Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Could war come back to Western Sahara? Some of Algeria’s Sahrawi refugees think so.

To watch the video : Could war come back to Western Sahara? Some of Algeria’s Sahrawi refugees think so. By Whitney Shefte December 31 at 10:45 AM Refugees from Western Sahara have been living in camps in Algeria since 1975. Now, faced with a reduction in international aid, some Sahrawis are calling for a return to war. (Whitney Shefte/The Washington Post) Tumana Ahmed is tired of dreaming of a homeland she has never seen. The 28-year-old was born in the desolate desert of western Algeria, in a refugee camp that was supposed to be temporary. Only there has been nothing temporary about her situation, or that of about 150,000 of her current neighbors. Ahmed’s family and thousands of others fled their homeland of Western Sahara, a territory bordering Algeria that is about the size of New Zealand, after Morocco annexed the territory in 1975. Nearly 40 years later, the families still have not returned. Morocco and Western Sahara engaged in armed conflict until 1991, when the United Nations brokered a cease-fire. As part of the deal, Morocco was supposed to conduct a referendum for Sahrawis to decide whether they wanted to be part of an independent nation or remain under Moroccan rule. But that referendum still hasn’t happened. Many Sahrawis worry that without a return to armed conflict, the referendum may never happen. “For me, I think there is only two solutions,” Ahmed said. “We go to the borders, fight, make war, which is not the best solution. And the other solution, which is self-determination, this is the best one. Just let us vote. Is Morocco afraid of something?” Tumana Ahmed, right, a Sahrawi refugee living in camps in Algeria, speaks with a fellow refugee after prayers on Oct. 8, 2013. Ahmed was born in the camps, which are in the western part of the country near the city of Tindouf, and she has never traveled to Western Sahara. (Whitney Shefte/The Washington Post) Leaders of the Sahrawi resistance movement who govern the camps encourage Sahrawi youths to be patient. “We’re still believing in peace, and we’re still believing that United Nations is able to do something,” said M’hamed Khadad, the U.N. Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) coordinator for the Polisario Front, the resistance movement. “But they are in need really to push this thing hard because you cannot really control the feeling and the sentiment of people." He noted that 60 percent of the people in the camp are youths, many of them born after the cease-fire. MINURSO workers in Western Sahara spend their time monitoring the cease-fire. There have been efforts from time to time to hold a referendum, but the Moroccan government and the Polisario Front cannot agree on who should be considered eligible to vote. And some Sahrawis want to remain under Moroccan rule. “It’s problematic,” said Hajbouha Zoubir, a Sahrawi who works for the Moroccan Royal Advisory Council for Saharan Affairs. In October 2013, Sahrawis in the Dakhla refugee camp reenacted the 2010 Gdeim Izik protest that took place outside Laayoune, Western Sahara. During the Gdeim Izik protest, thousands of Sahrawis erected tents in the desert in protest of Morocco's occupation of Western Sahara and a lack of jobs and limited freedom of speech in the territory. The camp was violently dismantled, with Moroccan police and protesters clashing. (Whitney Shefte/The Washington Post) After Morocco invaded Western Sahara, the kingdom offered thousands of Moroccans tax breaks to move into the territory. It’s thought that Moroccans now outnumber Sahrawis by at least 2 to 1 in Western Sahara, which has a population of about 500,000. And Morocco argues that Algerians have populated the Polisario-run refugee camps. Representatives of the Polisario — which is backed by Algeria — deny this. Morocco also claims that Western Sahara, which is rich in fisheries and phosphate mines, was part of Morocco long before the Spanish ruled the territory from 1884 until 1975 and that Morocco thus has a right to the land. In fact, Berber tribes mostly populated the region before Spanish rule, at one point forming the Almoravid dynasty, whose rule included both Morocco and Western Sahara. The International Court of Justice ruled that indigenous Sahrawis have sovereignty over Western Sahara – not Morocco. “Mainly it’s become part of the national ideology in Morocco that Western Sahara is part of the territory,” said Jacob Mundy, assistant professor of peace and conflict studies at Colgate University. “It’s viewed as being historically part of Morocco, and today the nation obviously benefits from the occupation in terms of certain mineral wealth and other sorts of things." For the current Moroccan government, he said, "one of the pillars of its legitimacy is the continued control over Western Sahara and the hope for the eventual legal annexation in the international community’s eyes.” Most nations, including the United States, do not recognize Morocco’s sovereignty over Western Sahara. But France — a member of the U.N. Security Council — has defended Morocco. “Conflicts like this where the big boys are involved — the big boys being the permanent five members of the Security Council — can be incredibly difficult to resolve,” Mundy said. “So while there is overwhelming international consensus that Western Sahara is owed some act of self-determination … there’s no will from the Security Council to really push this conflict in any direction that would otherwise upset what is a real, kind of delicate balance of interest.” This reality is something that Ahmed has come to understand, which is why she says a return to war may be the only way she’ll ever see her family's homeland. Learn more about the conflict between Western Sahara and Morocco by watching this video. This story was made possible with support from the International Women's Media Foundation. Whitney Shefte is a Peabody, Emmy and Pictures of the Year International (POYi) Award-winning senior video journalist at The Washington Post, where she has worked since 2006. Whitney is also the visuals editor for Story

Monday, December 15, 2014

Resistance in Occupied Western Sahara: women defining a society

Resistance in Occupied Western Sahara: women defining a society ERICA VASQUEZ 14 December 2014 Although men and women both actively participate in resistance projects, Sahrawi women facilitate most of the communication between non-violent activists from one city to another in this under-reported struggle. Rally for Western Sahara’s freedom: Madrid, November, 2014. Rally for Western Sahara’s freedom: Madrid, November, 2014. Jose_Hinojosa/Demotix. All rights reserved. On June 15, 2014 I witnessed groups of peaceful demonstrators beaten to the ground and forcefully moved off of the streets and followed to their homes. Most shockingly, a woman was punched in the face and moved off of the sidewalk into the path of oncoming traffic. Every 15th of the month there is an organized nonviolent demonstration throughout the major cities of the occupied territories of Western Sahara: El Aaiún, Smara, Dakhla, and Boujdour. The largest demonstration is in El Aaiún on Smara Street, which is the most heavily populated city in the territories. This city is also where the most prominent and vocal activists live, notably Aminatou Haidar and Muhammad Dadash. In preparation for the monthly demonstration, the Moroccan security forces line the length of Smara Street. Police officers keep one hand on their weapons, riot police are fully dressed in riot gear from head to toe, and multiple armored vehicles crowd the street corners of connecting streets and alleyways. Although unarmed civilians lead the monthly demonstrations, the Moroccan security forces use excessive force to prevent many protesters from gathering on the street. The response of the security forces this time was not an isolated event. According to numerous Sahrawi activists, this is the result of engaging in resistance and attempting to express themselves in public. Sahrawi women as activists and leaders At the start of the military occupation in 1976, many Sahrawi men joined the liberation army and fought against the Moroccan state for several years. In their absence, Sahrawi women were primarily responsible for their household, children, and finances. At the same time, many women reported to the Frente Polisario about the internal dynamics of the occupation. Those who worked as informants for the opposition were arrested and unlawfully imprisoned by the Moroccan state. Many women, forcefully, were unexpectedly separated from their families and children and locked away for up to 11 years. They were tortured, interrogated, and abused all throughout their prison term in secret prisons located throughout the occupied territories and Morocco-proper. During a field-study conducted in the summer of 2014, I interviewed dozens of women who had been tortured and imprisoned in the 1980s. They were released in 1991 by the Moroccan government due to the pressure imposed by the United Nations. All of the activists interviewed are still actively involved in the resistance movement and have been since their release. Even after years of torture, injustice, and mass human rights violations they were not deterred from participating in the fight for self-determination. Today, the majority of the protesters on the street are Sahrawi women. This is representative of the greater composition of Sahrawi activists throughout the occupied territories. Although men and women both actively participate in resistance projects, Sahrawi women facilitate most of the communication between activists from one city to another. They organize protests, mediate activist press conferences, work in clandestine journalism, and collaborate with international human rights organizations on a consistent basis. While the primary objective of the resistance projects is the achievement of self-determination, the primary method of resistance is nonviolent. Both men and women activists emphasize the importance of pacifism and draw on international law to support their cause. Since the brokering of the ceasefire by the United Nations, Sahrawi activists have been fully dedicated to peaceful methods of protest and resistance in the face of violent state suppression. Long-term political resistance defining Sahrawi society The means of resisting the occupation and organizing resistance projects form a significant part of social life in this part of Western Sahara. Families gather around a television set at home that is constantly turned on to RASD TV, which is the national television station run by the Frente Polisario. Images of the Sahrawi liberation army and female soldiers appear in every other commercial break, as well as the martyr and founder of the opposition: al-Wali Mustafa As-Sayyid. Politics and political resistance is a matter for daily discussion, consistently visible in daily life. Outside the family, activists visit one another on a regular basis. Sahrawi women often facilitate these gatherings by inviting friends and colleagues over to their homes. They share stories of injustice and human rights abuses from other cities in the territories. They keep each other informed about resistance activities led by other activists. Why is this so under-reported? While discussion of the conflict dominates social life here, the Western Sahara question receives very little international media attention. In recent years there have been a handful of articles that focus on the prominent role of Sahrawi women in political resistance. However, this focus has been systematically prevented from entering the occupied territories. Instead the coverage has focused on the leadership of Sahrawi women in the refugee camps located in Tindouf, Algeria. So how does a conflict that began in 1976 and a nonviolent resistance movement that has existed for decades go into relative anonymity? This is largely due to the efficiency of the Moroccan military occupation. The Moroccan state has established a level of surveillance that tightly regulates the flow of foreign visitors into the Occupied Territories. Because of the surveillance, few journalists have successfully entered the region and reported from within. In July 2014, a German journalist and his British colleague entered the territories to report on the monthly demonstration. Within hours they were searched, questioned, and sent out of the Occupied Territories and back into Morocco-proper. This is one small example of the efficiency of the Moroccan occupation to track foreign visitors, expel them from the territories, and effectively prevent any coverage of human rights violations and violence.

Monday, December 01, 2014

Makhzen Wikileaks: A new Moroccan Snowdan?

Chris Coleman: un Wikileaks marocain dont personne ne parle De gauche à doite : Yassine Mansouri, patron de la DGED, le diplomate américain Christopher Ross, Salaheddine Mezzouar , ministre des Affaires étrangères. Chris Coleman: un Wikileaks marocain dont personne ne parle 1 décembre 2014 Par Ignacio Cembrero La masse de documents publiés par le compte anonyme Chris Coleman depuis le 3 octobre est une mine d’informations sur la diplomatie marocaine. Pourtant, tous les regards se détournent de leur contenu, aussi bien les officiels que la presse. Explications d’un mystère bien marocain. Lorsque, fin novembre 2010, les premiers câbles du Département d’Etat ont commencé à être publiés par le New York Times aux États-Unis et d’autres journaux en Europe, ce fut le branle-bas de combat à Washington. D’abord la Maison Blanche puis, à tour de rôle, le chef du Pentagone Robert Gates, celui du Département d’Etat Hillary Clinton, et bien d’autres se mobilisèrent pour dénoncer l’ « irresponsabilité » de Julien Assange et de ses acolytes journalistes. Tous se sont alors efforcés d’atténuer les critiques envers tel ou tel homme politique étranger qui apparaissait dans les dépêches ; de rassurer les partenaires sur l’invulnérabilité des communications américaines en accélérant l’enquête sur l’origine de la fuite. Le Congrès a, quant à lui, promulgué une législation interdisant, entre autres, de rendre publics les noms des confidents des différents services secrets américains. Du coté de la presse et de la société civile, en revanche, d’autres journaux américains ont tenté de concurrencer le New York Times. Parallèlement, universités et fondations organisèrent des débats sur les répercussions de ces révélations sur la politique étrangère des Etats-Unis, son image dans le monde ou le droit de la presse de tout dire. Depuis le début du mois d’octobre dernier, le Maroc vit, à son échelle, son propre Wikileaks. Sous le faux profil de Chris Coleman, un compte anonyme distille sur Twitter des centaines de documents de la diplomatie marocaine et aussi des courriels où apparaissent des think-tanks, des sociétés de relations publiques, des journalistes, marocains et étrangers, et des collaborateurs de la DGED, les services secrets tournés vers l’extérieur. Certains remontent à 2008 mais la plupart sont récents. Les derniers remontent au 2 octobre. Un désintérêt surprenant Mais une chape de plomb couvre, au Maroc, cette masse de documents accessibles pourtant à tous sur Internet. A part quelques rares déclarations officielles, comme celle de la ministre déléguée aux Affaires Étrangères, Mbarka Bouaida, qui a accusé des « éléments pro Polisario » d’avoir agi avec l’appui de l’Algérie, aucun membre du gouvernement, aucun sécuritaire, aucun parti politique ne s’est prononcé sur un sujet aussi majeur. Il n’y a eu, par ailleurs, aucun démenti de l’authenticité des câbles. Même prudence pour ce qui est de la presse. Certes il y a eu quelques « papiers » mais, en général, c’était pour s’en prendre à l’Algérie ou reprendre les propos, de cet été, de Christopher Ross, l’Envoyé personnel de Ban Ki-moon pour le Sahara, sur le mauvaise passe que traverse le Front Polisario. Les journaux n’ont pas épluché en détail les télégrammes, les politologues marocains n’ont pas analysé cette manne d’information riche d’enseignements sur la politique étrangère du Maroc, sur la façon dont travaille la diplomatique marocaine ou la DGED sur le Sahara etc. Personne ne se demande publiquement quelles seront les conséquences de ce déballage sur les conversations entre le Maroc et le Polisario sous l’égide de l’ONU. Les dessous de la diplomatie marocaine Pourtant il y a matière à débat. D’abord sur cette énorme brèche dans les communications confidentielles du Maroc qu’un service étranger ou un simple hacker pro Polisario, – les paris sont ouverts – , a réussi à ouvrir. Ensuite et surtout sur ce que ces documents nous apprennent. Ils nous renseignent avec précision sur l’hostilité de la diplomatie marocaine envers Ross, qui est même décrit comme un alcoolique, malgré son discret appui à la proposition d’autonomie marocaine ; sur le veto marocain (depuis mai 2014) à ce que Kim Bulduc prenne ses fonctions à Laayoune comme Représentante de Ban Ki-moon ; sur les tensions que tout cela entraîne avec le Secrétariat général de l’ONU et même avec le Département d’État américain; sur les raisons de fond qui incitent Rabat à refuser que le mandat de la MINURSO soit élargi et que ce contingent de « casques bleus » puisse s’occuper des droits de l’homme. Lire aussi : Des documents confidentiels de responsables marocains fuitent sur le web Au sein du Haut Commissariat aux Droits de l’Homme et à celui aux Réfugiés à Genève, la diplomatie marocaine a su, en revanche, se faire des amis qui la renseignent en sous-main sur les initiatives de ses adversaires et l’aident même à saboter leurs projets. Malgré la crise qui sévit entre Rabat et Paris depuis février dernier, les diplomates français prennent encore la peine de raconter par le menu à leurs homologues marocains ce qui s’est dit dans certaines réunions (Groupe des Amis du Sahara Occidental) auxquelles ils n’ont pas accès. La perle dans ce flot de tweets est, pour le moment, l’accord verbal conclu il y a un an à la Maison Blanche entre le président Barack Obama et son hôte, le Roi Mohamed VI. Washington renonçait à modifier le mandat de la MINURSO mais, en échange, les autorités marocaines faisaient trois concessions : établir un programme de visites du Haut Commissariat aux Droits de l’Homme au Sahara ; en finir avec les tribunaux militaires jugeant les civils ; et légaliser les ONG sahraouies indépendantistes comme Codesa d’Aminetou Haidar. Rabat a tenu promesse sur les deux premier points, mais pas sur le troisième. La monoculture saharienne La sélection de câbles offerte pas Chris Coleman n’est sans doute pas tout à fait représentative de ce que produit la diplomatie marocaine. Le Sahara y occupe une large place. Mais il est vrai que le ministre Salaheddine Mezzouar et le palais pratiquent la monoculture saharienne. Les relations avec bon nombre de pays, depuis les plus lointains comme le Paraguay jusqu’aux plus proches, comme l’Espagne ou le Royaume Uni, sont perçues sous le prisme de ce que les diplomates marocains appellent la « question nationale », c’est-à-dire le Sahara. Ce qui laisse très peu de place aux grands débats qui traversent aujourd’hui la planète. Les centaines de câbles déversés sur la place publique par Chris Coleman montrent, en définitive, un État marocain vulnérable de par ses failles sécuritaires dans son système de communications. Il l’est peut-être plus encore parce-ce qu’il n’ose affronter et débattre sur ce déluge de câbles exposés au grand jour comme l’avaient fait les Américains fin 2010. Les télégrammes laissent aussi entrevoir un pouvoir rendu nerveux par ce qu’il croit être des échecs dans le contentieux du Sahara alors que ce ne sont que des petits revers. Les poids lourds de la communauté internationale souhaitent, en effet, que le Maroc conserve à tout jamais ce territoire désertique. Mais pour cela il faut y mettre les formes et ne pas trop matraquer ceux qui revendiquent l’indépendance. C’est, en gros, le message que transmettent régulièrement Ross et le Département d’Etat à leurs interlocuteurs marocains. C’est ce que reconnaît aussi, à demi mot, Driss Yazami, président du Conseil National des Droits de l’Homme, dans une réunion tenue à Rabat en janvier 2014 pour étudier la mise en œuvre de l’accord conclu à Washington. Il ne semble pas avoir été écouté. Malgré cette déconvenue diplomatique que suppose l’étalage des dépêches sur la place publique, le Maroc a aussi démontré sa force. A part quelques très rares sites spécialisés en France (Arrêt sur Images) et aux États-Unis (Inner City Press), ainsi que le quotidien espagnol El Mundo, personne ne parle du Wikileaks marocain. Il y a sans doute plusieurs raisons à ce black-out informatif : la méconnaissance du pays, surtout par les médias anglo saxons ; la déliquescence de la presse de l’Europe du sud frappée par la crise ; la présentation confuse des câbles sur Twitter ; la marge de manœuvre réduite des correspondants étrangers à Rabat etc. Mais il y a aussi la volonté de ne pas nuire à la bonne image d’un pays ami. Lire aussi : Chris Coleman : « Mon objectif ? fragiliser le Maroc »