Commentary Magazine


Topic: Western Sahara

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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HRW Tries, Fails to Exculpate Polisario

Over the past couple weeks, I’ve criticized Human Rights Watch (HRW) for conducting human rights research and advocacy subjectively through the lens of politics rather than though an objective, fact and evidence-based approach. When it came to Iraq, Executive Director Kenneth Roth compared the Islamic State favorably to elected former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. And while there have been significant human rights abuses in Egypt since (and before) the July 2013 coup, a comparison of Roth’s tweets and HRW reports suggested that Roth augmented the numbers of massacre victims, perhaps for political reasons or perhaps to express his animus when he felt himself slighted personally by the new Egyptian government. He also partnered with Al-Karama, a group led by a man subsequently designated as Al-Qaeda financier and, despite this, neither retracted let alone appeared to investigate any of the information provided by that group which was incorporated into HRW reporting. Roth’s reporting with regard to the Israel-Palestinian conflict—and his willingness to bend over backwards to exculpate Hamas—has also raised questions with regard to objectivity.

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Over the past couple weeks, I’ve criticized Human Rights Watch (HRW) for conducting human rights research and advocacy subjectively through the lens of politics rather than though an objective, fact and evidence-based approach. When it came to Iraq, Executive Director Kenneth Roth compared the Islamic State favorably to elected former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. And while there have been significant human rights abuses in Egypt since (and before) the July 2013 coup, a comparison of Roth’s tweets and HRW reports suggested that Roth augmented the numbers of massacre victims, perhaps for political reasons or perhaps to express his animus when he felt himself slighted personally by the new Egyptian government. He also partnered with Al-Karama, a group led by a man subsequently designated as Al-Qaeda financier and, despite this, neither retracted let alone appeared to investigate any of the information provided by that group which was incorporated into HRW reporting. Roth’s reporting with regard to the Israel-Palestinian conflict—and his willingness to bend over backwards to exculpate Hamas—has also raised questions with regard to objectivity.

Well, let’s add the Western Sahara to the list of areas where HRW apparently puts politics above its mission. Earlier this month, HRW published a report (.pdf) on the Tindouf camps. That much is welcome. The Tindouf camps are a human tragedy, hidden from sight in a far corner of Algeria. They are home to the Polisario Front, a Marxist and authoritarian movement, which imagines itself the self-styled government of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR). The Sahrawi liberation movement has become a cause célèbre among some on the left who imagine that, with their support for the group, they are fighting colonialism, resisting Western interests, and speaking on behalf of the oppressed. As is often the case, what they end up doing is apologizing for repression.

After all, the Polisario is a group that, in the past, seized children from their parents and sent them to Cuba for re-education. (Perhaps some at HRW might celebrate this as “mandatory tropical vacations.”) Likewise, when a ceasefire ended the war between Morocco and Algeria in 1991, the Polisario kept more than 400 Moroccan prisoners-of-war illegally for an additional 14 years. Most were tortured, some were reportedly forced to donate blood for use by Polisario fighters, and the unlucky ones summarily executed. Then again, if the politics is right, maybe HRW could spin this as the Polisario relieving prison overcrowding.

Clearly, wherever one stands on the Western Sahara conflict, the Polisario are not good guys. It’s not like the group has had a leadership change in the past three plus decades. But, politically, they are manna to progressives who have never met a “liberation” movement they have not liked. And so it is with the latest Human Rights Watch report touching on the conflict. Now, HRW did real research for its report, but what is truly striking is how the HRW Tindouf report’s conclusions fly in the face of the evidence it presents. It appears almost as if HRW researchers gather evidence, but then the head office applies a political brush to ensure the finished product conforms to a political outlook that exculpates left-wing violations of human rights.

The report, for example, chronicles through 78 pages a number of abuses perpetrated by the Polisario in the camps, but then says there was “no evidence of any patterns of serious abuse” just “areas of concern.” Take freedom of movement, a core to liberty anywhere. HRW says they found no evidence that the Polisario/SADR interferes in travel. Hmmm. The SADR constitution does not guarantee freedom of movement, and the Polisario regulates travel with security checkpoints. There also is a nighttime curfew, and the Polisario also demands that drivers carry a SADR permit. Other regulations—such as a prohibition carrying more than 200 liters of fuel—effectively limit the ability of drivers to leave the camps, given their isolated location. Generally speaking, people don’t conceal their travel plans when they don’t fear interference, but the residents of the Tindouf camps often do, simply because the Polisario/SADR does not permit free movement.

What about freedom of speech and the press? While HRW said, “encountered no case of a person whom the Polisario Front imprisoned for his political views” and further said “From its interviews with refugees, [HRW] found no pattern of SADR authorities silencing dissent.” Funny that, given that the report also states that “The Polisario monopolizes political discourse in the camps,” “SADR legislation that regulates freedom of expression is sweeping and open to various interpretations,” and “There have been instances where authorities allegedly attempt to suppress public criticism of SADR leaders and public discussion of politically sensitive topics.” Most media are also state organs. Two SADR journalists lost their job when they dared to write an article for an independent Sahrawi website which discussed the alleged resignation of SADR minister of cooperation. And, in 2013, SADR authorities detained Salek Saloh, the founding editor of the only apparent independent news website. HRW acknowledged the case by declaring, “It is a serious human rights concern that Saloh was detained apparently over his journalistic work, and in particular by military judicial authorities who seem, in this case, to have usurped the role of civil courts.” Never mind, however, since, “in general SADR authorities do not seek to interfere with such sites.” The whole episode is akin to praising North Korea for no longer interfering with independent or opposition media as soon as its succeeds in crushing them out of existence.

HRW’s cavalier treatment of freedom of association and assembly is no better. While the report states, “HRW found no evidence that SADR authorities hindered the formation or work of civil society groups,” it also found that the SADR constitution bans political parties other than Polisario, and that the SADR constitution doesn’t guarantee the right to free association or assembly. Nor are there many civil society groups operating in the camps both because of “logistical problems” and lack of money, the latter strictly regulated by the Polisario.

Similar whitewashing occurs with regard to the use of military courts to investigate and try civilians. While HRW reported it “found no patter of torture, prolonged arbitrary detention, or denial of access to a lawyer,” it also documented several instances of civilians detained by military authorities, held in defiance of legal procedures, and ultimately tried by military courts. The most disingenuous exculpation of Polisario for its human rights abuses related to the section on torture. While the report states, “Human Rights Watch researchers encountered no claims that SADR authorities practice torture either as a matter of policy or routine,” and continues, “Researchers did not hear account of SADR security forces systematically or habitually using excessive force when responding to demonstrations, detaining and questioning criminal suspects, and in their handling of prisoners,” the details of the report show that two out of 40 refugees HRW interviews said that SADR security forces had beaten or tortured them in detention. Both men happen to be members of a group that criticizes SADR corruption, nepotism, and abuse of power. But perhaps HRW Executive Director Ken Roth believes they were arrested for jaywalking and were not political prisoners.

Tindouf is a festering sore, one that should be quickly resolved. Let us hope that UN Envoy Christopher Ross, when he presents his findings to the United Nations Security Council later today, opens a door to resolution by recognizing the federalism and autonomy thath the Western Sahara today enjoys under Moroccan sovereignty. That most Sahrawis reject radicalism and seek to escape the clutches of the Tindouf camps and an Algerian state that uses them as a proxy in an unrelated struggle. That many Marxists and left-wing radicals as well as some correspondents for British-based papers and magazines seek to make the Polisario and Sahrawi cause their own is also a fact. So too should be the notion that liberty and freedom should be fundamental human rights. But when such notions of freedom and liberty conflict with leftist conventional wisdom or dictates, it seems that Kenneth Roth and HRW will subordinate the former to the latter.

Make no mistake: HRW could be a valuable organization; it once was. But, so long as it subordinates reporting to its own political filter—as it does with this latest report regarding the Tindouf refugee camps—then it forfeits its right to be considered a serious monitor of or advocate for human rights.

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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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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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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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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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Madam Secretary, Do You Care About Human Rights?

The Obama administration fancies itself as a defender of human rights. Obama spoke quite a lot about his commitment to human rights and democracy at the UN last week. Well, here’s a test for the president and his secretary of state.

When last we left the story of Western Sahara, the Polisario Front had nabbed the former inspector general of police, Salma Mustafa Ould Sidi Mouloud, who had the temerity to leave the camps where Sahwaris are warehoused and speak out in favor of the autonomy plan put forth by Morocco. Human rights activists appealed to the UN (good luck with that). Yesterday, Reps. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, (R-Fla.) and Jim Moran (D-Va.) sent a letter to Hillary Clinton, urging her “to work to seek the immediate release of Mr. Sidi Mouloud.” They explain: “He, and everyone in the refugee camps, should be allowed the right to movement, freedom of speech, and liberty.”

Well here’s the Obami’s chance to prove their attention to human rights and multilateral diplomatic skills. Will Clinton do anything more that bear witness to the abduction and silencing of a critic of the Polisario Front?

The congressmen remind Clinton that Sidi Mouloud has been charged with “espionage” and “treason.” In other words, unless international pressure is applied swiftly, his prospects for survival and release are dim.

The Obama administration fancies itself as a defender of human rights. Obama spoke quite a lot about his commitment to human rights and democracy at the UN last week. Well, here’s a test for the president and his secretary of state.

When last we left the story of Western Sahara, the Polisario Front had nabbed the former inspector general of police, Salma Mustafa Ould Sidi Mouloud, who had the temerity to leave the camps where Sahwaris are warehoused and speak out in favor of the autonomy plan put forth by Morocco. Human rights activists appealed to the UN (good luck with that). Yesterday, Reps. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, (R-Fla.) and Jim Moran (D-Va.) sent a letter to Hillary Clinton, urging her “to work to seek the immediate release of Mr. Sidi Mouloud.” They explain: “He, and everyone in the refugee camps, should be allowed the right to movement, freedom of speech, and liberty.”

Well here’s the Obami’s chance to prove their attention to human rights and multilateral diplomatic skills. Will Clinton do anything more that bear witness to the abduction and silencing of a critic of the Polisario Front?

The congressmen remind Clinton that Sidi Mouloud has been charged with “espionage” and “treason.” In other words, unless international pressure is applied swiftly, his prospects for survival and release are dim.

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RE: Where Is the International Community When You Need It?

Yesterday, the Polisario Front’s jackboots nabbed their former police chief, who had broken with the group and embraced an autonomy plan for Western Sahara put forth by Morocco. In true Orwellian fashion the Polisario Front justified the suppression of free speech and the arrest of a former official who threatened to rally the Polisario camps in favor of the autonomy plan:

Polisario Front on Wednesday justified the arrest of former Inspector General of Police Salma Mustafa Ould Sidi Mouloud, which supports the autonomy plan proposed by Morocco to solve the Western Sahara conflict, saying he is suspected of “espionage” for the “enemy.” “The policeman Mustafa Salma denied their legal obligations and responsibilities imposed by its membership of the Sahrawi police, including the defense of the integrity, sovereignty and unity of the country,” said a statement picked up by Saharawi Press Service (SPS).

The Polisario Front dubs Sidi Mouloud a “deserter” and accuses him of supporting the “enemy.” The Polisario Front claims he “revealed secrets related to the institutions of the Saharawi Republic and served spying for a country at war with the SADR with the aim of harming its security and sovereignty.” He’s now been deemed to have committed “treason and espionage.” To even casual students of totalitarian regimes, this is sickeningly familiar. The “trial” — if they bother — will be brief and unsuspenseful.

You wonder what it will take for liberal western elites, who have fawned over the Polisario Front and hosted them in salons, to sour on these thugs. I look at it this way: if stoning women, abusing little girls, hanging gays, and propounding virulent anti-Semitism in the “Muslim World” aren’t enough to persuade the left that Israel’s Muslim neighbors are not on the side of the angels, I suppose the kidnapping, jailing, and potential execution of a defector from the Polisario vanguard won’t have much of an impact on them either.

This is an issue that the Obama team actually got “right” — Hillary Clinton was extremely supportive of the Moroccan autonomy plan, which would spell the demise of the Polisario Front. Now the administration needs to act in support of Sidi Mouloud and push for a resolution to the Western Sahara issue — hopefully before more “deserters” are captured and/or slain.

Yesterday, the Polisario Front’s jackboots nabbed their former police chief, who had broken with the group and embraced an autonomy plan for Western Sahara put forth by Morocco. In true Orwellian fashion the Polisario Front justified the suppression of free speech and the arrest of a former official who threatened to rally the Polisario camps in favor of the autonomy plan:

Polisario Front on Wednesday justified the arrest of former Inspector General of Police Salma Mustafa Ould Sidi Mouloud, which supports the autonomy plan proposed by Morocco to solve the Western Sahara conflict, saying he is suspected of “espionage” for the “enemy.” “The policeman Mustafa Salma denied their legal obligations and responsibilities imposed by its membership of the Sahrawi police, including the defense of the integrity, sovereignty and unity of the country,” said a statement picked up by Saharawi Press Service (SPS).

The Polisario Front dubs Sidi Mouloud a “deserter” and accuses him of supporting the “enemy.” The Polisario Front claims he “revealed secrets related to the institutions of the Saharawi Republic and served spying for a country at war with the SADR with the aim of harming its security and sovereignty.” He’s now been deemed to have committed “treason and espionage.” To even casual students of totalitarian regimes, this is sickeningly familiar. The “trial” — if they bother — will be brief and unsuspenseful.

You wonder what it will take for liberal western elites, who have fawned over the Polisario Front and hosted them in salons, to sour on these thugs. I look at it this way: if stoning women, abusing little girls, hanging gays, and propounding virulent anti-Semitism in the “Muslim World” aren’t enough to persuade the left that Israel’s Muslim neighbors are not on the side of the angels, I suppose the kidnapping, jailing, and potential execution of a defector from the Polisario vanguard won’t have much of an impact on them either.

This is an issue that the Obama team actually got “right” — Hillary Clinton was extremely supportive of the Moroccan autonomy plan, which would spell the demise of the Polisario Front. Now the administration needs to act in support of Sidi Mouloud and push for a resolution to the Western Sahara issue — hopefully before more “deserters” are captured and/or slain.

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Where Is the International Community When You Need It?

When we had last left the story of the ongoing tragedy in Western Sahara, the chief of police of the Polisario Front (the “liberation group” that has blocked a plan for autonomy put forth by Morocco and continues to warehouse Sahrawis in dismal conditions) had denounced his own rebel movement and championed the Moroccan autonomy plan, despite fears he would be arrested. He fled to Mauritania and was planning on rejoining his family in the Tindouf camps and continuing his advocacy. But the Polisario Front would have none of it:

Polisario top security official Mustapha Salma Ould Sidi Mouloud was arrested on Tuesday evening by the militia of the Western Sahara’s Polisario Front upon his arrival in the border post leading to the Tindouf camps, coming from the Mauritanian territory, international media reported.

Polisario militiamen, who were on board of two vehicles, arrested Ould Sidi Mouloud, in the region of Mhiriz, before taking him to unknown destination, according to Al Arabiya sources.

So much for freedom of travel. So much for freedom of speech. Earlier in the day, Sidi Mouloud, we are told, “urged the United Nations and all international human rights organizations to support him to preserve his right of free speech and his physical integrity.” Not quickly enough, it turns out.

And where is the “international community”? Humanitarian groups have called on the UN to take action. For example:

The Leadership Council for Human Rights this morning called on the International Committee of the Red Cross to seek the release of Mustapha Salma Ould Sidi Mouloud, the 42 year old police inspector of the Polisario.

Sidi Mouloud was arrested yesterday by Algerian and Polisario authorities after speaking out in favor of the Moroccan Autonomy Plan for the Western Sahara.

“Not only is Sidi Mouloud’s arrest illegal — all he did was speak his mind; I don’t remember freedom of speech having been removed from the list of fundamental rights — it raises concerns for his overall safety,” stated Kathryn Cameron Porter, Founder and President of the Leadership Council for Human Rights. “The last senior figure to come out in support of the Autonomy Plan, Mahfoud Ali Beiba, had a sudden and unexpected heart attack immediately after his announcement.”

We should not get our hopes up that the UN will spring him. But this does raise once again a fundamental question. Morocco has presented an autonomy plan to the UN, which the Obama administration supports, but the UN has done nothing while Algeria and its pets in the Polisario Front maintain their grip on the throats of the Sahrawis and commit violations of human rights. Why doesn’t the UN agree to the plan and then use its persuasive powers (we keep hearing they have some) to implement it? Oh, is the UN Human Rights Council too busy bashing Israel?

The Obami have great faith in the efficacy of multi-lateral institutions. Perhaps it’s time to put that faith to the test and challenge the UN to end the suffering and the abuse of fundamental rights in Western Sahara.

When we had last left the story of the ongoing tragedy in Western Sahara, the chief of police of the Polisario Front (the “liberation group” that has blocked a plan for autonomy put forth by Morocco and continues to warehouse Sahrawis in dismal conditions) had denounced his own rebel movement and championed the Moroccan autonomy plan, despite fears he would be arrested. He fled to Mauritania and was planning on rejoining his family in the Tindouf camps and continuing his advocacy. But the Polisario Front would have none of it:

Polisario top security official Mustapha Salma Ould Sidi Mouloud was arrested on Tuesday evening by the militia of the Western Sahara’s Polisario Front upon his arrival in the border post leading to the Tindouf camps, coming from the Mauritanian territory, international media reported.

Polisario militiamen, who were on board of two vehicles, arrested Ould Sidi Mouloud, in the region of Mhiriz, before taking him to unknown destination, according to Al Arabiya sources.

So much for freedom of travel. So much for freedom of speech. Earlier in the day, Sidi Mouloud, we are told, “urged the United Nations and all international human rights organizations to support him to preserve his right of free speech and his physical integrity.” Not quickly enough, it turns out.

And where is the “international community”? Humanitarian groups have called on the UN to take action. For example:

The Leadership Council for Human Rights this morning called on the International Committee of the Red Cross to seek the release of Mustapha Salma Ould Sidi Mouloud, the 42 year old police inspector of the Polisario.

Sidi Mouloud was arrested yesterday by Algerian and Polisario authorities after speaking out in favor of the Moroccan Autonomy Plan for the Western Sahara.

“Not only is Sidi Mouloud’s arrest illegal — all he did was speak his mind; I don’t remember freedom of speech having been removed from the list of fundamental rights — it raises concerns for his overall safety,” stated Kathryn Cameron Porter, Founder and President of the Leadership Council for Human Rights. “The last senior figure to come out in support of the Autonomy Plan, Mahfoud Ali Beiba, had a sudden and unexpected heart attack immediately after his announcement.”

We should not get our hopes up that the UN will spring him. But this does raise once again a fundamental question. Morocco has presented an autonomy plan to the UN, which the Obama administration supports, but the UN has done nothing while Algeria and its pets in the Polisario Front maintain their grip on the throats of the Sahrawis and commit violations of human rights. Why doesn’t the UN agree to the plan and then use its persuasive powers (we keep hearing they have some) to implement it? Oh, is the UN Human Rights Council too busy bashing Israel?

The Obami have great faith in the efficacy of multi-lateral institutions. Perhaps it’s time to put that faith to the test and challenge the UN to end the suffering and the abuse of fundamental rights in Western Sahara.

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Speaking Truth to Power

I’ve been following the ongoing tragedy in the Western Sahara, where the Polisario Front, the Soviet-style “liberation” group, in concert with Algeria, is seeking to thwart a resolution of the humanitarian crisis and the internment of thousands in camps in Algeria. In August, Mustapha Salma Ould Sidi Mouloud, the head of the Polisario’s police force, managed to get out of the camps and announced support for the Moroccan government’s plan for autonomy for the Western Sahara. But once again, the Polisario has flexed its muscles.

It seems that the Polisario has threatened Sidi Mouloud with arrest if he visits the Tindouf Refugees camps and shares his views in support of an autonomy plan that could end the virtual imprisonment of those living in squalor. In an interview with French TV, Sidi Mouloud declared, “To freely express one’s opinion is treason?” Well, to those trying to maintain a grip on a population and who will not even permit those in the camps to be counted by international relief agencies, the answer is yes.

Other press reports indicate that Sidi Mouloud has left Mauritania for Tindouf to confront the Polisario and advocate in favor of Morocco’s autonomy proposal. He is the highest-ranking official to break with the Polisario and plainly represents a threat to the group. It would, of course, be helpful if the “international community” intervened to protect him from arrest and torture, but its record on the Western Sahara has generally been one of inactivity. Meanwhile, thousands remain interned without right of travel.

I’ve been following the ongoing tragedy in the Western Sahara, where the Polisario Front, the Soviet-style “liberation” group, in concert with Algeria, is seeking to thwart a resolution of the humanitarian crisis and the internment of thousands in camps in Algeria. In August, Mustapha Salma Ould Sidi Mouloud, the head of the Polisario’s police force, managed to get out of the camps and announced support for the Moroccan government’s plan for autonomy for the Western Sahara. But once again, the Polisario has flexed its muscles.

It seems that the Polisario has threatened Sidi Mouloud with arrest if he visits the Tindouf Refugees camps and shares his views in support of an autonomy plan that could end the virtual imprisonment of those living in squalor. In an interview with French TV, Sidi Mouloud declared, “To freely express one’s opinion is treason?” Well, to those trying to maintain a grip on a population and who will not even permit those in the camps to be counted by international relief agencies, the answer is yes.

Other press reports indicate that Sidi Mouloud has left Mauritania for Tindouf to confront the Polisario and advocate in favor of Morocco’s autonomy proposal. He is the highest-ranking official to break with the Polisario and plainly represents a threat to the group. It would, of course, be helpful if the “international community” intervened to protect him from arrest and torture, but its record on the Western Sahara has generally been one of inactivity. Meanwhile, thousands remain interned without right of travel.

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A Human Rights Breakthrough, No Thanks to the International Community

In April I wrote about the ongoing humanitarian crisis and political conflict concerning the Western Sahara. Morocco has offered an autonomy plan that would provide self-rule for Sahrawis and end the suffering of those warehoused in refugee camps in Algeria, which is actively working along with the Polisario Front (a 1970s Soviet-style “liberation” group) to thwart a resolution of the conflict. Now there seems to have been an important breakthrough. The Polisario’s police chief has broken with his comrades and their Algerian patrons, according to this report:

At a press conference Monday (August 9th) in Smara, Western Sahara, Police Inspector-General Mustapha Salma Ould Sidi Mouloud said that the proposed initiative to give extensive autonomy to the Sahrawis was the best possible solution to the Western Sahara conflict.

It would allow them to preserve their culture, he said.

“In the past, we had two conflicting options: either to integrate into Morocco or become independent. Today we have a third option that helps us achieve our main objective, which is the Sahrawi distinction,” the police chief added.

How did this come about? Well, unlike those in the camps, who are denied full freedom of movement (you’d think the “human rights” groups and the flock of self-styled “humanitarian” groups would find this outrageous, but their focus is primarily on life in the Middle East’s only democracy), Ould Sidi Mouloud was able to wrangle a short visit with his family:

“After 31 years of separation, I was able to meet with my father and my relatives in Smara. I took the opportunity to tour Morocco. I was impressed by Morocco’s major progress in different sectors, and the major development boom in the Sahrawi territories, which made me change my position,” he said. …

“I wish this press conference had taken place at the camps, but we have no media or communication means over there. Tindouf camps are located in the middle of the desert, an area cut off from the rest of the world, and Polisario controls everything over there,” he stated. …

“There isn’t one single family that has all its members in only Tindouf or only Morocco. For instance, I was abducted from Smara with my mother and my four siblings during a Polisario raid in 1979. I was only 11 years old. We left behind my wounded father and four dead, three women and a child.”

Child abductions? Denial of basic human rights? You’d think the media would be interested in this sort of thing. But no, they’ve got other priorities.

In the meantime, however, this latest development may help weaken the Polisario’s grip on world public opinion. “It is time for Algeria to let the Sahrawi refugees living in Tindouf camps express and discuss their preferences and aspirations, and come up with what is best for them,” proclaimed African Federation of Strategic Studies chief Mohamed Benhamou. Yes, self-determination for those living in misery in the camps should be something the members of the “international community” would all get behind, unless, goodness gracious, there are many nations that don’t share our values and concerns.

In April I wrote about the ongoing humanitarian crisis and political conflict concerning the Western Sahara. Morocco has offered an autonomy plan that would provide self-rule for Sahrawis and end the suffering of those warehoused in refugee camps in Algeria, which is actively working along with the Polisario Front (a 1970s Soviet-style “liberation” group) to thwart a resolution of the conflict. Now there seems to have been an important breakthrough. The Polisario’s police chief has broken with his comrades and their Algerian patrons, according to this report:

At a press conference Monday (August 9th) in Smara, Western Sahara, Police Inspector-General Mustapha Salma Ould Sidi Mouloud said that the proposed initiative to give extensive autonomy to the Sahrawis was the best possible solution to the Western Sahara conflict.

It would allow them to preserve their culture, he said.

“In the past, we had two conflicting options: either to integrate into Morocco or become independent. Today we have a third option that helps us achieve our main objective, which is the Sahrawi distinction,” the police chief added.

How did this come about? Well, unlike those in the camps, who are denied full freedom of movement (you’d think the “human rights” groups and the flock of self-styled “humanitarian” groups would find this outrageous, but their focus is primarily on life in the Middle East’s only democracy), Ould Sidi Mouloud was able to wrangle a short visit with his family:

“After 31 years of separation, I was able to meet with my father and my relatives in Smara. I took the opportunity to tour Morocco. I was impressed by Morocco’s major progress in different sectors, and the major development boom in the Sahrawi territories, which made me change my position,” he said. …

“I wish this press conference had taken place at the camps, but we have no media or communication means over there. Tindouf camps are located in the middle of the desert, an area cut off from the rest of the world, and Polisario controls everything over there,” he stated. …

“There isn’t one single family that has all its members in only Tindouf or only Morocco. For instance, I was abducted from Smara with my mother and my four siblings during a Polisario raid in 1979. I was only 11 years old. We left behind my wounded father and four dead, three women and a child.”

Child abductions? Denial of basic human rights? You’d think the media would be interested in this sort of thing. But no, they’ve got other priorities.

In the meantime, however, this latest development may help weaken the Polisario’s grip on world public opinion. “It is time for Algeria to let the Sahrawi refugees living in Tindouf camps express and discuss their preferences and aspirations, and come up with what is best for them,” proclaimed African Federation of Strategic Studies chief Mohamed Benhamou. Yes, self-determination for those living in misery in the camps should be something the members of the “international community” would all get behind, unless, goodness gracious, there are many nations that don’t share our values and concerns.

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From Gitmo to Algeria

Obama’s cockeyed national security policy (which seeks ephemeral PR benefits from releasing terror detainees and handcuffing our own intelligence operatives) and his indifference to human rights have collided in the return of an Algerian Gitmo detainee to his home country — against his will. This report explains:

Aziz Abdul Naji, 35, an Algerian who had been held at Guantanamo for more than eight years, had appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court to remain at the military detention center in Cuba. He argued that he would be tortured or killed in Algeria, either by the government or by terrorist groups that might try to recruit him.

In a unanimous decision, the justices declined late Friday to hear Naji’s appeal, and the Defense Department announced Monday that he had been repatriated.

We are told not to worry about his fate:

The government said that Algeria has provided diplomatic assurances that Naji would not be mistreated, assurances that administration officials say are credible because 10 other detainees have been returned to Algeria without incident.

“We take our human rights responsibilities seriously,” said an administration official.

Attorneys for Naji said they were disappointed by the transfer and vowed to continue to monitor Naji’s treatment.

“We are pretty stunned; you are never prepared,” said Doris Tennant, one of the lawyers. “We hope very much that the Algerian government will protect him. We plan to do everything we can to stay on top of it, and we are working with NGOs to make sure he is well protected.”

Algeria takes its human rights seriously? One doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry. Apparently, the Obami are willing to play along with this farce. Algeria takes many things seriously — prolonging the Western Sahara humanitarian crisis, for example — but not human rights. Don’t take my word for it:

France must not deport a man convicted of terrorist acts to Algeria where he may be at risk of incommunicado detention and torture or other ill-treatment, Amnesty International said on Thursday. According to a European Court of Human Rights’ judgement on Thursday, Kamel Daoudi’s expulsion to Algeria would expose him to inhuman or degrading treatment and would be in violation of the European Convention on Human Rights. “Sending Kamel Daoudi to Algeria would put him at risk of being tortured. As a signatory to the European Convention on Human Rights, France must not carry out the expulsion,” said David Diaz-Jogeix, Amnesty International’s Europe and Central Asia Deputy Programme Director.

That’s a 2009 Amnesty International report. Want a more authoritative source? There is this:

Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

The law prohibits such practices; however, NGO and local human rights activists reported that government officials sometimes employed them to obtain confessions. Government agents can face prison sentences of between 10 and 20 years for committing such acts, and some were tried and convicted in 2008. Nonetheless, impunity remained a problem.

Local human rights lawyers maintained that torture continued to occur in detention facilities, most often against those arrested on “security grounds.” …

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions generally did not meet international standards. Overcrowding was a problem in many prisons. According to human rights lawyers, the problem of overpopulation was partially explained by an abusive recourse to pretrial detention. In 2008 the [National Consultative Commission for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights] conducted 34 prison visits and highlighted concerns with overcrowding, insufficient bed space, as well as poor lighting, ventilation, nutrition, and hygiene.

That’s from our State Department’s 2009 Human Rights Report.

No wonder a total of six Algerians (the other five are nearly certain to be repatriated) didn’t want to go back. But Obama thinks it is important (at least to his own image with international elite) to eject the Algerians from a safe, comfortable detention facility. So back they will go. Good luck to them. Let’s hope the NGOs are able to keep track of them and offer some protection. The United States sure won’t.

Obama’s cockeyed national security policy (which seeks ephemeral PR benefits from releasing terror detainees and handcuffing our own intelligence operatives) and his indifference to human rights have collided in the return of an Algerian Gitmo detainee to his home country — against his will. This report explains:

Aziz Abdul Naji, 35, an Algerian who had been held at Guantanamo for more than eight years, had appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court to remain at the military detention center in Cuba. He argued that he would be tortured or killed in Algeria, either by the government or by terrorist groups that might try to recruit him.

In a unanimous decision, the justices declined late Friday to hear Naji’s appeal, and the Defense Department announced Monday that he had been repatriated.

We are told not to worry about his fate:

The government said that Algeria has provided diplomatic assurances that Naji would not be mistreated, assurances that administration officials say are credible because 10 other detainees have been returned to Algeria without incident.

“We take our human rights responsibilities seriously,” said an administration official.

Attorneys for Naji said they were disappointed by the transfer and vowed to continue to monitor Naji’s treatment.

“We are pretty stunned; you are never prepared,” said Doris Tennant, one of the lawyers. “We hope very much that the Algerian government will protect him. We plan to do everything we can to stay on top of it, and we are working with NGOs to make sure he is well protected.”

Algeria takes its human rights seriously? One doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry. Apparently, the Obami are willing to play along with this farce. Algeria takes many things seriously — prolonging the Western Sahara humanitarian crisis, for example — but not human rights. Don’t take my word for it:

France must not deport a man convicted of terrorist acts to Algeria where he may be at risk of incommunicado detention and torture or other ill-treatment, Amnesty International said on Thursday. According to a European Court of Human Rights’ judgement on Thursday, Kamel Daoudi’s expulsion to Algeria would expose him to inhuman or degrading treatment and would be in violation of the European Convention on Human Rights. “Sending Kamel Daoudi to Algeria would put him at risk of being tortured. As a signatory to the European Convention on Human Rights, France must not carry out the expulsion,” said David Diaz-Jogeix, Amnesty International’s Europe and Central Asia Deputy Programme Director.

That’s a 2009 Amnesty International report. Want a more authoritative source? There is this:

Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

The law prohibits such practices; however, NGO and local human rights activists reported that government officials sometimes employed them to obtain confessions. Government agents can face prison sentences of between 10 and 20 years for committing such acts, and some were tried and convicted in 2008. Nonetheless, impunity remained a problem.

Local human rights lawyers maintained that torture continued to occur in detention facilities, most often against those arrested on “security grounds.” …

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions generally did not meet international standards. Overcrowding was a problem in many prisons. According to human rights lawyers, the problem of overpopulation was partially explained by an abusive recourse to pretrial detention. In 2008 the [National Consultative Commission for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights] conducted 34 prison visits and highlighted concerns with overcrowding, insufficient bed space, as well as poor lighting, ventilation, nutrition, and hygiene.

That’s from our State Department’s 2009 Human Rights Report.

No wonder a total of six Algerians (the other five are nearly certain to be repatriated) didn’t want to go back. But Obama thinks it is important (at least to his own image with international elite) to eject the Algerians from a safe, comfortable detention facility. So back they will go. Good luck to them. Let’s hope the NGOs are able to keep track of them and offer some protection. The United States sure won’t.

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Kristof Defames Another Country

As reflexively hostile and uniformed as Nicholas Kristof is regarding Israel, his bile-filled columns on the topic are a model of impartial scholarship compared to his take on Morocco. In the midst of another dreary rant on Israel and the West Bank (Does he think we don’t know that Israel has repeatedly tried to give the Palestinians their own state or that the West Bank is a model of economic development in the Middle East?), he throws this in from left field: “After all, the biggest theft of Arab land in the Middle East has nothing to do with Palestinians: It is Morocco’s robbery of the resource-rich Western Sahara from the people who live there.”

Huh? Without recounting the entire history of the region, suffice it to say that the Western Sahara was not “stolen” from anyone. (Spain ceded it to Morocco.) The Moroccans have proposed — with the enthusiastic bipartisan cheers from Congress and the Obama administration — to afford the people living there autonomy. However, the Polisario Front, a 1970’s leftover pro-Soviet liberation group, and the Algerian government have blocked that plan. Instead, in Algeria, the Sahrawi people are kept warehoused in camps and a humanitarian crisis is perpetuated.

Come to think of it, Morocco is a lot like Israel. Both are the targets of leftists’ slander, and both suffer the unfortunate fate of a diverse, open, and tolerant society whose presence is an anathema to Islamic fundamentalists.

As reflexively hostile and uniformed as Nicholas Kristof is regarding Israel, his bile-filled columns on the topic are a model of impartial scholarship compared to his take on Morocco. In the midst of another dreary rant on Israel and the West Bank (Does he think we don’t know that Israel has repeatedly tried to give the Palestinians their own state or that the West Bank is a model of economic development in the Middle East?), he throws this in from left field: “After all, the biggest theft of Arab land in the Middle East has nothing to do with Palestinians: It is Morocco’s robbery of the resource-rich Western Sahara from the people who live there.”

Huh? Without recounting the entire history of the region, suffice it to say that the Western Sahara was not “stolen” from anyone. (Spain ceded it to Morocco.) The Moroccans have proposed — with the enthusiastic bipartisan cheers from Congress and the Obama administration — to afford the people living there autonomy. However, the Polisario Front, a 1970’s leftover pro-Soviet liberation group, and the Algerian government have blocked that plan. Instead, in Algeria, the Sahrawi people are kept warehoused in camps and a humanitarian crisis is perpetuated.

Come to think of it, Morocco is a lot like Israel. Both are the targets of leftists’ slander, and both suffer the unfortunate fate of a diverse, open, and tolerant society whose presence is an anathema to Islamic fundamentalists.

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RE: Mitch Daniels Makes the Rounds

Reihan Salam writes that although he understands that I “am  troubled by the idea of nickel-and-diming national security,” he believes “we need to give serious thought to paring back our commitments, to the extent doing so is consonant with our long-term interests.  … [Like] a growing number of conservatives, including Sen. Tom Coburn, I’m concerned about profligacy in the defense budget.” This is an important debate, which candidates and office holders will have to address.

There are two issues. First, is our defense budget “profligate”? Certainly, there are excesses, and lawmakers such as Rep. John Murtha did a fine job of gumming up the budget with goodies for their constituents. But let’s put this in perspective: our defense budget, thanks to Obama, is below its 45-year average as a percentage of GDP. Gary Schmitt and Tom Donnelly write:

Compare for a moment the size of the Obama stimulus package in 2009 — nearly $800 billion — with the more than $300 billion Gates has already cut from the Pentagon’s budget and the planned “flat-lining” of defense expenditures in the years ahead. … Defense spending has gone up. But never in our history have we fought wars of this magnitude as cheaply. Take, for example, the percentage of the federal budget allocated to defense: In 1994, two years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Pentagon spending amounted to slightly more than 19 percent of the budget; in 2010, it is the same. And if the administration has its way, that figure will drop to 15.6 percent by 2015. Is any other part of the federal budget getting similarly whacked?

But there is a broader, philosophical question here: do we face one or two threats to our civilization? Conservatives and a great many others agree that there is at least one, the economic: the unsustainable debt burden, the decline in “dynamic destruction,” which is essential to a vibrant economy, the crushing weight of entitlements on future generations, and the resulting atrophying of growth and job creation. If that is the sole emergency, then everything else takes second place — a remote second.

But if you believe there are two threats to America and to the West, a second even more grievous than the first, then it is a different story. The other threat is, of course, that of Islamic jihadism — the actual war on the West. We are witnessing the expansion of that war from conventional battlefields in Iraq and Afghanistan and from serial bombing runs, sponsored and inspired by jihadist networks, to a nuclear standoff against an Iran. That foe’s influence is increasing and its terrorist agents and allies are capable of inciting violence and instability from Indonesia to Lebanon to the western Sahara.

It would be grand to stand down from our commitments, take a “peace dividend.” But alas, there is no peace. The spending on defense is not optional if we and our allies are to survive. While it is true that our economic vitality is essential to maintain a robust defense, it is equally true that economic prosperity cannot exist in a world torn asunder by Islamic terror and war.

This is an important discussion, and the temptation to recede and husband our resources is strong. It was so after WWI and it was so in the Clinton years. We need to think carefully about what that means and whether we can take a holiday from history.

Reihan Salam writes that although he understands that I “am  troubled by the idea of nickel-and-diming national security,” he believes “we need to give serious thought to paring back our commitments, to the extent doing so is consonant with our long-term interests.  … [Like] a growing number of conservatives, including Sen. Tom Coburn, I’m concerned about profligacy in the defense budget.” This is an important debate, which candidates and office holders will have to address.

There are two issues. First, is our defense budget “profligate”? Certainly, there are excesses, and lawmakers such as Rep. John Murtha did a fine job of gumming up the budget with goodies for their constituents. But let’s put this in perspective: our defense budget, thanks to Obama, is below its 45-year average as a percentage of GDP. Gary Schmitt and Tom Donnelly write:

Compare for a moment the size of the Obama stimulus package in 2009 — nearly $800 billion — with the more than $300 billion Gates has already cut from the Pentagon’s budget and the planned “flat-lining” of defense expenditures in the years ahead. … Defense spending has gone up. But never in our history have we fought wars of this magnitude as cheaply. Take, for example, the percentage of the federal budget allocated to defense: In 1994, two years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Pentagon spending amounted to slightly more than 19 percent of the budget; in 2010, it is the same. And if the administration has its way, that figure will drop to 15.6 percent by 2015. Is any other part of the federal budget getting similarly whacked?

But there is a broader, philosophical question here: do we face one or two threats to our civilization? Conservatives and a great many others agree that there is at least one, the economic: the unsustainable debt burden, the decline in “dynamic destruction,” which is essential to a vibrant economy, the crushing weight of entitlements on future generations, and the resulting atrophying of growth and job creation. If that is the sole emergency, then everything else takes second place — a remote second.

But if you believe there are two threats to America and to the West, a second even more grievous than the first, then it is a different story. The other threat is, of course, that of Islamic jihadism — the actual war on the West. We are witnessing the expansion of that war from conventional battlefields in Iraq and Afghanistan and from serial bombing runs, sponsored and inspired by jihadist networks, to a nuclear standoff against an Iran. That foe’s influence is increasing and its terrorist agents and allies are capable of inciting violence and instability from Indonesia to Lebanon to the western Sahara.

It would be grand to stand down from our commitments, take a “peace dividend.” But alas, there is no peace. The spending on defense is not optional if we and our allies are to survive. While it is true that our economic vitality is essential to maintain a robust defense, it is equally true that economic prosperity cannot exist in a world torn asunder by Islamic terror and war.

This is an important discussion, and the temptation to recede and husband our resources is strong. It was so after WWI and it was so in the Clinton years. We need to think carefully about what that means and whether we can take a holiday from history.

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WEB EXCLUSIVE: Why the Western Sahara Matters

Most Americans know little or nothing about the conflict over the western Sahara or the self-styled “liberation” group the Polisario Front (originally backed by the former Soviet bloc). The Obama administration and Congress are focused on other problems in the Middle East. But the conflict that has ensnared Morocco, Algeria, and tens of thousands of Sahrawi (natives of the disputed territory) refugees warehoused in camps in Algeria poses a humanitarian crisis and creates another hotbed of terrorism and the narco-smuggling that accompanies it.

To read the rest of this COMMENTARY Web Exclusive, click here.

Most Americans know little or nothing about the conflict over the western Sahara or the self-styled “liberation” group the Polisario Front (originally backed by the former Soviet bloc). The Obama administration and Congress are focused on other problems in the Middle East. But the conflict that has ensnared Morocco, Algeria, and tens of thousands of Sahrawi (natives of the disputed territory) refugees warehoused in camps in Algeria poses a humanitarian crisis and creates another hotbed of terrorism and the narco-smuggling that accompanies it.

To read the rest of this COMMENTARY Web Exclusive, click here.

Read Less

The Women of Morocco

We have had a series of horror stories reminding us of atrocious treatment of girls and women in a great number of Muslim countries. Whether it is Yemen or Turkey or Saudi Arabia, the picture of brutality is grim, indeed. But there is an exception in the region, one that gets little attention.

I had the opportunity to meet today with two Moroccan female legislators (yes, that’s noteworthy enough). Morocco suffers what might be considered the fate of pro-Western, modernizing countries of the Middle East — it is ignored rather than held up as an example and an alternative to the oppression and repression of Muslim fundamentalism and to the institutionalization of misogyny one finds in so much of what Obama lumps into the “Muslim World.”  Zahra Chagaf is the elected representative from Tarfaya in southern Morocco, which is the focus of the dispute over the fate of the Western Sahara (and the dangerous exploitation by the Polisario Front and Algeria. More about all that in a later post.) She is fluent in  multiple languages, and on the topic of women, she speaks in French. (My rusty high school French is assisted by an able translator.) She explains that twelve years ago, a huge legal and political change occurred in Morocco. ” There were only two female legislators in parliament in 2000,” she explains. “Now there are 40 of us. On the municipal level [the equivalent of our state level], 0.5 percent were women in 2000. Now there are 12 percent, about 4,000 people.” She emphasizes that this was accompanied by a new family code that afforded women new rights, and by the outlawing of sexual harassment and discrimination. Five government ministers are women, and there are 15 female ambassadors.

How did this come about, I ask — why is Morocco so different?  She explains that it came from “civil society.” The groundswell came both from “women in the country and men with an open outlook.” She emphasizes that in the south, her own region, women have always been involved in the “social, political, cultural” life of the country, and unlike in other Muslim countries, within the home, Moroccan women also exercise power and influence. She stresses: “It is the women who raise the children… Education is more important than any legal change.”

Mbarka Bouaida is another member of parliament, elected to represent TanTan, also in southern Morocco. She could be any New York investment banker or associate in a large law firm, smartly dressed in a gray pantsuit, sporting shoulder length hair. She also speaks multiple language and converses with me in fluent English. What’s different about Morocco? She smiles. “It is a matriarchal society,” she begins. She also emphasizes the role of women in southern Moroccan society but adds that Morocco is also a Mediterranean country, culturally distinct from much of the rest of the Middle East. In southern Morocco, she notes: “Women were much more active in society before the legal environment changed. Women have been active in business. Most of the business people in the south are women. Women have always acted very freely in deciding matrimonial aspects  and who they marry.” (The contrast to other Muslim countries is plain.) Even in the naiton’s resistance to French and Spanish rule, women were active, she continues, and also recalls that in the 1950s, the princess was among the first Muslim women to give a speech in public without the veil.

The challenge to Morocco, the women explain, is to expand the role of women and hold back the threat of Muslim fundamentalism that would reverse the nation’s progress. Mbaraka explains: “We need to have more [freedom for women] and protect against extremism. We see extremists interpreting the Koran… We need to continue to communicate and provide education.” And what of the women in the rest of the Middle East? Well, Zahra explains that they do meet with women from Yemen, Syria, and Saudi Arabia — where she emphasizes, “The  women have no rights!” The effort of other Muslim countries to repress and brutalize their own women is made more difficult in the modern era. As she explains, “You can see what is going on [in other countries], and you don’t have to put up with it.”

The Morocco example leaves one with mixed  emotions. On one hand, it is a shining example of reform and modernization, one we hope is emulated by its neighbors. But as  the women made so very clear, Morocco is different than many of his Muslim neighbors. And in emphasizing the differences, one comes back to the bleak condition of women in those other Muslim countries in which the cultural and social predicate for the advancement of women is sorely lacking. As another commentator observed with regard to Afghan women, the challenge for America (and one could say for enlightened nations like Morocco as well) is great, namely to help women:

“…unravel themselves from centuries of complicity in their own oppression and see themselves not as defiled, unclean, perpetually wanton creatures to be hidden away as if they were carriers of plague, but rather as noble members of the human race endowed with greatness and blessings: the giving of life, the tending to it mercifully and lovingly, and, most important, the imparting of lessons in real virtue—self-acceptance to their daughters and just plain acceptance to their sons—that would be gaining hearts and minds indeed.”

We and our Moroccan allies have our work cut out for us.

UPDATE: An informed reader emails to add that the King of Morocco deserves a share of the credit for this societal transformation — “for siding with these women against the more reactionary forces in society. In a poll last year that found him very popular, the one area where there was a lot of criticism was… women’s rights! Lots of men thought he was going too fast.” (More on the poll and on the family code can be found here.) If only other Muslim nations were fortunate enough to have such leadership.

We have had a series of horror stories reminding us of atrocious treatment of girls and women in a great number of Muslim countries. Whether it is Yemen or Turkey or Saudi Arabia, the picture of brutality is grim, indeed. But there is an exception in the region, one that gets little attention.

I had the opportunity to meet today with two Moroccan female legislators (yes, that’s noteworthy enough). Morocco suffers what might be considered the fate of pro-Western, modernizing countries of the Middle East — it is ignored rather than held up as an example and an alternative to the oppression and repression of Muslim fundamentalism and to the institutionalization of misogyny one finds in so much of what Obama lumps into the “Muslim World.”  Zahra Chagaf is the elected representative from Tarfaya in southern Morocco, which is the focus of the dispute over the fate of the Western Sahara (and the dangerous exploitation by the Polisario Front and Algeria. More about all that in a later post.) She is fluent in  multiple languages, and on the topic of women, she speaks in French. (My rusty high school French is assisted by an able translator.) She explains that twelve years ago, a huge legal and political change occurred in Morocco. ” There were only two female legislators in parliament in 2000,” she explains. “Now there are 40 of us. On the municipal level [the equivalent of our state level], 0.5 percent were women in 2000. Now there are 12 percent, about 4,000 people.” She emphasizes that this was accompanied by a new family code that afforded women new rights, and by the outlawing of sexual harassment and discrimination. Five government ministers are women, and there are 15 female ambassadors.

How did this come about, I ask — why is Morocco so different?  She explains that it came from “civil society.” The groundswell came both from “women in the country and men with an open outlook.” She emphasizes that in the south, her own region, women have always been involved in the “social, political, cultural” life of the country, and unlike in other Muslim countries, within the home, Moroccan women also exercise power and influence. She stresses: “It is the women who raise the children… Education is more important than any legal change.”

Mbarka Bouaida is another member of parliament, elected to represent TanTan, also in southern Morocco. She could be any New York investment banker or associate in a large law firm, smartly dressed in a gray pantsuit, sporting shoulder length hair. She also speaks multiple language and converses with me in fluent English. What’s different about Morocco? She smiles. “It is a matriarchal society,” she begins. She also emphasizes the role of women in southern Moroccan society but adds that Morocco is also a Mediterranean country, culturally distinct from much of the rest of the Middle East. In southern Morocco, she notes: “Women were much more active in society before the legal environment changed. Women have been active in business. Most of the business people in the south are women. Women have always acted very freely in deciding matrimonial aspects  and who they marry.” (The contrast to other Muslim countries is plain.) Even in the naiton’s resistance to French and Spanish rule, women were active, she continues, and also recalls that in the 1950s, the princess was among the first Muslim women to give a speech in public without the veil.

The challenge to Morocco, the women explain, is to expand the role of women and hold back the threat of Muslim fundamentalism that would reverse the nation’s progress. Mbaraka explains: “We need to have more [freedom for women] and protect against extremism. We see extremists interpreting the Koran… We need to continue to communicate and provide education.” And what of the women in the rest of the Middle East? Well, Zahra explains that they do meet with women from Yemen, Syria, and Saudi Arabia — where she emphasizes, “The  women have no rights!” The effort of other Muslim countries to repress and brutalize their own women is made more difficult in the modern era. As she explains, “You can see what is going on [in other countries], and you don’t have to put up with it.”

The Morocco example leaves one with mixed  emotions. On one hand, it is a shining example of reform and modernization, one we hope is emulated by its neighbors. But as  the women made so very clear, Morocco is different than many of his Muslim neighbors. And in emphasizing the differences, one comes back to the bleak condition of women in those other Muslim countries in which the cultural and social predicate for the advancement of women is sorely lacking. As another commentator observed with regard to Afghan women, the challenge for America (and one could say for enlightened nations like Morocco as well) is great, namely to help women:

“…unravel themselves from centuries of complicity in their own oppression and see themselves not as defiled, unclean, perpetually wanton creatures to be hidden away as if they were carriers of plague, but rather as noble members of the human race endowed with greatness and blessings: the giving of life, the tending to it mercifully and lovingly, and, most important, the imparting of lessons in real virtue—self-acceptance to their daughters and just plain acceptance to their sons—that would be gaining hearts and minds indeed.”

We and our Moroccan allies have our work cut out for us.

UPDATE: An informed reader emails to add that the King of Morocco deserves a share of the credit for this societal transformation — “for siding with these women against the more reactionary forces in society. In a poll last year that found him very popular, the one area where there was a lot of criticism was… women’s rights! Lots of men thought he was going too fast.” (More on the poll and on the family code can be found here.) If only other Muslim nations were fortunate enough to have such leadership.

Read Less




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