). A worst case outcome would be that the Sahrawi in the camps resist and are expelled or exterminated by the Algerian security forces. With nothing to lose, the Sahrawi, who have to date been vehemently against terrorism in support of their cause, might change this position. Eschewing terrorism has certainly not helped them regain their homeland.

None of these scenarios is particularly optimistic, ranging from a festering of the conflict for decades to come to the possibility of actual genocide, with the emergence of new recruits to terrorism a possibility.

We can be certain that in its desire for the Sahrawi to disappear and in its repeated denial of the existence of the Sahrawi people, the Moroccan state is on the road to genocide, at least of the cultural variety. Whether this translates into actual extermination remains to be seen and will depend on whether the physical conflict resumes.

While this is on the one hand a question of justice and human rights, it is also an issue of international security. No-one will benefit from renewed war in the Maghreb. The only options for ending this conflict are to allow Morocco effectively to exterminate the Sahrawi people and their culture (the likely consequence of “political realism” on the part of the West), or to exert pressure on Morocco to enter into real and meaningful negotiations on self determination aimed at restoring Western Sahara to the Sahrawi people. The latter has been the preferred approach (at least in principle) of the United Nations and the international community, but efforts to this end have failed because of the lack of pressure on Morocco from UN member states. Indeed, Morocco has used its considerable diplomatic weight to sabotage the peace process since it began in 1991. There is little to be gained by telling the Sahrawi and their political leaders in the Polisario that they should accept an illegal occupation of their land and return to live under the control of an oppressive occupying power which would not welcome them, and which routinely tortures and sometimes murders their kin who live in the occupied territories.

Political pressure from Western governments can make a real difference here, helping to deliver security to a region beset by conflict for decades, and justice to a people who have lived in exile for over thirty years, perhaps even saving them from a possible genocide.