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Iran & Western Sahara (translation)

March 18, 2009

As you know, Morocco recently cut diplomatic ties with Iran, presumably to curry favor with Washington and Riyadh by appearing their most faithful ally in the power-struggle with Teheran. However, that doesn’t necessarily play well with ordinary Moroccans, who arguably agree more with Iran’s radical foreign policy than with Rabat’s own pro-US variety. So, to remove attention from the sphere of politics and portray Iran as having attacked those quintessentially Moroccan values of God, Country, King, the foreign policy establishment has gone into overdrive trying to conjure up alternate excuses. Reasons cited for the diplomatic rupture include claims of Iranian Shiite subversion of Islam in Morocco, to make it a religious rather than political dispute, and an alleged Iranian project of anti-Arab expansionism (dovetailing nicely with the wahhabi paranoia prevailing in Riyadh). Less prominently, but still, there is the question of Western Sahara, around the Moroccanity of which there is a strong shared consensus of state and people. Consequently, speculation on Iranian ties to the pro-independence POLISARIO Front and its main backer, Algeria, is being played up in the media.

Below the fold is an example, a translated piece from el-Massa’, which brings up the story of an official Iranian visit to POLISARIO in … 1984. Clearly, this Iranian scheme to undermine Morocco has been going on for some time. (The article also, as you’ll notice, highlights POLISARIO’s disgracefully cruel treatment of its former Moroccan prisoners-of-war.)

Khomeini’s foreign minister visited Tindouf
and insulted Morocco’s state and political parties

Ali Nejab met him in 1984 as a prisoner in the Rabouni internment camp

By: Idriss el-Kenbouri

Is it possible that the Iranians, in their attempts to counter Morocco after diplomatic ties were cut, will provide support to POLISARIO? This is a question often heard these days. Some underline the importance of the matter by pointing to the visit that Ahmadinejad, the president of the Islamic Republic, conducted to Algeria in August 2007. The exclusion of Morocco from that trip had a political content that necessitates analysis, and there is a certain distancing towards Morocco among the Iranian functionaries that truly rule the country. Prime among them is the Guardian Council [?], whose members brought the era of Mohammed Khatami and openness, to its end like a passing summer cloud, to come in its stead the opposite, Ahmadinejad.

Iran’s rivalry with Morocco is old. Ali Nejab is a Moroccan pilot who spent 25 years as prisoner-of-war with POLISARIO in the dark prisons of Tindouf between 1978 and 2003. He tells us that Ali Akbar Velayati, the foreign minister in Khomeini’s era, visited the Tindouf camps in 1984 by invitation of the POLISARIO leadership, in the framework of cooperation between the parties that then existed, in defiance of the late King Hassan II. (I)

The POLISARIO leaders brought the Moroccan POWs to the Iranian top functionary as a sort of proof of their victory over Morocco. Nejab had spent eight months of the year 1973 in military flight training in southern Teheran, as part of the coordination with the Shah’s regime. For this reason, the POLISARIO leaders brought him to Velayati as one of the Moroccans who had been trained in Iran before the revolution, which kindled the interest of the former Iranian foreign minister, who asked to meet him. He was accompanied by el-Idrissi Bilali, a former POLISARIO foreign representative who would later join Morocco.

Nejab tells el-Massa’: “When Velayati stood before me he started, without posing any questions, to insult Moroccan institutions and parties and the Moroccan state generally. I lost my cool and cursed at him. One of the men accompanying him told me that we were brothers in religion, to which I responded that I don’t want to be your brother in religion, I want to be your brother in politics. They understood that I wanted to say to him that they should support our position on the Sahara, and I said that if Khomeini is Islam then I will leave Islam. Velayati immediately cut short the visit. As soon as he left the area close to Rabouni (II), and vanished from sight, the POLISARIO men started beating me with kicks and punches, finally leaving me covered in my own blood.”

As punishment he was put in solitary confinement next to Ali Jouhar, one of the Moroccan officers that had been captured by POLISARIO. The two remained there for eleven months, given a small piece of dry bread and a litre of water every 24 hours. After that, says Nejabi, a POLISARIO leader asked him to write a two-page letter “condemning Hassan II’s treatment of the Moroccans”, which he refused. He was punished with 48 hours of torture – like Sisyphus in Greek mythology – by an order to move, together with Ali Jouhar, a pile of rocks each weighing about 15 kilograms, a distance of 200 meter. This was in Rabouni, where Nejab spent his POW years in the Hamdi Ba Cheikh center, the main prison center of POLISARIO, known also by the name of the “Red Center” for being built of red mud. (III)

Some remarks:

(I) Iran began supporting POLISARIO after the Islamic Revolution in 1979, when the Shah’s regime fell, as part of its break with western-backed Arab states and in line with the new regime’s general support for third world liberation movements. The Shah had had good relations with King Hassan, and lived for some time in Morocco after his downfall, contributing to Iranian ill-will towards Morocco. Iranian support for the Sahrawis was never important, however, essentially some verbal political backing and a formal recognition of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, their government-in-exile.  However, as Iranian politics turned more realist over the 1980s, the distant Western Sahara issue became a function of Teheran’s relations with POLISARIO’s main sponsor, Algeria. Support for POLISARIO therefore ended in 1992-1993 when Iran’s relations with Algeria broke down, after the Algerian military quashed an Islamic electoral win and blamed Iran for supporting Islamist rebels. After Algerian-Iranian ties were restored, Iran has been more or less neutral on the conflict, trying to please both Moroccan and Algerian officials by tailoring their message to the audience.

(II) Rabouni is a base camp in the Tindouf province, serving as the main HQ for POLISARIO and housing various government  institutions.

(III) The last Moroccan POWs — originally a couple of thousand — were released by POLISARIO in 2005, following increased attention to their case by human rights groups. Numerous people remain “disappeared” in the conflict, however, the vast majority of them Sahrawi civilians abducted by Moroccan police/army forces in the 1970s and 1980s.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. ibnkafka permalink
    March 18, 2009 06:54

    Ali Najib is a very respectable person. He’s launched an association of ex-military prisoners in Tindouf trying to fight for a better treatment at the hand of Moroccan authorities after their return to liberty. Most prisoners of war have not had their detention years taken into account for advancement, which means that they’re still where they were when they were captured – and most had over 15 years’ detention. He’s not the most popular person in military circles, as he’s outspoken (as a former fighter pilot, he’s probably the highest-graded Moroccan POW to have been held by the Polisario). So I would tend to believe him on this account.

  2. March 18, 2009 07:45

    I see no reason do doubt the facts of his story either, if that’s what you mean, neither on Velayati’s comments or the torture. I was thinking rather of the reason that Sahara-related Iranian insults to Morocco 25 years ago are brought up right now.

    But since you mention it, why is it that the Tindouf ex-POWs seem to be so badly treated? A few are hauled around the globe to testify to everyone that will hear them, but the others seem to be left to rot. It couldn’t be that expensive to get them decent compensation, and it has been getting enough attention to set things in motion to help them — or so I would have thought. Do you know if there’s some sort of ideological hangup involved, or just a case of politico-bureacuratic malfunction?

  3. ibnkafka permalink
    March 18, 2009 17:13

    Difficult to say: partly bureaucratic malfunction, partly an initial reaction of Hassan II (but I’ve also heard that it was first aired by the then powerful and cruel Ahmed Dlimi) according to which real soldiers don’t get caught, they get killed. Today I would suspect that bureaucratic malfunction is the major reason why they fare badly – but generally there’s an element of mystery in how the powers that be handle this issue, as others related to the Sahara issue – for example, why on earth break off with Venezuela when Algeria is litterally harassed over the opening of land borders – Venezuela’s government could even be described as friendly to Morocco in comparison to Algeria’s…

  4. averrosy permalink
    March 18, 2009 19:23

    this is what we call if you use too much ingredients you’ll spoil the tajine , it becomes or smells((fishy)). let us see what sort of ingredients you used in this subject and previous one because they look the same to me and you think by repeating yourself over and over you hoping people may believe you and rest a sure polisario does.

    ingredients: morocco too aromatic and spicy for you that’s why we have one of the top class cuisine.

    algeria: to be honest we don’t know what they want i mean they’ve been trying for the last 30 years to achieve something but without luck may be they still living in their revolution era.

    iran : it’s long flight from morocco and it’s bad for the global warming ,i think that’s why morocco broke off the diplomatic relation or may be we see the shiism sect is spreading so fast like in iraq
    and lebanon , bahrain already in the menu , they’re busy setting up their own new mecca in (karbala) ( .

    polisario : very cleaver business people holding thousands of hopeless sahraouis shifting their food that they get from donor countries to be resold in mali and niger market.
    i think polisario should get some lessons from the (Tamil tiger).

    venezuela : too much coca leaves it stimulate the brain . once you use it you keep seeing red devil and the only way to get rid of the devil you need yellow powder.

    ali khamenei : thinks he is the savior of the muslim world.

    damn it we don’t have gas and petrol otherwise we’ll be given long speeches buying a large amount of rusty weapons and we’ll even help the so called (sahrawi arab democratic republic) to set up their own country somewhere in the east that’s where the arabs come from cause north africa is made up mostly of (amazigh).

    so in the future if you wanna address the problem of the so called (western sahara) you don’t have to mention half of the world countries just to make the point.

    so keep flogging i mean blogging.

  5. Ibn Tifariti permalink
    March 25, 2009 00:34

    Hey guys interesting comments but seriously we are not talking about a fishy TAJINE but a very bad stinky HARIRA (Moroccan soup) here. How did u guys go from Iran and Morocco to POW’s, US, Saudi Arabia WTF? Need FOCUS here. Just a little clarification… 1) Morocco actually never broke off its relations with Venezuela, they merely moved its embassy from Caracas to Santo Domingo. Huge DIFFERENCE. Logically it makes more sense since the embassy in Caracas used to cover all the caribbean countries. 2) With regards to Iran, there seems to be a little contradiction with Alle’s remarks that Morocco is trying to please the US and SAUDI ARABIA and the recent OBAMA video message calling for dialogue with the shiite country. Alle’s comment could have been plausible had Morocco cut off its ties with Iran under Bush but it makes no sense under the new Obama administration. It is nothing more than a ONE on ONE thing…. Why is it that everything Morocco does have to be dictated by others? It is after all a sovereign country with a government that has been running effectively for more than 1300 years…. that is almost 3 times longer than the US government!!!! 3) Looking at the big picture, Iran has been slowly becoming the Official defender/Voice of the ARAB STREETS (palestine, iran, iraq etc…). Now a shiite/persian country defending arab/sunni’s interests Hmm …. that is not well seen by numerous arabic countries but none had the “cojones” to do something about it. Iran’s diplomatic bou-bou with Morocco and its arrogance was a good excuse for Morocco to set the record straight and condemn iran’s implication in arabic affairs/ and indirectly their religious affairs. Other countries will follow in Morocco’s footsteps, Amr Moussa’s declaration on Iran was just a clear mark that others might review its closeness to Iran…

    With regards to the POW’s, which have been for a very long time the longest POW’s still in captivity, well their situation has to be properly taken care of but that is another story…

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