Western Sahara: Shame on the US, UN and Europe

The day after President Bush met with the King of Morocco, the US is moving the UN to fully recognise Morocco’s claim to the Western Sahara. This is an absolute disgrace. Shame on the UN, on the US, on Spain and on Europe. Shame on all for allowing this. Western countries who say they stand for freedom are selling the Saharawis for their own gain.

In spite of a letter to President Bush from several members of congress urging him to tell the King of Morocco to hold the referendum the UN has been demanding for many years now, the US is now moving the UN to recognise Morocco’s claim to the Western Sahara.

The Western Sahara is a desertic country sparsely populated by nomadic tribes. It is rich in phosphates and was the last Spanish colony in Africa. In 1975, with General Franco very sick and a very unstable and weak political situation in Spain, Morocco claimed the Western Sahara and sent a “civilian” invasion. Under the circumstances the Spanish military did not dare use force against this invasion and just retreated and let Morocco take over.

The Saharawi people formed the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), evacuated the women, children and elderly to refugee camps in southern Algeria and the men organized an armed resistance called Polisario Front. For 25 years the Saharawi people have lived in exile in refugee camps and the Polisario has fought a guerrilla war with Moroccan forces.

In the meanwhile the rest of the world couldn’t care less about these people who have lost their country. This is a great shame and the responsibility for this falls on many shoulders. Spain, as colonial power, has not honored its responsibility to ensure self determination for the people of the Western Sahara. While the very unstable and volatile political situation in Spain in 1975 might justify their inaction, today it is inexcusable. Europe by extension. Morocco, of course, but one cannot expect a government which does not respect its own people to have any respect for another people. The United States who has sold the freedom of the Saharawis by supporting Morocco in this situation in exchange for military bases in Morocco and political support in the Middle East. What a shame! And, finally, the United Nations who have approved many times a referendum for the self-determination of the Saharawis while letting it be blocked by Morocco and without actually doing anything to see that it actually happens. Shame on the UN! In the meanwhile, Morocco keeps settling Moroccan people in the Sahara so that if a referendum ever takes place there will be more Moroccans than Saharauis. (By the way, this is what China is doing in Tibet: settling Chinese by the thousands in Tibet).

Yes, I know in the real world nobody is going to help the Saharawis if they have nothing to gain from it but I guess I am still an idealist who still thinks people’s freedom should mean more than our political gain and some phosphates.

Some links:

Anyone care to defend this latest action of the US?

I think the US’s thinking is that Morocco’s an ally, and nobody here really cares much about the Western Sahara, anyway, so why should we make a big deal about Morocco being there? Why offend an ally to no real purpose for some abstract idea of democracy in some foreign country?

And that’s the kind of thinking that makes people fly aeroplanes into buildings to get noticed… :frowning:

It seems some American oil company signed an agreement with Morocco to exploit fields in the Western Sahara. This is theft pure and simple. Morocco has no rights to those fields and they are selling something they do not own to an American company. I guess the US government is trying to give this a more legal cover but this is theft pure and simple. They will go to drill in what is already a war zone and, I am sorry to say, I will be on the side of the natives when they fight the Americans. I think it is the first time in my life but how can I justify this?

I have always opposed violence. Even if the statu quo is unjust I have always opposed violence. But this is not maintaining the statu quo which is bad enough. It is an American company and the American government conspiring with Morocco to steal the wealth and freedom of the West Saharan people. The Saharawis have over 1000 Moroccan troops prisoner for many many years now and we may expect to see some American oil company employees dead or prisoner pretty soon.

I hate this. Morally it is very wrong and I hate having to say the US is very wrong here in putting oil and other interests before what is right.

BTW, I do not have the name of the oil company which was mentioned in the news just as “american”. I am trying to search for it but if anyone knows I would welcome the information as I want to give them a piece of my mind.

Other links: http://allafrica.com/westernsahara/
This last group is based in Australia.

Cite? And is there any evidence we could not have negotiated with the W Saharans? In any event, Morrocco has real control over the region and their people live there now. Whether we recognize that fact or not is simply a diplomatic excercise. The truth is simply that the US cannot control the world by fiat. Morrocco has gotten away with this, and we have no real claim to intervene nor any moral authority.

As an aside, do you have any websites that are not solely devoted to the West African cause to support youself?

Well, that’s the thing. Morocco has the one right to the fields that really matters…they control them, so anyone who wants to do something with them has to get Morocco’s ok.

Ultimately, when it comes down to it, countries do what they’re strong enough to do and what they think is best for them. The only way to stop them is to be stronger.

smiling bandit, I have provided plenty of cites and if you have any others providing proof to the contrary, I would like to see them.

>> In any event, Morrocco has real control over the region and their people live there now.

No it doesn’t. There has been an active war going on since 1975. I have seen Moroccan troops who have been prisoners of war for over 20 years. Not to mention the Saharawi refugees.

>> The truth is simply that the US cannot control the world by fiat. Morrocco has gotten away with this, and we have no real claim to intervene nor any moral authority.

I think it is not a good idea for the US to deny having any moral authority and acting only by force and self-interest.

The way I see it, some oild company is trying to get something to which it is not entitled as the UN and most of the world do not recognise Moroccan sovereignty over the Sahara. If they get shot in the process it will serve them right. It’s called stealing.

And to say the USA should not care about human rights is pretty cynical as that is the argument the USA uses whenever it feels like it.

Wait a minute, is anyone here defending the idea that might makes right? That as long as you have the force to do something that makes it right? I cannot believe anyone would say that. So it’s Ok to fly airplanes into buildings just because you can? Nothing is right or wrong except in terms of force?

Are you saying it is OK to steal from people just because you can? It is OK to send hundreds of thousands out of their land so we can steal their oil? Morocco would not, could not, do this without the backing of the USA. To say “Morocco stole it and we are just dealing with a fait accompli” is ludicrous. Even buying stolen property is wrong.

The US wants to have some moral superiority? Or are they going to relinquish any semblance of morality?

I am 100% with sailor on this one, the Western Saharns don’t deserve to be subjated like this. However sadly though, this happens all the time. Big companies from richer countries help oppress people in Africa and other third world countries (The Canadian company Talisman in Sudan for example).

They do for: rich minerals, valuable materials, cheap labour, and natural resources. The companies often take adavtage of the lack of laws (labour, enviroment, and other) and corrupt officals (bribing can be very effective). The big money goes right back to the company (and their respective countries) with very little staying in the third world countries except the devestating aftermath.

America is not at all clean from this type of expoltation, but again sadly their aren’t the only countries with this history.

Basically. :slight_smile: I’m not exactly saying that…what I’m saying is that what motivates countries is power…not right or wrong.

There’s a story in Thucydides’ “The Peloponnesian War” that reflects what I mean.

As you know, the Peloponnesian war was a war between Athens and Sparta that through Greece into turmoil. The Athenian army came upon Melos, a city that had, throughout much of the war been neutral. Athens asked Melos to join them in the war, threatening them with attack if they didn’t. During the negotiations, the Athenians said…

Here’s the complete dialogue

Well, I am on the road now so I can’t partake of this, but taking a little gander at straight dope I was stunned to see the Western Sahara as a topic.

Amazing. Well, I’ve been there and know a goodly number of Sahraouine and a good bit about the situation so let me make a brief intervention.

First, sailor is largely repeating Polisario agitprop here, which rather exaggerates a number of items. It’s hardly clear that Polisario represents ‘The Sahraoui people” insofar as they’re largely tribal, and divided between Arab and Berber tribes. Surely they are somewhat more representative of the tribes living in the area than the Moroccan monarchy, but this is hardly a case of democratic clarity.

Second, their materials rather nicely forget to mention the rather large role that Algeria and Algero-Moroccan politics play in Polisario’s public stance. Polisario may be something of a creature of what is called so succinctly in Algeria, le pouvoir. That is the clique of military ‘clans’ in the military elite that runs Algeria behind the scenes. These are the fellows that the Algerian populace rightly names, “Pouvoir, Assassin.” Polisario largely continues to exist at their sufferance. It is hard to get at the real relationships, as in all things in re Algerian politics, they are opaque. However, it may be admitted that when one is down, it’s hard to choose friends. Nonetheless, it is hardly clear that Polisario represents the Sahraouine more than the subterranean conflicts between le pouvoir and Morocco.

Third, it is hardly clear to me that a Western Saharan Arab Republic would be a step forward for the people of the region, above all given ongoing reforms in Morocco. Every indication is that Polisario is something of a puppet of the Algerian military. It is difficult to imagine that the regime they would set up will be, well, terribly democratic. Nor does the country make very much sense on other bases. It’s a colonial artefact (as is Polisario, the leadership originally derived from the tiny Spanish-‘educated’ tribal elite.) which makes little sense. Well few of the borders there make much sense come to think of it, but all in all there is little to distinguish them from their Arab and Berber (Tachelhit) tribal brethren in southern Morocco or the same in northern Mauretania or in western Algeria. Previously, that is to colonial rule, the region was a unruly, ungoverned land with tribes owing a rather sketchy, lip-service allegiance to…. Sultan al-Maghrib, the Sultan of Morocco.

Where is the new politics coming from? Control of certain resources is no doubt the key. Phosphates was the game in the 1970s, it may be that deep-offshore hydrocarbons will be that of the new millennium.

Were the Western Saharan Republic to come into existence, all indications are it would end up being one of those ugly little rent-extracting elite-driven pseudo-countries.

Inside of Morocco, at least there is some chance of being part of larger polity which slowly, fitfully is moving towards something resembling a democratic civil society. Having spent substantial time in the region, I can say that I am well aware of discrimination against Saharan folks (regardless of whether they come from that ex-colonial entity called Western Sahara) but on the other hand, people do advance up through society.

Frankly, given the fact the current conflict is hardly driven by what the people in the tents of the Aoulad Mohammed, Beni Hassan etc. think, but rather by the subterranean politics of the elites in Algiers and to an extent, Rabat, I don’t see any clear-cut reason for the US to take a ‘principled’ stand. Don’t be taken in by easy propaganda.

And for the record, Totalfinaelf has nothing to do with the Moroccan policies in the region, which are a good 30 years old.

You can work it out by fractions,
or by simple rule of three …
and it still ain’t right!

The USA is not and should not be a country whithout moral principles. It took a stand against apartheid in South Africa, it constantly reminds China and other countries about human rights. Or are we saying slavery is not wrong? Theft is not wrong?

it is one thing for American companies to do business in countries which have regimes we might disagree with. We can discuss whether doing business with China promotes or dimishes human rights there. But this is an entirely different case. In a nutshell:

In 1975 Morocco invaded the Western Sahara, to which they have never had any claim. Since that date, the UN have never recognised Morocco’s sovereignty over the WS and have always demanded a referendum which has been indefinitely delayed due to a) Moroccan interference, b) the complicity of the US and c) the apathy of the rest of the world. Almost thirty years later the Saharawi people are still in refugee camps while they try to fight off the Moroccans.

Now the USA is becoming an accomplice in Morocco’s crime. The US is the only country proposing the UN recognise Morocco’s sovereignty over the Western Sahara. Russia and other countries are opposing it but given world apathy over this I am afraid the Saharawis are about to finally lose their country forever. This is a huge crime and the USA should not be a part of it.

The Moroccan government is well-known for its abuses of its own people. Now, if an American company wants to do business in Morocco that is a very different proposition and we could discuss if that is good or bad on the whole. But here, Morocco is selling something it has no rights to and the USA is trying to provide legal cover by getting the UN to recognise Morocco’s sovereignty over that land. The USA should not be a party to a crime. It would be bad enough if they just looked the other way but they are being an active participant.

The Saharawi Polisario Front has successfully fought the Moroccan army and disrupted mining operations and killed and caught prisoner many Moroccan soldiers. They have also fired at vessels within their territorial waters. It is a war zone and Morocco does not effectively control the territory and could not even begin to do anything there without American help and support.

If and when foreign companies start drilling, I expect the Polisario will attack and maybe some Americans or Europeans will get killed. I am 100% with the Saharawis as they are defending their homeland to which Morocco or the USA have no rights whatsoever.

The UN, the USA, Spain and Europe should be very ashamed about this matter. Very ashamed.

Is this anything new? Why do you think I keep harping about the US’s history in Latin America?

We’ve been doing this since before the ink was dry on the Constitution.


I will add to Collounsbury’s comments that it is apparent that the Polisario ( which were formed as one of several competeing anti-Spanish groups, others being funded by Morocco and Mauritania ) was originally envisioned by Algeria as being their proxies in an attempted land grab of their own. That has probably changed as Algeria has realized the impracticality of attempting to assert themselves so far from their Mediterranean coast powerbase. But the Polisario really have been a cynical tool of the Algerian government in the ongoing regional chess match between them and Morocco. Morocco probably would have a legitimate geopolitical worry about being outflanked by an Algerian puppet regime to the south.

That said, I don’t discount sailor’s arguments entirely. The fact is that Morocco has been quite brutal in the region, has consistently stymied international mediation ( first agreeing to referendums, then reneging or endlessly renegotiating for voting rolls that will give them the upper hand ), and basically has been a bad player in this whole farce. There have been no good ones really.

Also I’m not so certain that at this late point and considering entrenched hostilities between certain Sahrawi elements and Morocco, that Morocco might not just treat the WS as a resource colony, rather than an integrated part of Morocco ( which I agree with Collounsbury that all things considered, might be the best deal for the Sahrawis in the long run - but only if that integration were real ).

However biased it may end up being, I really do believe at least a semblance of a democratic process should be applied in this case. The WS referendum should be held and the results, however wretched, should be applied. If a majority wishes to become one of those fragmentary, but independant shadow-nations, so be it. Though, like Collounsbury, I’m not sure that really would be in the best interests of the Sahrawis.

But I don’t think that Morocco’s intransigence should be rewarded with development contracts at this point. Settle the issue first.

  • Tamerlane

I had not seen Collounsbury’s post when I posted mine. Let’s see…

It’s hardly clear that Polisario represents “The Sahraoui people” insofar as they’re largely tribal, and divided between Arab and Berber tribes. Surely they are somewhat more representative of the tribes living in the area than the Moroccan monarchy, but this is hardly a case of democratic clarity.

So we agree the Polisario is the best representation of the Saharawi people however imperfect and limited.

Sorry but I do not find this argument acceptable. It is not acceptable to say "these people cannot govern themselves so we’ll come in and govern them. It is not acceptable anywhere and it is not acceptable in this case either. If the Saharawis set up a lousy government then we would have a chance to criticise them. And seeing how things are in the rest of Africa these days, they’d be in good company. Or should we go invade every country in Africa which has bad government? This is the same argument China uses with Tibet: “They are better off subject to us than they would be on their own”. Even if it were true, it would be unacceptable. People have a right to self-government and freedom and not have to grow up in refugee camps like most of the Saharawis have done.

Yes, the Polisario have sought help from Algeria because when you are in that situation you take whatever help you can get. The refugee camps are located in Algerian territory and are supported by humanitarian organizations from Europe and other places.

We agree

And we cannot allow that to happen can we? better steal their land and resources and keep them in refugee camps.

It boils down to one thing: If Morocco had not invaded the Sahara, this problem would not exist. And the USA today is being an accomplice, the only accomplice, in this takeover.

Tamerlane, I can agree most countries in Africa might be better off if they had outside governments but that is not my point. My point is whether the USA should be an accomplice to this land grab. Should the USA propose a resolution to the UN which would recognize Morocco’s sovereignty? I think it should not. That is my point because I take it for granted that Morocco’s regime has no principles or scrupples or morals. But I expect better from the US. And some members of congress agree with me as they have expressed in their letter to President Bush.

Leaving aside over-heated rhetoric…


False, the tribes of the region had a long history of giving some vague allegiance to the Moroccan Sultan (in fact several Sultans descended from these guys).

The Moroccans, or better the Alaouiine, certainly had better claim than the Spanish.

Complicity of the US, come on now. Further, the Moroccans are not the only bad players in this, the Polisario’s backers, that ugly military clique in Algiers has done its best to undermine solutions it does not see in its interest.

Crime? Shrug.

Why don’t you delve into some histories of the region not written with political angles. “Their” country is a desert wasteland. The country makes even less sense than Mauretania.

The Moroccan goverment has done a very good job since roughly 1995, and even more so since 1999 when that old bastid Hassan II died (a happy day), in cleaning up its act. Indeed it’s a heluva better actor than Polisario in many respects.

They’ve got the same rights Israel has over its land. Historical claims and facts on the ground.

No, they lost badly. They lost even worse after the Algerians got tired of giving them arms for their own reasons in re competition with Morocco, and effectively shut them down. No armed action has occured in years.

Not in recent memory. Memories of the 1970s are nice and romantic but have no current meaning.

What? Complete and utter fucking rot, lies and foolishness. I was just there about 6 months ago. Give me a fucking break. Morocco effectively controls the entire territory, excepting the immediate Algerian border territory. One can take a drive down the coast if one wants. No armed action since the mid-1980s as I recall.

That’s rich. A fantasy, but amusing one. The drilling is fairly deep offshore, there’s not been fighting in years and won’t be unless le pouvoir d’Algerie decides it wants to fuck with the Moroccans. Which it will not since they want to do a deal on power exports via Morocco to Spain. Good money in that.

Advice II: don’t get all your information from agitprop, it makes you look like a fool to those who know something of the situation.

Shrug, better to accept the reality on the ground and push for further democratization in Morocco. Despite the rhetoric this has not been about the tribes in years. This is about power politics in re Algeria and Morocco. Don’t be so bloody innocent.

Most countries in Africa would most certainly not be better off with outside governments. Many would be better off with more realistic borders, reconfigured govermental structures in better keeping with local realities, etc.

The Western Sahara, however, as I said, makes no sense. None, nada, zero, zilch, none. I’ve been. It’s a bloody wasteland. Already the tribes have to export labor or move out. It is simply not a viable piece of real estate for a country.

A semi-autonomous region in Morocco, which does have historical ties and claims (dodgey to an extent, but no worse than a Polisario run Algerian puppet state) is the best solution.

And Polisario, by the way, has played the lists game too. At the behest of that ugly military clique in Algiers. I’ll take a liberalizing Morocco any day over an Algerian puppet. You really need to learn something about the actual geo-politics in the region.

Collounsbury: As mellow as ever, eh :smiley: ?

I don’t disagree with any of you points, except possibly the one. I really do have some concern that for Morocco might take a purely extractive view of the WS after so many years of hostility. That Morocco always had a better claim to the territory is without doubt ( though really, they never ruled there in any effective way - the WS just represented the region where Moroccan influence slowly petered out southwards until it was mere lip-service ). But the fact that Spain did grab the region for some decades and then we’ve had this intervening warfare has complicated things.

In the normal course of events, I’d say that the WS should be part of Morocco and if this were an exercise in re-drawing colonial maps ( once did that as a little side project in a geography of Africa course :wink: ), I’d so alot it. But given the hostilities that have taken place, I really wonder if at this point a referendum, no matter how flawed, is the way to go.

'course I haven’t been on the ground and you have. In your opinion do you think that the WS, or more precisely its native inhabitants, would get equitable treatment, at least comparable to other average Moroccan citizens and access ( in an infrastructural development sense ) to some of the wealth generated by the mineral resources in the region? If so, I might be tempted to reconsider the realpolitik option, as slightly seedy as it may be.

  • Tamerlane