Commentary Magazine


Topic: Morocco

Why Do States Choose to Kill Dissidents in Paris?

Over the past couple days, I have been in Brussels to attend and speak at a conference addressing the challenges Turkey and the Kurds pose to the European Union. One speaker, French lawyer Antoine Comte, provided an update into the investigation concerning the murders almost two years ago of Sakine Cansiz, a co-founder of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), as well as Kurdish activists Fidan Doğan and Leyla Söylemez, shot dead in their office in Paris. He noted the long history of political assassinations in Paris. In 1965, Moroccan dissident Mehdi Ben Barka disappeared in Paris, allegedly killed by the Moroccan security services. And a few years later, Chadian dictator François Tombalbaye apparently had exiled politician Outel Bono killed in Paris. According to the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center, the Islamic Republic has assassinated at least 11 dissidents in Paris. Algerian, Syrian, Palestinian, South African, and Basque activists, politicians, and terrorists have all been killed in Paris.

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Over the past couple days, I have been in Brussels to attend and speak at a conference addressing the challenges Turkey and the Kurds pose to the European Union. One speaker, French lawyer Antoine Comte, provided an update into the investigation concerning the murders almost two years ago of Sakine Cansiz, a co-founder of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), as well as Kurdish activists Fidan Doğan and Leyla Söylemez, shot dead in their office in Paris. He noted the long history of political assassinations in Paris. In 1965, Moroccan dissident Mehdi Ben Barka disappeared in Paris, allegedly killed by the Moroccan security services. And a few years later, Chadian dictator François Tombalbaye apparently had exiled politician Outel Bono killed in Paris. According to the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center, the Islamic Republic has assassinated at least 11 dissidents in Paris. Algerian, Syrian, Palestinian, South African, and Basque activists, politicians, and terrorists have all been killed in Paris.

Back to Cansiz, Doğan, and Söylemez: At the time, I speculated the Iran might have been responsible. The preponderance of evidence which has emerged since the murders, however, makes it pretty clear I was wrong, and that Turkey’s security service was to blame. The most damning evidence is a leaked, ten-minute conversation in which the alleged assassin discusses the mission and targets with members of the Milli İstihbarat Teşkilatı (MIT), Turkey’s intelligence service. In addition, a leaked MIT document (consistent with MIT paper stock including watermarks) corroborates those who allege MIT complicity. The French daily Le Monde summarizes the allegations.

The French government, however, has gone silent on its investigation and the French Interior Ministry appears to be stopping its investigation so as not to antagonize the Turkish government. After all, should Paris pursue an investigation that might antagonize Ankara, contracts could be at risk. Alas, with France, the same story repeats.

And it will keep repeating—with Paris being ground zero for murders of dissidents and political opposition—until the French government recognizes that putting its own commercial interests above the rule of law makes it not a dream destination for honeymooners but rather a playground for regimes seeking to quiet their oppositions. Rather than deep-six the investigation into the three Kurdish activists, it is long past time for the French government to pursue the investigation quickly and publicly, wherever it may lead and whomever it might implicate.

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Remembering Forced Expulsions in the Arab World

There are two ironies concerning refugee flows in the Arab world. The first is how selective some Western advocates are when they focus exclusively on displaced Palestinians and Palestinian refugees, and the second is how they effectively punish those countries which do the right thing and absorb and settle refugees rather than using them as a political pawn.

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There are two ironies concerning refugee flows in the Arab world. The first is how selective some Western advocates are when they focus exclusively on displaced Palestinians and Palestinian refugees, and the second is how they effectively punish those countries which do the right thing and absorb and settle refugees rather than using them as a political pawn.

Attending the concurrent NGO fair, I spent some time at the booth of the Association des Marocains Victimes d’Expulsion Arbitraire d’Algérie (AMVEAA). Basically, there story is this: On December 18, 1975, the Algerian government expelled 45,000 families—about 500,000 people—who were legally resident in Algeria, and many of whom had lived in Algeria for decades. Houari Boumediene, the chairman of Algeria’s Revolutionary Council, ordered the Moroccans detained and expelled in response to the Moroccan “Green Marchinto the Western Sahara.

The condition of the Moroccans’ expulsion was appalling, and it was done without prior notice. Algerian police hunted down Moroccans wherever they could be found and dumped them across the border. Many Moroccans died, and the humanitarian crisis caused by hundreds of thousands of individuals strained the Moroccan government. Meanwhile, the deportation split mixed families, and the expelled Moroccans lost pensions, and left behind bank accounts and personal property.

AMVEAA wants restitution for lost property and cites language from the UN’s Committee on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families to support their claim.

Realistically, the chance they will collect is between zero and null. But, there case does illustrate just one more case—the mass expulsion of Jews from Arab lands following Israel’s independence being the other—of the hypocrisy of the refugee issue. The 500,000 persons expelled from Algeria are greater than the 472,000 Palestinians which the United Nations Mediator on Palestine concluded had left Israel in 1948.

Israel, however, settled the refugees as did Morocco. They are cases to be celebrated, and examples of responsible governance. Why the world continues to subsidize Palestinian refugees rather than disbanding the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) and handling management of any remaining issue to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees is beyond any logic and, indeed, UNRWA’s founding purpose.

Whether or not Algeria comes clean on its actions taken against the backdrop of Cold War animus, let us praise the Moroccans for doing the right thing. It’s time to recognize that Rabat and Jerusalem represent the best practices in refugee resettlement, and UNRWA the worst. Let’s replicate a model that works, and recognize UNRWA not only betrays Palestinians, but refugees around the world, many of whom desperately need aid not to build rockets but rather to get their lives restarted after suffering dislocation and tragedy.

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Why Not Send Development Aid to the Western Sahara?

I spent the last week of November in Morocco in order to attend the Second World Human Rights Forum, an international confab of NGOs working on issues ranging from indigenous language rights, to countering child abuse, to labor issues, to women’s education, to combating torture and providing restitution to its victims.

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I spent the last week of November in Morocco in order to attend the Second World Human Rights Forum, an international confab of NGOs working on issues ranging from indigenous language rights, to countering child abuse, to labor issues, to women’s education, to combating torture and providing restitution to its victims.

The Moroccan Association of Human Rights which, contrary to the reporting of Al Jazeera, is a somewhat obscure group, boycotted (after first demanding and receiving an invitation) the event in protest of, well, it’s never clear when it comes to the Moroccan Association of Human Rights. Yet the fact of the matter is that while far from perfect, Morocco has made great strides in respect for human rights since King Mohammed VI assumed the throne upon his father’s death fifteen years ago. Morocco is the only country, for example, to host a truth and reconciliation committee–with testimony on television no less–without first having regime change. That Mohammed VI encouraged such a process, in effect airing his own father’s dirty laundry, highlights sincerity.

When it comes to language and indigenous rights, Morocco has also been doing the right thing. The Berber language Tamazight is now official, and buildings and documents outside Berber areas now sport it and its distinctive alphabet next to Arabic and French. Berbers also display their own flag, a privilege indigenous groups elsewhere in the Arab world (except in post-war Iraq) and Iran cannot do.

In the Western Sahara, too, the Moroccan government has done the right thing. While Algeria and some other countries dispute Moroccan suzerainty over the Western Sahara, a colonial territory with historic links to Morocco which Morocco occupied upon the Spanish withdrawal, the Moroccan government has flooded the region with resources to spark its economy and provide better schooling, housing, and other infrastructure than is available in much of the rest of country. This coming year, Morocco will begin implementing its regionalization plan, effectively giving the Western Sahara local autonomy, and setting the stage for greater regional autonomy throughout the diverse country.

To support Morocco’s success as it moves forward, the United States should begin providing development assistance directly to the Western Sahara. Traditionally, the United States has avoided doing so because of disputes over the Western Sahara’s status, but U.S. policy now embraces Morocco’s suzerainty over an autonomous Western Sahara. There is no legal impediment to providing development aid to the region, one which I was fortunate to visit a year ago. The irony of the current situation is that the United States essentially aids one side of the dispute—Sahrawi refugees stuck in Algerian refugee camps—through the donations the United States makes to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the World Food Program. And yet, USAID refuses to provide assistance to support those refugees who have escaped their Algerian and Polisario captors and decided to return to the Western Sahara. It should be the policy of the United States to end refugee crises, rather the perpetuating them.

The biggest problem the Western Sahara now faces is capacity. The region will soon do far more to govern itself, but the managerial and bureaucratic class in the region has little to no experience doing so. American aid to develop real managerial capacity and build up the independence and autonomy of civil society could be crucial. And Morocco would welcome it. So would the Sahrawis living in Moroccan Western Sahara. How sad and short-sighted it is, then, that rather than assist the one regional state that is stable and secure, has listened to the international community, and is doing the right thing, the United States seems intent on turning its back on an opportunity to make permanent Morocco’s progress and provide a base and a model for local autonomy which could expand stability and democracy well beyond Morocco’s borders.

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Arab Spring Comes to Polisario Front?

I have written here before about the Polisario Front, a Cold War throw-back and authoritarian cult funded by the Algerian military regime as a tool against Morocco. The Department of Homeland Security classifies the Polisario Front as a terrorist group. Polisario leaders seek to cloak themselves in a shroud of anti-colonial legitimacy saying they are fighting for a Sahrawi state in the Western Sahara, a former Spanish colonial territory now autonomous under Moroccan control. That is enough for many leftist journalists and progressive academics to embrace them, and even President Obama took a photo with the Polisario Front’s autocratic leader, but the reality is their constituency is tiny and growing smaller every day.

While the Polisario imagines themselves leading a state, the sad truth is they reign over little more than a handful of refugee camps in the Tindouf province of Algeria which house not more than 100,000 Sahrawi, of whom perhaps only 40,000 are refugees from the Western Sahara. These refugees live in a political culture as authoritarian and as that of Turkmenistan, Eritrea, North Korea, or the Mujahedin al-Khalq. Here, for example, is a report that the Polisario has forced youth into marriages in order to create new constituents. The Polisario notoriously separated children from their parents and shipped them to Cuba for indoctrination. The Polisario taxes residents to fund the profligate lifestyles of its leaders. Party membership—and blind loyalty to Mohamed Abdelaziz, the Polisario’s dictator—is required for employment and to receive other benefits. The group prevents residents of the Tindouf camps from returning home. While the United Nations facilitates some family visits between Moroccan Tindouf refugees and their families, the Polisario refuses to allow husbands and wives and children to travel together, treating those left behind as hostages in order to guarantee the return of the camp residents. In short, to be born into the Polisario-run camps is to be born into an authoritarian hell.

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I have written here before about the Polisario Front, a Cold War throw-back and authoritarian cult funded by the Algerian military regime as a tool against Morocco. The Department of Homeland Security classifies the Polisario Front as a terrorist group. Polisario leaders seek to cloak themselves in a shroud of anti-colonial legitimacy saying they are fighting for a Sahrawi state in the Western Sahara, a former Spanish colonial territory now autonomous under Moroccan control. That is enough for many leftist journalists and progressive academics to embrace them, and even President Obama took a photo with the Polisario Front’s autocratic leader, but the reality is their constituency is tiny and growing smaller every day.

While the Polisario imagines themselves leading a state, the sad truth is they reign over little more than a handful of refugee camps in the Tindouf province of Algeria which house not more than 100,000 Sahrawi, of whom perhaps only 40,000 are refugees from the Western Sahara. These refugees live in a political culture as authoritarian and as that of Turkmenistan, Eritrea, North Korea, or the Mujahedin al-Khalq. Here, for example, is a report that the Polisario has forced youth into marriages in order to create new constituents. The Polisario notoriously separated children from their parents and shipped them to Cuba for indoctrination. The Polisario taxes residents to fund the profligate lifestyles of its leaders. Party membership—and blind loyalty to Mohamed Abdelaziz, the Polisario’s dictator—is required for employment and to receive other benefits. The group prevents residents of the Tindouf camps from returning home. While the United Nations facilitates some family visits between Moroccan Tindouf refugees and their families, the Polisario refuses to allow husbands and wives and children to travel together, treating those left behind as hostages in order to guarantee the return of the camp residents. In short, to be born into the Polisario-run camps is to be born into an authoritarian hell.

Just as the White House remained largely silent when Iranians rose up for freedom in 2009, and remains muted on similar anti-authoritarian protests in Venezuela today, so too is it now silent on a nascent freedom movement in the Polisario-run camps. According to al-Arabiya:

The so-called “Youth Movement for Change” released a video accusing the Polisario Front’s leadership of corruption and called for improving the conditions of Sahrawi refugees in Tindouf. The movement also demanded the departure of the Front’s aging figures, including its 66-year-old leader Mohammad Abdelaziz who has been in control since 1976. The youth group, which was founded in February this year, accused Abdelaziz and his associates of “trading in the suffering of the Sahrawi refugees.” “We have suffered from injustice for more than 40 years. We demand the departure of this corrupt leadership, which is the oldest, most corrupt leadership in the world,” Mohammad Lamine, a spokesman for the nascent group, told Al Arabiya News Channel from the Tindouf refugee camp. “They have been stealing humanitarian aid provided by international organizations to the refugee camps and whenever we raise our voices against [this] they accuse us of being agents of Morocco,” he added.

Susan Rice, currently Obama’s national security advisor, has twice during the Obama administration promoted policies which would impose a politically-charged ‘human rights monitoring’ regime in the Western Sahara, a move that would effectively undercut Morocco’s security and empower Polisario Front propaganda in the Western Sahara. She did so supposedly in the name of the interests of the Sahrawi population (most of whom, it seems, prefer to reintegrate into Morocco or into the Western Sahara to which Morocco granted autonomy). But when she and President Obama have the opportunity truly to support liberty, freedom, and human rights for Sahrawis, they remain silent. That silence simply makes the Polisario’s oppression easier. How sad. And how telling.

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Bashing Morocco Won’t Help U.S. or Israel

In recent weeks, some conservative analysts have pointed out supposed international hypocrisy in the treatment of Morocco’s possession of and presence in Western Sahara. After the Wall Street Journal reported on African migrants seeking to transit Morocco to reach Europe, Eugene Kontorovich, a law professor who has taken his excellent blog brand “The Volokh Conspiracy” to the website of the Washington Post, wrote:

The Wall Street Journal has an interesting story today on African migrants attempting to get into Spanish enclaves in Morocco. However, it makes a major factual error [when it writes] “Spanish Interior Minister Jorge Fernández Díaz said during a visit to Ceuta in February that 80,000 migrants were waiting in Morocco or along its border with Mauritania for a chance to reach the enclaves.”

The problem, of course, is that Morocco has no border with Mauritania. Rather, in between the two countries is Western Sahara, currently illegally occupied by Morocco and inundated with Moroccan settlers, but not recognized by any country as Moroccan territory.

Mistakes happen of course – and it is possible the journalist is reporting without qualification the Spanish minister’s words, which itself would be interesting. What is more surprising is the lack of outraged reaction from international law professors, experts, NGOs, and other peace-loving types (according to my quick Google search). If someone suggested in the Journal that the West Bank was within Israel’s borders, it would lead to an immediate outcry, and a rain of derision from learned people….

Similarly, one could imagine the international law outrage if the Congress authorized U.S. aid to Israel to go support its presence in the West Bank. Yet in the 2014 Omnibus Spending Bill, this is exactly what happened with Western Sahara.

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In recent weeks, some conservative analysts have pointed out supposed international hypocrisy in the treatment of Morocco’s possession of and presence in Western Sahara. After the Wall Street Journal reported on African migrants seeking to transit Morocco to reach Europe, Eugene Kontorovich, a law professor who has taken his excellent blog brand “The Volokh Conspiracy” to the website of the Washington Post, wrote:

The Wall Street Journal has an interesting story today on African migrants attempting to get into Spanish enclaves in Morocco. However, it makes a major factual error [when it writes] “Spanish Interior Minister Jorge Fernández Díaz said during a visit to Ceuta in February that 80,000 migrants were waiting in Morocco or along its border with Mauritania for a chance to reach the enclaves.”

The problem, of course, is that Morocco has no border with Mauritania. Rather, in between the two countries is Western Sahara, currently illegally occupied by Morocco and inundated with Moroccan settlers, but not recognized by any country as Moroccan territory.

Mistakes happen of course – and it is possible the journalist is reporting without qualification the Spanish minister’s words, which itself would be interesting. What is more surprising is the lack of outraged reaction from international law professors, experts, NGOs, and other peace-loving types (according to my quick Google search). If someone suggested in the Journal that the West Bank was within Israel’s borders, it would lead to an immediate outcry, and a rain of derision from learned people….

Similarly, one could imagine the international law outrage if the Congress authorized U.S. aid to Israel to go support its presence in the West Bank. Yet in the 2014 Omnibus Spending Bill, this is exactly what happened with Western Sahara.

And, over at UN Watch, the fantastic organization which monitors and exposes UN hypocrisy, Hillel Neuer takes the French government to task for agreeing to cancel a human-rights monitoring mechanism in the UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO).

Both authors make certain assumptions which may not be fully warranted. Western Sahara is less occupied than disputed. The Spanish had seized it in their own colonial scramble but, historically, Morocco has deep roots in the territory. Indeed, several Moroccan dynasties have roots in the region which is now in Western Sahara. Many Sahrawi are and always have been Moroccan, and many have never embraced the separatism that the authoritarian Polisario Front promotes. The dispute itself is more a relic of the Cold War, with both Cuba and Algeria sponsoring the Polisario and using it as a tool in the broader struggle against, respectively, world capitalism and the Western-leaning Morocco.

The policy of the United States is to recognize Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara. The idea that Western Sahara isn’t recognized as Moroccan is questionable. First, Morocco has given the territory autonomy. Second, only 45 states (and South Ossetia) recognize the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, which claims ownership of the territory.

And as for MINURSO, it is worth asking why anyone would want a UN organization dedicated to holding a referendum—and failing to do that for decades—to expand its mission into human-rights monitoring, especially given the inability of the UN to address human rights anywhere with credibility. MINURSO has become the North African equivalent of UNRWA—an organization that was created as a temporary mechanism to fulfill a specific mission in but which subsequently became a monster of politics. That France and the United States have decided not to enable MINURSO to be used as a weapon against Morocco, the most stable, moderate, and responsible state, is good news.

It is easy to lament how Israel is singled out for its occupation of disputed territory and point out the hypocrisy of the world not treating Morocco the same way. Indeed, there are additional parallels that neither Kontorovich nor Neuer consider. To punish Morocco, however, simply justifies the absurdity of so many Palestinian claims and the insanity which consideration of Israel brings to the international community. Indeed, when it comes to the international law surrounding the status of Western Sahara, it may be more productive, from the standpoint of American national security and positive precedents to be applied elsewhere in the Middle East, to consider Samuel J. Spector’s argument that “from a legal perspective, national self-determination does not necessarily offer a one-size-fits-all remedy, let alone a helpful framework, for the settlement of conflicting claims and grievances over disputed territories.”

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A Tale of Two Terror Resolutions

On March 12-13, I attended Iraq’s “first international counterterrorism conference” in Baghdad. It wasn’t the most organized conference, but it did enjoy attendance from most European countries, many African, Arab, and Asian countries, and the United States. Saudi Arabia and Qatar boycotted, and there was no high-level Turkish representation. The speeches were as one might predict: condemnations of terrorism, laments at international inaction, and frustration at growing sectarianism. The Iranian deputy foreign minister was tone deaf as he used his ten minutes at the podium to pursue the usual Iranian bugaboos, topics in which few others at the conference had any real interest, given the recognition that the problems facing Iraq and the Middle East can’t simply be blamed on those whom Iran sees as enemies.

Iraq has suffered immensely from terrorism over the past decade. While many American opponents of military action to oust Saddam Hussein blame that action for the tens of thousands of Iraqi civilian deaths in the intervening years, Iraqis recognize that the only ones to blame for deaths at the hands of terrorists are the terrorists themselves and those states who sponsor such terrorism.

Three thousand miles away, in Marrakech, Morocco, Arab interior ministers issued a declaration enunciating a “total rejection of terrorism,” regardless of cause or justification. While a lack of universal definition of terrorism will always undercut the fight against it, the good news is that so many Arab countries are now taking terrorism seriously now that they recognize that playing with fire has gotten them burned. Both Morocco and Iraq have been victims of al-Qaeda-inspired terrorism, and while Morocco tends to have been more successful in rolling back radicalism and countering terrorism, both face neighbors intent on utilizing terror as a tool of foreign policy.

Algeria, for example, still subsidizes and shelters the Polisario Front, whose unnecessary camps increasingly are used as recruitment centers for al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. And Iraq faces the influx of not only Iranian-backed militias, but also Turkish and Saudi support for al-Qaeda factions in Al-Anbar, Mosul, and other large Sunni areas.

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On March 12-13, I attended Iraq’s “first international counterterrorism conference” in Baghdad. It wasn’t the most organized conference, but it did enjoy attendance from most European countries, many African, Arab, and Asian countries, and the United States. Saudi Arabia and Qatar boycotted, and there was no high-level Turkish representation. The speeches were as one might predict: condemnations of terrorism, laments at international inaction, and frustration at growing sectarianism. The Iranian deputy foreign minister was tone deaf as he used his ten minutes at the podium to pursue the usual Iranian bugaboos, topics in which few others at the conference had any real interest, given the recognition that the problems facing Iraq and the Middle East can’t simply be blamed on those whom Iran sees as enemies.

Iraq has suffered immensely from terrorism over the past decade. While many American opponents of military action to oust Saddam Hussein blame that action for the tens of thousands of Iraqi civilian deaths in the intervening years, Iraqis recognize that the only ones to blame for deaths at the hands of terrorists are the terrorists themselves and those states who sponsor such terrorism.

Three thousand miles away, in Marrakech, Morocco, Arab interior ministers issued a declaration enunciating a “total rejection of terrorism,” regardless of cause or justification. While a lack of universal definition of terrorism will always undercut the fight against it, the good news is that so many Arab countries are now taking terrorism seriously now that they recognize that playing with fire has gotten them burned. Both Morocco and Iraq have been victims of al-Qaeda-inspired terrorism, and while Morocco tends to have been more successful in rolling back radicalism and countering terrorism, both face neighbors intent on utilizing terror as a tool of foreign policy.

Algeria, for example, still subsidizes and shelters the Polisario Front, whose unnecessary camps increasingly are used as recruitment centers for al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. And Iraq faces the influx of not only Iranian-backed militias, but also Turkish and Saudi support for al-Qaeda factions in Al-Anbar, Mosul, and other large Sunni areas.

Still, problems remain that will continue to undercut any real progress in the fight against terrorism. First is the lack of any universally-recognized definition of terrorism. Here, the United States could take the lead but making any counterterrorism assistance granted to allies contingent on their acceptance of a definition of terrorism put forward by the United States.

Second is the continued attempt by Iran, Turkey, and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation to criminalize “Islamophobia,” by which they mean the association of Islam with terrorism. The problem isn’t Islam per se, but rather the interpretation of Islam embraced by radical factions, the Muslim Brotherhood, and Salafis. The battle is not one of civilizations, but rather one of theological interpretations. Denying that, and criminalizing debate, will only exacerbate terrorism rather than contain it.

Lastly, the United States must recognize that countries it has long considered top partners in the region—Qatar and Turkey—are now those, alongside Iran, who do the most to fan the flames of terrorism rather than contain it. Diplomatic nicety should not be a substitute for progress in fighting the scourge of terror. Perhaps rather than treat Turkey and Qatar with kid gloves, it is time to work through countries like Iraq and Morocco who recognize the problem and are no longer willing to sit by and ignore it.

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Is Morocco the Antidote to Saudi-Sponsored Extremism?

Emeritus Princeton University professor Bernard Lewis, probably the greatest living historian of the Middle East, once tried to explain the impact of Saudi Arabia upon the practice of Islam in the modern era by the following analogy:

“Imagine if the Ku Klux Klan or Aryan Nation obtained total control of Texas and had at its disposal all the oil revenues, and used this money to establish a network of well-endowed schools and colleges all over Christendom peddling their particular brand of Christianity. This is what the Saudis have done with Wahhabism. The oil money has enabled them to spread this fanatical, destructive form of Islam all over the Muslim world and among Muslims in the west. Without oil and the creation of the Saudi kingdom, Wahhabism would have remained a lunatic fringe in a marginal country.”

Lewis is right, of course, that the Saudi use of petrodollars to fund an intolerant interpretation of Islam has greased radicalism from West Africa through Southeast Asia and, of course, throughout the Middle East, Europe, and North America as well.

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Emeritus Princeton University professor Bernard Lewis, probably the greatest living historian of the Middle East, once tried to explain the impact of Saudi Arabia upon the practice of Islam in the modern era by the following analogy:

“Imagine if the Ku Klux Klan or Aryan Nation obtained total control of Texas and had at its disposal all the oil revenues, and used this money to establish a network of well-endowed schools and colleges all over Christendom peddling their particular brand of Christianity. This is what the Saudis have done with Wahhabism. The oil money has enabled them to spread this fanatical, destructive form of Islam all over the Muslim world and among Muslims in the west. Without oil and the creation of the Saudi kingdom, Wahhabism would have remained a lunatic fringe in a marginal country.”

Lewis is right, of course, that the Saudi use of petrodollars to fund an intolerant interpretation of Islam has greased radicalism from West Africa through Southeast Asia and, of course, throughout the Middle East, Europe, and North America as well.

De-radicalization may be fashionable among European officials, Western NGOs, and the State Department, but there is little evidence that U.S. and European programs are anything more than an expensive boondoggle.

Increasingly, Morocco appears to be the antidote to decades of Saudi-sponsored radicalism. I have highlighted here before the innovative “Mourchidat” program. Now Morocco is beginning to expand its imam training program to Tunisia and Libya in North Africa, as well as Guinea in West Africa. This follows a similar program conducted on behalf of imams in Mali, which has faced a severe challenge from al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.

President Obama will soon travel to Saudi Arabia. This is wise, as Obama seeks to repair ties with the Saudi Kingdom undercut by his own diplomatic tin ear. Still, if Obama really wants to support friends, he should move to bolster U.S. ties with Morocco, which is pulling far beyond its weight in efforts to promote peace, stability, and moderation not only among Arab states, but also across Africa, a continent Obama once described as a priority. Rather than throw money at de-radicalization programs that don’t have anything to show for their efforts, perhaps it is time to actually work through allies to support what does work.

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Obama Does Right on Morocco. Will Kerry?

On January 17, President Obama signed into law the 2014 Appropriation Bill passed by Congress which includes for the first time language mandating that U.S. assistance designated for Morocco be used in the Western Sahara. That move reinforces the policy of the United States to support Moroccan sovereignty over the Western Sahara while at the same time Rabat grants the former Spanish colonial territory local autonomy.

The Western Sahara might seem irrelevant to U.S. national security, but it is not. Morocco is the only truly stable and friendly country in the Maghreb or the Sahel, and the Western Sahara is on the front line of the battle against al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.

Morocco has also been at the center of some earlier Obama administration missteps when Susan Rice, first as Obama’s ambassador to the United Nations and then subsequently as national security advisor, sought to empower that the United Nations’ failed mission for a referendum on the Western Sahara also monitor human rights in the Western Sahara. The problem with such an arrangement is, as with everything else in the United Nations, authoritarian and anti-Western regimes subordinate objective fact to propaganda and politics.

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On January 17, President Obama signed into law the 2014 Appropriation Bill passed by Congress which includes for the first time language mandating that U.S. assistance designated for Morocco be used in the Western Sahara. That move reinforces the policy of the United States to support Moroccan sovereignty over the Western Sahara while at the same time Rabat grants the former Spanish colonial territory local autonomy.

The Western Sahara might seem irrelevant to U.S. national security, but it is not. Morocco is the only truly stable and friendly country in the Maghreb or the Sahel, and the Western Sahara is on the front line of the battle against al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.

Morocco has also been at the center of some earlier Obama administration missteps when Susan Rice, first as Obama’s ambassador to the United Nations and then subsequently as national security advisor, sought to empower that the United Nations’ failed mission for a referendum on the Western Sahara also monitor human rights in the Western Sahara. The problem with such an arrangement is, as with everything else in the United Nations, authoritarian and anti-Western regimes subordinate objective fact to propaganda and politics.

Morocco’s respect for human rights has improved tremendously over recent years, as has the access it grants human-rights activists and monitors. Neighboring Algeria—a reactionary, military-dominated regime which has a dismal record and denies access regularly to journalists, diplomats, and human-rights monitors—regularly accuses Morocco of abuses. It knows and takes advantage of the fact that human-rights groups effectively punish access. Why Rice would work to subvert a friendly state and a U.S. ally to the advantage of an unfriendly state and abuser of basic rights remains unclear to the present day, as she has never explained her actions nor her willingness to impose a new change absent consultations with her colleagues across the administration.

Just because two countries might dispute a territory does not mean that the United States should be neutral: Washington should always side with allies and democrats over adversaries and autocrats. Whether with regard to the West Bank, Abkhazia, or Senkaku, the obsessive desire for neutrality simply encourages radicals to stake out more extreme positions. Perhaps Obama hasn’t fully learned that friendship matters but, at least with regard to Morocco and the Western Sahara, he seems headed down the right path.

Now let us hope that Kerry will ensure that the State Department adheres to the will of Congress and actively invests in Morocco’s Western Sahara even if it makes Algeria mad. The U.S. Embassy in Rabat should actively assist U.S. firms that want to do business in the Western Sahara or off its coast. At the same time, the Pentagon should reinforce Morocco’s claim by scheduling port calls for destroyers or cruisers in the Western Sahara, an economic boon to the hotels, resorts, and restaurants of the region’s pristine port cities.

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Why Do Human Rights Groups Punish Access?

Human-rights groups are an important component of civil society, even if the best-known groups—Human Rights Watch (HRW), Amnesty International, Human Rights First, and various United Nations offshoots—corrupt their mission by conflating human rights with politics.

As corrosive a trend among human-rights organizations is their punishment of access. Simply put, the more open a society is to its critics, and the more access it grants outside observers, however tendentious they might be, the more human-rights organizations condemn them relative to societies which engage in large-scale abuse but slam the door to outside observers.

Much has been written about the disproportionate opprobrium reserved for Israel. Back in 2011, Alana Goodman observed:

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Human-rights groups are an important component of civil society, even if the best-known groups—Human Rights Watch (HRW), Amnesty International, Human Rights First, and various United Nations offshoots—corrupt their mission by conflating human rights with politics.

As corrosive a trend among human-rights organizations is their punishment of access. Simply put, the more open a society is to its critics, and the more access it grants outside observers, however tendentious they might be, the more human-rights organizations condemn them relative to societies which engage in large-scale abuse but slam the door to outside observers.

Much has been written about the disproportionate opprobrium reserved for Israel. Back in 2011, Alana Goodman observed:

In 2010, HRW published 51 documents on “Israel and the Occupied Territories,” more than on any other country in the Middle East. Compare that to the organization’s research on some of the most notorious human rights abusers — it published only 44 documents on Iran, 34 on Egypt, and 33 on Saudi Arabia.

Not much has changed. So far in 2013, HRW has issued 14 press releases condemning Israel for various policies or abuses, and six press releases condemning the Palestinian Authority or Hamas leadership in Gaza. All five commentaries HRW published bashed Israel, or called on other countries to take a harsher line toward the Jewish state.

Compare that with Jordan (nine press releases, and four commentaries, three of which called for more acceptance of Syrian refugees); Lebanon (nine press releases and two commentaries, both of which focused on Syrian refugees); or Qatar (two press releases and five commentaries). True, there was more focus on Egypt and Syria this past year, but comparing countries with coups and civil wars to the region’s only democracy underscores the point. So too does the fact that criticism of Saudi Arabia has increased as that kingdom has granted human-rights groups more access.

Israel is not the only country penalized by the access it grants outsiders. King Muhammad VI has steadily liberalized Morocco since taking the throne in 1999 after the death of his father, King Hassan II. Since that time, HRW has issued four reports critical of Algerian human-rights abuses (and a fifth critical of Algerian cooperation with the United States), while it has issued three times that number criticizing Morocco. Make no mistake: Algeria has a far worse human-rights record, with a downward trajectory while Morocco has acknowledged past abuses and worked—quite successfully in most cases—to overcome them.

Nor is it just the Middle East where this pattern exists. In the past five years, HRW has issued four reports about Colombia where human rights have steadily improved, but only two about Venezuela, where Venezuela’s socialist leaders have pushed human rights into the gutter. Likewise, over the past five years, HRW has issued one report about Belarus but five about Georgia.

The U.S. State Department is guilty of the same pattern when it writes its annual human-rights reports. Here, there is no better example than the discrepancy in how the State Department treats Morocco, a loyal and increasingly progressive U.S. ally, and the Polisario Front, an autocratic Cold War throwback which imprisons not only Sahrawi tribal members in refugee camps in the Western province of Tindouf, but also Mauritanians and Algerians it has captured in order to swell refugee numbers. The Algerian government and Polisario both have a policy of refusing to allow residents to return home to Morocco, which has welcomed anyone who wants to come (there are very limited family visits, but usually Polisario holds family members hostage to ensure that men and women return to their spouses and children rather than remain in Morocco). While historically, the U.S. Embassy in Rabat handled the Polisario camps, in recent years the U.S. Embassy in Algiers has taken over the responsibility. Herein lays the problem: The U.S. Embassy in Algiers is either unable to visit the camps, or unwilling to antagonize the Algerian government with which it must work for fear of making an issue of the camps. The end result is that the State Department annual human-rights report is hypercritical of Morocco, effectively punishing it for its openness, while giving the Polisario Front effectively a clean pass by omission.

That the lesson governments might take from the practices of both human-rights organizations and the State Department is that the way to a clean bill of health is to restrict access is unfortunate. Human-rights officials might enjoy hanging out more in Casablanca, Rabat, Tel Aviv, Tbilisi, and Bogota rather than spending their time being harassed by police and security services in Minsk, Gaza, Caracas, Algiers or Tindouf, but they are doing themselves and their organizations a disservice by taking the easy way out. Fortunately, countries like Israel, Morocco, Colombia, and Georgia seem committed to doing the right thing regardless of how their critics treat them. Still, that the pattern of punishing access exists is undeniable and should provide pause for the human-rights organizations, for the existence of such a pattern corrupts the end result and gives countries reason to dismiss all reporting as arbitrary and not based on set standards.

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De-Radicalization the Right Way

The real fight within the Islamic world remains between the forces of moderation and more extreme elements who justify terrorism in theology. A host of contractors and NGOs have responded by creating a de-radicalization industry which, alas, has too often become the contemporary equivalent of snake oil salesmen from centuries past. The State Department and its European counterparts are willing to give cash to anyone who says the right thing, and promises a magic formula to transform religious radicals into non-violent moderates. Countries like Saudi Arabia learn they can bypass real accountability for their funding of hate if they design a program, never mind its high recidivism rate shows it to be little more than a diplomatic scam. Al-Qaeda and art therapy seldom mix.

The real victory of moderation over radicalism will be internal to Islam, and will likely involve women. I have written here before that young Pakistani schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai did more to delegitimize the Taliban than 15 years of State Department and Pakistani government programs. And I have also written more recently about how Morocco has in many ways become a model for moderation throughout the Middle East. Nowhere is that more true than when it comes to promoting religious moderation and inclusive and tolerant interpretations and practices within Islam. A case in point is the Mourchidat program in Morocco, in which women train in Islamic theology alongside their male counterparts. The men and women are treated as equals and master the exact same theological curriculum, although women will not be able to lead public prayer. Both men and women take classes in psychology and communications to better perform their functions as community counselors and confidants.

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The real fight within the Islamic world remains between the forces of moderation and more extreme elements who justify terrorism in theology. A host of contractors and NGOs have responded by creating a de-radicalization industry which, alas, has too often become the contemporary equivalent of snake oil salesmen from centuries past. The State Department and its European counterparts are willing to give cash to anyone who says the right thing, and promises a magic formula to transform religious radicals into non-violent moderates. Countries like Saudi Arabia learn they can bypass real accountability for their funding of hate if they design a program, never mind its high recidivism rate shows it to be little more than a diplomatic scam. Al-Qaeda and art therapy seldom mix.

The real victory of moderation over radicalism will be internal to Islam, and will likely involve women. I have written here before that young Pakistani schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai did more to delegitimize the Taliban than 15 years of State Department and Pakistani government programs. And I have also written more recently about how Morocco has in many ways become a model for moderation throughout the Middle East. Nowhere is that more true than when it comes to promoting religious moderation and inclusive and tolerant interpretations and practices within Islam. A case in point is the Mourchidat program in Morocco, in which women train in Islamic theology alongside their male counterparts. The men and women are treated as equals and master the exact same theological curriculum, although women will not be able to lead public prayer. Both men and women take classes in psychology and communications to better perform their functions as community counselors and confidants.

A recent report in Reuters details how the program provides a moderate alternative by inserting those who can explain religion to both men and women, rather than simply requiring rote memorization and practice:

Farah Cherif D’Ouezzan, Founder and Director of the Center for Cross Cultural Learning in Rabat, says that the program is effective in promoting the “spiritual security” Saqi speaks of and directing ideological power away from fundamentalist sects. “I think it’s filling that gap that only Wahhabis and Salafis were filling-the gap that people needed someone to explain religion to them – especially in a country with so much illiteracy and where religion is such an important part of culture. In the past you either had to follow the Wahhabis or Salafis or you were not Islamic,” said Cherif. Both the Wahhabi and Salafi movements practice strict, uncompromising forms of Islam which have often brought them into conflict with Western values.

The whole article is worth reading.

Having American taxpayers throw money at the problem of radicalization will achieve little, nor will working through organizations like the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) or the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), which often do more to obfuscate the problem of radicalism rather than resolve it. Sometimes it’s important to sit back and observe the best practices which actually breed long-term success. For this, Morocco’s Mourchidat program seems to be the clear model for the region to replicate.

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Morocco Should Be the Model

It has long been fashionable to describe Turkey as a model for the Middle East, if not the Islamic world. I’ve written on these pages many times how this notion is outdated as Turkey’s government has moved to undo the separation between mosque and state, and how the prime minister himself has acknowledged his goal to be to raise a religious generation.

American reliance on Turkey during and after the Arab Spring has been nothing short of disastrous. In Egypt, Libya, and elsewhere, Turkey has moved to privilege the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist groups over relative moderates. Of greater concern to U.S. national and regional security, Turkey has become the chief transit center for religious radicals and al-Qaeda sympathizers entering Syria. Rather than stop Libyans, Mauritanians, Chechens, Uighurs, and Saudis who disembark Turkish Air flights in Gaziantep and ask them why their sudden interest in a location they previously avoided, Turkish police simply demand $40 and wave the jihadists on across the border.

The contrast with Morocco could not be sharper. While Jews are fleeing Turkey, and anti-Semitism appears rife at senior ranks of the Turkish government, Jews are returning to Morocco, if only as tourists. According to Jeune Afrique, 45,000 Israelis visited Morocco in the past year. Between 1993 and 1995, Morocco’s minister of tourism was Jewish. The Moroccan constitution of 2011 enshrines not only the Kingdom’s Arab and Berber identity, but also its “Hebraic heritage.” Such constitutional prerogatives and monarchy’s moderation dampen the populism of some parties which in the last month, for example, proposed a bill banning contacts with Israelis. That such a hateful bill stands no chance at passage underscores the checks and balances inherent in the system. In Turkey, by contrast, the prime minister himself led a campaign to boycott Israel and Israelis.

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It has long been fashionable to describe Turkey as a model for the Middle East, if not the Islamic world. I’ve written on these pages many times how this notion is outdated as Turkey’s government has moved to undo the separation between mosque and state, and how the prime minister himself has acknowledged his goal to be to raise a religious generation.

American reliance on Turkey during and after the Arab Spring has been nothing short of disastrous. In Egypt, Libya, and elsewhere, Turkey has moved to privilege the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist groups over relative moderates. Of greater concern to U.S. national and regional security, Turkey has become the chief transit center for religious radicals and al-Qaeda sympathizers entering Syria. Rather than stop Libyans, Mauritanians, Chechens, Uighurs, and Saudis who disembark Turkish Air flights in Gaziantep and ask them why their sudden interest in a location they previously avoided, Turkish police simply demand $40 and wave the jihadists on across the border.

The contrast with Morocco could not be sharper. While Jews are fleeing Turkey, and anti-Semitism appears rife at senior ranks of the Turkish government, Jews are returning to Morocco, if only as tourists. According to Jeune Afrique, 45,000 Israelis visited Morocco in the past year. Between 1993 and 1995, Morocco’s minister of tourism was Jewish. The Moroccan constitution of 2011 enshrines not only the Kingdom’s Arab and Berber identity, but also its “Hebraic heritage.” Such constitutional prerogatives and monarchy’s moderation dampen the populism of some parties which in the last month, for example, proposed a bill banning contacts with Israelis. That such a hateful bill stands no chance at passage underscores the checks and balances inherent in the system. In Turkey, by contrast, the prime minister himself led a campaign to boycott Israel and Israelis.

Morocco has consciously embraced religious moderation. Imams go through rigorous training and must continually renew their licenses. Those who promote intolerance or religious hatred quickly find themselves out of a job. While freedoms plunge throughout the region, Moroccans enjoy an increasingly free and vibrant press and readily engage in public demonstrations. During a trip to Rabat this past week, I saw separate demonstrations relating to unemployment and demands for the court to dismiss charges against a journalist who linked to a website hosting an al-Qaeda call for violent jihad. Moroccan police kept their distance from the demonstrators, and directed their attention instead to directing traffic around the demonstrators. Contrast that with Turkey, where the government’s response to a protest against the paving over of a park was to fire tens of thousands of tear gas canisters, beat scores of protestors, and kill at least four.

While Turkey embraces Hamas, Morocco broke diplomatic relations with Iran over that country’s attempts to promote radical religious interpretation. And rather than support religious extremists, Morocco has lent its expertise to promote constitutional checks and balances and women’s rights in countries like Tunisia, Libya, and Yemen. While the Turkish ambassador to Chad openly endorsed al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb when fighting erupted in Mali, Morocco continues to help Mali reconstruct itself and defeat all remnants of al-Qaeda.

Morocco increasingly also provides a model for justice. Just as in Turkey, serious human-rights abuses marked the 1970s, 1980s, and perhaps even 1990s in Morocco. In recent years, though, the two countries have again diverged. Morocco implemented a new, quite progressive constitution in 2011. Rather than sweep past abuses under the rug, the Moroccan state sponsored a truth and reconciliation committee in which citizens across the spectrum embraced, giving the Kingdom a chance at a fresh start. Not so in Turkey. When Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan took over in 2003, he drew a sharp distinction between past and future, but used his power not to reconcile but rather to seek revenge against first real and perceived enemies, and increasingly against anyone who might develop an independent political base. While Moroccan press freedom and political space has increased over the years, Turkish press freedom has retracted to the point that Turkey now rests behind even Russia in watchdog rankings.

Neither Morocco nor Turkey is perfect, but trajectory is important. Morocco provides a path toward reconciliation and moderation, while Turkey’s political leadership has increasingly turned that country into a beacon for populism and hate. Generations of diplomats have become accustomed to thinking of Turkey as a partner and a model for the region. But autopilot should never be a substitute for wisdom. Increasingly, it is apparent that a moderate, more democratic future for the Middle East lies not in the Turkish model but rather the Moroccan one.

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Kuwait as a Model

The bad news continues to flood in from across the Middle East: Tunisia—the best hope for the Arab Spring—is unstable after political assassinations against leading non-Islamist politicians. While I don’t shed any tears over the Egyptian government’s crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood, a movement which for decades has inspired terrorism and hatred, at best Egypt faces years of Islamist insurgency and economic life support. The Syrian civil war goes from bad to worse. Bahrain remains tense and what Bahraini police occasion do with rubber bullets, their Saudi counterparts in the Eastern Province do with live ammunition. Iraq is not the basket case many assume, but it has faced a wave of renewed terrorism as bad as anything experienced prior to the U.S.-led surge.

Is there any good news or responsible governance coming from the region? Certainly, Morocco is navigating the waters of the Arab Spring fairly well, with the king seemingly sincere in his reform. So too is Oman, where Sultan Qaboos’s regime has always been an example of moderation and responsibility. But Qaboos has no heir apparent and he’s not going to have one, meaning that the Sultanate of Oman upon which the United States and so many moderate regional states have come to rely may have an uncertain future as Iran and other nearby powers will try to muck about in his succession in order to further their own illiberal interests.

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The bad news continues to flood in from across the Middle East: Tunisia—the best hope for the Arab Spring—is unstable after political assassinations against leading non-Islamist politicians. While I don’t shed any tears over the Egyptian government’s crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood, a movement which for decades has inspired terrorism and hatred, at best Egypt faces years of Islamist insurgency and economic life support. The Syrian civil war goes from bad to worse. Bahrain remains tense and what Bahraini police occasion do with rubber bullets, their Saudi counterparts in the Eastern Province do with live ammunition. Iraq is not the basket case many assume, but it has faced a wave of renewed terrorism as bad as anything experienced prior to the U.S.-led surge.

Is there any good news or responsible governance coming from the region? Certainly, Morocco is navigating the waters of the Arab Spring fairly well, with the king seemingly sincere in his reform. So too is Oman, where Sultan Qaboos’s regime has always been an example of moderation and responsibility. But Qaboos has no heir apparent and he’s not going to have one, meaning that the Sultanate of Oman upon which the United States and so many moderate regional states have come to rely may have an uncertain future as Iran and other nearby powers will try to muck about in his succession in order to further their own illiberal interests.

I had the privilege of visiting Kuwait last year, my first extended stay in the country for almost two decades. Kuwait has had some rough patches over recent years both because of changing demography but also because the government has pushed forward with real attempts at reform, encouraging real dynamism, and giving women a long-overdue vote. At the same time, the Kuwaitis have had to navigate dangerous sectarian trends as they find themselves wedged between Iran, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia. This, they seem to have done masterfully, even as trouble continues to brew on the horizon. At any rate, I’ve delved into the issue of sectarianism in Kuwait and Kuwait’s response to it in this detailed essay, for those who want reassurance that some states actually do try to temper incitement rather than rely on shallow populism for immediate political purposes.

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The Other Arab Spring?

Not all “Arab unrest” is equal. Consider these current headlines out of North Africa and try to spot the odd man out: “Libya’s south teeters toward chaos — and militant extremists,” “Egypt Takes Another Step Toward Autocracy—and Instability,” “Tunisia Sees Rising Jihadist Threat,” “Thousands march against Morocco government.” Chaos, autocracy, jihad, and … marching. Today in the Maghreb, where most populations are preyed upon either by unchecked authority or unchecked anarchy, Morocco is different. This is not an accident.

I was recently in Morocco, as a guest of its Institute of African Studies, and the point most Moroccans tried hardest to impress upon me was that their country is fundamentally unlike the failing and convulsed states around it.

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Not all “Arab unrest” is equal. Consider these current headlines out of North Africa and try to spot the odd man out: “Libya’s south teeters toward chaos — and militant extremists,” “Egypt Takes Another Step Toward Autocracy—and Instability,” “Tunisia Sees Rising Jihadist Threat,” “Thousands march against Morocco government.” Chaos, autocracy, jihad, and … marching. Today in the Maghreb, where most populations are preyed upon either by unchecked authority or unchecked anarchy, Morocco is different. This is not an accident.

I was recently in Morocco, as a guest of its Institute of African Studies, and the point most Moroccans tried hardest to impress upon me was that their country is fundamentally unlike the failing and convulsed states around it.

And so it is. The kingdom has a functioning parliamentary system. And in 2011, responding to the sentiments unleashed by the Arab Spring, King Mohamed VI held a referendum on the country’s constitution. The resulting document calls for greater participation of elected parties and a Moroccan prime minister. It also newly enumerates a welcome assortment of rights and freedoms. A large-scale decentralization effort is underway to transfer various responsibilities from the king to elected bodies around the country. Whether the diffusion of power will be mostly genuine or cosmetic, continuous or stalled, remains to be seen. But Morocco is certainly not Libya or Egypt or Tunisia.

Mohamed VI appears to be a sincere reformer but he is undoubtedly a savvy king. Expanding the space for consensual governance was the best way to preserve the monarchy. A quick glance around the region tells you all you need to know about rulers who swam against the spring tide. And in truth, Morocco’s previous king, the far tougher Hassan II, began a program of very modest reform in the 1990s, long before Arab tweeters celebrated their flash-mob “victory” in Tahrir Square. So today Moroccans occasionally march, in small and peaceful numbers. It is a blessing that shouldn’t go unnoticed.

But while Moroccan achievement deserves praise, it’s no guarantee of long-term stability or moderation. On this, it was my turn to impress the point upon several Moroccans. The topic came up in regard to the Justice and Development Party (PJD), the largest party in parliament and that of the Moroccan Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane. PJD, you see, is Islamist. And while some Moroccans expressed concern about what PJD members would do if they came to office in future local elections, most were quick to point out that the king and the constitution simply render authentic political Islam a non-starter. Additionally, PJD is widely understood to be that ever-elusive, quasi-mythic giant squid of Middle Eastern affairs—a moderate Islamist party. 

It’s true that in my limited travels I witnessed a good deal of modern and indulgent living, and the Islamists in office cast no shadow on the day-to-day affairs of those with whom I came into contact. I saw many accomplished, uncovered women drinking alcohol and spied only a handful of dour men with fanned beards.

But “It can’t happen here” is an insufficient credo for any people anywhere. It undermines vigilance. And Morocco’s wonders notwithstanding, liberal Moroccans can’t afford to be complacent. The world has yet to see a self-described moderate Islamist party hold to its vow of moderation over the long term. Moreover, within Morocco’s diverse human mosaic reside hundreds of thousands of decidedly non-moderate Islamists. These are the members or associates of the organization Justice and Charity. Unlike PJD, Justice and Charity is non-political. But it wasn’t so long ago that we were assured the Muslim Brotherhood had no designs on the Egyptian presidency.

Historically, the appeal of political Islam owes much to the absence of other compelling political ideas. I thought of this when a Moroccan women’s rights champion explained to me that in her country “politics isn’t connected to values. Politics is about power.” When every other party’s platform is as inspiring as an NFL team playbook, the sincerity and purpose of the Islamists’ can shine in comparison.

This is all to say that King Mohamed VI is threading the eye of an unforgiving needle. He must proceed with democratic decentralization quickly and blatantly enough to satisfy a reform-minded public, but not so recklessly as to give newly empowered parties the means to undermine the largely moderate nature of Morocco.

In the context of the Arab Spring, Barack Obama has talked often about the need for democratic change to come from within a given country. He’s articulated his preference for reform over revolution and has pledged to stand by leaders who show a willingness to move forward on human rights issues. It would seem, therefore, that the president should take a special interest in Morocco.

The most compelling case for American involvement in Morocco, however, rests on national security. For the United States, conflicts in Northern Africa largely go unnoticed—before manifesting as unignorable crises. One such conflict now festers in the Western Sahara and could soon become explosive. Tens of thousands of refugees reside in bare-bones camps in the Algerian town of Tindouf. The camps are controlled by the Polisario Front, an Algerian backed leftist group opposed to Moroccan control of the Western Sahara. That the camps are reportedly run like huge cruel prisons might evoke some Western sympathy. But that they have also reportedly become a recruiting grounds for al-Qaeda-linked groups should spur the United States to action.

As it happens, the action called for is of the very type Obama favors: non-military diplomacy based on mutual compromise. In 2007, Morocco proposed an autonomy plan for the Western Sahara. Broadly speaking, if agreed to, autonomy would mean Western Saharans could govern themselves within the framework of the Moroccan constitution, and the Polisario camps would disappear. American officials have contented themselves with voicing support for the initiative. But without active diplomatic action from the United States it’s doubtful the Polisario and Algeria will take the proposal seriously.  

There’s no guarantee that the application of American diplomacy would bring the decades-old conflict to an end. But with some 50,000 nothing-to-lose desert refugees ripe for jihadist indoctrination, it’s hard to see the downside. Of course, the U.S. can always remain on the sidelines for another Mali- or Algeria-type conflagration to emerge and then watch as our allies try to put it out. Don’t assume, however, that we’ll always have Paris.

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Another UN Anti-Israel Spectacle

If you were concerned that the United Nations is spending too much time on the massacres of civilians in Syria, or on the ongoing arrests of journalists in Turkey, or on the repression of women in Egypt, or on the persecution and murder of Christians in Nigeria and across the Arab Spring countries – you can set your mind at ease. Today, the UN Security Council will be focused on Israel:

The UN Security Council will on Wednesday hear a briefing on the humanitarian situation in the occupied Palestinian territories which the United States had opposed… Valerie Amos, the UN humanitarian coordinator, will give details on the impact of Israeli settlements at the UN Security Council meeting on Wednesday morning as part of discussions on the Middle East, diplomats said. Morocco officially made the request for the briefing as the Arab representative on the 15-member council. The briefing would be “useful,” said Morocco’s UN ambassador Mohammed Loulichki.

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If you were concerned that the United Nations is spending too much time on the massacres of civilians in Syria, or on the ongoing arrests of journalists in Turkey, or on the repression of women in Egypt, or on the persecution and murder of Christians in Nigeria and across the Arab Spring countries – you can set your mind at ease. Today, the UN Security Council will be focused on Israel:

The UN Security Council will on Wednesday hear a briefing on the humanitarian situation in the occupied Palestinian territories which the United States had opposed… Valerie Amos, the UN humanitarian coordinator, will give details on the impact of Israeli settlements at the UN Security Council meeting on Wednesday morning as part of discussions on the Middle East, diplomats said. Morocco officially made the request for the briefing as the Arab representative on the 15-member council. The briefing would be “useful,” said Morocco’s UN ambassador Mohammed Loulichki.

The AFP description that Morocco “officially made the request” is a little muted. What actually happened is that Morocco replaced Lebanon on the Security Council – yes, Iran’s Hezbollah-controlled proxy state has just now stepped down – and immediately hijacked a session on Children and Armed Conflict to demand time to talk about Israeli settlements.

Morocco’s electoral scene is dominated by the Islamist Justice and Development Party. Moroccan-occupied Western Sahara was picked out by Freedom House [PDF] for its “Worst of the Worst 2011″ list. And of course there’s something basically hypocritical about sidelining a genuine human rights issue to posture about human rights. But since this is the UN, it took just more than a week for Morocco to get its anti-Israel spectacle.

At the end of November, the UN’s Middle East peace envoy blamed the Middle East deadlock on Israeli settlement construction. Days after that, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, on a call to Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu about Palestinian funds, took the opportunity to criticize Israeli settlement construction. A few weeks later, Ambassador Rice – no particular fan of Israeli settlement construction – was moved to condemn the sum of the UN’s anti-Israel focus as “obsessive” and “ugly.” A week after that, the UNSC tried to issue a condemnation about Israeli settlement construction.

So you can see how the Moroccans might think there’s not enough time being spent at the UN on Israeli settlement construction.

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The Slap Heard Round the World

It is amazing that the political revolution now sweeping across the Middle East and North Africa was started by a 26-year-old unemployed Tunisian man who self-immolated.

On December 17, 2010, Mohamed Bouazizi, a university graduate whose fruits-and-vegetables market stand was confiscated by police because it had no permit, tried to yank back his apples. He was slapped in the face by a female municipal inspector and eventually beaten by her colleagues. His later appeals were ignored. Humiliated, he drenched himself in paint thinner and set himself on fire. He died on January 4.

That incident was the spark that set ablaze the revolution that overthrew President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, who ruled Tunisia for more than two decades — and that, in turn, spread to Egypt, where Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year reign of power is about to end. Anti-government protests are also happening in Jordan, Morocco, Yemen, and elsewhere. It’s hard to tell where all this will end; but how it began may rank among the more extraordinary hinge moments in history. It may come to be known as the Slap Heard Round the World.

How hopeful or fearful one feels about the unfolding events in Egypt depends in large measure on which revolutionary model one believes applies to this situation. Is it the French, Russian, or Iranian revolution, which ended with the guillotine, gulags, and an Islamic theocracy; or the American Revolution and what happened in the Philippines, South Korea, Indonesia, Chile, and Argentina, authoritarian regimes that made a relatively smooth transition to self-government? Or is it something entirely different? Here it’s worth bearing in mind the counsel of Henry Kissinger, who wrote, “History is not … a cookbook offering pretested recipes. It teaches by analogy, not by maxims. It can illuminate the consequences of actions in comparable situations, yet each generation must discover for itself what situations are in fact comparable.”

Whatever the outcome, it’s clear that the driving force of events in Egypt are tied to the universal human desire for liberty and free elections, for an end to political corruption and oppression. What the 2002 Arab Human Development Report called a “freedom deficit” in the Middle East is at the core of the unrest. Events seem to be vindicating those who said that siding with the forces of “stability” [read: dictatorships] rather than reform was unwise and ultimately unsustainable. At some point the lid would blow. Now it has. Read More

It is amazing that the political revolution now sweeping across the Middle East and North Africa was started by a 26-year-old unemployed Tunisian man who self-immolated.

On December 17, 2010, Mohamed Bouazizi, a university graduate whose fruits-and-vegetables market stand was confiscated by police because it had no permit, tried to yank back his apples. He was slapped in the face by a female municipal inspector and eventually beaten by her colleagues. His later appeals were ignored. Humiliated, he drenched himself in paint thinner and set himself on fire. He died on January 4.

That incident was the spark that set ablaze the revolution that overthrew President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, who ruled Tunisia for more than two decades — and that, in turn, spread to Egypt, where Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year reign of power is about to end. Anti-government protests are also happening in Jordan, Morocco, Yemen, and elsewhere. It’s hard to tell where all this will end; but how it began may rank among the more extraordinary hinge moments in history. It may come to be known as the Slap Heard Round the World.

How hopeful or fearful one feels about the unfolding events in Egypt depends in large measure on which revolutionary model one believes applies to this situation. Is it the French, Russian, or Iranian revolution, which ended with the guillotine, gulags, and an Islamic theocracy; or the American Revolution and what happened in the Philippines, South Korea, Indonesia, Chile, and Argentina, authoritarian regimes that made a relatively smooth transition to self-government? Or is it something entirely different? Here it’s worth bearing in mind the counsel of Henry Kissinger, who wrote, “History is not … a cookbook offering pretested recipes. It teaches by analogy, not by maxims. It can illuminate the consequences of actions in comparable situations, yet each generation must discover for itself what situations are in fact comparable.”

Whatever the outcome, it’s clear that the driving force of events in Egypt are tied to the universal human desire for liberty and free elections, for an end to political corruption and oppression. What the 2002 Arab Human Development Report called a “freedom deficit” in the Middle East is at the core of the unrest. Events seem to be vindicating those who said that siding with the forces of “stability” [read: dictatorships] rather than reform was unwise and ultimately unsustainable. At some point the lid would blow. Now it has.

The danger is that groups like the Muslim Brotherhood, which is hostile to Israel and close to Hamas, hijacks the revolution. The goal of U.S policy must therefore be to influence this revolution, to the degree we can, in a way that advances U.S. interests and American ideals. This means taking an active role, both publicly and behind the scenes, in support of those who stand for liberal democracy (for more, see here).

The hour has grown quite late. As Max Boot points out, the equivocation of the Obama administration needs to end. Mohamed ElBaradei, a leading Egyptian dissident who appears to be rapidly gaining power, is right when he said the United States is “losing credibility by the day” by its support for the Egyptian dictator. Mr. Mubarak is, politically speaking, a Dead Man Walking. There is still time, but not much time, for the president to get on the right side of this revolution and the right side of history. Secretary of State Clinton’s comments yesterday, in which she called for an “orderly transition” to a representative government, were certainly an improvement from where the administration was last week, when she was assuring the world of the staying power of Mr. Mubarak and Vice President Biden was declaring, against three decades of evidence, that the Egyptian president was not a dictator.

Having worked in three administrations and in the White House during a series of crises, I have some sympathy for how difficult it is to navigate through roiling waters, when one has to act on incomplete information in the midst of chaotic and constantly changing events, the outcome of which is impossible to know. In that respect, the Obama administration deserves some empathy. It’s never as easy to guide events when you’re in government as it is to critique events when you’re outside of government.

Still, as my former colleague William Inboden has written, it seems to me that the Obama administration can be held responsible for two important errors: (a) its failure to anticipate what is happening in Egypt and prepare contingency plans. and (b) its neglect of human rights, democracy, and economic reform in Egypt for the previous two years. “These failures should be front and center in any post-mortem policy review,” Professor Inboden writes. “The Mubarak regime’s brittleness and Egypt’s stagnation have long been apparent to many observers.” But not, apparently, to the Obama administration, which seems to have been caught completely off guard. If the spark that set the region afire was impossible to anticipate, the dry tinder of the region was not.

One Arab nation that so far hasn’t been convulsed by the political revolution now sweeping the Middle East is Iraq — the one Arab nation whose government is legitimate, the produce of free elections and political compromise, and that has the consent of the people. When it came to Iraqi democracy, most of the foreign-policy establishment assured us that self-government there could never take root, that Iraq would simply be a pawn of Iran, that the ethnic divisions in Iraq were too deep to overcome, and that (as Joe Biden argued at the time) the only solution was partition. At this stage, it’s reasonable to conclude that these judgments were quite wrong. And while one can certainly debate whether the Iraq war was worth the blood, treasure, and opportunities it cost, it appears as if the Egyptian people, and not only the Egyptian people, are longing for what the people of Iraq have embraced: self-government. It isn’t perfect by any means — but for the Arab Middle East, it is a model for other nations to aspire.

(h/t: Victor Davis Hanson)

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Stay Tuned to Tunisia

For all its reputation as the world’s most unstable region, the Middle East has actually been extremely stable in one respect — almost all of its states are ruled by dictators who tend to rule for decades. That’s why it’s very big news that a revolution has swept Tunisia, with reports that President Ben Ali has fled the country. Based on the (scant) reporting so far, it is not clear whether any political movement is behind these events. Most of the accounts describe fairly spontaneous protests and riots after a vegetable vendor set himself on fire to protest the confiscation of his cart — his sole means of support — by the authorities.

Tunisians have long been fed up with the corrupt, illegitimate rule of Ben Ali and his hated wife, an Eva Peron figure. They and their family members have grown absurdly rich even as the rest of the country has stagnated. Many other peoples across the Arab world — in Morocco, Algeria, Libya, Egypt, Syria, Saudi Arabia, and other states — are fed up too. But they have scant chance to express their displeasure except covertly, because if there is one area in which Arab rulers excel, it is in building efficient police states. Now the police state in Tunisia has crumbled.

That is either good news or bad news. It all depends on what comes next. If Tunisia makes the transition to democratic rule, that would be an epochal development that could influence neighboring states in a positive way. If another dictator comes to the fore, that would not be so good. Even worse would be if that dictator emerges from the Islamist fringe. Stay tuned. It’s still early days, but certainly the end of Ben Ali’s long-lived and heavy-handed rule is not to be mourned, even if he was a reliable American ally.

For all its reputation as the world’s most unstable region, the Middle East has actually been extremely stable in one respect — almost all of its states are ruled by dictators who tend to rule for decades. That’s why it’s very big news that a revolution has swept Tunisia, with reports that President Ben Ali has fled the country. Based on the (scant) reporting so far, it is not clear whether any political movement is behind these events. Most of the accounts describe fairly spontaneous protests and riots after a vegetable vendor set himself on fire to protest the confiscation of his cart — his sole means of support — by the authorities.

Tunisians have long been fed up with the corrupt, illegitimate rule of Ben Ali and his hated wife, an Eva Peron figure. They and their family members have grown absurdly rich even as the rest of the country has stagnated. Many other peoples across the Arab world — in Morocco, Algeria, Libya, Egypt, Syria, Saudi Arabia, and other states — are fed up too. But they have scant chance to express their displeasure except covertly, because if there is one area in which Arab rulers excel, it is in building efficient police states. Now the police state in Tunisia has crumbled.

That is either good news or bad news. It all depends on what comes next. If Tunisia makes the transition to democratic rule, that would be an epochal development that could influence neighboring states in a positive way. If another dictator comes to the fore, that would not be so good. Even worse would be if that dictator emerges from the Islamist fringe. Stay tuned. It’s still early days, but certainly the end of Ben Ali’s long-lived and heavy-handed rule is not to be mourned, even if he was a reliable American ally.

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What Audiences Applaud in the Arab World

Thanks to monitoring groups such as MEMRI.org, many in the West have become more aware of the tone of popular culture in the Arab and Islamic world. As a result, we have a better understanding of the way anti-Semitism has become a staple of popular culture there. But one needn’t focus solely on the hatred of Jews and Israel that is so prevalent in Islamic societies to understand the shocking differences between what is accepted and even applauded in these cultures and our own.

The New Republic’s Ruth Franklin attended the Marrakech Film Festival in relatively liberal Morocco this month. Her account might have focused on the Western stars in attendance and “the glitz of the film festival” or “the charm and warmth of the Moroccans.” Instead, she wrote about a film screening in which a largely Arab audience reacted with spontaneous applause to a scene in which two women are stoned by a mob.

As Franklin writes:

This was one crowd, on one evening, at one screening; and need it even be said that applause is not the same as stoning itself? But, as the lights went up in the theater and the men and women around me calmly gathered their belongings, I could not help but remember that in an Arab country … liberation, at least for women, inevitably comes with limits. The glitz, the red carpet, and the celebrities might have been the same, but the atmosphere in the theater that night felt very far from Cannes or Sundance.

Thanks to monitoring groups such as MEMRI.org, many in the West have become more aware of the tone of popular culture in the Arab and Islamic world. As a result, we have a better understanding of the way anti-Semitism has become a staple of popular culture there. But one needn’t focus solely on the hatred of Jews and Israel that is so prevalent in Islamic societies to understand the shocking differences between what is accepted and even applauded in these cultures and our own.

The New Republic’s Ruth Franklin attended the Marrakech Film Festival in relatively liberal Morocco this month. Her account might have focused on the Western stars in attendance and “the glitz of the film festival” or “the charm and warmth of the Moroccans.” Instead, she wrote about a film screening in which a largely Arab audience reacted with spontaneous applause to a scene in which two women are stoned by a mob.

As Franklin writes:

This was one crowd, on one evening, at one screening; and need it even be said that applause is not the same as stoning itself? But, as the lights went up in the theater and the men and women around me calmly gathered their belongings, I could not help but remember that in an Arab country … liberation, at least for women, inevitably comes with limits. The glitz, the red carpet, and the celebrities might have been the same, but the atmosphere in the theater that night felt very far from Cannes or Sundance.

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Staging a Human Rights Atrocity

It has become a familiar pattern: violent provocateurs create a confrontation with lightly armed anti-riot squads. The state officials defend themselves. The instigators claim there has been an atrocity. The flotilla incident? Why, yes. But also a recent confrontation between Morocco and the violent Polisario Front, which refuses to accept a Moroccan autonomy plan for the Western Sahara and keeps refugees warehoused in dismal camps in Algeria.

As the Israeli government did in the flotilla incident, the government of Morocco has put out a video of a recent incident in Laayoune. This video, which is exceptionally graphic but should be reviewed in full to appreciate the extent of the Polisario Front’s propaganda campaign, shows peaceful demonstrators in a tent city (who came to protest overcrowding, totally unrelated to the dispute in the Western Sahara) dispersed without incident by Moroccan police, loaded onto government-provided buses, and exiting the area. Then onto the scene come the Polisario Front, with knives, rock-throwers, incendiary devices, and much brutality. What unfolds — vicious attacks on the police, the ambush of an ambulance, buildings burning in the city center, a near beheading of a policeman, etc. — is evidence that the Polisario Front is the aggressor in this incident.

And yet the Polisario Front, with a willing media, played the incident up as a human rights violation — by the government of Morocco. This report duly regurgitates the Polisario Front’s claim that the Moroccan government was guilty “of carrying out ‘ethnic cleansing’ in Laayoune and warned the international community that if it did not intervene to find a peaceful solution, ‘the Sahrawi people will resort to all measures, including war.'” This AP report tells us: “Moroccan forces raided a protest camp in the disputed territory of Western Sahara on Monday and unrest spread to a nearby city, with buildings ablaze and rioters roaming the streets. Five Moroccan security officials and one demonstrator were killed, reports said.” One would think that the government’s forces instigated the violence with the peaceful protesters there, and it would be hard to glean — as the video shows — that the protest camp had been dismantled before the Polisario Front forces attacked the police.

So what is going on here? Well, it seems that the incident came just as there was to begin the “re-opening of informal U.N.-sponsored talks Monday in Manhasset, New York, between Morocco and the Polisario Front, which long waged a guerrilla war on Morocco in a bid to gain independence for the desert region and its native Saharawi people.” Hmm. Sort of like the killing of Jews that inevitably breaks out when “peace” talks begin between Israel and the PA.

Whether the group is the PA or the Polisario Front, the modus operandi is the same — stage violence, claim victimhood, label the incident as a human rights atrocity, and thereby delay or disrupt peace negotiations that might resolve the conflict and leave the terrorists without a cause. You would think the media would be on to it. Unless, of course, they really don’t care about getting the story straight.

It has become a familiar pattern: violent provocateurs create a confrontation with lightly armed anti-riot squads. The state officials defend themselves. The instigators claim there has been an atrocity. The flotilla incident? Why, yes. But also a recent confrontation between Morocco and the violent Polisario Front, which refuses to accept a Moroccan autonomy plan for the Western Sahara and keeps refugees warehoused in dismal camps in Algeria.

As the Israeli government did in the flotilla incident, the government of Morocco has put out a video of a recent incident in Laayoune. This video, which is exceptionally graphic but should be reviewed in full to appreciate the extent of the Polisario Front’s propaganda campaign, shows peaceful demonstrators in a tent city (who came to protest overcrowding, totally unrelated to the dispute in the Western Sahara) dispersed without incident by Moroccan police, loaded onto government-provided buses, and exiting the area. Then onto the scene come the Polisario Front, with knives, rock-throwers, incendiary devices, and much brutality. What unfolds — vicious attacks on the police, the ambush of an ambulance, buildings burning in the city center, a near beheading of a policeman, etc. — is evidence that the Polisario Front is the aggressor in this incident.

And yet the Polisario Front, with a willing media, played the incident up as a human rights violation — by the government of Morocco. This report duly regurgitates the Polisario Front’s claim that the Moroccan government was guilty “of carrying out ‘ethnic cleansing’ in Laayoune and warned the international community that if it did not intervene to find a peaceful solution, ‘the Sahrawi people will resort to all measures, including war.'” This AP report tells us: “Moroccan forces raided a protest camp in the disputed territory of Western Sahara on Monday and unrest spread to a nearby city, with buildings ablaze and rioters roaming the streets. Five Moroccan security officials and one demonstrator were killed, reports said.” One would think that the government’s forces instigated the violence with the peaceful protesters there, and it would be hard to glean — as the video shows — that the protest camp had been dismantled before the Polisario Front forces attacked the police.

So what is going on here? Well, it seems that the incident came just as there was to begin the “re-opening of informal U.N.-sponsored talks Monday in Manhasset, New York, between Morocco and the Polisario Front, which long waged a guerrilla war on Morocco in a bid to gain independence for the desert region and its native Saharawi people.” Hmm. Sort of like the killing of Jews that inevitably breaks out when “peace” talks begin between Israel and the PA.

Whether the group is the PA or the Polisario Front, the modus operandi is the same — stage violence, claim victimhood, label the incident as a human rights atrocity, and thereby delay or disrupt peace negotiations that might resolve the conflict and leave the terrorists without a cause. You would think the media would be on to it. Unless, of course, they really don’t care about getting the story straight.

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Fake Photos and Foreign Media

You have to appreciate the irony. The Palestinians — who have made photo propaganda and falsification a central part of their anti-Israel efforts — are now caught up in such a gambit by another liberation-style group. The context is the ongoing conflict between Morocco and the Polisario Front, which opposes a Moroccan plan for autonomy for the West Sahara and prefers to fan the flames of conflict and perpetuate the misery of those warehoused in camps in Algeria. The latest incident is detailed in this account:

At a news conference, Interior Minister Taieb Cherkaoui played a video which he said showed “a man armed with a knife slitting the throat of two members of the security forces, the first in the camp and the second in Laayoune”, the Western Sahara’s main town.

These were “barbarous acts”, said Cherkaoui. The video was shot by Moroccan police.

The raid on the camp near Laayoune housing thousands of Sahrawis, who moved there to protest against their living conditions, was carried out on November 8, a few hours before a new round of talks between the Polisario, the main Western Sahara rebel group, and the Moroccan government started near New York.

Morocco has said that 12 people died in clashes between protesters and the police, including 10 members of the security forces.

But the pro-independence Polisario said dozens of people died and more than 4,500 were wounded in the violence.

Cherkaoui said some Sahrawi protesters, whom he described as criminal gangs, “deliberately killed members of the security forces, used knives, molotov cocktails and gas canisters” to start fires.

The police raid “was deliberately peaceful, no shots were fired and no deaths were reported from among the camp population and from Laayoune”, said Cherkaoui.

Well, the Polisario Front felt compelled to embellish and distort the incident. The group bandied about photos of wounded children — a sure-fire attention getter with the Western media, as the Palestinians have proven time and again. However the children weren’t from the Western Sahara but instead from Gaza (perhaps a few of the human shields used by Hamas?).  This report explains:

Spanish news agency EFE said Friday it had sent a photo supposedly of injured infants in Western Sahara which turned out to be a four-year-old image of children hurt in Gaza. The photo, purchased from a web site which made the original error, was published in major daily newspapers including the leading daily El Pais, and the centre-right daily El Mundo.

It showed infants with their heads wrapped in bandages being treated in hospital. In El Pais, the photo carried the caption: “Two injured Saharan children are treated at a hospital in Laayoune,” the capital of the Western Sahara.

Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat is now incensed by such disinformation.

The lesson here is one for respectable media outlets: be wary of accepting at face value reports or photographic “evidence” from groups whose journalistic bona fides are in question and whose motives are suspect. And that’s a lesson that is equally applicable in the Western Sahara and in Gaza.

You have to appreciate the irony. The Palestinians — who have made photo propaganda and falsification a central part of their anti-Israel efforts — are now caught up in such a gambit by another liberation-style group. The context is the ongoing conflict between Morocco and the Polisario Front, which opposes a Moroccan plan for autonomy for the West Sahara and prefers to fan the flames of conflict and perpetuate the misery of those warehoused in camps in Algeria. The latest incident is detailed in this account:

At a news conference, Interior Minister Taieb Cherkaoui played a video which he said showed “a man armed with a knife slitting the throat of two members of the security forces, the first in the camp and the second in Laayoune”, the Western Sahara’s main town.

These were “barbarous acts”, said Cherkaoui. The video was shot by Moroccan police.

The raid on the camp near Laayoune housing thousands of Sahrawis, who moved there to protest against their living conditions, was carried out on November 8, a few hours before a new round of talks between the Polisario, the main Western Sahara rebel group, and the Moroccan government started near New York.

Morocco has said that 12 people died in clashes between protesters and the police, including 10 members of the security forces.

But the pro-independence Polisario said dozens of people died and more than 4,500 were wounded in the violence.

Cherkaoui said some Sahrawi protesters, whom he described as criminal gangs, “deliberately killed members of the security forces, used knives, molotov cocktails and gas canisters” to start fires.

The police raid “was deliberately peaceful, no shots were fired and no deaths were reported from among the camp population and from Laayoune”, said Cherkaoui.

Well, the Polisario Front felt compelled to embellish and distort the incident. The group bandied about photos of wounded children — a sure-fire attention getter with the Western media, as the Palestinians have proven time and again. However the children weren’t from the Western Sahara but instead from Gaza (perhaps a few of the human shields used by Hamas?).  This report explains:

Spanish news agency EFE said Friday it had sent a photo supposedly of injured infants in Western Sahara which turned out to be a four-year-old image of children hurt in Gaza. The photo, purchased from a web site which made the original error, was published in major daily newspapers including the leading daily El Pais, and the centre-right daily El Mundo.

It showed infants with their heads wrapped in bandages being treated in hospital. In El Pais, the photo carried the caption: “Two injured Saharan children are treated at a hospital in Laayoune,” the capital of the Western Sahara.

Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat is now incensed by such disinformation.

The lesson here is one for respectable media outlets: be wary of accepting at face value reports or photographic “evidence” from groups whose journalistic bona fides are in question and whose motives are suspect. And that’s a lesson that is equally applicable in the Western Sahara and in Gaza.

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Shot Trying to Escape?

It is one of the memorable lines in Casablanca (which has many of them): “We haven’t quite decided yet whether he committed suicide or died trying to escape.” But the remark has a grim reality to it in the actual North Africa of 2010.

When last we heard of the tragedy in the Western Sahara, the former police chief of the Polisario Front, Mustapha Salma Ould Sidi Mouloud, who had managed to leave the refugee camps, spoke out against the Polisario Front and embraced an autonomy plan put forth by Morocco, which would put an end to the humanitarian crisis and the virtual imprisonment of Sahrawis in squalid refugee camps. Sidi Mouloud, who was kidnapped as a child from Morocco by the Soviet-style “liberation” group, had feared for his life once he broke with the Polisario Front. Sure enough, he was snatched up by the Polisario Front henchmen, an act that elicited calls of outrage from humanitarian groups. Now we hear:

Sahrawi activist Mustapha Salma Ould Sidi Mouloud was shot while trying to flee physical and mental torture at his place of detention for over five weeks by the Polisario militia and the Algerian authorities, a statement by the Action Committee for the Release of Mustapha Salma Ould Sidi Mouloud said on Saturday.

The Committee says that the activist’s family received information stating that Mustapha Salma got shot by one of the guards and he is now sustaining injury in his leg.

The Polisario Front has denied the shooting. But Sidi Mouloud’s father and other family members insist that their contacts in the camps are telling them that he was indeed shot. There is an obvious solution: produce and release Sidi Mouloud. One group has already condemned the shooting:

“This detention and subsequent shooting are the actions of a dictatorial guerrilla group trying to control the thoughts, beliefs, desires, and wishes of the people it holds hostage in camps,” stated Kathryn Cameron Porter, Founder and President of the Leadership Council for Human Rights.

We await demands for his release from other groups, such as Human Rights Watch (which, as of the time of this writing, has not responded to my request for comment), the UN, and the U.S. government (which supported the autonomy plan, but — as with so much else — has not followed through with meaningful action to end the human rights crisis or to confront Algeria or the Polisario Front, which are blocking a resolution of the dispute over the Western Sahara). At some point, you wonder when European elites and the Polisario Front’s left-leaning sympathizers will recognize who the human rights abusers are in this equation.

It is one of the memorable lines in Casablanca (which has many of them): “We haven’t quite decided yet whether he committed suicide or died trying to escape.” But the remark has a grim reality to it in the actual North Africa of 2010.

When last we heard of the tragedy in the Western Sahara, the former police chief of the Polisario Front, Mustapha Salma Ould Sidi Mouloud, who had managed to leave the refugee camps, spoke out against the Polisario Front and embraced an autonomy plan put forth by Morocco, which would put an end to the humanitarian crisis and the virtual imprisonment of Sahrawis in squalid refugee camps. Sidi Mouloud, who was kidnapped as a child from Morocco by the Soviet-style “liberation” group, had feared for his life once he broke with the Polisario Front. Sure enough, he was snatched up by the Polisario Front henchmen, an act that elicited calls of outrage from humanitarian groups. Now we hear:

Sahrawi activist Mustapha Salma Ould Sidi Mouloud was shot while trying to flee physical and mental torture at his place of detention for over five weeks by the Polisario militia and the Algerian authorities, a statement by the Action Committee for the Release of Mustapha Salma Ould Sidi Mouloud said on Saturday.

The Committee says that the activist’s family received information stating that Mustapha Salma got shot by one of the guards and he is now sustaining injury in his leg.

The Polisario Front has denied the shooting. But Sidi Mouloud’s father and other family members insist that their contacts in the camps are telling them that he was indeed shot. There is an obvious solution: produce and release Sidi Mouloud. One group has already condemned the shooting:

“This detention and subsequent shooting are the actions of a dictatorial guerrilla group trying to control the thoughts, beliefs, desires, and wishes of the people it holds hostage in camps,” stated Kathryn Cameron Porter, Founder and President of the Leadership Council for Human Rights.

We await demands for his release from other groups, such as Human Rights Watch (which, as of the time of this writing, has not responded to my request for comment), the UN, and the U.S. government (which supported the autonomy plan, but — as with so much else — has not followed through with meaningful action to end the human rights crisis or to confront Algeria or the Polisario Front, which are blocking a resolution of the dispute over the Western Sahara). At some point, you wonder when European elites and the Polisario Front’s left-leaning sympathizers will recognize who the human rights abusers are in this equation.

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