The Happy Arab News Service

Monday, March 12, 2007

Western Sahara

Next month Morocco is going to present its autonomy plan for Western Sahara to the UN. The plan includes creating a local parliament and independent judiciary. Apart from this Western Sahara remains firmly under Morocco's rule and no independence referendum is on offer. The Economist has serious doubts that the recent Moroccan initiative has much chance to peacefully resolve one of the longest intifadas of the Arab world:

But Morocco seems unlikely to get majority support from the UN Security Council currently led by South Africa, which in 2004 joined a list of more than 70 mainly African and Latin American countries that recognise the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic. Even if the proposal did win support, Polisario leaders have vowed to reject it. They accuse Morocco of playing for time while trying to entrench its presence in the Western Sahara and continuing to exploit stocks of phosphate (the territory's biggest earner) and fish.

Western Sahara started its independence struggle at the time when Spain ruled the land. In 1973 the first raid on a Spanish outpost was reported. In the end the Spanish played a nasty trick on Frente Polisario that did most of the fighting when in 1976 they withdrew after partitioning Western Sahara between Mauritania and Morocco. Yet Polisario happened to be a tenacious opponent. Despite strifing and bombing by the French air force of Polisario's positions, Mauritania has been soon defeated and withdrew from the conflict. With the departure of Mauritania, Morocco invaded its part of Western Sahara and now controls most of the land.

The thing is that militarily the two sides are deadlocked after Morocco with Saudi financial support constructed a 2,400 km long trench-cum-wall virtually sealing off a major part of Western Sahara. All major population centers and phosphate mines were left on the Moroccan side. On the other hand Polisario controls barren patches of land, comprising just about a third of the original territory and infested with 5 million and something land mines, to the east of the wall and refugee camps in Algeria, its long time ally. The wall is guarded by a Moroccan army whose size equals that of the whole population of Western Sahara. On the Moroccan side the settlers now outnumber the local Sahrawis by two to one. In short, the Israeli settlers' dream came true in Western Sahara. And even more:

Following the failure of Mr Baker's mission and more recently the resignation of John Bolton (who took a close interest in the subject) as the American ambassador to the UN, America has become less engaged. The Spanish prime minister, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, who was recently in the Moroccan capital, Rabat, has made no serious effort to broker a deal. And Morocco has enjoyed unwavering support from France, a permanent member of the UN Security Council and still the most influential European country in the area. As the French vie to protect their influence there against America, they will not want to be seen to withdraw support from a key ally.


With the US foriegn policy dominated more and more by the 'pragmatists' and with the French and Spanish constructive and nuanced approach to the issue, things look shit for Polisario.

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