Morocco and Western Sahara

Writing at Pambazuka News, anthropologist Konstantina Isidoros discusses how stirrings in Morocco may affect Western Sahara:

In cities across Western Sahara such as Dakhla, El Aaiun and Smara, civil society and human rights advocates have long embarked on waves of pro-democracy protests, now seen echoing through the Moroccan population itself.

…Algeria’s wealth and independence on the international scene enables it much room to manoeuvre in responding to its population’s demands. Morocco does not have this luxury. What remains to be seen is just how much longer the monarchy can justify its archaic Western Sahara myth to the international community, the Sahrawi living under a repressive occupation and ultimately to the Moroccan population’s own socio-economic woes.

In a second piece, Isidoros discusses how Morocco frames the conflict:

‘Over the last 35 years, Morocco has built up a sophisticated propaganda machine, and wooed US and French governments [both permanent members of the UN Security Council] to wipe out all criticism of its defiance of international law. To this day, Morocco treats all outspoken challenges with aggressive hysteria. Morocco would never have been able to get away with it without the geopolitical collusion and greed of Spain, the US and France,’ she insists.

…[T]he media in other of the key countries does not cover the conflict at all, or covers it very one-sidedly. ‘France has an emotional colonial history with Morocco,’ Konstantina says. ‘Leading French politicians and elites have homes and vacations in Morocco and Morocco courts France with avaricious charm so that the majority French population receives little media coverage on any non-Moroccan stance. The UK has little history in the region and takes a refrained stance. The British population are mostly unaware of the conflict although parliamentary, NGO and academic circles are outspoken and growing rapidly.’

Morocco’s hard line on the subject can be seen in a particular incident from 2oo6; Freedom House noted soon after:

Le Journal Hebdomadaire, published and edited by journalists Aboubakr Jamai and Ali Amar respectively, suffered such government harassment throughout the year. In February, the weekly ran a small photograph of someone holding a newspaper that had published controversial cartoons of the prophet Muhammad. Within days, the magazine’s office was besieged by protesters who were apparently bused in by the government. Meanwhile, pro-government media outlets attacked Le Journal in print and on the airwaves. Later in February, a Rabat court awarded security analyst Claude Moniquet a record 3 million Moroccan dirhams (US$340,000) in a defamation suit he brought against Le Journal. Moniquet’s Brussels-based think tank, the European Strategic Intelligence and Security Center, had published a report on Western Sahara, and Le Journal’s editors questioned the study’s independence. An appeals court subsequently confirmed the damages sum.

Of course, I wouldn’t want to dispute the validity of Moniquet’s complaint, but a victory in such a context must be of limited value.

Moniquet is of some incidental interest: in 2007 he came to the House of Commons with a chilling warning:

“We have serious signals that something is under preparation in Europe,” Moniquet said, though he did not present any evidence to the meeting. “Iranian intelligence is working extremely hard to prepare its people and to prepare actions.” The center, which he said deals directly with European intelligence agencies, believes Iranian operatives have carried out “reconnaissance of targets in European cities, including nuclear power stations,” said Moniquet. He mentioned no other specific targets. The meeting was organized by Open Europe, a London think-tank, and Conservative lawmaker Patrick Mercer.

Mercer raised the issue in Parliament, citing Moniquet, the next day. However, despite the “serious signals”, the story did not develop further after an initial flurry of reports; this is a familiar pattern with Mercer, who regularly appears in British media warning about terrorism (e.g. herehere, and here).

Moniquet is also a member of the International Counter-Terrorism Officers Association, which provides anti-terror training for American police – it is not clear how actively involved he is, although he includes the association in his email signatures, and the ICTOA was given as his affiliation for a January report in Russian in which he opined on the terrorist attack at Moscow airport. The ICTOA has recently come under critical scrutiny over some of the people it hires as experts terrorism, such as Walid Shoebat.