I think that not only Moroccan Muslims but also all Muslims all over the Muslim world have to pay a great attention to the story of Western Sahara. Being so serious, its current situation might have critical repercussions on the whole region. In my previous article,
Morocco and the Story of Western Sahara, I narrated the beginnings of the story. We stated that the region was coveted by imperial Spain and France. We also stated that Spain preceded France occupying the Western Sahara region to the middle of the then Moroccan Kingdom in 1884, which was followed by the latter occupying southern Morocco (today's Mauritania) in 1902. Later on, the situation got so worse that France and Spain occupied the remaining parts of Morocco in 1906, the latter occupying Al-Rif region to the farthest north of Morocco and the former occupying the remaining unoccupied parts of Morocco. Thus, the whole kingdom was entirely taken over by French and Spanish usurpers. We could also notice that falling into the snares of occupation followed from unavoidable premises, i.e. absolute weakness of the ruling regime in Morocco. Moreover, we came to know that loyalty to European countries prevailed and most of those who were in authority at that time enjoyed no valid vision and foresight. Nevertheless, there was an enlightened movement staged by the deep-rooted Moroccan people, who did not only resist occupation but also revolted against their Sultans time and again. They even ousted some Sultans who allied with foreigner. In the same regard, a movement rose that was led by the Mujahid (struggler in Allah's Cause) prince 'Abdul-Karim Al-Khattabi followed by his son Muhammad. Although the latter achieved victory in many battles fought against occupying Spain, he was at last detained and later exiled to the Indian Ocean Reunion Island.
After Muhammad 'Abdul-Karim Al-Khattabi was exiled, things relatively calmed down. In 1927, Sultan Muhammad bin Yussuf (also known as Muhammad V) ascended the thrown of Morocco. Moreover, French and Spanish armies settled in all parts of Morocco form the farthest north to southern Mauritania. At this period, some conflicts arose between the two European armies due to disputing over defining the (ownership!) borders of each. The conflict ended up with an agreement concluded in 1932 to the effect of Span seizing control of all parts of Western Sahara, especially the territory of Saguia el-Hamra to the north of Western Sahara and the territory of Río de Oro to the south.
The Moroccan People Revolts
The deep-rooted Moroccan people continued to revolt, whether in the north, Western Sahara or Mauritania. Revolutionary movements got more furious in 1952 upon the French ousting Sultan Muhammad V, appointing Muhammad bin 'Arafah in his place. However, France went on oppressing the revolution and exiled Sultan Muhammad V along with his son Al-Hassan to Corsica and then to Madagascar in 1953. Nevertheless, public revolution never calmed down.
On the contrary, the revolution, known as Revolution of king and people, got more fierce and furious. Feeling that the situation is spinning out of control, France had to return Sultan Muhammad V to Morocco in 1955 and even had to withdraw from northern Morocco as a whole in 1955 giving way to this part of Morocco to declare independence. Meanwhile, Spain withdrew from Al-Rif region to the farthest north of Morocco, although the two cities of Ceuta and Melilla remained under occupation. In spite of independence of these two parts of Morocco, Western Sahara remained under Spanish occupation and Mauritania remained under French occupation, which fueled further revolutions in these regions aiming at attaining liberty as took place in the north. However, colonizing Span and France coordinated together and signed in 1958 the Oum Qarin (to the north of Mauritania) Convention with the purport of oppressing Muslims' revolutions in the region. Actually, they managed in the same year to annihilate the armed movement in the region of Western Sahara rendering it ineffective for more than ten years. However, this was not the case in Mauritania, where revolutions caused the French to withdraw from Mauritania in 1960 giving way to the region to declare independence as a separate state, i.e. the today's Mauritania, that is independent from Morocco.
Motivated by anxiety regarding Morocco and Mauritania gaining independence, Spain hurried to declare Western Sahara a Spanish governorate in an attempt to make Moroccans give up all hopes regarding liberating this region. Meanwhile, Sultan Muhammad V died to be succeeded to throne by his son King Hassan II, who preferred to adopt peaceful means to solve the problem of Western Sahara.
He therefore resorted to the UN requesting the liberation of Western Sahara and annexing Mauritania to Moroccan rule as was the case before the French occupation, which caused an explicit crisis between Morocco and Mauritania.
In 1962, Algeria gained independence from the French occupation to soon engage into a military strife with neighboring sister country of Morocco over the region of Tindouf, a Moroccan land subordinated by the French occupation to Algeria.ï¿½
Morocco claimed Tindouf area to be a part of Morocco after Algeria had gained independence. Reaching no agreement, both parties engaged in a war know in history as the 1963 Sand war, which had negative repercussions on this story. (I will deal with it in a separate article, if Allah so wills, that is to highlight in detail Moroccan-Algerian relations.)
Arab countries, however, interfered to settle the dispute and managed to stop war. However, rancor is still boiling up in hearts as Tindouf is still ruled by Algeria, which will, undoubtedly, has a great impact on the story of Western Sahara.
The situation remained calm in Western Sahara in spite of each party's claiming right to it in the UN. Strange enough,ï¿½ Morocco and Mauritania began to claim right to Western Sahara deepening their disunion even in the UN! In 1970, a military uprising was staged in the Zemla district of El-Aaiun that came to be known as the Zemla Intifada (or The Zemla Uprising), which culminated in a massacre by Spanish forces killing an detaining many Sahrawi people. Uprising people demanded that Western Sahara be liberated from Spanish occupation. However,ï¿½ Spanish oppression could not calm the situation and resistance grew even more stronger.
In May 10, 1973 A.D., The Polisario, from the Spanish abbreviation of Frente Popular de Liberación de Saguía el Hamra y Río de Oro ("People's Liberation Front of Saguia el Hamra and Rio de Oro") is an army and political movement in the Western Sahara, principally comprised of the Saharawi people. Only ten days after formation, the Front started its military strife against Spanish occupying forces. The Polisario Front adopted Communist Marxist thought and was, therefore, directly supported by Libya and, thereafter, Algeria, who adopted the same thought. On the other hand, Morocco took sides with the US, which had an impact on the whole situation as known to all.
Spain Sowing the Seeds of Discord
Having failed to quell military resistance in Western Sahara, Spain decided to withdraw totally from Western Sahara in 1975 A.D. However, it did not leave until it sowed the seeds of long-term conflict in the region so that it remains unstable forever and that imperial powers might poke their nose anew in the region when time is opportune. Thus, Spain held a conference in Madrid attended by Morocco and Mauritania to declare its total withdrawal from Western Sahara leaving it to them to rule it the way they like!
The conference held in 1975 resulted in Madrid Accords, also called Madrid Agreement or Madrid Pact. Events followed in close succession, as the region is coveted by many parties each having their supporting evidence. As for Morocco, it demands the once part of the country Western Sahara, which has been occupied for 91 years and thus should be subordinated to its origin country after liberation. As for Mauritania, it sees that Morocco's re-ruling Western Sahara will be taken as a pretext to demand re-ruling Mauritania itself. Accordingly, Mauritania has to claim right to Western Sahara or at least a part thereof in order to ensure security of its borders. Regarding native Sahrawis and the Polisario, they view that Morocco exerted no military effort to solve the problem. They also view that had Morocco demanded independence of Western Sahara from Spain for thousand years in the UN, Spain would have never withdrawn. According to them, it is they who sacrificed souls and blood for the sake of liberation. Hence, they want to declare Western Sahara an independent state subordinating to neither Morocco nor Mauritania. It is worth mentioning here that Algeria backed the demands of the Polisario Front, of course in view of Marxist trends they share in addition to the historical background of conflict between Morocco and Algeria.
Morocco and Mauritania brought the case before the International Court of Justice to give its decisive judgment on the thorny issue. The Court issued a judgment to the effect that both Mauritania and Morocco have a historical right in the disputed territory and thus a referendum giving the local population the option between independence or being annexed to any of the two countries has to be conducted. At the same day, the Moroccan King Al-Hassan II delivered an address to the Moroccan people asking them ï¿½ coordinating with Spanish authorities - to arrange a huge peaceful march, called the Green March, heading for Western Sahara (that was then still under Spanish occupation) in order to impose the accomplished fact that Western Sahara belongs to Morocco and not to Mauritania or Polisario.
About 350,000 Moroccans participated in the March, who left for Western Sahara in November 5, 1975 A.D. and returned home four days later in November 9 1975 A.D.
Dividing Western Sahara
In spite of the March and of Morocco's claims to its right in the Western Sahara as a whole, a tripartite conference between Morocco, Mauritania and Spain was held on November 14 1975 A.D. with the aim of dividing Western Saharan lands between the two countries. Thus, Morocco received two thirds of Western Sahara (the territory of Saguia el Hamra) and Mauritania received the southern third of Western Sahara (the territory of Rio de Oro), making use of the logic of managing to get one thing is better than nothing!
On January 12, 1976, Spanish armies withdrew from Western Sahara giving way to the Moroccan army to take over the Saguia El Hamra and the Mauritanian army to take control of Rio De Oro. This was bitterly opposed by the Polisario Front and the situation worsened by the Polisario proclaiming the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic onï¿½ February 26, 1976A.D. They rebased in Tindouf in Algeria, which was the first country to recognize this state. Other Marxist-trended countries, such as Libya, North Korea, Ethiopia, (the Shah-ruled) Iran, (the Russia-ruled) Afghanistan and other countries followed to recognize the new state. A conflict of a new kind arose; the Sahrwai power, Polisario, launched a direct guerilla war against the new invaders, Mauritania and Morocco, according to the Polisario. Regarding this, Morocco and Mauritania signed an agreement on April 14, 1976 A.D. to the effect of dividing Western Sahara between them, which fueled Polisario's anger. Therefore, the latter intensified its guerilla attacks against the weaker party, Mauritania. They attacked Nouakchott itself on June 9, 1976, an attack which resulted the raid's leader and the movement's Secretary General, Mustafa Al-Sayyid, to be killed.
The Situation worsened, which obliged Mauritania to hold a joint defense agreement with Morocco on May 13, 1977 A.D. However, the Polisario's reaction was so intense that a fresh raid was launched against Nouakchott on July 3 of the same year. So seriously threatened, Mauritania was forced to hold an agreement, through Algerian mediation, to the effect of withdrawing from Rio De Oro on August 5, 1979. Although Mauritanian withdrawal was so quick, Moroccan forces wasted no time to invade the territory on August 14, 1979 A.D., annexing it to Morocco.
Conflict and Referendum
Having got out of the conflict, Mauritania even recognized the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic on February 27, 1984 A.D. Thus, Polissario's guerilla attacks was focused on Morocco. They would frequently sneak into Morocco, which caused Morocco build a huge sand wall (the Moroccan Wall) to keep Polisario troops off.
The wall that was aided by the Zionist Entity (the so-called Israel) and building of which was supervised by Ariel Sharon was built during the period from 1980-87 A.D.
Military conflict between Morocco and Polisario continued until 1980 A.D. (13 years) when both parties agreed to hold peace negotiations on the issue. On 1988 A.D., both parties agreed to hold the Agreement on Principles to the effect of conducting a referendum giving the Sahrawis the right to decide the issue. At the same time, cracks in the relation between the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic and its allies took place, especially Algeria, which was busy dealing with internal affairs. Moreover, Islamic current opposing to the Marxist trend of Polisario grew in the region. Meanwhile, attacking Morocco for violating human rights, including torturing prisoners, dictatorship and other related files, became more intense. All these circumstances compelled both parties to negotiate for a peaceful solution to the issue.
However, did the two parties reach a solution over the problem? Actually, each party is speaking a different language and there is a mutual misunderstanding between them, which had the effect of making negotiations too lengthy. Both parties proposed the UN previously proposed Western Sahara self-determination referendum, which is hardly possible in view of current circumstances.
The question is: who should then vote, Western Sahara native population according to Spanish records before withdrawal in 1975, or today's population roughly consisting of Moroccans who inhabited Sahrawi cities since Morocco have taken control of the land since 1975 up to now (i.e. for 34 years)? Other questions are: Who is to supervise the vote process? How long should the referendum take and what machinery are there for its administration? Who ensures that all parties accept the result of the referendum? Moreover, in case one party does not accept results, should the UN use US-led forces to solve the problem? Or, have conflicting parties the ability to put into force what they like?!
Self-rule: Absence of Neutrality
The crisis is too complicated as all parties mistrust each other. In addition, imperialist powers add fuel to the fire while Arabs are powerless, a situation which led to a dead end. Negotiations continued for as long as ten years, which culminated with stalling the referendum and Settlement Plan being impossible to achieve.
On May 31, 2000 A.D. France and the US jointly submitted an initiative to the Security Council to form a political solution based mainly on giving Sahrawis the right to self-rule in Western Sahara under Moroccan sovereignty. Although seemingly a good compromise, there is greatly a state of mistrust between Morocco and Polisario, as referred to above.
It goes without saying that good well and protecting human rights were not the motives behind the French-American interference. Actually, France is one of the problem's reasons and the US is a main reason behind all problems all over the world. However, they like to lay hands on all hot points in the world. Therefore, the Algeria-backed Polisario refused the proposal, bearing in mind that ties between Morocco and the US is too strong to make the latter a purely neutral mediator.
Negotiations halted for several years. Becoming the sole mediator in all world disputes, the US again called both parties to US-sponsored negotiations, which was accepted by Polisario in view of the deteriorating situation of their nominal state rebased in Tindouf, Algeria. A series of talks that took place in 2007-2008 at Manhasset, New York. Negotiations consisted of four rounds all completely failed. They now prepare for a fifth round of talks which is likely to fail as well.
The UN issued a serious resolution to the effect of conducting a referendum in Western Sahara before April 30, 2010 A.D. The Polisario front tends to accept the resolution, while Morocco prefers the suggestion of self-rule under Moroccan sovereignty. Please, bear in mind that American, French and Spanish fingers are involved in the issue. In your opinion, what is the solution to this complicated problem?
Solution to the Western Sahara Conflict
Should Morocco annex Western Sahara as a whole brushing the desires of Sahrawis aside?
Should Western Sahara be divided between Morocco and Polisario?
Should Sahrawis enjoy self-rule under Moroccan sovereignty?
Should a Western Sahara self-determination referendum be conducted?
Should Sahrawis constitute an absolutely independent sovereign state on Western Saharan lands?
Should negotiations go on for another hundred years?
Or, should the UN and the US dispatch their forces to impose security?
I call intellectuals, Moroccans, Sahrwais, Mauritanians and Algerians as well as all Muslims who wish unity, power, sovereignty and glory to their Ummah to share with us points of view.
As for me, the solution is clear and the way is paved for it. However, I will tackle this subject in my next weekly article, if Allah so wills.
I ask Allah to glorify Islam and Muslims.
By: Dr. Ragheb El Sergani