“How many a desert plain, wind-swept,
like the surface of a shield,
have I cut through on foot,
joining the near end to the far,
then looking out from a summit,
while mountain goats, flint-yellow,
graze around me,
meandering like maidens
draped in flowing shawls.”
Shanfara, a pre-Islamic poet, uses the desert to glorify the freedom that comes with wandering.
The title of this post is meant as a definitive answer to the argument I had today with a fellow countryman whose name I wont disclose of course; an honest and reasonable man. The issue was, in my friend’s words, “the shameful attitude” of Venezuelan president, Hugo Chavez whose government has recently recognized recognizes the “Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic” and recently received separatists of the Polisario Front. Subsequently, Moroccan authorities reacted by shutting their embassy in Caracas. The Polisario front is a separatist movement that allegedly wants to establish an independent state in Western Sahara, a territory contested and de facto administered by the Kingdom of Morocco.
Let us be honest here: on the one hand Morocco has blocked the efforts of the international community for years to conduct a fair and democratic referendum over the issue, supported militarily, economically and diplomatically in its effort by the United States which always saw in the Moroccan establishment a strategic asset for its policies in the region; Morocco being technically in violation of international law. On the other hand, it is clear that there is more that a people’s strive for independence that is at stake here; many regional and international actors are involved and it is common knowledge that there might be some strategic and valuable prize that is wagered (with whispering voice: they say o-i-l).
I know I’m here handling a very hot potato, since there is the sense in Morocco that this is an issue of almost unanimous national consent for historical and for strategic reasons. And indeed most of the people (although there is no objective figure) religiously support the government’s position. I’ve been brought up, as every Moroccan, with the idea that the Western Sahara belonged to Morocco since times immemorial and that even parts of Algeria and a big chunk of Mauritania were historically indeed under the rule of Moroccan Sultans. A History contested but in my view not that controversial. Of course anyone who would have argued otherwise would at the best be put in jail after an expeditious trial, or at worse, be disappeared. Those were the so-called Years of Lead: the Hassan II era. Nowadays you only get busted and thrown in jail.
Now of course there are strong and reasonable arguments that support the Moroccan position and I’m not going to go through them here, but the –how shall I say,- stupid and senseless reactions of impotent Moroccan officials with the chorus of their gutter press groupies, up in arms every time there is a support for the separatists, show how helpless and out of touch they are on an issue the Moroccan diplomacy has put all its capital on.
By supporting the separatists however, Chavez, who had previously and courageously expelled the Israeli ambassador during the Gaza massacres, has encompassed the most disturbing aspect of the whole issue: the parallel that could be drawn between Morocco and Israel.
It is indeed very disturbing for me who has long supported the “Moroccanness” of the Sahara (given that a fair and transparent referendum is held there), and who then supported the idea of an autonomy under a Moroccan sovereignty (given that Morocco transforms into a federal democracy). I support the right for self determination for any group of people but I believe, equally, that there are too many countries already in the world, not too little and that humanity would gain more in assembling rather than in dividing. But it is difficult –for example– to support the Palestinian right for independence and statehood and in the same time accept the Moroccan claim for sovereignty without further clarification:
Of course there is no comparison whatsoever to be made between the policies of the racist, apartheid, settler state of Israel and the handling of the Western Saharan territories by Morocco. First of all there is no ethnic cleansing nor was there any policy in that sense in the territory. Second of all, people living in the septentrional part of the country have indeed always had connections with the Sahrawis, de facto and de jure, since there were no borders and no authority to stop the natural flow of populations who traded, cross-married and hybridized. Third of all, Morocco, after having abandoned the option of a referendum is now advocating an inclusive solution, with the ambition of granting a large autonomy to the territory under Rabat sovereignty which has nothing to do with a two state solution nor with an exclusivist ethnically oriented scheme.
Now the question is whether to support Chavez or not as a result of both of his decisions: I do support him. I think that he is a good, compassionate leader. If Morocco has a case to defend (and I think it has a strong one) it should walk the walk and talk the talk rather than reciprocate with this routine pusillanimous attitude that do more harm than good. So yes: Viva Chavez!