OPINION

 

Algeria & the conflict of Western Sahara:
Separating facts from fiction, in Morocco's media unrelenting attack

Khatry Beirouk, 24 Sep 04

Throughout the conflict of Western Sahara, and even before that, there has been a general apprehension in Morocco's media - fueled particularly by the Makhzen(1)- that whatever the causes of any underlying regional problem, they were originating from Algeria. The latter is being accused, among other allegations, of playing out its script for regional dominance; seeking geopolitical and economic objectives, hampering Morocco's "territorial integrity" by suggesting the partition of Western Sahara's territory.

While it is quite difficult for any of us to try to guess the regional designs, hidden agendas, and schemes plotted for the future, we can, nonetheless, rely on the irrefutable facts of history and take a look at the validity of such allegations:

Allegation I : On the expansionist claims

On the record, Algeria - unlike Morocco or Mauritania, for that matter - has never laid claim to the territory of Western Sahara.
Morocco, however, akin to Allal el-Fassi and his Istiqlal Party's
expansionists theses(2), has claimed the Western Sahara as well as parts of Algeria, Mali, Senegal, Spanish enclaves in North Africa, and the whole of Mauritania.
El-Fassi's ideology was embraced by the monarchy to glorify itself and expand its power to its neighbors; and the monarchy's pursuit of territorial claims did not start with the invasion of Western Sahara, in 1975.
In 1958, it was Morocco's King who attempted to persuade the World Bank to withhold a loan to MIFERMA (Mines de Fer de Mauritanie) for the explotation of Zouerat's iron mines, on the grounds that Mauritania was under Moroccan sovereignty. When Mauritania became independent in 1960, Morocco tried to bar its admission to the UN and withheld diplomatic recognition for almost two decades. Soon after Algeria's independence from France, it too found itself confronted with a Moroccan annexionist war, but Algeria was able to thwart the King's obnoxious designs. The claims on Mali and Senegal were quietly forgotten.
Morocco has long disputed the legitimacy of Spain's remaining territories in North Africa: Ceuta and Melilla and neighboring islands. In July 2002, Mohamed VI gendarms attempted to seize a tiny Spanish island. Few days later, Spanish commandos removed the Moroccans and took the island back at gunpoint.
Obviously, the claim that Algeria seeks to control its neighboring countries is baseless and unfounded. History has proven that Morocco, and it alone - through the plots of its rulers - for whatever prefabricated pretextes - represents the factor of instability in the region. It's quite arguably one of the very few countries, if not the only, in the world having territorial disputes will all of its neighbors.

Allegation II: The search for an "outlet" to the Atlantic Ocean

There is a widely spread suggestion - among the Makhzen's elite - that Algeria's hidden agenda, behind its support for Polisario Front, is aimed at gaining access to the Atlantic Ocean, and thus, finding a more economical way to export its iron ore. A railway will be built to transport the iron ore mines from Garat Jbeilat (Tindouf region) to El Aaiun, in Western Sahara. However, it's little known that Algeria had signed a convention with Morocco in 1972 (before Polisario's foundation) setting up a joint company to transport Jbeilat's iron ore by railway to the port of Tarfaya (southern Morocco), which is at shorter distance than El Aaiun. The convention established a partnership between the two countries regarding the exploitation and transportation of the iron ore.
It's rather common sense that geography plays a big role when dealing with railways and especially when planning to cross a vast swathe of desert . The choice of Tarfaya over El Aaiun was sound, but Morocco's allegation was not. Whether Western Sahara became part of Morocco or not, this does not change the economic viability of the project.
The Moroccan writer, Abdallah Laroui, expressed that "one cannot see how these interests would be endangered if Morocco replaces Spain in the Sahara since the principle of Moroccan-Algerian collaboration has already been accepted for the transport via Morocco of both
iron in the south and gas in the north."(3) It's worth noting that Algeria exports its gas, currently, to Europe through.... Morocco, which takes in more than 20 million USD a year on transportation fees.
The suggestion that Algeria hopes for an independent Western Sahara just so it can carry out its economic scheme does not hold sway, it is deceiving, unfounded and outright cynical.

Allegation III: On the partition of the territory of Western Sahara

Western Sahara was a Spanish colony which was partitioned off by Spain in 1975 under a secretly negotiated agreement between Spain, Morocco and Mauritania, known as Madrid Accords(4) . Under these Accords, the southern half of the territory was given away to Mauritania and the northern half to Morocco without ascertaining the wishes of the native inhabitants, the Saharawis.

Algeria has neved advocated for a partition to the territory without the consent of its inhabitants. If the Saharawis wished so, then Algeria would not interfere with such a choice. The words of the, then, Algerian foreign minister, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, can support the above assertion(5): "The route to the final decolonization of the Sahara is quite clear. The support that my government, together with Morocco and Mauritania [...] on this question does not permit it to envisage any other way of putting an end to the [issue]..than through the holding of a referendum on self-determinationů. Such a solution, incidentally, would not be in conflict with the Moroccan and Mauritanian claims, but if those claimes are to be met it would appear that there is no better course to follow that that of the express choice of the population itself..." . These words, uttered 29 years ago, can bear witness to Algeria's unchanging stand on the issue.

Bouteflika's words(6) resounded then as much as they do now. In his speech - delivered this week - before the UN General Assembly, Mr. Bouteflika, now as president of Algeria, stated that "Algeria could not decide the future of the people there, and had no desire to do so. Any attempt to define the situation in terms other than decolonization would result in failure and delay a final settlement."

The allegation of Algeria's pretensions aimed at partitioning the territory, undoubtedly, is the most ludicrous and baseless allegation of all. If Algeria has always wished to partition the territory of Westen Sahara in its own benefit, then how can anyone explain that it did not claim part of the territory ever nor be a signatory party in the Madrid Accords? The "pie", as we now know, was split only in two pieces, with Morocco taking the lion's share and Mauritania taking the rest. However, as if that was not enough, and making a mockery of international law, Morocco occupied the other part when Mauritania decided to renounce to its claims.

 

Conclusion

If Morocco's "territorial integrity" includes Western Sahara, then how could it explain partitioning off Western Sahara with Mauritania and then accusing Algeria of having such designs. Furthermore, if Western Sahara is an indivisible part of Morocco, then how come Polisario Front is never accused of being an occupier?. As a fact, Polisario controls over 30% of the territory and, yet, Morocco seems to just hope everyone forgets about that part. Perhaps in the same way as the claims on Mali and Senegal had 'vanished'.
When many Saharawis fled their country, avoiding the continuos Moroccan bombing raids, it was Algeria who opened its borders to the fleeing innocent lives. Scores of refugees were killed in the raids. It was Algeria who faced the sudden influx of so many refugees [the writer was one among them] and posed enormous logistical problems to its government. The main responsibility for feeding, clothing and sheltering fell on the Algerian government. Despite all allegations of whether or not the Algerian support was dictated by strategic interest, the validity of its stand is, however, indisputable. Algeria did not waver, nor falter to the pressions exercised by some countries. It was the invaders who underestimated the courage, strength and determination of the Saharawi people. This is, in esence, what the Moroccan media fails miserably to comprehend.
Perhaps, the world will never know or understand that we, the Saharawis, pay to Algeria the tribute it deserves, and owe the Algerian people a debt of gratitude for its unwavering support that can never truly be repaid. That debt of gratitude is certainly owed also to everyone all over the world who believed in the Saharawis' inalienable rights to freedom and independence.


(1) The Makhzen is a political and administrative structure that forms the basis for power in Morocco, which includes submission, rituals and traditional ceremonies. It is a specific form of authority that is present throughout the governing class with the king as its linchpin. As Abderrahman Youssoufi wrote more than 20 years ago, "The key to the makhzen system is the sultan, a hereditary, dynastic autocrat ... whose enthronement is accompanied by a ceremony of allegiance in which tame dignitaries act out their submission. This absolute power is aggravated by the pseudo-function of [the king as] 'representative of God on earth', which has been instituted and handed down by generations of oriental despots but has no real religious or legal basis. This power structure acts in two ways: first, through the mahalla, which is a sort of mercenary army in the service of the sultan to which it is tied by bonds of privilege or slavery; and second, through the makhzen itself, which is a body of agents, generally recruited among rural and urban notables, of which the most enduring characteristic is its corruptness". (Abderrahman Youssoufi in Abd-el-Krim et la République du Rif, François Maspéro, Paris, 1976)

(2) "If Morocco is independent, it is not completely unified. The Moroccans will continue the struggle until Tangier, the Sahara from Tindouf to Colomb-Bechar, Touat, Kenadza, Mauritania are liberated and unified. Our independence will only be complete with the Sahara ! The frontiers of Morocco end in the south at Saint-Louis-du-Senegal! " - Allal el-Fassi, June 19, 1956 - Cited in Bertrand Fessard de Foucault, "La question du Sahara espagnol," Revue Française d'Etudes Politiques Africaines, 10th year, No. 119, November 1975. See also: "Greater Morocco"

(3) L'Algerie et le Sahara marocain, Serar, Casablanca, 1976, p. 91

(4) See "The Madrid Accords", on Western Sahara; The Roots of a Desert War, Tony Hodges, p. 210 [>>
on WS-Online web]

(5) Abdelaziz Bouteflika, Algerian minister of foreign affairs, speaking in the UN General Assembly, October 9, 1975. Provisional Verbatim record of the 2382nd meeting, UN General Assembly, UN Document A/PV.2382, October 9, 1975, p. 66.

(6)
Abdelaziz Bouteflika, President of the People's Democratic Republic of Algeria , speaking on the 59th General Assembly, September 21, 2004: