“Letter from a Sahrawi friend”
Quick translation of an interesting editorial in Morocco’s outspoken weekly Le Journal hebdomadaire, in the form of a fictive letter from a “Sahrawi friend” describing how his cost/benefit analysis of Western Saharan independence is shifting. Shorter version: the present regime in Morocco can’t win Sahrawi hearts and minds.
This letter isn’t real. It doesn’t exist, and we hope it will never exist. One could name all the reasons we think that the Sahara is Moroccan, but that’s not the question. We don’t need to convince ourselves. We’re part of the overwhelming majority that is already convinced. What we need to do is to freely analyze our policy towards this conflict. Are we on the right path? This exercise aims to make us reflect upon that. – ABOUBAKR JAMAÏ, Le Journal hebdomadaire.
“You ask me whether I prefer to live in an independent Sahrawi state if I was allowed the choice? Actually, I’m divided on this issue.
“In contrast to some of my Sahrawi friends, I’m not convinced that independence is the only possible way for me and my own to flourish. They think that independence is the only possible way to guarantee our collective and individual rights. Bottom line, they haven’t convinced me. At the same time, I won’t deny that, as of late, I’ve begun reflecting on this idea of independence more seriously, and on what it would mean for us. But before I tell you what I think today, I’d like to tell you how my opinions have developed.
“In September 1999, I was 20 years old. That year saw my political awakening, more precisely during the manifestations that Driss Basri’s police forces so harshly repressed. I was among those who took to the street to show how sick we were of the way the central government managed our region. We wanted respect and good governance. We’d had enough of this policy of fattening our Sheikhs and beating and imprisoning our youth, and of the so-called leaders of the Sahara who were made ministers and rich governors and hung around their villas in the Souissi quarter of Rabat, and came down to show off for us…
“We thought that with the death of Hassan II, Morocco would have changed. The young king brought a new mood with him, and he was said to be close to the civil society which I admired so much. That the new king wanted to put Morocco – put us – on the path to democracy seemed totally credible.
“And, to be honest, back in those days we thought the alternative to Moroccan sovereignty was Mohamed Abdelaziz and the Polisario. For me, that was an easy choice. Sure, the old ones spoke about the legendary Brahim El Ouali, an El Ouali Mustapha Sayid who was for the Moroccanity of the Sahara at first, but then changed his mind due to repression from the hardliners in the regime. They also told us that Abdelaziz was just a leader among several, that there were other more intellectual and charismatic figures in the Polisario. Fine, but what I saw was an organization that, sure, it was made up of earnest Sahrawis, but at the same time it was under the jackboot of Algerian security. I couldn’t see myself in a state run by those people. Exchanging the Moroccan monarchy for agents of the Algerian army? No thanks.
“Especially not with the promising Mohammed VI on the other side. As you can see, I believed in him. Even my pro-independence pals calmed down a bit. But then time just passed without anything really changing.
“Actually a whole new pro-independence generation has emerged. A generation which is more seductive, more democratic. This Haidar, for example. She’s really cool. You’ve seen how some people call her the ‘Sahrawi Gandhi’? Yeah, think about it! To know she was beaten and mistreated by the police, that really got to me.
“She’s not a terrorist, after all. And even terrorists have rights. Still, I didn’t always agree with her at first – but seeing what they’d done to her and her friends, I started asking questions. You realize that they were transferring teachers and activists and radical leftists and members of the Forum for Truth and Justice [FVJ, a human rights group] all over Morocco, because of their political activities? Even worse, they threw them out of the Forum.
“That – now that got me thinking. It was organizations like the Forum that had made the new regime appealing to me. For me, it was the fact that they existed and were able to work freely that had made it possible to believe in a democratic Morocco. Haidar and her people also made me think, because they weren’t Polisario’s playthings – at least I don’t think so.
“I told myself that, when you look at the recent experiences of independence processes under the UN, they’re not that bad. Sure, they have problems, but they’re democracies. And I’d hope that my future co-citizens would have the brains not to vote for daddy Abdelaziz. Perhaps for one of the kids who are getting beat up by the Moroccan regime right now? Or why not for Aminatou – wouldn’t that be something, the first “Ms. President” to be elected in an Arab and Muslim country?
“Then what? We’d be 300,000 citizens with rich seas, phosphates, beautiful tourist sites, and probably oil as well. I haven’t added it all up yet, but do we really need to? And just for good measure, we’d let the US install a military base too. Not Guantánamo-style, of course, but it would let them fight that al-Qaida in the Sahel which worries them so much… and we’d turn into a strategic ally of the United States of America.
“So, yeah, I’ve started to question some things. I really did dream of a united Morocco, but a democratic one. With this controlled justice system, these businessmen of the regime who hog all the best economic opportunities, these trampled liberties – I’ve started questioning things.
“But, you see, I’m going to have a son now. Suddenly my hopes are not just for myself, but for the little one and for what I leave him to inherit. I want him to live a dignified life. I want him to live in a world, a country, where you can dream and realize your dream. I, who was hoping that Morocco would be that country, now doubt it.”