January 6th, 2014
04:47 PM ET

Time for U.S. to focus on Western Sahara

By Michael Rubin, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Michael Rubin, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, recently returned from Morocco and the Western Sahara where he interviewed former Polisario Front members and Sahrawi officials. Follow him @mrubin1971. The views expressed are his own.

Against the backdrop of North Korea and the conflicts in Afghanistan, Syria, and the Palestinian territories, it is understandable that within the United States, the Western Sahara is largely forgotten. It should not be. Across North Africa and the Sahel, political chaos reigns and stability is in short supply. Nature abhors a vacuum, but terrorists love them. Fueled by loose weapons from Libya, al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and other offshoot terrorist groups have destabilized wide swaths of the Sahel. Freedom House once categorized Mali as the most free Muslim majority country in the world, but now it teeters on the brink of state failure, victim of weapons smuggling, terrorism, and its own porous borders. Across North Africa and the Sahel, from the Red Sea to the Atlantic, the only truly stable country is Morocco, a country whose sovereignty over the Western Sahara remains at the center of a decades-long diplomatic dispute.

It has now been almost 40 years since Spain left what was then called the Spanish Sahara, a territory that it had administered for almost a century. Conflict erupted quickly after Spain left. Morocco occupied nearly the entire territory. But Algeria, a reliable Soviet ally in the context of the Cold War, had other plans. It supported the Polisario Front, a group that claimed independence for the former Spanish territory and declared itself the rightful government of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic. The subsequent guerilla conflict continued until 1991, when Morocco and the Polisario Front reached a ceasefire. The two sides initially agreed that a referendum would determine the Western Sahara’s future, but that vote was never held because they could reach no consensus about who qualified to vote. Today, the Sahrwi Arab Democratic Republic exists on paper only although thanks to Algerian largesse, which sees the Polisario as a useful wedge against rival Morocco and so bankrolls its diplomatic missions.

In reality, the Polisario controls little more than a series of small refugee camps in Tindouf, Algeria’s Western-most province along the border of Morocco, Western Sahara, and Mauritania. While the Polisario Front claims more than 100,000 Sahwari refugees live in the camps and some journalists and short-term visitors parrot that figure, diplomats with long experience in the camps and in the region, as well as former refugees, estimate that no more than 40,000 reside in the camps. Only half of these are actual refugees from the portion of the Western Sahara that Morocco controls; the remainder has roots in Algeria, Mauritania, or Mali. Indeed, there is a reason why Algeria refuses to allow an independent census.

The danger is not that war is going to re-erupt between Algeria and Morocco, or that the Polisario will be able to renew its insurgency inside Morocco. Rather, the problem is smuggling. By inflating camp population and then pocketing the difference in aid allocations, the Polisario bolsters its militia and its leaders’ profits. Polisario smuggling is evident in markets around Algeria, Mali, and Mauritania, where merchants sell aid supplies delivered to Tindouf.

Siphoned aid is only the tip of the iceberg: Polisario smugglers also transport African migrants northward toward Europe, and jihadis and weaponry southward from Libya, through Algeria, and across the increasingly unstable Sahel. Counterterror analysts say that AQIM now recruits in Polisario camps.

The simple fact is that the camps need not exist. Many residents of the Tindouf camps seek to return to Morocco, which welcomes them with open arms. Whereas from the 1970s through the 1990s, Morocco kept the Western Sahara as a poor backwater, the strategy of Mohammed IV of Morocco, who assumed the throne in 1999, has been to focus on economic development in the Western Sahara, and he has put the Kingdom’s money to work to show that his rhetoric is not empty. Standards of living are higher in the Western Sahara now than they are in the rest of Morocco, and rather than simply exploit the region’s mineral wealth or its fisheries, the government now focuses on sustainable development, the tourism sector, other businesses, and education. More importantly, at U.S. insistence, the Moroccan government has agreed to grant the Western Sahara autonomy under Moroccan sovereignty. Not only does such a solution make historical sense – most recent Moroccan dynasties have roots in what is now the Western Sahara – but the Moroccans have followed through. Former Polisario members and refugees occupy the highest positions and set policy. Many returnees, meanwhile, suggest that thousands more would follow if the Polisario allowed them to leave. Far from being refugees, the autocratic Polisario now treats Sahrawi camp residents not as constituents but as hostages.

Diplomats naturally seek compromise, but win-win situations only work when both sides sincerely seek a settlement. Alas, Algeria and its Polisario proxies do not. The Algerian government opposes autonomy in the Western Sahara, likely because it fears a precedent which could unravel Algerian control over its own restive Berber provinces. It effectively views the Polisario in the same way that Iran does Hezbollah: as a useful proxy to wield against enemies.

But with AQIM wreaking havoc in the region, and smuggling pouring fuel on the fire, the United States and its European and African allies should no longer sit idle and let the problem fester. Morocco, the first country to extend the United States diplomatic recognition in 1777, has been a steadfast ally to the United States ever since; Washington should repay the favor. It should side unequivocally with Rabat; make aid to the Tindouf camps contingent on an independent census; and demand that Algeria allow Tindouf residents to travel with their families freely, by bus, to Morocco. No longer should the Polisario be allowed to keep family members hostage to encourage the return of the few camp residents who can get seats on U.N.-sponsored flights.

As the United States should have learned from Somalia, Afghanistan, Libya, Timor Leste, and Syria, state failure is hard to reverse. The key is to prevent collapse in the first place. As the only stable state in the region, it behooves the United States to support Morocco and work through it to rebuild the economies of the region, and train forces to restore stability to countries like Mali, the Central African Republic, Tunisia, and Libya. It should formally recognize Moroccan suzerainty over the Western Sahara, dismiss Algerian claims, allow the U.N. Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO), a decades-long failure, to expire and let the Polisario fade into the dustbin of history, a Cold War relic like the Baader-Meinhof gang, Shining Path or Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC).

By doing so, the United States can not only do what is right, but it can also reduce opportunities for al Qaeda to arm and thrive, support an ally, resolve uncertainty that undercuts regional investment, bolster its own national security, and achieve a clear foreign policy success with bipartisan and State Department support.

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Topics: Africa

soundoff (48 Responses)
  1. Felix Unger

    It appears that the thought police got me. My comment here has been blocked!

    January 6, 2014 at 5:29 pm | Reply
  2. wali

    I really doubt that you have visited the refugees camps.I just wanna ask one question : Why U.S. did not recognize the Moroccan sovereignty on Western Sahara, why no country in the whole world recognize that ? Because of international law, because of the opinion of the International Court of Justice Oct,16th 1975 (resume: Western Sahara was not terra nullius, there were Saharawis, and SOME of them had have allegiance with Moroccan kings, and that doesn't mean that Morocco had legal SOVEREIGNTY on the territory because Morocco had not any SOVEREIGNTY practice considering the Moroccan special situation of territorial administration in the 19th century " Bai'a") From this opinion we can understand the conflict core which is THE SOVEREIGNTY: Who can tell us if Western Sahara is Moroccan of not? You, U.S., UN... Only Saharawis can do.

    January 6, 2014 at 5:55 pm | Reply
    • dairyflat

      There are a lot of assertions in the article but no real proof/evidence to support them. I have emailed Rubin before to ask questions of his articles but with never a reply.
      My first question, is what connections does Michael Rubin have with Morocco?

      Rubin claims "diplomats with long experience in the camps and in the region, as well as former refugees, estimate that no more than 40,000 reside in the camps". Is he willing to name some of these people so that we can establish their credibility and even question their claims?

      January 7, 2014 at 3:12 pm | Reply
      • Ahmed Salem Amr Khaddad

        There are many other questions. What are the connections of Stephen Zunes, Jacob Mundy, Stefan Simanowitz, Erik Hagen, Kerry Kennedy, Javier Bardem...and many others with algeria. They all are spreading algerian words and expressions to perpetuate the Western Sahara Territory issue myth. They are denying unionism & the will of Western Saharawi to join families in motherland. They all are attacking Morocco and the Western Saharawi who are working to develop their region in order to prepare the ground for the return of relatives retained, encircled and repressed in tindouf gulags in algeria. They all are in bad faith regarding the issue. Some of them are totally sponsored. Others regret the cold war era. What they didn't make successful elsewhere, they want to make it successful in the Western Sahara Territory.
        The Western Saharawi Community regret the interfering of algeria and sponsored fellows in our affairs. We want the end of sequestration in algeria. We want the end of the silent genocide of relatives perpetuated by algeria in tindouf gulags. Enough is enough! Cold war has gone and hatred towards Morocco and the Western Saharawi Community should stop.

        God save the life of all those supporting autonomy in tindouf gulags in algeria.

        Ahmed Salem Amr Khaddad
        Unionist Western Saharawi – Internet Activist

        January 8, 2014 at 6:35 am |
      • Lusius

        Dairyflat, you're an obscurantist and these red herrings of yours will not detract from the fact that Algeria's Polisario Front has systematically refused requests made by the UNHCR to allow a census of the population its held in large part hostage for over 35 years!

        The estimates made by numerous defectors of the Polisario Front are far more credible than the figures branded by the Polisario and Algeria since the 80s in the range of 200,000! (For example in 1984, the Polisario claimed to have 184,000 "refugees" in its camps; source: World Refugee Report, 1985.) Indeed, from 2000, UNHCR/WFP humanitarian aid to the camps (read: unlawful indoctrination centers) was implemented on the basis of roughly 160,000 "refugees", but reduced to 90,000 from 1 September 2005 after a satellite imagery report issued by the EU.

        Throughout this artificial conflict, Morocco has always maintained that the Polisario and Algeria grossly inflate the figures and these claims by Morocco had always been brushed off as "Moroccan propaganda", even though the UNHCR itself expressed "concerns" about the Algerian/Polisario estimates as well as the methods its own organisation used in drawing figures.

        A very simple way to end the debate would be to allow UNHCR to carry out a census/registration of those in the camps; of course, neither Algeria nor their proxy Polisario Front would dare comply as that would go a long way to signaling the end of this artificial conflict. In the mean time, the radical left and DRS recruits, would rather focus the debate on Morocco's "unreliable" sources and estimations. It's a farce.

        January 8, 2014 at 10:25 am |
    • Moroccan and sahrawi

      the internationnal court of justice also divided up palestine , far from being just , the oil and gas rich algeria under the president boumediene gave up billions in propaganda hoever the population soon protested and there was a civil war in algeria in the nineties

      January 9, 2014 at 5:01 am | Reply
    • adlane alloui

      I agree with you and also i could smell corruption from this article. this lad accounts should be investigated by the FBI as you cannot repeat in an exact order all the arguments we hear every time from makhzanists, is he moroccan? if not, it must be a prepared letter he picked on his way back to the US with an envelope from mimi6 as a thanks for putting his name on the top of that letter.

      January 11, 2014 at 5:46 pm | Reply
  3. Hicham

    one way to find out: open up those camps for inspections and allow without blackmail or retribution the ones who wish to join their moroccan counterparts to do so. as to the U.N., in their DNA to never give a straight answer. Algeria spent $300 billion so far on the Polisario while they were actively participating in the carnage of 1990s algeria. Pathetic!

    January 6, 2014 at 6:31 pm | Reply
    • dairyflat

      Hicham, what evidence do you have that supprts your '$300 billion" calim?

      January 7, 2014 at 3:13 pm | Reply
      • Lusius

        From Algerian defectors, insiders and even a former vice-president; the figure is circulated by honest Algerians themselves concerned about the abundant waste of their natural resources on a band of mercenaries and terrorists to the detriment of the Algerian people who continuously take to the streets in "bread riots". Indeed, Algeria provides extensive diplomatic, logistical, military and material support to the Polisario Front, as well as providing them a safe haven in the occupied region of Tindouf.

        January 8, 2014 at 11:44 am |
      • Lusius

        *former president

        January 8, 2014 at 1:25 pm |
  4. julio

    Pure propaganda! It is unbelievable that a CNN blog can publish a piece of propaganda without any contrasted facts. The only truth is that the US should focus on Western Sahara but the US tried through secretary Baker and Morocco blocked his work...Morocco is also blocking the efforts that Ross is doing to solve the conflict..and last year the US tried to have a human rights mandate to monitor the respect to the rights of Saharawis both under Moroccan occupation and in the refugee camps BUT Morocco again refused and CANCELED MILITARY EXERCISES WITH US OVER RIGHTS PROPOSAL (http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/2013/04/16/morocco-cancels-war-games-with-us-over-rights/2089089/). Mr. Rubin is coming late to this conflict and repeting the same old propaganda nobody in Washington believes anymore. We all know that Morocco is a dictatorship ruled by a feudal king that has slaves and people kissing his hands and we also now that he violates human rights in occupied WEstern SAhara. ADVISE don not waste time reading this propaganda and read CNN's best real journalism http://amanpour.blogs.cnn.com/2013/03/06/the-tragic-story-you-may-have-never-heard-of/

    January 7, 2014 at 1:49 am | Reply
    • wali

      I totally agree with you Julio

      January 7, 2014 at 6:20 pm | Reply
    • Ahmed Salem Amr Khaddad

      You can't say Morocco blocked the work of the UN. Morocco asked the UN to organize a referendum in the Western Sahara territory from 60' longer before establishment of the algerian sub-republic SADR in 1976.
      Human rights monitoring is the role of HR national council. It's an independent body doing a very good job to improve HR in the whole country. "Human rights abuses" is a myth propagated by algeria and sponsored fellows. On behalf of the Western Saharawi community I can assure that abuses are really isolated and when people are victims of abuses police forces are punished according to law. The Western Saharawi are sovereing in their motherland. They do make order and do deal with foreign investments since 1975.
      M. Rubin is simply a honest researcher. He isn't a corrupt mind as all those who propagate algerain words and expressions to get oil/gas rewards. The republic of the algerian army alias algeria will never succeed on colonizing the Western Sahara Territory through a sand sub-republic simply because the Western Saharawi will never let algeria do. Thank you to advise the amenpour CNN article. There are many of my comments who can restablish the truth on this algerian masquerade. Thank you again.

      Don't forget this: Each country has an army, in algeria the army has a country.

      Ahmed Salem Amr Khaddad
      Unionist Western Saharawi – Internet Activist

      January 8, 2014 at 6:56 am | Reply
    • Lusius

      I imagine "Julio" has Spanish origins; his position vis-a-vis Morocco, becomes clearly.

      Spanish television consistently portrays Morocco in a negative light and consistently lends support to the Algerian thesis and its puppet Polisario Front; indeed, Spain still occupies Moroccan territory depends heavily on Algeria for its oil and gas. Julio is thus so taken by the Spanish and Algerian petrodollar propaganda machine, he reacts like an alkali metal would to water when touched by truth.

      1. The links between Polisario Front members and AQIM were admitted by even the Polisario "defense minister" (source: "El Polisario reconoce que hay saharauis alistados en Al Qaida del Magreb", article published by the Spanish daily ABC)

      2. Spain declared the Polisario Front a terrorist organisation in 1985 after an attack on a Spanish fishing vessel in international waters; it was a only one episode in a string of attacks on Spanish nationals, between 1976-86.

      3. Julio's slanderous and derogatory views of Moroccans (whom he views as slaves) only reveals the contempt he harbors for this ancient Kingdom and its great people; whereas slavery – in its actual sense – still exists in the Polisario-run camps!

      January 8, 2014 at 12:22 pm | Reply
  5. rachrafi

    The Polisario have become a relic of the Cold War which saw pro Soviet Allies Algeria and Libya attempt to destabilize Morocco. Now that Colonel Gaddafi is no more the Polisario are being kept on Life Support by the Algerian military regime to act as a proxy against Morocco. Polisario are nothing but a rag tag group of Moroccan expats serving Algerian political interests.

    January 7, 2014 at 5:37 am | Reply
    • Dali

      Morocco has always been a bully state: 10 years to recognize Mauritania as a Country; Morocco declared war against Algeria then invaded The Sahrawi territory with 200,000 soldiers and 150,000 civilians. Morocco now wants these new colonizers to be counted as Sahrawi. What a joke...
      Do we need to hear more : the International Court declared that Morocco has no business with the Sahrawi:
      The United Nations recognized the Sahrawi as the last country to be decolonized in Africa and that a referendum will be held to allow the Sahrawi people to decide about their future..
      Morocco and the Prolisario signed a cases fire and agreed to hold a referendum to allow Sahrawi to choose their destiny.
      Morocco is using the same Israeli sneaky tactics, against the Palestinian...gain time and postpone and renegade former agreements. Such a blatant

      Another Moroccan propaganda is to make believe that Morocco was the first country to recognize the United States in 1977...wrong because France was the first country to recognize the USA and Morocco recognized the USA on June 23th, 1786 and not on 1777 so please get your facts once for all.

      January 15, 2014 at 1:17 am | Reply
  6. Moroccan and sahrawi

    I am moroccan AND sahrawi and i have a question , do we create countries because some french and spanish guys sat on a table and cut whole regions with a map and a pen ??? Western sahara never existed , it was named like that by the spanish only in 1970 , before being occupied by spain in 1884 it was a moroccan region , if not why do you think european powers waited until 184 to occupy it and occupy its long coasts while they occupied most of the world centuries before , do you think they were afraid of 800 camel noamds ???? they didnt occupy it simply because morocco was a sovereign state and the sahara was part of its internationnaly recognized territory , after the war of africa and the first franco-moroccan warin the 19 th century, spain kew morocco was weakned and occupied the region

    January 7, 2014 at 6:35 am | Reply
    • dairyflat

      "sahara was part of its internationnaly recognized territory" – Was it? Are you certain?

      January 7, 2014 at 3:15 pm | Reply
      • Lusius

        General Assembly resolution 1514 (XV), paragraph 6: Any attempt aimed at the partial or total disruption of the national unity and the territorial integrity of a country is incompatible with the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations.

        "It must first be pointed out that the Advisory Opinion [which, for the record, is non-binding] has left out of account, or has misinterpreted, certain relevant treaties. An analysis of these instruments points to the existence of a Moroccan political or State authority extending as far as Cabo Bojador and embracing the Sakiet El Hamra." – former vice-president of the ICJ, Judge Ammoun.

        January 8, 2014 at 1:24 pm |
  7. Moroccan and sahrawi

    The sahara was always moroccan , and i will give you sources , it was moroccan under the almoravid dynasty almohad dynasty saadi dynasty idrissid dynasty and marinid dynasty until 1884

    January 7, 2014 at 6:36 am | Reply
    • wali

      Ironic...
      An old Saharawi man said on the Laayoune regional TV that Western Sahara was Moroccan since the era of the Prophet Muhamed.
      Is that a proof, this is words in the air

      January 7, 2014 at 6:31 pm | Reply
  8. Ahmed Salem Amr Khaddad

    The Western Saharawi community is really happy to read such article denouncing the historical political trickery of algeria regarding the Western Sahara Territory issue. Nothing to say except, thank you so much Martin for your intellectual honesty. Our community needs more and more people like you to denounce the algerian myths on the Western Sahara Territory. I hope this article will help to restablish a hidden truth on this absurd issue legacy of cold war. I also hope that sponsored algerian fellows will return to reason to stop their sterile propaganda against Morocco. Getting sponsorships to spread separatism in the Western Sahara Territory for the account of algeria will only serve the dark political agenda of algeria in the region. It will maintain the staus quo and about 40000/50000 people will remain sequestrated and persecuted to justify the state claim at the UN level. Cold war has gone and the region needs autonomy and more development to face the globalization. The state claim is the will of algeria DRS agents and some polisario leaders getting rewards from the situation. The Western Saharawi want to join families in motheland and get better conditions for the rest of their life.

    More to read on CORCAS websites, the Western Saharawi Community.

    Ahmed Salem Amr Khaddad
    Unionist Western Saharawi – Internet Activist

    January 7, 2014 at 10:47 am | Reply
    • dairyflat

      You wrote "The Western Saharawi community is really happy to read such article" – by that you really mean, what some would describe, as the traitors and collaborators who have been bought by Morocco don't you?

      January 7, 2014 at 4:30 pm | Reply
      • Ahmed Salem Amr Khaddad

        I can recognize here the algeria DRS agents style to propagate lies & allegations on the Western Sahara Territory. No worries, we will continue to face you everywhere on Internet to restablish the hidden truth of the fake Western Sahara Territory issue. Your myths are coming over. The international community knows actually all about your sterile propaganda. Humanity and universal values are beyond oil/gas rewards.

        January 8, 2014 at 7:00 am |
  9. Proud Saharawi

    What is clear is that Morocco is investing a lot of money to convince journalists and other of its ideas about a territory that it occupies since 1976. On Nov 21, 1979 the UN called Morocco to end its occupation.(Check Res 34/37 of Nov.21.79 par5 http://www.un.org/en/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=A/RES/34/37&Lang=E&Area=RESOLUTION)
    Ironically Morocco uses Western Sahara resources to lobby and pay for propaganda to advance its position while it uses battons and police brutality to suppress the Saharawis hope for freedom and independence!
    The saharawis, however, will continue to fight for their freedom and to debunk the lack of knowledge and propaganda of pieces like this.
    The real truth here is that:
    -Morocco is AGAINST a VOTE sponsored by the UN...Polisario is in favor of a vote sponsored by the UN
    -Morocco is AGAINST a human rights MONITORED by the UN in both the territory it controls and the camps controlled by the Polisario.
    -The Polisario (and the US) are IN FAVOR of human rights MONITORED by the UN in both the territory it controls and the camps controlled by the Polisario.
    This simple FACTS are enough to debunk the propaganda of this article and that expressed by the Moroccan Ahmed Salem. Who is against a democratic solution??? Who is sequestration saharawis, violating their rights and against any international surveillance on human rights on both sides of the MOROCCAN WALL OF SHAME dividing saharawi families???
    WHOEVER IS AGAINST A REFERENDUM AND HUMAN RIGHTS IS AFRAID OF THE TRUTH!

    January 7, 2014 at 11:29 am | Reply
    • Ahmed Salem Amr Khaddad

      Morocco has no money to invest in propaganda. On the other side, Algeria has all the money to do that. Morocco is working to develop the daily life of Moroccans including the Western Saharawi with very limited resources. Algeria is working to impoverish the Western Saharawi since 1976, those who are retained against their will in tindouf gulags of shame and those who are sovereign in their motherland. Algeria has been funding very few separatists to spread separatism in the Western Sahara Territory since 1976. They are making trouble to make the buzz on Internet. Then sponsored relays come into the play to spread the buzz. The Western Saharawi will never stop their struggle to liberate relatives encircled, repressed in Algeria. They are hostages of a dark political vision of Algeria in the Sahel. Algeria maintains their detention to justify the state claim before the UN and the international community.
      These are the hidden truth:
      . Algeria is blocking the population census of tindouf gulags since 1976. The UNHCR give aids to the Algerian authorities who prohibit UNHCR direct aid distribution to the population.
      . Algeria prohibits independent HR NGO to come into tindouf gulags. Only sponsored NGOs have the right to come in.
      . Algeria will never allow UN HR monitoring in tindouf gulags even the related propaganda. Algeria is afraid tongues wag.
      . The wall of sand was erected in war situation to protect the Western Saharawi from ground attacks, kidnappings and killings.

      WOEVER IS AGAINST POPULATION CENSUS AND HUMAN RIGHTS MONITORING IN TINDOUF GULAGS IS AFRAID OF THE TRUTH

      Ahmed Salem Amr Khaddad
      Unionist Western Saharawi – Internet Activist

      January 8, 2014 at 7:19 am | Reply
      • Dali

        Morocco has always been a bully state: 10 years to recognize Mauritania as a Country; Morocco declared war against Algeria then invaded The Sahrawi territory with 200,000 soldiers and 150,000 civilians. Morocco now wants these new colonizers to be counted as Sahrawi. What a joke...
        Do we need to hear more : the International Court declared that Morocco has no business with the Sahrawi:
        The United Nations recognized the Sahrawi as the last country to be decolonized in Africa and that a referendum will be held to allow the Sahrawi people to decide about their future..
        Morocco and the Prolisario signed a cases fire and agreed to hold a referendum to allow Sahrawi to choose their destiny.
        Morocco is using the same Israeli sneaky tactics, against the Palestinian...gain time and postpone and renegade former agreements. Such a blatant

        Another Moroccan propaganda is to make believe that Morocco was the first country to recognize the United States in 1977...wrong because France was the first country to recognize the USA and Morocco recognized the USA on June 23th, 1786 and not on 1777 so please get your facts once for all.

        January 15, 2014 at 1:21 am |
  10. j. von hettlingen

    The US-Moroccan relations aren't that good. Morocco cancelled an exercise last year, because of a US proposal for the UN to monitor human rights as part of its duties in Western Sahara. This came after UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon backed "sustained" human rights monitoring in Western Sahara.
    Morocco annexed most of the disputed former Spanish colony in 1976 and put forward an autonomy plan for the part of Western Sahara it controls. That was opposed by the pro-independence Polisario Front, which wants a referendum on the status of the territory that includes the option of independence.

    January 7, 2014 at 11:36 am | Reply
  11. rachrafi

    The Algerian propaganda machine is slowly grinding to a halt. Just recently Paraguay froze all diplomatic relations with the Polisario and I see more countries following their lead. Their days are numbered so the concern is Polisario will resort to carrying out terrorist activities and there is evidence they are being actively recruited by Al Qaeda in the Maghreb. The military junta that governs Algeria still operate within the political sphere of the Cold War of the 60's and 70's and as long as they continue to pursue this futile project of artificially propping up the Polisario the risk of instability in the Maghreb will continue.

    Finally I would like to extend my thanks to Michael Rubin for this insightful piece which exposes the lies and myths surrounding Western Sahara. The truth as always eventually wins out in the end and the World is now seeing the true nature of this problem.

    January 7, 2014 at 11:51 am | Reply
  12. Cristopher Ross

    Algeria has refused, despite repeated calls from UNHCR & UN Secretary General, to identify and record populations , UNHCR must access to Tindouf camps to authenticate who is Sahraoui or not. Men, women and children in camps are taken hostage by the Algerian army and separatists, they transformed it to a big prison where people are deprived of the most basic necessities of life. Slavery still exists in the 21st century in many parts of the world, as is the case in Polisario camps Tindouf in Algeria. Shame! Thank you M Rubin , it's a great article

    January 7, 2014 at 12:30 pm | Reply
    • Jannes Feder

      Cristopher Ross was appointed January 7, 2009 as the UN envoy to Western Sahara. It is not possible he reacts on this forum, let alone in this manner. It is a shame CNN does not moderate this discussion properly enough to keep the abundant Moroccan propaganda trolls within their bounderies.

      January 7, 2014 at 2:53 pm | Reply
      • Lusius

        Jannes, it's clearly not possible and only daft people mistake sarcasm for truth; take the false appellations as nothing more than sardonic responses to names like "proud sahrawi" who spew Algerian propaganda. The content of "Christopher Ross'" message however is coherent and factual whereas your diversionary post is typical of a troll.

        January 8, 2014 at 12:57 pm |
  13. Moroccan and sahrawi

    am moroccan AND sahrawi and i have a question , do we create countries because some french and spanish guys sat on a table and cut whole regions with a map and a pen ??? Western sahara never existed , it was named like that by the spanish only in 1970 , before being occupied by spain in 1884 it was a moroccan region , if not why do you think european powers waited until 184 to occupy it and occupy its long coasts while they occupied most of the world centuries before , do you think they were afraid of 800 camel noamds ???? they didnt occupy it simply because morocco was a sovereign state and the sahara was part of its internationnaly recognized territory , after the war of africa and the first franco-moroccan warin the 19 th century, spain kew morocco was weakned and occupied the region. About the polisario it is an algerian puppe , during the battle of amgala , 2000 heavily armed algerian soldiers were suprised , 250 killed and 100 captured , they were escorting in trucks nomads

    January 7, 2014 at 1:09 pm | Reply
  14. MORCELLI

    LET'S MAKE A DEAL. OPEN THE GATES OF TINDOUF AND IF PEOPLE CHOSE TO STAY IN TINDOUF THEN MOROCCO HOLD A REFERENDUM. ALGERIA IS VERY MUCH AWARE THAT FREEING THE SAHRAOUIS IN TINDOUD IF LOSING THE WAR.

    January 7, 2014 at 4:15 pm | Reply
  15. Salma

    Western Sahara independence is necessary not a choice ,we will never give up.

    January 7, 2014 at 4:28 pm | Reply
    • Moroccan and sahrawi

      No my dear just like your algerian president boumediene who paid billions i propaganda and weapons , you will die and the sahara wll still be moroccan simply bcause it always was except during the 90 years spanish occupation

      January 8, 2014 at 4:14 am | Reply
  16. THORN

    The Arabian Peninsular is not in North Africa or any other part of Africa as far as I remember. Arabs are in Arabia and some are Muslim, maybe most, some are Christian, some Jewish. Doesn't matter what faith, if they're from Arabia they are Arabs. It is geographically impossible to have an Arab state in North Africa. If they want to have a democratically elected theocracy then call it a Muslim state, not an Arab state.

    January 7, 2014 at 4:30 pm | Reply
  17. Misha

    The moroccan sahara is a Berber land and arabs should go back from where they came from. Morocco is dealing with a terrorist organization backed by the terrorist state of algeria for too long now it's time to face this problem and clean up the mess France and Spain left behind once and for all.

    January 7, 2014 at 5:31 pm | Reply
    • wali

      You're right – Western Sahara is Berber and Arabs must go- but who had lived in the territory before Berbers?
      According to anthropologists, Amazighs came from Europe and I think they have to go where they came from.
      This is no a reasoning..

      January 7, 2014 at 6:41 pm | Reply
  18. Moroccan from the Moroccan sahara

    it's mind bugling that anyone think that Algeria armed with 40,000 refugees will force Morocco to give up its territorial integrity. 40,000 vs 34 millions who will always win?

    January 8, 2014 at 7:58 am | Reply
  19. Moroccan and sahrawi

    this region of the world that the spanish started to call western sahara beginning fron the seventies was always moroccan ,if not give me a single proof that it was not , diplomatic relation , ook , you wont find anything , however maps from the 18 the cetury 16 th century will include the sahara in morocco , spain should give pais vasco catalonia and galicia independance

    January 9, 2014 at 4:55 am | Reply
  20. Robert

    Freedom to Western Sahara. Freedom to sahraoui people who are suffering in the occupied territories getting killed and tortured by the morrocan colonists army.

    January 20, 2014 at 12:00 pm | Reply
  21. Karim Ché-Khattabi

    Hi,
    Thanks for a very informative blog. Small typo the current King is Mohammed VI rather than IV.

    As for the conflict there isn't one. Sahrawi, Rifi, Chelh, Soussi, jebli or aroubi we are all Mgharba.

    Algerians need a democratic government that would establish commercial ties with Morocco and revive the family links lost. The will is there from the people but their military killed and tortured their civilians after Islamists won the elections what would they do to Polisario when they're done with them...the only winners are arm dealers and drone makers...magharba including the People of Algeria are mostly losers and are being used as pawns by the US, Russia and Israel.

    Thanks again.

    Regards,
    Karim

    January 28, 2014 at 4:29 pm | Reply
  22. hanse chneider

    Last sommer i was in layoune and dakhla with my famylie its peace ful place and nice peapel nice wether lots of bilding no more nomads i my go next year again i like the morocain sahrawi hospitality.

    February 12, 2014 at 4:05 pm | Reply
  23. Sidahmed Ould Cheikhna

    Many thanks Mr. Rubin for this very interesting post. I agree with the analysis, however it needs to be completed by adressing the main challenges in this part of the world. Lack of democracy, human rights not respected, poor insitutions, corruption and poor social infrastructures are the main source of violence and terrorism in the Sahel region.
    For the special crisis in the western Sahara, algeria must convince Polisario to deal with the peace agenda but at the same time Morroco has to respect the human rights of the Sahrawi people. US and the international community should provide a strong support to the peace talks otherwise nothing will disturb the agenda of terrorists. We need to say Stop to terrorism in the sahel, we have to do it.

    February 19, 2014 at 7:53 am | Reply

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