Sahara Conflict: Open Letter to President Barack Obama
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Let us first of all congratulate you on your re-election as President of the United States and wish you well in your endeavors. Moroccans were thrilled at your re-election as your accomplishments will inspire generations to come.
The day of your election coincided with a day that is dear to all Moroccans, namely the celebration of the Green March. Thirty-seven years ago, 350,000 Moroccans marched into the so called Western Sahara in order to complete their country’s territorial integrity.
For centuries, the Sahara was linked to the Moroccan Kingdom by an act of allegiance of its different tribes. “Allegiance” in Islamic tradition can be equated nowadays to the act of voting. This territorial unity changed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries when France and Spain divided amongst themselves the Moroccan Kingdom as they acquired colonies in Africa.
At the time when Morocco obtained its independence from France in 1956, the Sahara and other territories were still under Spanish sovereignty. At the height of decolonization in the 1950’s and 1960’s, Morocco was the only stakeholder in the question of the Sahara. It was the only country that brought this question under the consideration of the United Nations Fourth Committee in charge of decolonization. It was at the insistence of Morocco that the UN body included the Sahara in the list of non-self-governing territories that had to be freed from the yoke of colonialism.
It was not until 1973 that the Polisario emerged with the help of neighboring countries, including that of the deceased Qaddafi, and started claiming to be the legitimate representative of the Saharwi population.
After a decade of unsuccessfully trying to organize a referendum in the Sahara, because the two parties could not agree over the eligibility of voters, the United Nations began calling on the sides to find a durable and mutually acceptable political solution. In his 2000 report to the Security Council on the Situation in the Western Sahara (S/2000/461), Kofi Annan, then Secretary General, stated that it is essential that the parties be “prepared to consider other ways of achieving an early, durable and agreed resolution over their dispute over the Sahara.”
In the face of the stalemate over the conflict and is response the Security Council’s recommendations, Morocco presented an Autonomy Plan in April 2007, which was hailed by the Security Council as a “serious” and “credible” solution to put an end to the conflict. But the Polisario, and its supporters persist in claiming that the only acceptable solution is through the holding of a referendum of self-determination. This, despite, many experts and UN officials, including the former UN SpecialEnvoy for the Sahara, Peter Walsum, having also concluded in recent year that a viable state cannot be established in the sparsely populated desert territory.
Time for the UN to chart a new course and for a real involvement of the US
One fallacy of the international community’s approach to resolving this long-standing conflict is to treat it like many of the other former European colonies in Africa and Asia by establishing the newly independent countries on the basis of their arbitrary colonial borders. While this may have been convenient, especially where there was less history of previously defined nation-states, it neglected to account that in the case of Morocco, this was a country that had existed, as explained before, for centuries. It is only natural that Moroccans would not want to accept as permanent the division of their country by France and Spain. .
After four formal rounds of negotiations and nine informal talks since 2009, the UN approach to the conflict has proven its limits. This is due in part, to the UN giving too much weight to only one way to exercise the right of self-determination, that of independence. By doing so, the UN has been disregarding other ways to realize self-determination: free association and autonomy, which have proven to be the basis for resolving other conflicts. The Moroccan autonomy plan, thus, is a compromise solution that can meet the claims of both sides – keeping the territory within the Moroccan state while also allowing for self-rule
As Moroccan-Americans, we call upon your leadership and wisdom to reinvigorate the stalled negotiations. The importance of doing so has become even greater because of the dangerous and destabilizing challenges facing the region of the Maghreb and the Sahel, chief of which is the spread of criminal and terrorist activities.
The challenges facing Mali must serve as wakeup call to world leaders that this region needs the attention and the commitment of the international community. The lack of state-authority because of the long standing dispute, and the miserable conditions of the approximate 80,000 people who live in almost total seclusion in the Tindouf camps, leaves the territory and population vulnerable to the terrorist and criminal networks that operate across the region. This was on display in October 2011 when three humanitarian aid workers were kidnapped inside the Polisario run camps by the Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).
It is not to the benefit of anyone to see the conflict last for more years. Hence, the need to find a common ground that would allow both parties, Morocco and the Polisario, to reach a solution that would safeguard their respective interests. In this regard, we call on your leadership to use your country’s leverage at the Security Council to push for the adoption of an approach that recognizes the reality on the ground and offers a viable solution. However imperfect the Moroccan Autonomy plan may be, it is in line with international law and the principles of self-determination. It constitutes a basis for reaching a final solution to the conflict, as it offers a middle ground between independence and centralized government.
Some argue that Morocco does not respect human rights. However, Morocco is an Arab country that has received high praise for the democratic advances it has undertaken over the past year and a half. The changes that have been occurring give us confidence that Morocco is on a positive track, and that there is a greater commitment to respecting human rights, and the government would respect any autonomy arrangement for self-determination.
On the other hand, more and more voices have been raising concerns about the human rights record of the Polisario, and Algeria and the Polisario still refuse to allow the UNHCR to conduct a census of the population in the Tindouf camps.
At this juncture, what the region of the Sahel and North Africa does not need is a failed and non-viable state that would eventually fall prey to criminal and terrorist organizations. What this region needs is the existence of strong states that are likely to preserve the stability of the region, thus, preserving the interests of its allies, chief of which is the United States. As a well-established state, Morocco would not only offer the Saharawi population the right to run their own affairs, but also preserve security in the region
As members of the Moroccan community living in the United States, we convey to your Excellency the eagerness of the Moroccan people to see the United States play an effective role in bringing this conflict to its conclusion in a way that respects both sides’ right and claims to the territory. We believe in your proverbial leadership and we hope to see your country engage in a genuine process towards a settlement of the Sahara conflict.
Monsieur le Président,
Une décennie après avoir tenté sans succès d'organiser un référendum au Sahara, étant donné que le Maroc et le Polisario n'ont pu s'entendre sur éligibilité des électeurs, les Nations Unies ont commencé à appeler les parties à trouver une solution durable et mutuellement acceptable au conflit.
Face à l'impasse du conflit et en réponse aux recommandations du Conseil de sécurité, le Maroc a présenté un plan d'autonomie en Avril 2007, qui a été saluée par le Conseil de sécurité comme une "sérieuse" et "crédible" solution pour mettre fin au conflit. Mais le Polisario et ses partisans persistent à prétendre que la seule solution acceptable est la tenue d'un référendum d'autodétermination.
Monsieur le Président,
En tant que Marocain-Américains, nous en appelons a votre leadership pour relancer les négociations. La relance des négociations a revêtu encore plus d’importance en raison des défis dangereux et déstabilisant que connaît la région du Maghreb et du Sahel, particulièrement la montée alarmante des activités criminelles et terroristes.
À ce stade, ce dont la région du Sahel et de l'Afrique du Nord n'a pas besoin est un État défaillant et non viables qui finirait par devenir une proie facile pour les organisations criminelles et terroristes. Ce dont cette région a besoin est l'existence d'états forts qui seraient de nature à préserver la stabilité de la région, ainsi que les intérêts de leurs alliés. En tant qu’état bien établi, le Maroc serait non seulement en mesure d’offrir à la population sahraouie le droit de gérer ses propres affaires, mais aussi de préserver la sécurité dans la région
Monsieur le Président,
En tant que membres de la communauté marocaine vivant aux États-Unis, nous transmettons à Votre Excellence le souhait du peuple marocain de voir votre pays jouent un rôle efficace afin de mettre fin a ce conflit d'une manière qui respecte les droits des deux parties. Nous croyons en votre leadership proverbial et nous espérons voir votre pays s'engager dans un véritable processus pour parvenir au règlement du conflit du Sahara.
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