Earlier this month, Morocco’s Minister of Digital Transformation and Administrative Reform, Ghita Mezzour, wrapped up a successful trip to India that culminated in a memorandum of understanding signed by HCL Technologies with the northeastern nation. African. The trip signified in many ways the growing bilateral relationship between India and Morocco. And indeed, the genesis of this new impetus in bilateral relations lies in the historic visit of King Mohammed VI of Morocco to India in 2015 for the third summit of the India-Africa Forum. The invitation extended to King Mohammed and his subsequent presence at the summit, when Morocco was not a member of the African Union at the time, marked New Delhi’s desire to write a new chapter in relations with Rabat. This was guided by the recognition that Morocco was emerging as a positive force in the African sphere, that it had successfully navigated the upheavals of the Arab Spring movement by deepening democracy through a new Constitution, and that Rabat was in makes a clear guarantor of security in the region through its multi-pronged policy of transnational security cooperation, investment in the growth of fellow African nations and the promotion of moderate Islam.
It is in this context that one finds surprising an article (https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/what-is-the-western-sahara-conflict-explained/article65513299.ece) published in a another major Indian daily on the issue of “Western Sahara” which portrays Morocco in a negative light. For starters, the article, which is presented as an explanatory, is actually devoid of proper historical context and omits crucial facts. As someone who has written on this issue for a decade, allow me to fill in those gaps. First, the article begins with Algeria’s recent decision to suspend its friendship treaty with Spain and links it to Madrid’s approval earlier this year of Morocco’s Autonomy Plan for the Sahara. He goes on to say that Madrid’s change in policy was due to pressure from Rabat, which in turn was provoked by Madrid’s decision in 2021 to allow Polisario Front leader Brahim Ghali to be admitted to a Spanish hospital for Covid treatment.
Needless to say, this is a gross oversimplification of the facts. What the Spanish government did was downright treacherous as they secretly allowed Ghali to enter Spain under a false name for his hospital stay. When the truth was uncovered, Madrid tried to pass it off as a humanitarian enterprise, completely ignoring the fact that Rabat was a key trade and security partner. To draw a parallel, how would the Indian government feel if Bangladesh were to harbor a Pakistani-backed Kashmiri separatist? Because that’s how sensitive the question of the Sahara is for Morocco. In fact, the Sahara is to Morocco what Kashmir is to India. In both cases, a handful of actors backed by a third party – Algeria in the Sahara affair – claiming to represent the entire population of the region held everyone to ransom. Just as Pakistan is using the Kashmir issue to “bleed India with a thousand cuts”, Algeria is using the Sahara issue and the Polisario to take revenge on Morocco for the losses it suffered in the Sands War. from 1963.
Because, the Moroccanness of this part of the Sahara has been established for a long time. Admittedly, the region was separated from Morocco proper by the 19e colonial powers of the century and became a Spanish enclave. In fact, the rest of Morocco also became a French protectorate. Therefore, right after Morocco regained its independence, it set out to reconquer the Sahara. In fact, in 1958, the late King Mohammed V – the current king’s grandfather – gave a historic speech in M’hamid al-Ghizlan to Sahrawi tribal sheikhs, who had sworn allegiance to the Moroccan monarch, that he would work for recover the Sahara while respecting the historical rights of Morocco. It was well before the formation of the Polisario. In this sense, the Sahara at that time resembled Goa in India, which remained under Portuguese rule until 1961.
Second, the article portrays the Green March of November 6, 1975 in negative terms. In reality, it was a historic event that saw over 350,000 Moroccans with copies of the Quran in their hands marching peacefully through the Sahara to right a historic injustice. There was no bloodshed. Subsequently, the Madrid Accords divided this part of the Sahara between Morocco and Mauritania. But Mauritania renounced its claims in 1979, leaving only Morocco’s claims intact. But the Polisario, supported mainly by Algeria, led an armed separatist movement against the Moroccan state. Consequently, a group that was originally formed for the ostensible purpose of fighting the Spanish occupation in the Sahara was hijacked by Algeria to serve as a tool to encircle Morocco. Given the years of insurgency in Kashmir, India is all too familiar with this tactic.
Third, the reason why a referendum could never be organized in the Sahara is that proper electoral lists could not be established due to Polisario intransigence. In fact, even now the Polisario has refused to conduct a census of Sahrawi detainees in its Tindouf camps in Algeria despite repeated calls from the UN, EU and Morocco to conduct such an exercise.
Fourth, the Tindouf camps themselves are highly controversial. In 2015, the EU Anti-Fraud Office revealed large-scale diversion of humanitarian aid in the camps to the tune of €105 million between 1994 and 2004. The report revealed that the aid had been diverted by the Polisario to buy weapons. Indeed, in 2020, MEPs once again denounced the continued embezzlement of humanitarian aid in Tindouf.
Meanwhile, Morocco’s 2007 Sahara Autonomy Plan has been described as credible and serious by key international stakeholders. And Morocco has followed suit in operationalizing its proposal for autonomy through the process of administrative regionalization that was enshrined in the new Moroccan Constitution of 2011. As a result, the Sahara provinces now have their own regional and local bodies. – elections for which some of the biggest voters turn out in Morocco – have their own budget which amounts to 8 billion dollars for the period from 2016 to 2021, and have practically no taxes. Rabat is investing heavily in the Sahara provinces with the aim of developing the fishing industry, agriculture, tourism and the education sector in the region.
Considering this, it is needless to say that Sahrawis in the provinces of the Moroccan Sahara have a much better quality of life than their brothers in the Tindouf camps. In fact, Morocco envisions the Sahara as a bridge between itself and the rest of Africa. In this sense, the Sahara is the gateway to Europe and the world in the Sahelian and West African regions. This is precisely why the Polisario, realizing it was losing track, entered the buffer zone between Morocco and Mauritania in Guergarate in October 2020 to block the movement of people and goods and harass UN observers. in flagrant violation of the 1991 ceasefire agreement. During this incident, Morocco was well within its rights to lift the blockade and resume normal traffic.
Overall, the international community increasingly recognizes Morocco’s position on the Sahara, which is based on both legality and history. This is precisely why the United States recognized Moroccan sovereignty over the Sahara in December 2020. It should also be noted that several countries have already opened their consulates in the Moroccan Saharan cities of Laâyoune and Dakhla, including the United States, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Bahrain and many African countries.
Thus, the international community sees more and more clearly in the lie according to which the Sahara is an issue of decolonization. The Sahara was in fact decolonized with the Green March of Morocco in 1975. And there is no way that the Sahrawi people can be separated from other Moroccans who have lived, intermingled and married for centuries. As things stand, Moroccan society itself is quite heterogeneous with Arab, Berber, Jewish, Sahrawi, French, Spanish and other lineages. Therefore, the international community must stop this masquerade of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic of the Polisario which is not recognized by either the UN or the Arab League – India withdrew its recognition in the year 2000 itself. Morocco is a force of stability in North Africa offering a myriad of economic opportunities to global investors. The fabricated political baggage of the past must not be allowed to derail this.
The opinions expressed above are those of the author.
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