The Moroccan media are making much of a report in Italy’s Corriere della Sera newspaper on March 29 that veteran Polisario guerillas from Morocco-occupied Western Sahara are fighting for Qaddafi in Libya. According to the report: “The regime of Colonel Qaddafi has kept, in the town of Sabha, a reserve of men and material in a base where the new African recruits from the Polisario guerrillas are arriving.” Seemingly blind to the self-contradiction, a report on Morocco Board leads with the Corriere della Sera claim (“Mercenaries from the Western Sahara Separatists Polisario Group have been recruited by the Libyan regime”)—and then goes on cite elements of the Tripoli regime who charge that the Western Sahara guerillas are fighting against Qaddafi! Former Libyan minister Errishi Ali is quoted as saying that “the western Sahara Separatists Polisario mercenaries were among those that have infiltrated Libya to spread terror and counter the Libyan revolution.” Ali said that he was “deeply disappointed and saddened by the hypocrisy of the Western Sahara Separatist Polisario group mercenaries who are taking part in such a vicious and destructive enterprise, while they claim to be freedom fighters.”
Use of the phrase “Western Sahara Separatists Polisario Group,” capitalized as if it were a proper noun, is a sure sign that we are dealing with propaganda rather than journalism. The Polisario Front (which has observed a ceasefire since 1990) do not consider themselves “separatists” because they do not recognize Western Sahara as part of Morocco at all—and neither does any government on earth, even if the US and EU fund the illegal occupation with trade and aid to the Rabat monarchy.
Western Sahara has not won headlines even as protest movements and revolutions have swept North Africa and the Arab world over the past three months. But an ongoing cycle of protests and repression was endemic in the occupied territory for many months before the “Jasmine” revolutions broke out—and continues, despite the world media’s evident disinterest.
To cite but one case, three Western Sahara activists have been in pretrial detention for 18 months, with numerous delays in their trial, Human Rights Watch protested April 8. Their trial on charges of “harming [Morocco’s] internal [sic] security” has proceeded in fits and starts, with limited evidence produced against them, HRW says. Four co-defendants are provisionally free. Police arrested the six men and one woman in October 2009, upon their return from visiting the Sahrawi refugee camps in Tindouf, Algeria, the Polisario Front’s stronghold. “The court trying the seven Sahrawi activists should without any further delay issue a verdict that properly presents the evidence and reasoning behind the verdict,” said HRW’s Sarah Leah Whitson. Sahara Press Service reports April 11 that Sahrawi activists are currently holding an ongoing protest vigil outside the courthouse in El Aaiun (Laayoune), capital of the occupied territory, to demand the release of political prisoners.
A March 17 commentary by Konstantina Isidoros on the pan-Africanist Pambazuka News warns:
For international analysts closely observing Morocco’s awakening uprisings, the absolute monarchy’s financially draining, vice-like grip on the Western Sahara might prove to be its Achilles heel. Unlike its fellow Gulf monarchs or the respected North African power of Algeria, Morocco has no oil wealth to lavishly soothe grievances.
The former French president Charles de Gaulle once described Morocco as a country whose revolution was still to come. The escalating discord and protests may yet see Morocco’s own population giving voice to what the full detrimental magnitude of the monarchy’s colossal expenditure in its 35-year war and occupation of the Western Sahara means for their desperate socio-economic woes.
Meanwhile, cities across the occupied Western Sahara such as El Aaiun, Boujdour and Dakhla have seen continuous non-violent protest rallies by the indigenous Western Saharans and the now systematic pattern of violent counter-attacks by Moroccan military forces.