The Stalemate of the Western Saharan Debate

“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.

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13 thoughts on “The Stalemate of the Western Saharan Debate

  1. Every nation have their national issues and Morocco one of them . The conflict about the Moroccan Sahara isn’t just against secessionists ! it’s bigger than that .Simply it’s a war started between the Algerian communist regime and the Monarchy supported by the Moroccan society . But the algerian ruling party keep and consider this conflict as
    existence or nonexistence for their party with supporting (polisario) more than anything else.So it’s intransigence issue from Algeria which want be dominant in the region .Finally, it’s not wrong to support our issues by any possible way .

  2. The marocanity of the article in the Global Post maybe not as obvious as the naive support of Youtube sensation mr. Keenan but it is much deeper rooted. The subtitle reads: “a generations-old territorial question between Morocco and Algeria”. That is precisely the Moroccan view since the Kingdom denies the existence of a Saharawi nation. No word on RASD. No word on international law. No mention of the UN that lists the former Spanish colony as a non-self governing territory.

    Also as a writer Alison makes some strange constructions. She writes about “Morocco’s de facto governance of Western Sahara since gaining full control in 1979” but then she writes “A 940-mile long sand wall separates Morocco and the Polisario, with 100,000 Moroccan troops and 10,000 Polisario soldiers manning the berm Morocco constructed in 1980.”
    C’mon! You have full control or have a berm separating the territory. Not both. And those “Polisario soldiers manning the berm Morocco constructed” …

    So where is the discussion that is stalemated? I think the conflict is stalemated and in the discussion Morocco is already checkmate for a long time.

    1. Well that’s precisely why I believe the discussion is stalemated. Moroccan nationalist rhetoric has monopolized the discourse on the Western Saharan conflict, preventing the rise of any other narrative that isn’t quickly labeled as secessionist.

      1. Of course I should realize this discussion in English is Morocco centred.

        Moroccan nationalist rhetoric has monopolized the discourse on the Western Saharan conflict, but only in the Moroccan community & media. Everywhere this monopoly is maintained by the DGED. Moroccan nationalist rhetoric is one of the reasons why so much Moroccans have an attitude of being misunderstood.
        “My land borders Mauritania” – “Not according the United Nations”
        “We have a ceasefire with Algeria”- “Algerians deny it”
        “According to out Islamic Leader the Spanish enclaves all belong to us!” – “O my God…”
        “We are the most progressive an democratic Arab nation” – Well, sure!”

  3. +++ +++ +++

    “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.”

    Are you saying that “Moroccan democratic activists” need to agree/admit that the Sahara part of Morocco is occupied in order to be consistent with their democratic values?

    Are you suggesting that amongst the reforms they are pursuing for the betterment of Morocco, they should add “withdrawal” from the “conflict”?

    +++ +++ +++

    1. I’m not arguing what views people ought to hold–whether that’s in favor of secession or integration. That’s a matter that I can’t argue for anyone other than myself. My post was meant to simply question the way the conflict is being discussed and debated.

  4. +++ +++ +++

    “…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?”

    “Questioning” is very ambiguous in this case. Because there are two reasons to question something:

    1. Exploratory: You are not sure about what you are being told
    2. Hold a different view point: You don’t agree with what you are being told and hold a different point of view. Yet in a way you are not courageous enough to come out make it your official position

    If you were sincerely wanting to ask an exploratory question it should be something like:

    – Do you believe Hassan II framed the Sahara issue properly? If so why?
    Or
    – Do you think the Sahara conflict affect the Moroccan National Identity/Unity or territorial integrity?

    There is no way that by asking the above questions you would be labeled as a secessionist!

    You are in fact questioning by expressing your opinion on the conflict that basically says:
    Hassan II is a failed leader hence his framing of the Sahara is wrong because “to me” it is not a territorial integrity or identity/unity issue!

    And for this statement/view and others you are getting labeled or harshly challenged as we see in many political discussions involving extreme positions.

    It is quite common even here in the US. Nothing strange or surprising.

    +++ +++ +++

    1. I’m struggling to understand where it is in this post I expressed my views of the conflict. You said, “You are in fact questioning by expressing your opinion on the conflict…”

      How is having an opinion on the discourse of the conflict the same as having an opinion on whether Morocco should reclaim the Western Sahara or support its independence? Where have I made either statement?

      1. +++ +++ +++

        “Just 3 paragraphs into the Moroccan constitution, the matter of “territorial integrity” makes its debut (and is mentioned about 5 other times)…”

        National Unity, Territorial Integrity, and National Identity are the tenants by which diverse regions/tribes bind to each other (their own “’till death do us part”).

        Humanity at large, and Morocco in particular went through a lot of experiments and wars to finally realize that the “Country” framework is far stronger and more stable than any tribal alliance.

        The concepts that make up the Country framework (constitution) are not indicative of die-hard nationalist rhetoric. Rather, they are the proverbial line in the sand of “what is” a Country!

        These concepts transcend geopolitical calculations and natural resources or lack there of.

        In fact, you can see those concepts in full display play in all countries in the modern world:

        – When France spends millions of Euros on programs to prop the French language from being diluted by English words, it is done for the sake of National Identity.

        – All Countries spend huge percentages of their budgets on armies (or pay into quasi-military partnerships) just in case their Territorial Integrity is challenged.

        – Democrats and republicans do get quite belligerent in the way they attack each other but one line they never cross is the one that challenges National Unity.

        For Morocco, a country with a long history of tribal alliances, it is incredibly important to have a constitution that intently and intensely reinforces the “Country” concepts.

        I for one, find it to be incredibly visionary how the new constitution weaved the past with the present, with an eye for the future.

        M6 truly took everyone to school on this one!

        +++ +++ +++

  5. Haha, this Amine, Driss’ friend, right? I think I can tell because you debate the same way you debated last time: drawing irrelevant comparisons with as many countries and international institutions as possible, while referring to Morocco in exceptional terms. Essentially suggesting that it is possible to compare to Morocco with others, but at the same time, Morocco’s uniqueness lends it a certain protection from critical perspectives because it’s so “different.”

    Every point I intended to make is in the post above. Examining the nationalist rhetoric in post-colonial Morocco is absolutely necessary for assessing the development of policies, which in one way or another, systematically marginalized major segments of the population. We can easily move away from the Sahrawi-Hassani example (since you like shifting points and providing examples of other cases so much) and look at the policies that have marginalized the diverse Amazigh population. Policies which attempted to strip them of their identity and impose a more homogeneous and constructed Arab identity. You would perhaps argue it was done for the good of the greater nation so that Morocco could unite against its European colonizer, but it took until 2011 to include Imazighen into the definition of “national identity”–a move that intended to mask the regime’s failure to democratize, but instead, liberalize.

    Nationalist rhetoric is a dangerous tool that when analyzed in the greater picture, reveals its deadly side effects that come at the expense of the minority. If the minority does not conform to these rigid definitions of “what it means to be Moroccan” as dictated in the constitution (a document that’s been changed 6 times), and if that minority acts upon their dissent in the public sphere by protesting or demanding equality, they are met with the truncheon or the walls of a prison cell.

  6. +++ +++ +++

    “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.”

    The Green March was historic for its approach (Peaceful), components (some detailed below), and success (Spain pulled out without a single shot being fired).

    One of the most important components of the March is the careful and visionary thought that went into “who” should participate in the March?

    1. Recognizing Morocco’s tribal make up, every tribe was represented through an official delegation which tribe elders selected. Including all major Sahraoui tribes and most small ones. In fact some that were clearly settles in Mauritania had participated.
    This delegitimized Spain’s position that Morocco had no claim on the Sahara.

    2. Many countries sent in official delegations to participate in the March and flew there flag while marching

    3. Tens of thousands of volunteers were turned down for logistical reasons

    And so armed with the National flag, and copies of the Koran, this representative corps of volunteers peacefully marched towards the pseudo borders to confront Spain’s colonialist army.

    At the last minute, Spain recalled its troops and peaceful ideals prevailed!

    As such, through simple words, the song relates the beauty of this event and the various values and traits of the Moroccan identity expressed though it.

    – How the whole country was properly represented and marched as one.

    – How Morocco in its wisdom avoids wars with its neighbors. (Today Spain is Morocco’s second largest economic trading partner)

    – How the tribes rallied around the monarchy to reaffirm to the modern world the fullness and diversity of Morocco’s indivisible national identity!

    – How important every hill, river and piece of land are to our national identity and integrity

    – What it means to be Moroccan beyond Couscous and Caftan.

    And just in case all the concepts above are too hard to understand, allow me to put in context the main refrain of the song:

    Laayoun aaynia
    *Laayoun (referring to the largest city in the sahara) is my eyes
    Ou sakia hamrania
    *As well as Sakia el Hamrania (referring to a city by the name of Sakia el hamra)
    Wel’wad wadi ya sidi
    *And the river is mine mister
    Nmchiw fi kfouf salama
    *We will march towards them in peace
    Allah wa nabi wel Koran maana
    *Allah, his prophet and the Koran are with us

    All these words are directed by all of the Moroccan tribes (Sahraoui included) at Franco’s Spain, the colonizing military power!

    This is not a song by a guy from the tribal north of Morocco addressing his brother from the tribal south.

    This is why this song is played at weddings by all tribes from the north of Morocco to its deep south.

    By the way, did you notice how even in addressing Spain the song writer used the word “ya sidi” (mister)!

    Just a Different Perspective for all to consider!

  7. +++ +++ +++

    “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.”

    The Green March was historic for its approach (Peaceful), components (some detailed below), and success (Spain pulled out without a single shot being fired).

    One of the most important components of the March is the careful and visionary thought that went into “who” should participate in the March?

    1. Recognizing Morocco’s tribal make up, every tribe was represented through an official delegation which tribe elders selected. Including all major Sahraoui tribes and most small ones. In fact some that were clearly settles in Mauritania had participated.
    This delegitimized Spain’s position that Morocco had no claim on the Sahara.

    2. Many countries sent in official delegations to participate in the March and flew there flag while marching

    3. Tens of thousands of volunteers were turned down for logistical reasons

    And so armed with the National flag, and copies of the Koran, this representative corps of volunteers peacefully marched towards the pseudo borders to confront Spain’s colonialist army.

    At the last minute, Spain recalled its troops and peaceful ideals prevailed!

    As such, through simple words, the song relates the beauty of this event and the various values and traits of the Moroccan identity expressed though it.

    – How the whole country was properly represented and marched as one.

    – How Morocco in its wisdom avoids wars with its neighbors. (Today Spain is Morocco’s second largest economic trading partner)

    – How the tribes rallied around the monarchy to reaffirm to the modern world the fullness and diversity of Morocco’s indivisible national identity!

    – How important every hill, river and piece of land are to our national identity and integrity

    – What it means to be Moroccan beyond Couscous and Caftan.

    And just in case all the concepts above are too hard to understand, allow me to put in context the main refrain of the song:

    Laayoun aaynia
    *Laayoun (referring to the largest city in the sahara) is my eyes
    Ou sakia hamrania
    *As well as Sakia el Hamrania (referring to a city by the name of Sakia el hamra)
    Wel’wad wadi ya sidi
    *And the river is mine mister
    Nmchiw fi kfouf salama
    *We will march towards them in peace
    Allah wa nabi wel Koran maana
    *Allah, his prophet and the Koran are with us

    All these words are directed by all of the Moroccan tribes (Sahraoui included) at Franco’s Spain, the colonizing military power!

    This is not a song by a guy from the tribal north of Morocco addressing his brother from the tribal south.

    This is why this song is played at weddings by all tribes from the north of Morocco to its deep south.

    By the way, did you notice how even in addressing Spain the song writer used the word “ya sidi” (mister)!

    Just a Different Perspective for all to consider!

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