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Libyan-Moroccan relations, an earlier chapter

September 10, 2009

Prompted by the MoroccoLibya 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.

Respected King,

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.

13 Comments leave one →
  1. September 10, 2009 21:47

    The g magazine Jeune Afrique has just revealed why Kadhafi stopped its support for the Front Polisario. It was in exchange for the delivery of Omar el-Mehechi one of the twelve members of council of command of the Revolution ( CCR) who knocked down the Libyan monarchy in 1969. here is the link

  2. ibnkafka permalink
    September 10, 2009 21:54

    The operative part of your post is spot on: “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”.

    I think that Libya broke off with Morocco over Hassan II’s meeting with Shimon Peres in Ifrane in 1986, if memory serves.

    As for Algeria, fqih Basri & the Polisario, the period 1973/76 (the delimitation is arbitrary, of course) were murky times indeed. As fqih Basri usually went to the highest bidder – Algeria, Libya, Syria – it is exceedingly likely that Boumedienne’s alleged initial aloofness towards the Polisario was less on principle than on his fears that it would be subservient to Libya rather than to Algiers. He needn’t have feared, as things gelled.

  3. September 10, 2009 22:17

    The Peres visit was the excuse used, yes, but I think he was already looking for a reason to get out of it.

    it is exceedingly likely that Boumedienne’s alleged initial aloofness towards the Polisario was less on principle than on his fears that it would be subservient to Libya rather than to Algiers. He needn’t have feared, as things gelled.

    Yup, I think this is probably part of the answer. Other parts:

    * Talks with Morocco on the border treaty & ratification were still on, and B. didn’t want to upset that, and
    * POLISARIO was an unknown entity at that early stage, although it had grown considerably by the time Algeria decided to start support it (late ’74), and
    * When they first decided they wanted to find a Sahrawi proxy, the Algerians briefly tried with Edouard Moha’s formerly pro-Moroccan MOREHOB movement, but that was basically just him and his press-releases. When the Algerians axed him, he reconnected with Rabat. They soured on Sahrawi groups generally after that experience, frustratingly enough for POLISARIO which still wanted Boumédiène’s backing.

    Hodges has more on this in those same pages, and notes that it was the UNFP group in Algiers who convinced the Algerians to show Moha the door, although that didn’t automatically translate into support for POLISARIO. Very good book, btw, although you’ll find him too partial to the Sahrawi narrative.

  4. ibnkafka permalink
    September 10, 2009 22:34

    “Talks with Morocco on the border treaty & ratification were still on, and B. didn’t want to upset that”
    The Ifrane Treaty on the common borders between Morocco & Algeria was signed in 1969 at a summit between Hassan II & Boumedienne. Ratification intervened later – 72 or 73 (?) for Algeria & 1992 for Morocco. Had this been a true factor, Algeria would not have risked it from 74 and on. I think that after Morocco’s official recognition of Mauritania in 1969 and the signature of the Ifrane Treaty the same year, Algeria clearly made the calculation that the colonial borders, as vague as they were south of Figuig, would hold whatever the circumstances, and felt confident enough to support the Polisario.

    Edouard Moha yes, another transfuge, I’ve got a few of his books, including the one written against Gilles Perrault and his “Notre ami le Roi”. He’s very discreet on his Algerian years though…

    • September 10, 2009 23:01

      I don’t think so. There was no POLISARIO to support until 1973, and they made no attempt at all to connect with Sahrawi groups (or create one) until about 1973. And I think the Western Sahara crisis ran more on a Spanish timetable than anything related to the region itself, so it wasn’t as if the Algerians had this planned out in advance.

      I think the best version I’ve heard is that Boumédiène was hoping to squeeze Hassan for ratification by wavering on the Sahara all the way up to 1974, but kept his cards close to his chest and all options open. Then, eventually, he didn’t get whatever guarantees he wanted, or he changed his mind for some reason (probably the latter). Clearly, the Algerians seriously entertained the idea of swapping Moroccan annexation of W. S. for recognition of the border, from (at least) Ifrane until about late 1973 or 1974. They started supporting POLISARIO for real only in late 74/early 75, after deciding to oppose a Moroccan entry into WS instead of trying to sell their compliance. And then when Hassan hit back with the Green March, gloves came off.

      Both those things were of course driven by Franco’s failing health and other Spanish calculations (not least their flirtation with the idea of a PUNS and/or POLISARIO state, which prompted Morocco to rush its intervention), and I think in the end Algeria basically reacted to what went on around it and picked a hardline course when they realized that they would be left out of any deal.

      • September 13, 2009 06:26

        I found the debate very interesting, then I took my free version of the translator on line “Reverso” to contribute just a little because with a dictionary it makes lose a lot of time.

        You saw that Gadhafi said in his letter that Algeria seized the weapons which he sent to Polisario. Because it was suspicious towards Polisario until 1975 for two reasons:

        – In 1969, when the Moroccan troops took Tindouf, there were sahraouies families who welcomed the Moroccan by putting flags on the roofs and others went to Morocco later, among them Abba Cheikh, who is going to become later Colonel of the Moroccan army and it is him who led the operation of Amgala in 1976.

        – The discovery that Edouard Moha was proMoroccan

        – The first seizure of weapons by Algeria was in 1974 and it is the reason for which El Wali Mustafa Sayed was imprisoned. He came by air from Libya with some pistoles in his luggage. He was freed by a phone call from Gadhafi to Boumediene.

        – Until 1984, the material support of Libya was always widely upper to that of Algeria, what makes that Libya was a big loss for Polisario. Thus, I think that there was no conflict of influence in there between Algeria and Libya.

      • Laroussi permalink
        September 13, 2009 10:21

        About the border dispute between Algeria and Morocco:

        “The Ifrane Treaty on the common borders between Morocco & Algeria was signed in 1969 at a summit between Hassan II & Boumedienne. Ratification intervened later – 72 or 73 (?) for Algeria & 1992 for Morocco.”Ibn Kafka wrote.

        Now the Ifrane Treaty in 1969 did not solve the border dispute. It merely settled the earlier armed dispute and stated that any border issues should be settled peacefully. The border dispute itself was settled in Rabat in June 1972 in a different treaty.

        The Ifrane Treaty was signed and ratified by both Algeria and Morocco in January 1969 and registered at the UN by Morocco in December the same year.

        The Treaty of Rabat was signed by both Algeria and Morocco in June 1972. It was registered at the UN by Algeria in 2002 after it had been ratified by the Algerian Parliament (don’t know the year), but the Moroccan Parliament has yet to ratify that treaty if I’m not mistaking.

        The text of the treaty was published in the Official bulletin of Morocco in 1992 after being signed by Hassan II, but to my knowledge it has still to this day not been ratified by the Moroccan Parliament.


        The Ifrane Treaty in English

        The Rabat Treaty in English
        The Rabat Treaty in French

        Record of registration of The Rabat Treaty at the UN, in English

  5. September 14, 2009 21:11

    Thanks both of you for the comments & links.

    Laroussi — On Ifrane, I think that was still the major turning point in the border discussions, when Morocco grudgingly acknowledged the basic legitimacy of colonial borders (except, as it were, between Morocco and Spanish Sahara), even if demarcation and an official end to the dispute remained (and to some extent still remain) to be worked out.

    D. Sahraouie — Great info. I’d like to hear more, esp. if you can tell us anything about the extent of Libyan support. I was under the impression that Algeria was very much dominant at least from the late 70s?

    • September 14, 2009 22:50

      If Libya took the initiative to support Polisario in 1972, it has mainteni this initiative until the last minute in 1984. What I am going to tell you is confidential, but I am going to tell it because Moroccan know about that thanks to the king of the defectors, Omar Hadrami. Thus it is not any more a secret.

      The Algerian authorities believed that the Polisario had to limit itself to a war of guerilla and remain always light. Then they refused to give heavy weapons. Polisario thought of the opposite because it had the initiative on the ground. Then, to have what he wanted he always had to go in Libya. If there was Libya, Polisario would never have had tanks. Naturally, the Algerian authorities having seen the good results obtained they were enjoyed and started to supply the same thing.
      On the civil side, I am going to give you an example. When Libya sent helps, there were always stocks of tents for the refugees. Later, it was the crisis.

    • Laroussi permalink
      September 15, 2009 19:47

      Alle — Ifrane was, as you point out, of course the major turning point in the border dispute between Morocco and Algeria since it was a kind of peace treaty which put an end to the armed conflict. However Morocco never acknowledged the basic legitimacy of colonial borders in the Ifrane treaty. What Morocco did later in 1972 in Rabat was to accept the border set up by France in the Lalla Magnia Treaty in 1845. No general acceptance however of the colonial borders as stipulated by the Africa Union has ever been presented from Morocco to my knowledge.

      The border dispute between Morocco and Algeria remains to be settled to this day, since the border treaty from 1972 still has not been ratified by the Moroccan parliament. It is therefore that you still many years after the Sand War can see official Moroccan maps without a clear eastern border, like this one from the National Moroccan Institute for Oil Exploration.

  6. ibnkafka permalink
    September 16, 2009 12:42

    Laroussi: You are somewhat blinded by you partisanship on this, to put it mildly. Both the Ifrane and the Rabat treaties have been ratified by Morocco, and the content of these treaties put to rest your claims that Morocco harbours any territorial claims vis-à-vis Algeria. The supposed lack of ratification by Morocco’s parliament is a canard: according to article 31 of the Moroccan constitution, only treaties affecting public finances are subject to parliamentary ratification. The Rabat treaty was thus ratified by Morocco in 1989 and published in the Bulletin officiel du Royaume du Maroc that year: . The Ifrane treaty was ratified in 1992.

    As for the map, its source is a Polisario website. Maps from official Moroccan websites represent the Algerian border as agreed between the two countries: see here on the site of the ministry of justice ( ), on the national portal (small map on the top –بورتريه+المغرب/ ), on the site of the ministry of habous and islamic affairs ( ), the site of the Tourism Board (map on the left hand side – ), and the road map published by the transportation ministry (ère.htm ).

  7. Laroussi permalink
    September 17, 2009 18:51

    “Laroussi: You are somewhat blinded by you partisanship on this, to put it mildly.”

    Ibn Kafka: Now that is indeed a very strange remark coming from someone so narrow-mindedly supports the Moroccan claims on Western Sahara.

    In any case, I doubt that you are right about the ratification of the treaties not having to pass the parliament in Morocco. When I have time I will get back to you on that matter. Unfortunately not now.

    Regarding the Moroccan maps, unfortunately none of the links that you posted work. But even if they did, there are official Moroccan maps and there are official Moroccan maps. I will see if I can’t find some more examples of Moroccan maps with a strange eastern border for you. 🙂

    Do you honestly think that Western Sahara Resource Watch (which by the way is not a Polisario site) would take such a risk as publishing a map that was tampered with? That would be too easy for Morocco to counter.

    Contrary to Moroccan policy, the pro-Saharawi sites live on presenting legal arguments in favour of their case and on having a good image in accordance with international law. You may not agree with what they say but accusing them of tampering with the borders of a map is really low even for you. Such actions would kill their public image straight away.

  8. ibnkafka permalink
    September 21, 2009 01:13

    Laroussi: you’re the one arguing that Morocco has territorial claims on Algeria, despite the treaties signed and ratified by Morocco – both were published in the Bulletin officiel du Royaume du Maroc by dahir – and the official maps produced, so you have the burden of proof.

    Now, if you have even the slightest acquaintance with Moroccan law, you’d know that a dahir is a royal act against which no remedy is open (see my post on the subject: ). When laws and treaties are promulgated by dahir, the same way for example as laws & treaties in France are promulgated by the President, this takes place only after the full legislative or ratification process has taken place. The theory according to which a dahir – in effect a royal decree – promulgating a treaty not subject to parliamentary approval is void… for lack of parliamentary approval has its place in an El Watan column, not in a real-life discussion.

    Btw, here’s article 31 of the Moroccan constitution:
    ARTICLE 31: Le Roi accrédite les ambassadeurs auprès des puissances étrangères et des organismes internationaux. Les ambassadeurs ou les représentants des organismes internationaux sont accrédités auprès de Lui.

    Il signe et ratifie les traités. Toutefois, les traités engageant les finances de l’Etat ne peuvent être ratifiés sans avoir été préalablement approuvés par la loi.

    Les traités susceptibles de remettre en cause les dispositions de la Constitution sont approuvés selon les procédures prévues pour la réforme de la Constitution.

    You were right about the links to the maps, they are fixed now.

    As for the theory that a site supporting the Polisario to the hilt, or those providing it with the information, would be above doctoring maps due to the risk to their public image – yes indeed, I can imagine the FT or the WaPo leading with an editorial on the shehanigans of whatever some pro-Polisario site publishes… I therefore maintain that whatever its source, the map on the site you referred to is irrelevant when determining Morocco’s official stance on its borders with Algeria, in the face of maps from official sites – not to mention the treaties signed, ratified and published.

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