I have written here before about the Polisario Front, a Cold War throw-back and authoritarian cult funded by the Algerian military regime as a tool against Morocco. The Department of Homeland Security classifies the Polisario Front as a terrorist group. Polisario leaders seek to cloak themselves in a shroud of anti-colonial legitimacy saying they are fighting for a Sahrawi state in the Western Sahara, a former Spanish colonial territory now autonomous under Moroccan control. That is enough for many leftist journalists and progressive academics to embrace them, and even President Obama took a photo with the Polisario Front’s autocratic leader, but the reality is their constituency is tiny and growing smaller every day.
While the Polisario imagines themselves leading a state, the sad truth is they reign over little more than a handful of refugee camps in the Tindouf province of Algeria which house not more than 100,000 Sahrawi, of whom perhaps only 40,000 are refugees from the Western Sahara. These refugees live in a political culture as authoritarian and as that of Turkmenistan, Eritrea, North Korea, or the Mujahedin al-Khalq. Here, for example, is a report that the Polisario has forced youth into marriages in order to create new constituents. The Polisario notoriously separated children from their parents and shipped them to Cuba for indoctrination. The Polisario taxes residents to fund the profligate lifestyles of its leaders. Party membership—and blind loyalty to Mohamed Abdelaziz, the Polisario’s dictator—is required for employment and to receive other benefits. The group prevents residents of the Tindouf camps from returning home. While the United Nations facilitates some family visits between Moroccan Tindouf refugees and their families, the Polisario refuses to allow husbands and wives and children to travel together, treating those left behind as hostages in order to guarantee the return of the camp residents. In short, to be born into the Polisario-run camps is to be born into an authoritarian hell.
Just as the White House remained largely silent when Iranians rose up for freedom in 2009, and remains muted on similar anti-authoritarian protests in Venezuela today, so too is it now silent on a nascent freedom movement in the Polisario-run camps. According to al-Arabiya:
The so-called “Youth Movement for Change” released a video accusing the Polisario Front’s leadership of corruption and called for improving the conditions of Sahrawi refugees in Tindouf. The movement also demanded the departure of the Front’s aging figures, including its 66-year-old leader Mohammad Abdelaziz who has been in control since 1976. The youth group, which was founded in February this year, accused Abdelaziz and his associates of “trading in the suffering of the Sahrawi refugees.” “We have suffered from injustice for more than 40 years. We demand the departure of this corrupt leadership, which is the oldest, most corrupt leadership in the world,” Mohammad Lamine, a spokesman for the nascent group, told Al Arabiya News Channel from the Tindouf refugee camp. “They have been stealing humanitarian aid provided by international organizations to the refugee camps and whenever we raise our voices against [this] they accuse us of being agents of Morocco,” he added.
Susan Rice, currently Obama’s national security advisor, has twice during the Obama administration promoted policies which would impose a politically-charged ‘human rights monitoring’ regime in the Western Sahara, a move that would effectively undercut Morocco’s security and empower Polisario Front propaganda in the Western Sahara. She did so supposedly in the name of the interests of the Sahrawi population (most of whom, it seems, prefer to reintegrate into Morocco or into the Western Sahara to which Morocco granted autonomy). But when she and President Obama have the opportunity truly to support liberty, freedom, and human rights for Sahrawis, they remain silent. That silence simply makes the Polisario’s oppression easier. How sad. And how telling.