“Stalemate” has been one of the many words associated with the Western Saharan conflict. It was also the topic of a recent Global Post piece that discusses the nature of the conflict and the lack of progress made towards its resolution. The discussion surrounding the conflict has also seen little progress. Even within arguably progressive circles of Moroccan activists who champion democratic reforms, those values seem to vanish when discussing the Western Saharan conflict.
Whenever I’ve questioned the validity of the history presented by Moroccan state-sanctioned curricula, that discussion almost always ends with accusations of being a secessionist or a supporter of the Bouteflika regime. Whenever I’ve questioned the goals of the Polisario Front and the means they’ve used to reach those goals, that discussion almost always ends with accusations of being a neo-traditionalist or conservative monarchist. When questions lead to accusations without a sound exchange of ideas, I can’t help but consider that this discourse is very much reflective of the nature of the conflict.
For decades, the Moroccan regime has latched onto die-hard nationalist rhetoric as the medium through which they’ve propelled and enforced policies that have claimed the lives of thousands and displaced the lives of tens of thousands of others. Just 3 paragraphs into the Moroccan constitution, the matter of “territorial integrity” makes its debut (and is mentioned about 5 other times):
Etat musulman souverain, attaché à son unité nationale et à son intégrité territoriale, le Royaume du Maroc entend préserver, dans sa plénitude et sa diversité, son identité nationale une et indivisible.
A sovereign Muslim state, committed to its national unity and territorial integrity, the Kingdom of Morocco intends to preserve, in its fullness and diversity, its one and indivisible national identity.
This notion of “territorial integrity” topped off with words like “national unity” and “national identity” have effectively shaped and determined the way the Western Saharan conflict is discussed. The issue is it’s not a conflict of “national unity” or “national identity.” It’s not even a conflict of “territorial integrity.” It’s about a disputed territory that hosts abundant natural resources and a strategic geopolitical location, with a complicated and largely undocumented history, in addition to a population that remains divided in how to define and identify themselves. It’s a conflict that grew out of European imperialism and blown out of proportion by Cold War politics.
The history of the discourse surrounding the Western Saharan conflict was largely framed by the late Hassan II–a king who dubbed himself “Commander of the Faithful,” insulted the people he reigned over in televised speeches, hid away his critics in secret prisons, and instituted economic policies that entrapped the vast quantity of the country’s wealth within the hands of a privileged few. If I question Hassan II’s legacy in political economy and human rights, why wouldn’t I question his narrative of the Western Saharan conflict? And why can’t I do that without being labelled a secessionist or Polisario-apologist?
What frustrates me even more is seeing the inclusion of outside voices (most certainly paid for by the regime) touting this nationalist rhetoric on the Western Sahara. Below are 2 fairly recent examples:
Above, Egyptian singer, Hany Shaker, performing at the partially state-funded Mawazine Music Festival, where at the 3:10 mark, he proclaims his support for the “Moroccan Sahara.”
Popular Youtube sensation, Keenan, covers a remix of the classic Jil Jilala song “Laayoune 3aynia,” which is a song that names popular geographic landmarks of the Western Sahara using possessive pronouns.