Who's the enemy?

by K. Beiruk

Morocco, it seems, is at war with seven Saharawi human rights defenders. The Moroccan media and politicians from across the political spectrum, if we could call it that, are up in arms against this group. The Moroccan Secret Service is said to be handling their case and their fate could have an impact on all Saharawis living in the occupied territories.

This might be the kind of attention some persons with as high-profile as the members of this group expect when faced with accusations of treason. These activists are, after all, not just outspoken members of a number of human rights organizations but an embodiment of Morocco's paradoxical and complex relationship with itself and the Saharawi people.

These Saharawis - many of them born after the Moroccan invasion of Western Sahara, and some originated from heavily populated Saharawi territories that did not even become part of Morocco until well into the 20th century - have struggled to redefine their status, identity and to promote their narrative as Saharawis whose land was occupied and who later became -occupation oblige- Moroccan citizens. While Morocco sought to assimilate them and "Moroccanize" their collective identity, these men and women have begged to differ.

About two weeks ago the group was arrested at Casablanca's airport, upon their arrival from Algeria. Given recent developments it is now unclear when, or if, they will be released. As soon as their arrest became public, the Moroccan press began a campaign of incitement against them, the orchestrated news attacks implied that they have committed acts of treason, hinting at charges involving "collaborating with the enemy".

Although these Sahrawi human rights defenders are acquainted with prosecution based on similar allegations, and some have traveled to Algeria without incident in the past ˆ but they were never accused of treason ˆ but this time, maybe, the rules of the game have changed and that the target is not just this group but the entire Saharawi community living in Morocco proper and in the occupied territories of Western Sahara.

No one should be surprised if a decision is taken to end their travels and confiscate their passports. The message would be: Saharawis who travel to the refugee camps will be regarded as people working against Morocco‚s security. And to do that they are targeting the leading figures of these human rights organizations. Morocco would assert that it cannot tolerate any Saharawi who refutes the authorities‚ claims on the existence of "besieged refugees‰ and who supports resistance to the occupation. But then these human rights defenders do not want Morocco's tolerance in the first place. They actively, peacefully, and openly defend their people‚s right to self-determination.

By presenting this group‚s case as one with security dimensions, Morocco will reveal the necessary tools to make its case: photos showing them with "hostile" leaders, records of their telephone conversations, interview transcripts, etc. With such "security fabrications", the Moroccan authorities might be attempting to affect international solidarity with these human rights organizations, since the suggestion being disseminated translates into providing the enemy with information which ultimately transforms them from human rights activists to agents for a hostile state or organization.

This changes the logic of things because, obviously, these human right activists have political views, they give interviews and talk on the phone but they do not enjoy a security position or have access to security information in the first place in order to deliver it. In fact, it is clear that these "hostile states or organizations" (read Algeria and POLISARIO Front) are more informed about Morocco's security than these human rights activists are.

If Saharawis from the occupied territories visit their brothers and sisters in the refugee camps would be considered "collaboration with the enemy", the Moroccan authorities would then be transforming every frivolous act between human beings, in this case the Saharawis -- who are naturally connected in many ways-- into channeling information to the enemy.

It becomes rather obvious that -- considering the efforts, allegations and resources invested into demonizing these human rights defenders-- the media war is just a prelude to outlawing dissent and an attempt to obliterate the Saharawi narrative and subdue its nonviolent resistance.

K. Beiruk

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