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“Letter from a Sahrawi friend”

November 22, 2009
by

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.

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DEAR FRIEND,

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…

King Mohamed VI visiting El Aaiún, the main city of Western Sahara.

“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.

Aminatou Haidar, after being beaten by Moroccan police in 2005, just before being sent to jail for participating in a pro-independence demonstration. She's presently in exile.

“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.”

6 Comments leave one →
  1. December 2, 2009 08:15

    It’s interesting that it even got published. Even though I’m convienced that a vast majority of the Sahrawi population in the occupied territories want independence, I am also convienced that a vast majority of the population in Morocco want freedom.

  2. December 3, 2009 11:40

    To complicate matters, I’d like to add that a vast majority of the population in Morocco also wants the Sahara…

  3. Laroussi permalink
    December 7, 2009 14:01

    “To complicate matters, I’d like to add that a vast majority of the population in Morocco also wants the Sahara…”

    Really? And how do you know that? Because Moroccan nationalists here say so? The issue of Western Sahara is not a common topic in most Moroccan homes. Social and economic problems are much, much more important.

    If Moroccans where given the choice between improved economy + reduced unemployment, and holding on to the part of Western Sahara which Morocco controls – I would say the choice would be very easy for most Moroccans.

    Besides, the vast majority of the Moroccan population does not even know that Western Sahara is occupied. They beleive it was given to Morocco by the International Court in the Haague in its 1975 ruling, since that is the version of the MVI regime and that is what is tought in Moroccan schools (and 99% of Moroccan media).

    The vast majority of Moroccans even think that Morocco controls all of Western Sahara which is quite fun actually.🙂

    Ignorance is a bliss?

  4. December 7, 2009 17:26

    They beleive it was given to Morocco by the International Court in the Haague in its 1975 ruling, since that is the version of the MVI regime and that is what is tought in Moroccan schools (and 99% of Moroccan media).

    Right, and I think that’s had some effect, too. I’m sure getting a job or getting married is a more pressing issue for most poor, young Moroccans than keeping Dakhla (or Nador for that matter) but the choice is unlikely to ever be put to him/her in those terms. There are no polls, for obvious reasons, but the support for taking/keeping the Sahara seems semi-total among those sectors of Moroccan society which have any weight within the system. Not saying it couldn’t change — with liberalization, I rather expect a more nuanced view to emerge, although it could take a while. But that appears to be the situation today. Feel free to correct me if you think I’m wrong.

  5. DesertJM permalink
    December 8, 2009 10:05

    @laroussi

    I’d like to complicate the matter even more:

    Not only the vast majority, not to say all Moroccans solidly believe that the Sahara is Moroccan, but it was the Moroccans who pushed the monarchy all over the years to get the Sahara back to Morocco. Hassan II, totally unpopular in the 70s, would never have been able to call more than 350000 people to the famous Green March. Even people who strongly oppose the regime in Morocco like Mr Jamai or Lemrabet, believe the Sahara is Moroccan.

    An other thought just to make your brain work a bit: The Sahara is more peaceful and more secure than any region in Algeria, including the capital of that country😉

    Deal with this.

  6. December 29, 2009 19:57

    To the author of the letter. You seem quite smart to put it this way: make independence attractive since a democratic Morocco is far-fetched a possibility to your sense.

    Let me tell start with this: all Moroccans believe strongly that the Sahara is moroccan: even better, was, has been and will be moroccan. If you think the socio-economic conditions will dissuade moroccans to pursue the defense of the Sahara, you are simply mistaken. They have made lot of sacrifices to keep that part of Morocco and they are ready to go to the emxtremist of scenarios to protect their territorial integrity.

    let talk some sense now: what is the alternative: a corrupt polisario leadership receiving instructions from Algeria, the big brother. between us: do you think that algeria cares about the self-determination of the sahraouis? if that was the case, they could have respected the self-determination choice of their own citizens in the 90’s. what about the 300.000 thousand alegrians being murdered?

    let me add something: who is living in the camps: sahraouis, I doubt it. otherwise, why do alegria and the polisario oppose a census of the population!

    last comment: read the declassified documents of the State Department. they may clarify the picture further for you.

    About Morocco: tell me one country in the region or in the Arab world, the polisario excluded since it is the same guerella leaders still in control of the camps and subdued to the algerian army and security services, who has a decent record of human rights, more political openings and more reforms?

    I will be back.

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