Western Sahara and the Sahrawis: a Cross-Road or a New Road-Map?

By: Mohamed- Brahim

The Western Sahara deadlock has been taking place for many years and caused a lot of misery, suffering, debates, and frustration among other things. The UN-brokered peace plan has only contributed to more grievance and false hopes. Yet in Western Sahara, recent civilian nonviolent resistance has greatly impacted the lives of the Sahrawis and changed political calculations. Oppression, beatings, torture, imprisonment, unfair trails have only pushed Sahrawis to go on further and challenge the Moroccan "Makhzen" (regime), thus raising more awareness about the Sahrawis and their situation. The emergence of a Sahrawi civil society is now highly recognized as it is more active now than ever. The UN Security Council keeps ignoring the Sahrawis’ plea for human rights monitoring, but France continues to block it. One can only ask the following question: Are we entering a new era in the peace process of Western Sahara where a new road-map is being jotted down by the so called “Group of Friends”? Or is it a cross-roads for the Sahrawis in the unfinished quest for an independent state?
For many decades, hope was out there calling out for Sahrawis: Hope for an independent country where Sahrawis can exercise their sovereignty over their land, and enjoy the liberty and the freedom they should have had years ago, before the Moroccan invasion of 1975. There were many wars, battles, and also too much blood shed and spilled for the sake of that land. The year 1991 was a decisive year when the Polisario and Morocco agreed to a cease fire and the organization of a referendum. People cherished the decision and everyone saluted the courageous peace-makers. But at what price then? Sahrawis in the refugees camps packed up their earthly modest belongings and stayed put for the long-awaited dream to come true: Waited for that beautiful day where they would embrace their own land and hug their own siblings on the other side of Morocco’s wall. The hope for a referendum evaporated in the amid the dry Lahmada, and the dream turned into a simple mirage. People got desperate and many felt betrayed by their own leadership and the International Community. It was a bitter feeling. The UN, from certain people's perspective, has only added to their misery and contaminated their life with false promises and brought about the downfall of their own sense of glory, while bringing a celebrated sense of triumph to some others. The Polisario leadership made a fatal mistake by agreeing to the cease-fire treaty and accepting to abide by the International Legality. The Sahrawis paid a high price for peace, and the impasse is what they are getting in return. Morocco took advantage of the situation and strengthened its berm, reinforced the army, and trained its skilled soldiers. This period has also benefitted Morocco where by more “settlements" were built in the occupied Western Sahara, and more Moroccan settlers were brought in to "subdue" the Sahrawis, who became a minority in their own land. This allowed Moroccan to come up with so called autonomy initiative to rule out the option of a Referendum on Self-determination. Huge sums of money are spent on lobbying and bribing for the sake of autonomy and to legitimize the illegal occupation of Western Sahara. Among these strategies, the Moroccan people are being brainwashed continuously to provide support; together all the sniveling voices around the monarchy thus insure their submission and unquestioned loyalty. The Sahrawis, for their own sake, did not give up and we witnessed the first and ongoing Intifada. "The Independence Intifada" emerged amidst frustration, oppression, and a new will to triumph and to stand up. This time the civil nonviolent resistance came from within the mass of unrivaled Sahrawi generations inside the occupied territories. Why did it burst out? How? And what did Sahrawis gain from it so far?
The Intifada of May 2005 is still striking back hard at the Morocco’s oppressive regime. It is not the first popular non-violent resistance the Sahara has known. There were many uprisings and demonstration in the history of the Sahrawis struggle, but this one is, by far, the toughest one and the longest one. It emerged abruptly and spontaneously. Everyone applauded and showed solidarity. The more civilians protested against occupation, the more enraged the regime became. Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, Frontline, the World Organization against Torture and many other human rights organizations followed the situation, interviewed Sahrawis and studied the case. Media started talking about the silenced voices which came rising like an erupting volcano. It was like the rebirth of a myth. A myth of people's power. A personification of a strong will to say no and to stop the aggression. The whole world is witnessing a new face of the struggle. It evolved around one solid truth: "The Sahrawis will never surrender." Sahrawis flags on poles, graffiti on walls, demonstration, uprisings, and hunger-strikes from inside and outside prisons. Morocco felt that the whole world was crumbling around it; the Intifada proved to be an effective weapon aimed to shorten the life-span of the occupation. The UN sends in a human rights delegation to investigate. Yet, its report could be not published because France stopped it. The EU sends in its own delegations. Moroccan is faulted but. silence is the only response. The Intifada has completed more than five years, leaving Sahrawis still in limbo. True enough, Sahrawis gained respect, solidarity, and the world's admiration. Yet, there are still the refugee camps, the diaspora, and the illegal plundering of Western Sahara’s natural resources. The conflict seems to be caught in a knotted web, a chess game. The world’s decision making countries list the Western Sahara at the bottom of their agenda. The new world order has seemingly excluded the Western Sahara from its political and economic map. In recent years, and in parallel with the Intifada, the Polisario has developed many new strategies: Film festivals, arts festivals, marathons, conferences, TV broadcasts, and a Sahrawi delegations visit the other side of berm.
Indeed, these new tactics did not go unanswered by Morocco. The Moroccan regime activated Moroccan communities abroad, the associations, the political parties, and engaged all pro-Moroccans into a feverish war to re-launch its own propaganda and thus launching a new war against Sahrawis everywhere. The Western Sahara conflict is no longer monopolized by the palace nor by the elite, though its sequences are still solidly directed and advised by the king and his close circle.
During recent events, Sahrawis realized that they are not fighting Moroccans, but rather fighting France. France is the "Guardian Angel". The cornerstone in this complicated formula. Apparently, Morocco is no longer leading the war nor abiding by international legality as long as France is out there ready to defend, attack, and block any UNSC resolution in favor of the Sahrawis and their legitimate sole representative: the Polisario.
James Baker, John Bolton, Kofi Annan, Ban ki Moon, Christopher Ross ... etc. All are names of high-ranked politicians or leaders who tackled, firsthand, the issue of Western Sahara but with no results so far. Moroccan is pushing hard for its autonomy initiative while the Polisario has presented many approaches to the conflict, and has made many concessions. So far, the only signs of improvements are the exchange of family visits to and from the refugee camps, the commitment to enact plans to destroy landmines, and the will to continue the process of negotiations.
The question still remains: Did the Moroccans trick the Sahrawis into this stalemate? Did the Sahrawis miscalculate? Did something go wrong along the line?. The UN's recent resolutions called for the extention of the MINURSO mandate, and for the parties to engage in negotiations without conditions, while it also called for innovation and imagination. The Polisario, a few days before the recent UNSC resolution, threatened to revise the nature of its relation with the MINURSO. Yet, the threat was not considered serious and no immediate action has been so far. The young generations feel they are being left behind and their voices are not heard. They are ready to shout out loud and clear if given the OK by the Polisario. There is a general consensus that war will be the sting Moroccan need in times like this. The world would not do anything unless there is blood shed. Their patience has limits, and pressure is building up on both sides of the berm.
What Sahrawis need to do is:
1 - To stop dealing with MINURSO and no longer cooperate with them, as MINURSO has nothing to offer. As long as MINURSO does not provide a timetable for a referendum on independence, its mandate should be considered a dead letter.
2 - Sahrawis everywhere ought to demonstrate in front of MINURSO offices and Headquarters. Those abroad can organize sit-ins in front of the UN offices. All demonstrators can hand their MINURSO sponsored, identification documents with a black line on the upper right corner to symbolize MINURSO’s death.
3 - Sahrawis have to twist the arm of France by seeking out a more powerful ally, preferably a member of UNSC; they can also dictate their own terms by threatening to turn the French-speaking countries against it, especially in Africa. This will prove effective if more help and action are provided by Algeria and strong African allies.
4 - Sahrawis can ask apply for the membership of the Hispanidad. Spain will not be, thus, isolated and threatened. Spain’s economic and cultural ties are strong with Latin America more than with Morocco. This, if done, will be a victorious move and Sahrawis would no longer fear any Spanish Interference.
5 - A call for Sahrawi national unity should be made. Associations operating in the Western Sahara have to work hand in hand for the greater good. Involving the new generations in the decision-making will bring new fresh ideas. Also, organization and guidance should be the general main frame in which everyone should think and act and react. Thinking out of the box will not mean bringing about untraditional ideas and applying them.
6 - Sahrawis do not have to open Pandora’s Box to come up with creative ideas and tactics. Everything is out there for them to grab. Financing action has always been a challenge. Yet, the Polisario can always think about investing some money here and there to keep resistance alive. The activists and the Intifada youth need support and resources to continue the struggle. If given the smallest amount of financial resources, they can achieve more results.
7 -The mobilization of every tool and every skilled person we have, including all non Sahrawis and who are, and to whom Sahrawis are grateful, working around the clock to raise awareness and to unmask Morocco’s atrocities and conspiracies. Mobilization of financial funds and money trusts should be put to test. The Polisario ought to think about investing money in foreign markets to be able to sponsor its operations, especially in the occupied territory. The international aid is not enough and is diminishing and is being used as a strategic tool against the Sahrawis by certain powers to pressure them into more concessions.
8 - The Sahrawis should think about forming an active team to study all facets of situations and gather all information that is related to the Sahrawi conflict with all that it might entail. A futuristic vision and a deep insight should be the goal for that team. Once all data is piled up and studied on a daily basis, reports should be generated and evaluated and then sent to all those concerned for better decision making. They ought to have a certain kind of strategic planning for the good of their own people.
Last and not least, mapping the future can be engraved by Sahrawis themselves without even seeking the help from outside. Despite the fact they are a minority, Sahrawis do, in fact, have a lot to offer. Great skills come from deep impacts. Resources are out there but they just need to select them wisely and to make the right decision. Times are changing, and Sahrawis have to change with them and learn from past experiences. It is never too late to look back and to get ready for more powerful action. The Western Sahara Republic is a FACT and it will establish its existence whether Morocco likes it or not. The question is: Will the Sahrawis go for next step or not? It is a choice and when you have a choice and a road-map, which would be easy to figure out where a clean vision is omnipresent.

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