Libyan-Moroccan relations, an earlier chapter
Prompted by the Morocco–Libya spat, UPES has republished a letter sent by Mouammar el-Qadhafi to King Hassan II in 1976, after POLISARIO declared the establishment of their government-in-exile for Western Sahara (RASD). Libya was the first state to support POLISARIO after its creation in May 1973, alongside Mauritania, although at first it took no particular position on what should be the ultimate fate of the territory, as long as it wasn’t Spanish — the Arab world was eventually going to merge into a single entity anyway.
From 1976, Qadhafi lined up behind Algeria (which had become the Sahrawis’ main sponsor from late 1974) in supporting POLISARIO’s war on Morocco and Mauritania. Several years later, he had grown disenchanted with the whole affair, perhaps because Algeria held POLISARIO on too tight a leash for him to have any meaningful influence. In 1984, he withdrew from any active role in the affair through forming a surprise union with Morocco (classic Qadhafi diplomacy) and ceasing overt support to POLISARIO. The union didn’t last long, but he has since maintained a healthy distance to Western Sahara, avoiding all active involvement. Most of the time he’ll just let both sides hear what they want to hear, and they tend to play along no questions asked.
But back in 1976, he needed to explain his decision to recognize the RASD to the king, and here’s how it went:
Qadhafi’s letter to Hassan II
[Sent on 28 Feb. 1976, as published by the Sahara Press Service. Translation fis mine, except for the Quran quote.]
My Respected Brother Hassan II,
[Quran 49:9] “If two parties among the Believers fall into a quarrel, make ye peace between them: but if one of them transgresses beyond bounds against the other then fight ye (all) against the one that transgresses until it complies with the command of Allah; but if it complies then make peace between them with justice and be fair: for Allah loves those who are fair (and just).”
[hadith] “By their mutual affection and mercy, the believers are like a single body, and if a limb suffers, then all limbs will succumb to restlessness and fever.”
Trusting in the Book and the Sunnah, and egged on by [pan-]Arab Nationalism, I allow myself to address this telegram to you, at a time in which I believe it deserves to be sent.
To be quite clear, I say from the beginning that the subject of this telegram is Western Sahara, consisting of Saguiet el-Hamra and Río de Oro.
On 11 June 1972, I myself declared in a public speech that the Libyan Arab Republic would carry its national [pan-Arab] responsibility and shoulder a popular war of liberation in Western Sahara, if Spain did not withdraw from this area. No one, back then, said to me that I was interfering in a question of Moroccan lands. I did not speak about Sebta and Melilla, even today, from Spain, because that concerns Moroccan national sovereignty.*
By the beginning of 1973, there was a real liberation war going on in Western Sahara, led by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Seguiet el-Hamra and Río de Oro [POLISARIO]. The Libyan Arab Republic assumed its national [pan-Arab] duty by supplying the POLISARIO with arms and opening an office for it in Tripoli.
It is worth recalling that the regions [aqtar] concerned with this question today did not cooperate with the Libyan Arab Republic in supplying the POLISARIO, and it did not cooperate in other regards. Rather, these regions [aqtar] confiscated shipments of guns that were being sent from the Libyan Arab Republic to the POLISARIO.**
Up until 1975, when you became a prominent party to this question, I confirmed to you, by way of the envoys that you preferred to send in those days, that the military capacity of the Libyan Arab Republic was at your disposal, should you decide to liberate Western Sahara from colonialism.
However, what happened was that your forces entered in an operation of granting and receiving the Sahara from Spain, ”and may God save the believers from battle”. Until now, I say for the record of history, that I am not opposed to Morocco. I believed then that the inhabitants of the Sahara, led by POLISARIO, were not opposed to merge with Morocco. I thanked God that the role of the Libyan Arab Republic had ended, crowned by the exit of colonialism from Arab lands.
God knows how much I tried to convince the leadership of the POLISARIO to join you after independence. Surely you remember the guarantees that I saw you confirm to the general membership of the POLISARIO. I don’t deny that you confirmed those guarantees for me, via your envoys and the Moroccan ambassador in Tripoli.
Respected Brother, the King,
What has happened in Western Sahara today is fraught with danger, regardless of the nature of the many slippery slopes that led there. The inhabitants of the Sahara, led by the POLISARIO, have now declared for the world that they are not Moroccans or Algerians, nor Mauritanians, and that the sons of the Sahara are the ones who took up arms and liberated their lands, none other.
The operation of merging the Sahara with Morocco has thus become, unambiguously, an operation of forced merger. I am talking now about the reality and the results, not about the reasons and the justifications. I am, even now, not opposed to the merger of Western Sahara with the Kingdom of Morocco, or Mauritania. There is no way I could be opposed to the brotherly Moroccan people and the Moroccan army, the blood of which still today flows in the Golan.*** I am among those who believe in the necessity of Arab unity, from the Ocean to the Gulf, and among those who work hardest for it, and who preach its inevitableness. But it is unreasonable to ignore the will of a portion of the Arab masses, who have fought against this merger until they were pushed up against the Algerian border. Tindouf is now thronged with the tents of Sahrawis fleeing this merger, like the tents of pilgrims [in Mecca]. Who is it that denies this, my Brother the King, this tragedy; and who denies the will of the inhabitants of the Sahara; and who denies the right of those who, alone, took up arms to free their country?
I am talking about tangible truths only, and I have no part in a dispute over land. I do not talk about either merger or its absence, for the merger has now turned forcible, and its success or failure hinges on the annihilation of either the Sahrawi people or the Moroccan army – and both of these things would be catastrophic for us all. [quote/saying:] This is my father when I call him, and that is my uncle! If we began using this method, the method of unity by force, against the peoples, the map of the Arab nation would change, and that includes the map of my country and of yours.
If you were, O King, fighting separatists inside the Kingdom of Morocco, we would fight alongside you; and if you were fighting foreign colonizers in the Sahara, we would fight alongside you; but now that you are fighting a people saying No – then we are not by your side.
The voice that must be heard by the world is that of the Sahrawi people, whether for unity with you, or for independence as your neighbor.
Lastly, I can say nothing more, but that which was said by Dureid ibn el-Simma to his people:****
نصحت لعارض واصحاب عارض ……… ورهط بني السوداء والقوم شهدي
فلما عصوني كنت فيهم وقـــــد ارى ……… غوايتهم واني غير مهـتــــــــــدي
امرتهم امري بمنعرج الـــــــــــلوى ……… فلم يستبينوا النصح الا ضحى الغد
وهل انا الا من غزية ان غـــــــوت ……… غويت وان ترشد غزية ارشــد
— Your brother, Colonel Mouammar el-Qadhafi, February 28, 1976.
*) He’s saying that he was already then treating Sebta & Melilla differently from Western Sahara, since the former are (he reasons) undisputedly Moroccan territory, while the latter is not.
**) A reference to Algeria’s initial hostility to POLISARIO and its war. I don’t know the story about the guns, but Hodges, when chronicling the rocky start that POLISARIO had with Boumédiène, does mention a cache of Libyan arms for supporters of fqih Basri being confiscated by Algeria on p. 190-191. POLISARIO leader El Ouali had contacts with the Basrists during a visit to Algeria, and it’s possible that some of the weapons were intended for the Sahrawis, or that Qadhafi mixes it up, or that there was a second confiscation of POLISARIO guns which Hodges doesn’t know about.
***) Morocco sent troops to fight alongside Syria in the Golan Heights in the 1973 Arab-Israeli war. Still today, there’s a major intersection in central Damascus called Moroccan Division Square, in honor of the soldiers that died on the Golan.
****) A pre-Islamic Arab poet. I won’t even try to translate the poetry, but readers are welcome to give it a shot.