Leaked Cables: Morocco and Western Sahara

December 15, 2010

Over at the Huffington Post Stephen Zunes writes about how the WikiLeaks cables illuminate the role of ideology in Washington’s approach to Western Sahara, with a pretty damning verdict on the ex US ambassador to Morocco (now in Cameroon), Robert P Jackson. However, beyond Zunes’ analysis and a few blog posts here and there, what the leaked cables have to say about Western Sahara has, unsurprisingly, received little attention. So, here is an attempt to plug the gap. I’ll try and expand/augment this post in due course, when time permits.

The discussion below is based on two cables circulated by Spanish daily El Pais, and three cables posted by the Lebanese newspaper Al-Akhbar (whose website is down as I write this). The latter are from a batch of nearly 200 cables obtained by Al -Akhbar from a source other than WikiLeaks, according to The Atlantic, which concludes that the cables are most likely genuine. Of course we have to entertain the possibility that they are not, although this seems remote. The cables discussed here date back to 2006 – those prior to 2009 (all but one) were sent when the last Bush administration was in power. I’ve included links to the cables available on the El Pais website. However, as the Al-Akhbar site is currently down, and the other cables do not appear to be available elsewhere, no links can be provided for these at the present time (I’m working from versions printed before the site went down). Some cables released by Al-Akhbar are available elsewhere, such as these from the Algerian embassy.

The cables cover a number of themes, around which the discussion below is organized. Cables are identified by a code indicating the year (first two characters), the place of origin (in this case Rabat and Casablanca), and the number of the cable.

Autonomy/MINURSO: pressure and protection

Cable 06RABAT678 describes a meeting with Taieb Fassi Fihri, Minister-Delegate of the Moroccan Ministry of Foreign Affairs, where Morocco’s autonomy plan for Western Sahara was discussed. The tone of the cable is very much one that emphasises what it calls the “difficulty” of Morocco’s position, and Fassi Fihri acknowledged that the Polisario and Algeria are “probably not willing to discuss” the autonomy plan. One thing that is particularly notable in this cable is the statement that “Fassi Fihri wanted to be assured that the US would continue to support MINURSO even if a credible autonomy plan is not submitted in a timely manner.” The US ambassador is reported to have responded that “engagement between Morocco and other actors is necessary and that a substantive autonomy plan and implementation plan must be submitted or there will be no support for a MINURSO extension.”

Two conclusions may be drawn from the above. First, Morocco sees the MINURSO presence in Western Sahara as in its interests. This will come as no surprise to those who conclude that one of the main roles that MINURSO has played has been to freeze the conflict while Morocco entrenches its position in Western Sahara. Morocco’s desire to keep MINURSO in Western Sahara is deeply ironic, given Morocco’s insistence that the referendum that MINURSO is mandated to arrange will never take place. For those unfamiliar with the situation in Western Sahara it’s worth pointing out that MINURSO stands for United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara. Second, the US put pressure on Morocco to move forward with the autonomy plan, egging Morocco on in the legitimization of its occupation of Western Sahara.

Corruption: occupation as opportunity

Cable 08RABAT727 addresses corruption in the Moroccan military, which is described as widespread (the term “plagued” is used liberally). The cable claims that “Lt Gen. Bennani [commander of the forces in Western Sahara] is using his post to skim money from military contracts and to influence business decisions”, and that it is rumoured that he owns a large part of the fisheries in Western Sahara. This situation is seen as symptomatic of the legacy of Hassan II’s deal with the military, which is characterised as “remain loyal, and you can profit” (historically, fear of a coup against appears to be one of the main determinants of the palace’s relationship with the military). In this context, the Western Sahara command is apparently seen as particularly lucrative and jealously guarded by a few families within the military. Outside of the military, cable 09CASABLANCA226 concludes that corruption in the real estate sector is increasing rather than diminishing.

Security and Terror: spectres and diversions

The leaked cables highlight Morocco’s strategy of playing the security card in order to bolster its position in Western Sahara, but also illustrate that they are overplaying their hand here.

Cable 09RABAT479 describes how Mustapha Mansouri, President of the Chamber of Deputies, “feared that the loss of Western Sahara would open a vast, anarchic ungoverned space, with no real borders extending thousands if miles east from the Atlantic. Only Western Sahara, under Morocco’s control, was an exception.” Mansouri used some of the arguments beloved of the commenters on this blog, particularly our old friend Ahmed Salem Amr Khaddad, to characterise the conflict. He “said that the conflict was really a legacy of the Cold War and of Algeria’s continued attachment to Eastern, socialist models.” Mansouri reiterated the Moroccan position regarding the UN mandated referendum in Western Sahara, that “self-determination could mean autonomy or integration but not independence.” As usual, Morocco believes that self-determination for the people of Western Sahara means something determined by outsiders in Rabat. No further comment should really be necessary here.

[The above cable was sent in the context of visit by a number of US Senators, led by Senator Richard Burr, to Morocco. The cable concludes by saying that the Senators “learned more about Western Sahara”, and Burr “assured Mansouri that he would be welcomed on Capitol Hill.”]

Cable 8RABAT150 covers some similar themes, and describes a meeting with Mohamed Yassine Mansouri (no relation to the Mustapha Mansouri mentioned above), chief of Morocco’s external intelligence service. This Mansouri echoed his namesake, saying that “no Maghreb country, with the possible exception of Morocco, can begin to control its frontiers.” On the Polisario, Mansouri did his best to have it both ways, saying that “the terrorist threat there is real”, while being “very careful to say that the GOM [Government of Morocco] does not think the POLISARIO is a terrorist organization.” However, he did claim that

“…some members of the POLISARIO have joined AQIM [Al Qa’ida in the Lands of the Islamic Maghreb]. Morocco is particularly concerned that should Algeria and the POLISARIO install themselves outside the berm in the no man’s land in Western Sahara, this could become a base for terrorist training and operations, which Morocco could not tolerate.”

We can only presume that Mansouri was engaging in the old Moroccan trick of deliberately confusing the 5 km buffer strip on the east and south of the berm (the only part of Western Sahara that might be described as a “no man’s land”) with the extensive area under Polisario control that, like the considerable large area controlled by Morocco, is designated as an “area with limited restrictions” under the terms of the 1991 UN-brokered ceasefire agreement. This, again, is a favourite tactic by Morocco, which seems desperate to deny the reality that Western Sahara is actually partitioned, with the areas controlled by Morocco and the Polisario having parity of status under the terms of the ceasefire, and therefore in international law (see earlier posts here and here). To acknowledge this fact would be to admit that all its autonomy plan will do is legitimize a partial occupation of Western Sahara, without actually resolving the conflict. As for members of the Polisario joining AQIM, well, show us the evidence. To those of us who have interacted with the Polisario this seems unlikely, to say the least. The Polisario leadership would be very unlikely to tolerate any such conversion, given its fears of radicalization among the population of the refugee camps and its concerns about its international reputation and image.

Cable 08RABAT727 rather deflates Mansouri’s claims, exhibiting a clear understanding of the geopolitical realities in Western Sahara as it talks about Polisario’s “small, lightly armed presence at a few desert crossroads in the small remaining part of Western Sahara outside the berm.” It goes on to say that

“the GOM [govt. of Morocco] almost certainly is fully conscious that the POLISARIO poses no current threat that could not be effectively countered. The POLISARIO has generally refrained from classic terrorist bombings, etc. Although the specter is sometimes raised, there is no indication of any Salafist/Al Qaeda activity among the indigenous Sahrawi population.”

Talking of radicalization, Morocco’s obsession with the “empty spaces” of the Sahara, and with the alleged terrorist threat posed by any settlement of the Western Sahara conflict not in its favour, is put in perspective by the very real and demonstrable radicalization of Moroccans inside Morocco. Cable 8RABAT150 describes how Minister of the Interior Chakib Benmoussa “pointed out that approximately 60 Moroccans had been arrested before they could depart Morocco” for Iraq, and that another 70 were “being watched and/or sought in the country and the region.” Morocco’s external intelligence service “noted that 139 Moroccan foreign fighters had attempted to go to Iraq since 2003,” with a “resurgence in the foreign fighter pipeline in 2006”. 40 Moroccans “had definitely reached Iraq, and 38 of them had participated in suicide missions.” The intelligence service also noted that “Moroccan cells cooperated with individuals and cells in Denmark, Sweden, Span, Saudi Arabia and Syria.” The Foreign Minister “lamented that potential extremists pay too much attention to al-Jazeera,” something that might not be a problem now, since Morocco kicked them out of the country for being too critical of the Moroccan government.

Cable 08RABAT727 briefly touches on the issue of home-grown militancy, stating that “reporting suggests small numbers of FAR soldiers remains [sic] susceptible to Islamic radicalization”, and reminding readers that those behind the 2003 Casablanca bombings included members of the Moroccan military. Following the 2003 bombings, “Morocco’s internal security services have identified and apprehended several military and gendarmerie personnel in other terrorist cells, some of whom had stolen weapons from their bases for terrorism.”

A number of the cables highlight Morocco’s concerns (real or contrived) about Mauritania’s stability, and cable 8RABAT150 reports that Morocco’s external intelligence chief Mansouri argued that “Mauritania’s stability was more important than democracy”. To the Embassy staff’s credit, they responded that they believed it was possible to have both stability and democracy in Mauritania.

The main conclusion to be drawn here is that, while Morocco is keen to see terrorist threats in Western Sahara and among the Polisario and Sahrawi, the real terrorist threats to the Moroccan state are emanating from Morocco itself, and Morocco is playing a significant de facto role in the export of militant Islam.

Deployment: massively committed, thinly stretched, and poorly prepared

Cable 08RABAT727 claims that the Moroccan armed forces (Forces Armées Royales, or FAR) are preoccupied with Western Sahara, with some 50-70% of its strength deployed there at any given time. However, the FAR are reported to be stretched thin in Western Sahara, with operational readiness estimated at 40%.


Well fancy that…

September 16, 2008

Those of you who follow the news from north-west Africa will have heard about the alleged al-Qa’ida attack in northern Mauritania, in which twelve Mauritanian soldiers died. The attack occurred just east of Zouerate, close to the border with Western Sahara.

Alle, on the always excellent Western Sahara Info blog, has a more meaty analysis of this incident than you’re likely to find on the mainstream news sources (as usual, AFP are confusing the Moroccan and Western Saharan borders). Alle makes the following observation about how these sort of things might be prevented and security in this rather large and desolate border region improved:

“What could help a lot is a formal framework for Algeria-Mauritania-Polisario-Mali policing, since these parties are already on friendly terms with each other, while Morocco is somewhat disconnected from the whole thing (by the berm). But, for political reasons, that wouldn’t sit at all well with Rabat…”

Certainly more security cooperation between the these four governments would help to reduce the risk of such attacks. Polisario is currently the only game in town when it comes to policing the Mauritania-Western Sahara border, at least in the direction from the former to the latter (they also manage the border crossing from Algeria into the Free Zone of Western Sahara), and their role would be crucial.

Alle is spot on when he points out that Morocco would become jittery if these governments, with whom relations range from difficult to hostile, started cooperating on security issues along what Morocco insists is its own border (despite its lack of presence in most of the areas concerned). Any such cooperation would also rub up against the section of the Berm that extends into Mauritania. We can be fairly sure that, despite its initiative to stop the “empty spaces” of the Sahara becoming a haven for the likes of al-Qa’ida, the US isn’t likely to be promoting a major role for Polisario in Maghrebian regional security. This would send the government in Rabat into fits of apoplexy, and Washington has been an increasingly enthusiastic supporter of Morocco’s occupation, at least under the latest Bush administration.

So, what do we have here? Apparently, a situation in which the potential for security cooperation to combat terrorism exists, but is unlikely to be realised, at least in part because Morocco wouldn’t stand for it and Morocco’s friends would therefore not support such an initiative (Morocco and its supporters would presumably do everything they could to prevent such cooperation).

Morocco often claims that its presence in Western Sahara is necessary to prevent terrorism, whereas in reality its occupation simply makes preventing terrorism more difficult by making regional security cooperation less likely. Let’s remember that one of the main reasons the Western Sahara-Mauritania border remains open is that Morocco’s slicing in half of Western Sahara means that it is impossible to travel from the Northern Sector to the Southern Sector of the Free Zone without transiting through Mauritania, in order to avoid the section of the Berm that extends into the far north-west of Mauritania. The Mauritanian government can’t police its borders unilaterally without making life difficult for the Sahrawi and the Polisario  or increasing regional tension, which it has no desire to do (neither does it have much in the way of resources with which to do so). The Polisario polices the Free Zone pretty effectively (try getting in without their permission and chances are you’ll soon come up against a patrol), but is denied a greater role in regional security  because this would upset Rabat.

Once again, we see that Morocco’s belligerence in Western Sahara only serves to exacerabate regional insecurity and destabilise the Maghreb.

Interrogating the occupation

June 25, 2008

Last night I ventured into Westminster to attend the UK launch of Professor Abdelhamid El Ouali’s argument for Morocco’s Autonomy Plan for Western Sahara, in the form of a book entitled Saharan Conflict: Towards Territorial Autonomy as a Right to Democratic Self-Determination (see an earlier entry). The launch was held in the Houses of Parliament, presumably a symbolic choice meant to emphasise the democratic nature of the Autonomy Plan (a link made by the professor in his speech). In brief, the autonomy plan provides for limited self-determination for the disputed territory of Western Sahara within a greater Morocco, while precluding the possibility of full independence for the territory.

It was a fairly low-key affair. Most of the audience consisted of Moroccans, including the ambassador to the UK (apparently not the one who complained to the Foreign Office about my academic activities in 2004), and a fair few embassy staff. Lord someone-or-other introduced Professor El Ouali, but apart from that members of the Commons and Lords were conspicuous by their absence. One or two civil servants (one of whom apparently advised the UK government on rendition), a previous British Ambassador to Rabat, less than a handful of journalists, and a few others with regional interests were also present. Representatives of the publishers, Stacey International, were also there, overseeing sales of the book (£16.95 – no sign of it on Amazon yet).

I went hoping to raise some concerns about the autonomy plan in the question and answer session that I assumed would follow a comprehensive presentation. However, I was disappointed. Professor El Ouali gave a short, fairly informal talk, the gist of which was that times had changed and we had to deal with new realities, independence was no longer relevant or appropriate as an option, autonomy was all about building democracy and securing human rights, and the fact that things weren’t panning out as they should was all down to those awkward Algerians. No mention was made of Polisario. Immediately after his talk, we were invited to enjoy the hospitality (wine, soft drinks, no nibbles), buy the book, and mingle. There was no opportunity for questions or discussion.

Determined not to waste my six hour round trip to the Mother of Parliaments, I duly joined the queue of embassy staff and autonomy sympathisers eagerly lining up to have their copies signed. After a while being bypassed by the queue of admirers, I took my chance to introduce myself to Professor El Ouali and ask the question that has been bothering me for some time.

The question in question is, what is the plan for the Polisario-controlled areas of Western Sahara (i.e. the “Free Zone”) under the autonomy proposal? Are these to be left as a rump Sahrawi state, or will Morocco attempt to complete its acquisition of Western Sahara by force, risking further regional instability and conflict? The professor answered that the autonomy plan could only be implemented if it had the agreement of all the parties to the conflict, including the Polisario.

So far, so good. However, he then went on to say (I’m paraphrasing, but this is a pretty faithful rendition) “You’re talking about the ‘Liberated Territories’ – this is a myth. Polisario has never liberated any of this land. it is a buffer zone set up by Morocco.” Needless to say I pointed out to him that I run a research project in these very territories, and work with the Polisario in this context. Having travelled extensively in the Polisario-controlled areas (Lajuad, Mijek, Tifariti, Zug, you name it), I’m fully aware that the “buffer zone” is a face-saving Moroccan flim-flam, a story concocted to conceal the reality that Western Sahara is in fact already partitioned between the two warring parties.

My unmasking as someone from “the other side” seemed to cause some discomfort, but to his credit the Professor regained his composure and suggested that we talk at greater length later on, which we duly did (after he’d apparently checked up on me with his embassy colleagues – apparently both I and this blog are quite familiar to them, so ahlan wa sahlan if you’re reading).

In our subsequent discussion, Professor El Ouali was very keen to persuade me of the value of the autonomy plan, and of both his sincerity and his credentials (as someone who has worked extensively with refugees and at a high level in UNHCR). He, and some of the other Moroccans there, said that they were very keen on the idea of finding common ground and real, practical, and just solutions to the conflict. I even received an invitation to explore the issue at greater length in Morocco – flattering given that when it comes to politics I’m not exactly anyone’s representative, just a blogger with a point of view and some relevant travel experience.

On the surface this is all very encouraging, and the Moroccans I spoke to all gave the impression that they were keen to find common ground to resolve the conflict (and they were all very personable and friendly, in stark contrast to some of their compatriots who haunt the blogosphere). However, I’m very, very sceptical as to how much will there really is in the Moroccan establishment to find a real solution to the Western Sahara conflict.

Professor El Ouali kindly gave me a copy of his book, and I will make good on my promise to read it. Time permitting, I might even write a review. Having had a quick flick through it, I have to say that I don’t disagree with everything he writes. For example, I concur with his comments about globalisation. However, I think we will continue to disagree about the autonomy plan, for the reasons outlined below. What follows is a general argument about autonomy, not a response to the particulars of Professor El Ouali’s book. However, the argument does hark back to his comments about the nature of the Polisario-controlled areas.

The existence of the Free Zone and of the exiled Sahrawi refugees in the camps around Tindouf together represent a very serious stumbling block to the autonomy plan, under which there seem to be three broad possible outcomes (assuming the plan is to go ahead):

i. Polisario, with the support of the exiled Sahrawi community, voluntarily gives up the Free Zone so that it can become part of an autonomous Saharan region within a greater Morocco. The refugees return home and everyone lives happily ever after. A problem with this scenario is that, even if Morocco granted the refugees the right of return, it’s far from certain that they would want to take it (1). Furthermore, does Morocco really want all those potentially troublesome Sahrawi nationalists flooding back into an autonomous Saharan province, where they may well form a majority of the population? I hear that for all the infrastructure development that is going on in the occupied territories, no plans have been laid to build homes for returning refugees. I don’t think the Moroccans are expecting them back any time soon.

ii. The autonomy plan is implemented, but only in the regions currently occupied by Morocco. The Free Zone is left as a rump Sahrawi state under the control of the Polisario or whatever form of government may evolve among the exiled Sahrawi community. Refugees settle in the Free Zone to the extent that resources (principally water) permit. Whether the Free Zone could support some 160,000 people is debatable. If the Free Zone was settled, Morocco would have to live with a Sahrawi state full of disgruntled inhabitants who would still hanker after their old homeland across the border. This, presumably, is not on the Moroccan agenda. Under this scenario the autonomy plan would merely crystalise the current situation, and might increase tension in the region over the long term.

iii. Morocco extends its control throughout the entire territory of Western Sahara by invading the Free Zone. This would result in conflict with the Polisario, possible conflict with Algeria, and could destabilise the Maghreb as a whole.

Of course there is a fourth option – that the implementation of the autonomy plan depends of the agreement of all the parties to the conflict, that this is not forthcoming, and, er, nothing happens. At the moment this seems to be the most likely outcome, at least in the short term. So what exactly is the purpose of the plan?

The autonomy plan is predicated on two fictions. First, that Western Sahara is simply a part of Morocco with a troublesome secessionist movement, when in reality it is a partially occupied territory that has been partitioned between Morocco and the Polisario. Second, that the refugees in the camps around Tindouf would be happy, and welcome, to return to their homeland as Moroccan subjects. While the proponents of the plan are presumably aware of these problems, they are never addressed, suggesting that the plan does not represent a serious attempt to resolve the conflict. It is the view of this blogger that the autonomy plan is a stalling tactic designed to defuse criticism of Morocco’s occupation of Western Sahara, and to discredit the Polisario (2). It seems to be the latest ruse via which Morocco seeks to avoid the holding of a referendum, while appearing to act constructively on the issue. It may seem like a solution to those not familiar with the realities of partition, which is why Morocco tries so hard to play down the existence of the Free Zone, and consistently underestimates the number, and misrepresents the aspirations, of the Sahrawi refugees in the Tindouf camps. I look forward to finding out if these issues are addressed in Professor El Ouali’s book, but I won’t be holding my breath as I turn the pages.



(1) I’ve often heard from Moroccan sources that the refugees are held in the camps against their will by the Polisario, that they are effectively Moroccan citizens (well, subjects) being held as hostages by a secessionist group, and that they would welcome the opportunity to return to the Moroccan homeland. The truth is somewhat different. The exiles are in the camps as the result of the Moroccan invasion and occupation of Western Sahara (they weren’t kidnapped from their homes by marauding Polisario snatch teams). They are more-or-less free to leave subject to having the right paperwork (as citizens of any country who are lucky enough to have a passport are free to leave their national territories). Sahrawi from the camps travel widely, and they are a pretty cosmopolitan bunch as a result. Many have studied abroad, and international exchanges with solidarity groups in a variety of countries are common. When rains in the Free Zone are good, some of the inhabitants of the camps take their camels there for pasture. So, whatever their flaws and democratic deficits, the camps are not prisons with Polisario troops acting as gaolers. The exiled Sahrawi that I’ve spoken to certainly want to return to Western Sahara, but they do not want to live under Moroccan sovereignty. In their decades in the camps, the exiled Sahrawi have developed a strong sense of national identity. It seems to me that they are more inclined to return to Western Sahara with Kalashnikovs, to attempt to liberate it, than they are to return to live as Moroccan subjects.

(2) As long as the Polisario refused to entertain the possibility of the full integration of Western Sahara into Morocco, Morocco accepted the idea of a referendum with options of full integration, limited autonomy within a greater Morocco, and full independence. However, the Polisario eventually agreed to a referendum including these three options. Having had its bluff called, Morocco rapidly went off the idea – presumably Rabat suffered from a sudden loss of confidence that the Sahrawi (and perhaps even Moroccan settlers in Western Sahara) would vote to be part of the Moroccan motherland.

UK Parliament moves towards normalisation of Moroccan occupation

October 17, 2007

A Conservative MP in the UK parliament is proposing an Early Day Motion (EDM) in support of Morocco’s Autonomy Plan for Western Sahara (see end of post for the EDM). In essence this means endorsing Morocco’s partial occupation of Western Sahara, a move that is more likely to destabilise the Maghreb than it is to bring peace and security to the region. If you are in the UK and are worried about this development, you might want to write to your MP. Most MPs will know little or nothing about the Western Sahara conflict, and many will believe that by supporting this “solution” they are doing something positive and sensible. They are wrong. Below is the text of a letter I have sent to my MP, Charles Clarke. Please feel free to modify this text and send it to your MP, or to write your own letter. You can find out who your MP is and write to them using the following website: http://www.writetothem.com. You can find out whether or not your MP has signed this motion here. Don’t let your MP be turned into a Moroccan lackey!


Dear Charles Clarke

It has come to my attention that an EDM (see below) is being proposed in support of Morocco’s “Autonomy Plan” for Western Sahara, by Conservative MP Derek Conway. This is a worrying development, as the Moroccan plan precludes any referendum on full independence for Western Sahara, which it invaded in 1975 and which it has partially occupied ever since. The United Nations and the vast majority of governments have always maintained that a solution to the conflict in Western Sahara should be based on the principle of self determination. Morocco and its supporters argue that the Autonomy Plan provides for self determination within a greater Morocco, but the Polisario independence movement and the majority of Sahrawi argue that self determination must allow for full independence. Morocco has presented its plan as a way forward in solving the territorial dispute, whereas it is in fact a means of obtaining endorsement of its invasion of Western Sahara, and normalisation of its occupation. The Polisario is prepared to allow a referendum which gives the people of Western Sahara the option of independence, limited autonomy as part of a greater Morocco, or full integration into Morocco, in stark contrast to Morocco’s refusal to consider independence as an option. Despite this, Polisario is being portrayed as an obstacle to a solution by Morocco and its growing list of international allies. Mr Conway refers to the Polisario as “separatists”. However, Western Sahara has never been part of Morocco, and this label is therefore entirely inappropriate. The real obstacle to peace in the region is Morocco’s intransigence and long refusal to act in either the spirit or letter of United Nations resolutions on Western Sahara.

Mr Conway may believe that he is helping to promote a solution to this long-running conflict, and he may have persuaded the 121 signatories to this EDM that this approach is both morally and practically sensible. However, it is neither. By endorsing the Moroccan Autonomy Plan, the UK will be legitimising Moroccan expansionism, and endorsing oppression and widespread human rights abuses. Implementation of the Autonomy Plan will not end the partition of Western Sahara, a partition of which few are aware, believing wrongly that Morocco occupies the entire territory. Morocco only occupies about two thirds of the territory, with the remainder being under the control of the Polisario. The Autonomy Plan will not solve the problem of the 160,000 – 200,000 refugees (higher than the figure admitted by Morocco and its allies) mouldering in camps in the Algerian desert – I doubt Morocco would want up to 200,000 pro-independence returnees to go back the territory from which it expelled them and their parents and grandparents.

Endorsing the Autonomy Plan will not make the region more stable or secure. Far from it. There is already an appetite for renewal of the armed independence struggle among the exiled Sahrawi, which the Polisario leadership is doing its best to contain. By removing the prospect of independence and a return home, endorsement of the Autonomy Plan would increase the likelihood of conflict in the region. The result would be a rump Sahrawi state (in the one third of Western Sahara that is under Polisario control) inhabited by angry, armed, pro-independence Sahrawi with nothing to lose, who feel they have been betrayed by the international community. I speak from experience as I work and travel regularly in the Polisario-run “Free Zone”, and am a regular visitor the Sahrawi refugee camps in Algeria.

If Mr Conway’s EDM is successful, it will only help to destabilise the Maghreb and parts of the Sahel, and will make conflict in the region more likely. There will be further humanitarian crises and perhaps an increase in refugee numbers. Algeria and Morocco will suffer internal destabilisation, and relations between Morocco and Algeria will deteriorate. This will have a negative impact on the regional economy and on poverty in this already troubled region. The risk of radicalising young Sahrawi is considerable, and any conflict will provide a context in which terrorism outside of the Sahrawi population can flourish.

I urge you and your colleagues to oppose this motion, not only on moral and ethical grounds, but also for the sake of stability and security in the Maghreb, and indeed in Europe. If Mr Conway’s EDM is successful it will be a disaster for the Maghreb, for Europe, and for Britain’s reputation as an honest broker which supports the right of people across the globe to self determination and freedom from oppression.

Yours sincerely

Dr Nicholas Brooks

EDM 1465



Conway, Derek

That this House notes and supports United Nations Resolution 1754 adopted by the Security Council on 30th April 2007; welcomes the initiative by the Kingdom of Morocco to grant substantial autonomy to the Western Sahara offering an opportunity to peacefully resolve separatists claims by guaranteeing to all Sahrawis inside and outside the territory a leading role in the bodies and institutions of the region whilst recognising Morocco’s sovereign integrity; and urges the Government to encourage all parties to respond to UN endeavours to establish an enduring solution to this geopolitical dispute of three decades duration.

Signatures: 121

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.