NOTE: I speak English, Arabic, Moroccan, and French, thus some of the material and sources were collected, translated, vetted, and cited directly from their original languages.
Polisario, in Arabic “الجبهة الشعبية لتحرير ساقية الحمراء و وادي الذهب” or simply “البوليساريو” is a Western Sahara politico-military organization sponsored by the Algerian government to gain its independence from Morocco. The Morocco-Polisario conflict is still considered a threatening issue that hinders local assimilation in the Maghreb. The conflict began approximately thirty six years ago when the Algerian government began aspiring to gain access to the Atlantic Ocean. The United States tried effortlessly to resolve this conflict since the Ford’s administration to the Obama’s administration without success. Throughout the decades, each US president approached the issue differently; however, none wanted to put a strict end to this struggle out of fear of losing one of the two most strategic US allies in the region, Morocco and Algeria. The Moroccan government had been engaging in both formal and informal negotiations with this separatist organization. In 2007, the Moroccan Government submitted what it called the Moroccan autonomy proposal to the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) which discussed great opportunity for both parties to reach political and diplomatic agreement; still, Polisario refused this proposal and insisted on their independence and sovereignty from the Kingdom of Morocco.
The Moroccan government had been playing the political game about this issue since its conception, blaming the source of the conflict on Communism in the 60’s to attract US attention and resolution. It then associated the same issue with terrorism in the 90s, especially after 9/11, in an attempt to manipulate and force the US into taking sides on the issue. The Moroccan government hoped that by playing a political game it would pressure the US into discrediting the Polisario and declaring the Western Sahara as a Moroccan territory under the Moroccan flag and regime.
However, On April 15, 2013, Secretary of State John Kerry finally directed an unpredicted blow to the Moroccan Government. Secretary Kerry adopted a new strategy regarding the Western Sahara conflict. He drafted a memorandum that will ask the UN to expand the responsibilities of the MINURSO to include the monitoring of human rights in the Sahara and the Tindouf Camps. The Moroccan government is extremely unhappy and displeased with US decision on the matter, as Moroccan Officials had been meeting non-stop at the Royal Cabinet since the decision had been made.
MOROCCO’S POSITION ON WESTERN SAHARA:
· A 20 April report on the independent, widely-followed Jadaliyya network by the Arab Studies Institute, provided to me by a very reliable HUMINT source, testified that during the Cold War, the Moroccan government took advantage of the US obsession with Communism the Soviets. King Hassan II had linked the Polisario and the Western Sahara conflict to the Soviets, claiming that the Polisario are financially and militarily supported by the Soviets. Now the Cold War is long gone, yet the Moroccan government seemed to find another cause to associate the Polisario with. In the aftermath of 9/11, Morocco began pushing a different agenda speculating that the Polisario and the Sahrawi have ties to terrorist networks and especially Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). They pushed this rhetoric to influence US foreign policy decision making on the issue in a new light, something that is the core of US national security focus at the time being. The unsupported claim of the Polisario affiliation with AQIM has largely been pushed forth by the Moroccan regime through its lobbying systems in Washington, explicitly the Moroccan American Center for Policy (MACP).”[i]
US POSITION ON WESTERN SAHARA:
· Morocco-United Nations-Western Sahara, meeting at the Royal Cabinet Monday, April 15 examines latest developments on the Sahara –“On instructions of King Mohamed VI, a meeting on the latest developments on the Sahara issue was held on April 15 at the Royal Cabinet, attended by the sovereign’s advisors, the head of the government, political party leaders, and several members of the government, according to a Royal Cabinet statement.” USFP French-language Daily Liberation and official government news agency Maghreb Arabe Presse (MAP)[ii]
· America directs a slap to Morocco’s face; call for an urgent meeting of party leaders at the Royal Cabinet – “In an unexpected turn of events, the American administration adopted a new strategy under new Secretary of State John Kerry. Sources at the UN said that on Monday, April 15 Kerry signed a draft memorandum that will ask the UN to expand the responsibilities of MINURSO to include the monitoring of human rights in the Sahara and the Tindouf camps. The decision will be presented to the Security Council on April 25. The same day, leaders of the political parties were for an urgent meeting at the Royal Palace. The meeting was presided over by Omar Azimane…the political leaders unanimously rejected the American proposal because it conflicts with the cease fire signed with the Polisario in 1991. This is considered to be a critical turning point for America, which considers Morocco as a strategic ally, while it shows a bias towards the Polisario…France is expected to veto such a resolution, but even if rejected, this American proposition marks a dangerous turning point in the relationship between Rabat and the US.” – Independent Arabic-language daily Akhbar Al Youm Al Maghribiya[iii]
· El Otmani in Moscow and El Amrani in Beijing to contain the American Memo – “After the surprise visit made by the UN envoy Christopher Ross to the Sahara and the maneuvers initiated by the pro-separatist lobby in Washington, the Royal Cabinet, political party leaders, and Moroccan diplomats are in a state of alert. Just as everybody is awaiting Ross’s report, information was leaked about the intention of the US to present a draft resolution to the Security Council requiring the extension of the role of the UN Mission (MINURSO) to include the monitoring of human rights in the Southern Provinces and the Tindouf camps… A high level delegation was sent yesterday, April 15 to London to meet with the British MFA, the delegation was comprised of Taieb Fassi Fihri, Saad Eddine El Otmani, and Yassine Mansouri. They were joined by the Moroccan Ambassador to Britain, Lalla Joumala Alaoui…Foreign Minister El Otmani will fly to Moscow, while Minister Delegate Youssef El Amrani will go to Beijing in order to thwart the American decision.” Independent Arabic-language Daily Al Ahdath Al Maghribiya [iv]
MAJOR MOROCCAN PLAYERS IN THE WESTERN SAHARA NEGOTIATIONS:
Taieb Fassi Fihri:
Saad Eddine El Otmani:
Lalla Joumala Alaoui
Youssef El Amrani
FINDING AND ANALYSIS:
The Moroccan government is very displeased with the US approach to this continues issue that threatens the region and US interests. The US depends heavily on Moroccan support in the Islamic Maghreb and especially all through the Global War on Terror (GWOT). Morocco was one of the few nations that participated in US rendition programs, as Morocco possesses many black sites that the CIA used during this unconventional warfare period. Morocco is also categorized by the US as a non-NATO ally, which means a lot to the Moroccan government.
However, in the aftermath of State Secretary John Kerry’s decision on the Western Sahara, the Moroccan government surely felt betrayed by the US. The Moroccan government began holding high priority meetings to reject the US’s proposal that grants the UN more authority in solving this issue and looking into the human right concerns that go along with it. Many Moroccan newspapers and reports were published after State Secretary John Kerry’s decision.
· In an article written on April 15, 2013 (MAP) – Secretary General of the Istiqlal party, Hamid Chabat, rejected on Monday initiatives undertaken to change the mandate of the UN Sahara mission (MINURSO). “No one can impose any decision on Morocco”, Chabat told MAP. The best proof of the Sahara population’s attachment to their Moroccan identity is their massive turnout during the 2011 legislative elections, he added, pointing out that Morocco “which has ushered changes while maintaining stability” and which adheres to international efforts to struggle against terrorism, drug trafficking and illegal immigration, cannot be rewarded, in return, by “attempts to challenge its territorial unity”. He also insisted that all components of the Moroccan society, including the government, the political parties and the civil society will confront attempts to modify the MINURSO mandate led by anti-Morocco small lobbies.[v]
· Another report by Maghreb Arabe Pressereported that the Moroccan Communication Minister, spokesman for the government, Mustapha El Khalfi, has described the decision as “incomprehensible” and “unjustified”. He added that the effort to modify the nature of MINURSO mandate was surprising and without though, noting that “the partiality of this type of unilateral action taken without prior consultation.” El Khalfi told Moroccan TV channel Al Oula [First Channel] on Monday, that the attempt to expand the mandate of MINURSO to include human rights comes at a time when Morocco has accumulated significant achievements in the field. El Khalfi insisted that such a move “can only encourage manoeuvers by the enemies of Morocco’s territorial integrity, who continue to exploit the issue of human rights to justify their failure to engage in a serious process of negotiations.”[vi]
· Maghreb Arabe Pressealso published another article rejecting the US proposal. “Morocco rejects any proposal to expand the mandate of the MINURSO or establish an alternative international mechanism for monitoring human rights in the southern provinces,” said on Tuesday Foreign Minister, Saad Dine El Otmani. Responding to a question from MAP on the latest developments of the Sahara issue at the United Nations, El Otmani noted that this rejection is based on “obvious political, security, and legal considerations”.[vii]
· A 15 April report in the Maghreb Arabe Presse stated that any initiative by the US to amend the nature of the UN Sahara mission decree is a violation of the 1991 cease-fire agreement. Abdelkrim Benatiq, the leader of the Moroccan labor party, also rejected the US initiative to alter the Sahara mandate. Benatiq told MAP that the MINURSO’s only mandate is to monitor the cease fire between Morocco and Polisario and altering this mandate will only aggravate the tensions between the two fronts. Benatiq strongly rejected the US proposal arguing that “the US is not entitled to push for extending the MINURSO prerogatives.”[viii]
POTENTIAL US NATIONAL SECURITY AND INTERESTS RAMIFICATIONS:
· Washington and the Sahara – an articleby Khaled El Horri discussed the American about-face attitude towards the Sahara conflict. This article talked about the US position regarding its role of “positive neutrality” and disposition the US granted to the MINURSO to monitor the human rights in the Western Sahara region. The US’s new position about this issue will surely have serious political and strategic ramifications that will injure the relationship between Rabat and Washington and might also agitate the confidence of US allies all over the world in coalitions that do not consideration the interests of both sides – Independent Arabic-language daily Assabah [i]
Sahara, The American about-face – Jamal Hajjam, a nationalist in the Istiqlal party, questioned the motives behind the American decision to draft a resolution to the UN Security Council to expand MINURSO. The Moroccans called the American about-face “Volte-face américaine” in French and described it as a “stab in the back for Moroccans”. The report also mentioned the Moroccan-American relationship as a strong relationship based on mutual respect and trust. Again, this is Moroccan politics, they will try to get their point across and express that they are very unhappy and displeased with the US decision, than go back to “begging and pleading” just in case the US changes its mind on the decision. Independent French-language daily L’opinion [x]
In order to change the syntax of the diplomatic negotiation about the Sahara issue – This article yet again showed the frustration of the Moroccan government with the US decision on the expansion of the MINURSO’s mandate to monitor human rights in the Western Sahara. This article attempted to paint Morocco as a strong democratic and capable government and that it should not take a defensive position on this issue because the US realizes the need for Moroccan support against terror. This report embellished Morocco’s strategic importance to the US as it described it as “puts Morocco in an advantageous position […] makes Morocco immune to all pressures”. Islamic Arabic-language daily Attajdid [xi]
The Morocco-Polisario conflict had been an ongoing issue for three decades and is still considered one of the threatening issues that hinder the security and stability in the Maghreb region. The conflict began when the Algerian government aspired to gain access to the Atlantic Ocean. Throughout the decades, US presidents approached the issue differently; however, no one resolved it out of fear of losing one of the two most strategic US allies in the region, Morocco and Algeria. The Moroccan government had been playing the political game about this issue since its conception, blaming the source of the conflict on Communism in the 60’s to attract US attention and resolution. It then associated the same issue with terrorism in the 90s, especially after 9/11, in an attempt to manipulate and force the US into taking sides on the issue. The Moroccan government hoped that by playing a political game it would pressure the US into discrediting the Polisario and declaring the Western Sahara as a Moroccan territory under the Moroccan flag and regime.
However, Secretary of State John Kerry directed an unpredicted blow to the Moroccan Government. Secretary Kerry adopted a new strategy regarding the Western Sahara conflict. He drafted a memorandum that will ask the UN to expand the responsibilities of the MINURSO to include the monitoring of human rights in the Sahara and the Tindouf Camps. The Moroccan government became extremely unhappy and displeased with US decision on the matter. All Moroccan politicians, government officials, and activists denounce the US decision to expand the MINURSO’s authority to monitor human rights issues associated with the region.
The Western Sahara conflict needs immediate attention and resolution. The instability and security breaches it has caused the Moroccan government are undermining and threating to Moroccan sovereignty and eco-politico stability. Morocco has been engaged in both formal and informal negotiations with this separatist organization for quite a while now. In 2007, the Moroccan Government submitted what it called the “Moroccan autonomy proposal” to the MINURSO which discussed great opportunities for both parties to reach political and diplomatic agreement. Morocco has also been dialoguing with the Algerian government in an attempt to reconcile their differences and enjoy a prosperous relation. Unfortunately, the Polisario have set their sights on independence and liberation. They are not willing to negotiate or accept any Moroccan proposals through the UN or the US. So, it is safe to assume that the Western Sahara conflict will go on for another fifty years before both parties reach a compromise.
[i] Errazzouki, Samia. “Beyond the Western Saharan Debate.” Jadaliyya. http://www.jadaliyya.com/pages/index/11278/beyond-the-western-saharan-debate.
[ii] Westerhoff, Léa-Lisa. “Sahara-Occidental : les Etats-Unis s’inclinent sur les droits de l’homme.” Liberation (2013), http://www.liberation.fr/monde/2013/04/24/sahara-occidental-les-etats-unis-s-inclinent-sur-les-droits-de-l-homme_898757.
[iii] Arif, Fouad. “Résolution sur la question du Sahara : La position du Maroc a été écoutée en très haut lieu à Washington et à l’ONU.” Akhbar Al Youm Al Maghribiya (2013), http://amusestoi.canalblog.com/archives/2013/04/24/26998343.html
[v] “Istiqlal party: Any initiative to change the MINURSO mandate is unacceptable.” Maghreb Arabe Presse (MAP) Morocco World News (2013), http://www.moroccoworldnews.com/2013/04/87036/istiqlal-party-any-initiative-to-change-the-minurso-mandate-is-unacceptable/
[vi] “Attempt to alter MINURSO mandate “incomprehensible”, “unjustified”: minister.” Maghreb Arabe Presse (MAP) (2013), http://www.map.co.ma/en/dossier/attempt-alter-minurso-mandate-incomprehensible-unjustified-minister
[vii] “Morocco rejects any proposal to expand MINURSO mandate, FM.” Maghreb Arabe Presse (MAP) (2013), http://www.map.co.ma/en/dossier/morocco-rejects-any-proposal-expand-minurso-mandate-fm
[viii] “Altering MINURSO mandate would aggravate tension in the region, Freedom for All warns.” Maghreb Arabe Presse (MAP) (2013), http://www.map.co.ma/en/dossier/altering-minurso-mandate-would-aggravate-tension-region-freedom-all-warns
[ix] El Horri, Khaled. “التمثيلية الأمريكية بمجلس الأمن تضطر إلى الامتثال لموقف مشترك لدول أصدقاء الصحراء.” Assabah (2013), http://www.assabah.press.ma/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=40797:2013-04-23-10-02-34&catid=37:cat-laune&Itemid=782
[x] Hajjam, Jamal. “Sahara : Volte-face américaine.” L’opinion (2013), http://www.lopinion.ma/def.asp?codelangue=23&info=1081&date_ar=2013-4-24 23:17:00