Western Sahara, called Moroccan Sahara in Morocco, is a land of 266,000 square kilometers of northwestern Africa, bordered by Morocco to the north, Algeria on northeast, Mauritania on the south while its west coast overlooks on Atlantic Ocean. Vast desert territory but which has rich deposits of phosphates and which seafront to the Canaries has a great potential of fisheries.
This former Spanish colony has not yet found a permanent status in legal terms, more than thirty years after the departure of Spanish authorities in 1975, Western Sahara is actually experiencing conflict reflects from two sides, first one; the struggle of some Sahrawis (autochthones) who claims their independence and the second sovereignty’s rivalry between Algeria and Morocco in the region. By 1973 was founded the Frente Popular de Liberación of Saguia el Hamra y Río de Oro (Polisario), a movement claiming the total independence of Western Sahara.
Yet, since the Spanish colonization, Morocco expected to annex this territory after the Decolonization that took place in 1975 as a result of negotiations between Spain and Morocco. Algeria contested by supporting militarily, financially and diplomatically the Polisario Front. The Moroccan-Algerian territorial conflicts represent a case that reflects the complexity and the specificity of each territorial dispute.
Historical, geographical, linguistic and above all religious affinities did not preclude both states from engaging in a military clash known as the October 1963 Sand War. Both colonial legacy represented by ambiguous borders between the two states and the indifference of the Algerian government of the time to the 1962 Moroccan-Algerian treaty could be seen as the main reasons of the war. The ongoing crisis of the Western Sahara, claimed by the Polisario Front and supported by the Algerian government, increased the hardening of an already existing Moroccan-Algerian antagonism.
To this effect, the purpose of this essay is to examine the territorial explanation of conflict. It discusses how borders are so important to Morocco and Algeria that they directly contributed to extreme levels of rivalry escalation between the two ‘brother enemies’. This explains the difficulty of achieving a settlement, despite the ongoing efforts of the United Nations since 1965, and particularly the United Nations Mission for the organization of a referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) since 1991.
Negotiations are currently in a decisive stage, described by the Personal Envoy of the Secretary-General of the United Nations, James Baker, “last chance. ” It is urgent to put an end to a particularly long conflict, which has dramatic consequences for refugees, prisoners of war and political prisoners, and harms the development of the Maghreb and good relations between regional actors. Western Sahara is one of the few areas that is still on the list of non-autonomous territories established by the United Nations.
Three decades of impasse: This chapter starts with a brief overview on the question of sovereignty that combines concernedly the Maghreb countries i. e. Algeria, Morocco and Mauritania that have ancient and strong historical, cultural, political, economical and demographical alliances. Who holds sovereignty over Western Sahara? Since the Madrid agreement marking the Spanish colonization withdrawal until the establishment of MINURSO in 1991, the question of Western Sahara has become a regional conflict.
By adopting strategies in the regional level, the Maghreb countries clashed indirectly, while the conflict falls within the historical context of decolonization, involving the Sahrawi’s right to dispose of their proper territory, any new emerging state is likely to pose threats to the already existing boundaries. In June 2001, the UN Security Council unanimously accepted the new plan, which consisted of granting the local population of Western Sahara extensive administrative autonomy in return for recognizing Morocco’s sovereignty over the disputed territory.
The administrative autonomy included the fact that the Sahrawis would have the right for free elections of a legislative body and a local government responsible for the administration of the territory with respect to the collection and expenditure of taxes, education, commerce, mining, the fishing industry, and other important activities. Conduct of the conflict: Morocco and the Polisario (supported by Algeria) compete since 1975 the sovereignty of the former Spanish Sahara. After France’s withdrawal from the region, borders remained undefined, a fact which ruined the
Moroccan-Algerian relations and pushed them to escalate their disagreements into a war known as the October 1963 Sand War, “Sand War” has been frozen since the cease-fire in 1991 and the deployment of a UN force, yet, the conflict remained unsolved. In 2007, Morocco proposed an autonomy plan: immediately rejected by the Polisario and Algeria that was rather well received by Western embassies. In recent years, the separatists tried to displace the conflict to the media field, blurring the image of Morocco in the international community.
To cite here, the case of Aminatou Haidar who refused to do the usual formalities of police airport of Laayoune and broke her Moroccan nationality while reaffirming her commitment to defend the separatists. Regional actors’ stratagem: Morocco: The Moroccan monarchy relies heavily on the concepts of territorial integrity and national unity around the king. This union is historically based on an implied contract that the king must be respected. The Western Sahara issue jeopardizes these fundamental principles.
In addition, the political opposition has threatened the monarchy at the beginning of the conflict. The Green March and the struggle for getting back the Western Sahara unified political forces in the country and the army. The issue became an exclusive business to the Moroccan Palace. The independence of the Sahara would be a blow to the monarchy, and provide a favorable platform for the opposition. Diplomatically, Morocco has an indispensable regional power, to influence the position of regional countries; also Morocco has the support of the United States and France.
The Polisario Front: On the other way round, the Polisario Front considers that the Saharawi people and their alleged territory have moved from a Spanish colonization to a Moroccan one. The Polisario Front conducts an intense communication amongst African countries, international community and world public opinion. There are, for example, an impressive number of associations or Sahrawi NGOs that benefited from internet contribution in order to divert the public opinion. Algeria:
While the Algerian government claims that this conflict is between Morocco and the Polisario Front, and that Algiers has no overriding role within Western Sahara, Morocco suspects Algeria of being behind the creation of the Polisario Front because they are supporting them financially, military, and diplomatically. This is also obvious in the way the Algerian media is dealing with this issue, as well as in the Algerian unconditional support of the Polisario Front within the United Nations various assemblies. Mauritania: Since its withdrawal from the conflict in 1979, Nouakchott is adopting neutrality commitment.
Economically weak, Mauritania does not have the means to claim a territory or openly support the Polisario. It only supports the United Nations. The Western Sahara: International Dimensions France is in an estimable situation, considering its history with Morocco, and the strong relations between Jacques Chirac and Hassan II. For the first time France has a rather strong support for Morocco. Thus, the Franco-Algerian relations have experienced ups and downs that have to be pacified. France avoided for long to intervene especially to escape creating divisions within the European Union.
The European Union is divided between conflicting views of its members. In addition, disagreements exist among the European Parliament, some pro-Sahrawi, and others more conservative and caring about the international policy. It is difficult for the EU to adopt a clear policy on this issue. The economic relations with Morocco (investments) encourage supporting Rabat, although this choice may go against the principles of the EU in favor of human rights and auto-determination. Currently, 54 States recognize the Sahrawi Arab Democratic republic (SADR). The role of The United Nations:
The first resolutions of the General Assembly of United Nations back to 1965 till 1966 call for decolonization of the territory and self-determination of its people through a referendum. In 1981, King Hassan II announced his agreement for a referendum in Western Sahara. After three years of negotiations, Morocco and the Polisario Front accepted the proposals of the UN General Secretary, presented in 1990in order to apply a peaceful settlement leading to a cease-fire and the organization of a referendum in which the people of Western Sahara would choose between joining Morocco and their independence.
The United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) was established by the Security Council of 27 June 1990, was mandated to supervise the conduct of the referendum for self-determination of the people of Western Sahara. Future Prospects: What plans for Western Sahara? The alternative of internal autonomy: Under the recommendation of US Secretary of State James Baker, the UN launched a different initiative based on mutual negotiations. The new plan consisted of granting the local population of Western Sahara extensive administrative autonomy in return for recognizing Morocco’s sovereignty over the disputed territory.
The OAU remained impartial and insists on the benefits of a European contribution to resolve the conflict. For Sahrawi NGOs, the territory belongs to the Saharawi people and the solution lies in going for a referendum under the umbrella of the UN. The Sahara being Moroccan: Discussions with other NGOs (the Association of victims and prisoners’ relatives of Polisario; the Association of Sahrawi family reunification; the Association for women emancipation; the awareness and development Horizon Association) showed a strong commitment to a Moroccan presence in Western Sahara.
Several former Polisario victims denounced pressures and abuse that occurred in Polisario camps: torture, murder, lack of individual freedom. Recognizing that violations of human rights do exist in Morocco, representatives of these NGOs have emphasized the social and political progress in the country. The majority of Sahrawis living in Morocco never wanted to leave; Sahrawi’s interests are in Morocco. Conclusion How would an application of self-determination, redefined along the description above, be achieved in the context of the Western Sahara conflict?
Tracing the Moroccan-Algerian territorial conflicts is an interesting exercise; it involves both historical and geopolitical complexities. At first, it seems unthinkable that two neighboring states like Morocco and Algeria, sharing common core values- religion and language, can escalate their differences into an armed conflict. However, because of the presence of both spatial- borders and positional-ideological concerns, the two Maghrebi states resorted to arms to solve the territorial problem.
This latter was not their own creation, but rather the intervention of a foreign power, which imposed its arbitrary border demarcation. In a matter of fact, the approach of self-determination holds out the potential for advancement in the resolution of other disputes . Self-determination must, therefore, be reframed in the present context as a continuum of rights affording the affected populations a range of democratic entitlements and humanitarian protections within existing sovereign states.