Western Sahara Is Extremely Important For The Anti-Imperialist Cause

By Andrew Korybko


Western Sahara Is Extremely Important For The Anti-Imperialist Cause
Most folks never heard about Western Sahara until Trump unilaterally recognized Morocco’s claims to this disputed region of the Maghreb last week in exchange for it agreeing to a peace deal with “Israel”, but it’s actually extremely important for the anti-imperialist cause since its standing is similar to Palestine and Kashmir’s in the eyes of international law.

Trump’s unilateral recognition of Morocco’s claims to the disputed Maghreb region of Western Sahara in exchange for Rabat formalizing its long-held and not-so-secret ties with Tel Aviv caught many observers by surprise who previously weren’t familiar with this unresolved conflict. Palestine and Kashmir are much more globally prominent because of the involvement of nuclear powers and the efforts of some to focus more on the inter-religious optics of these conflicts than their international legal origins. Western Sahara satisfies neither of those two “exciting” criteria, hence why it’s largely been forgotten about by most of the world since the issue first came to the fore of international politics in the mid-1970s.

Francoist Spain’s “decolonization” process saw the totalitarian country refuse to grant independence to the Western Sahara, instead dividing it between neighboring Morocco and Mauritania against the wishes of the indigenous Sahrawi people as represented by the Polisario Front. This group in turn proclaimed the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic with the support of neighboring Algeria, which has an historic rivalry with Morocco and was also sympathetic to socialist causes such as this one during the Old Cold War. Mauritania eventually abandoned its claims to the disputed region, and after over a decades’ worth of fighting, Morocco and the Western Sahara reached a UN-backed agreement in 1991 to hold a referendum on the region’s political status.

The vote never took place since the two warring sides couldn’t agree on who’s eligible to vote, with the primary problem being Morocco’s insistence on letting settlers participate. Western Sahara is also de-facto divided by a sand wall that the occupying army built to solidify its control over approximately 80% of the territory. With Trump’s unilateral recognition of Rabat’s claim to the entire region (which might eventually be followed by others such as “Israel”), as well as his government’s subsequent decision to move forward with a $1 billion arms deal, it’s extremely unlikely that last month’s end of the 29-year ceasefire will result in any serious gains being made by the Polisario Front.

Russia denounced the US’ political decision as illegal under international law, which is an entirely accurate assessment, but this isn’t expected to have any tangible effect on altering the conflict’s dynamics. Only Algeria could potentially have an impact, but its ongoing domestic political problems over nearly the past two years have forced it to suddenly look inward instead of continue with its traditional policy of presenting itself as a regional leader. Moreover, the US’ planned arms deal might ultimately shift the regional balance of power in a decisive way, especially if “Israel” gets involved too, or at the very least spark a new arms race between Morocco and Algeria as the latter looks to Russia and China for more military support in response.

Amidst all of this, anti-imperialists shouldn’t ever forget the international legal importance of the Western Saharan cause. However one feels about the legitimacy of either side’s claims in the conflict, it’s nevertheless a UNSC-recognized dispute that’s supposed to be resolved by a referendum. The precedent of the US unilaterally abandoning its international legal obligations is disturbing and arguably also destabilizing, though it’s obviously doing this in pursuit of its own national interests as it subjectively understands them. The problem, however, is that this might embolden other claimants over different UNSC-recognized disputed territories across the world to double down on their maximalist positions, thus making it much more difficult to resolve those issues.

Another important point is that international law exists not solely for “moral” reasons like its most passionate supporters claim (since it’s obviously imperfect), but for practical ones related to the necessity of having predictable means to resolve international disputes in order to avoid unintentional escalations that could quickly evolve into larger and more uncontrollable conflicts. Unilateral maximalist claims by one party are troublesome, but they become even worse when they’re supported by self-interested external actors who might also have an ulterior motive to divide and rule the region in question like the US clearly does in the Maghreb, Mideast, and South Asia regarding Western Sahara, Palestine, and Kashmir.

The Western Saharan cause is therefore inextricable from the Palestinian and Kashmiri ones in the eyes of international law, which is why supporters of those two should stand in solidarity with their Sahrawi counterparts. The issue can only legally be settled by a referendum according to the UNSC regardless of one’s personal views towards the conflict, but since that has yet to happen and might very well never occur after Trump’s combined diplomatic-military support for Morocco’s claims gives Rabat no incentive to comply, observers can’t help but be concerned. The only way to remain consistent with supporting Palestine and Kashmir is to support Western Sahara’s UNSC-recognized right to a referendum.

The Half-day Summit and its Pre-determined Decisions

Talal Salman

A few Arab leaders, along with a number of ministers who will represent the many (leaders) who will be absent, will meet in “the tent” of Nouakchott, the capital of Mauritania, on the boundary between “Arabs” and “Africans” on the Atlantic Ocean, for the 27th Arab summit. The summit will not take as much time as it took their royal planes to arrive to that forgotten Arab country, in light of its poverty, military rule, and the (presence) of Arab ‘nahda’ parties (Nasserists, Baathists, Communists…) as permanent opposition.

Arab flags

Surely some of those that will attend from the countries of the east (Iraq, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf sheikhdoms, in the absence of Umayyad Syria) will scramble to emphasise (to the people of Mauritania) the blood ties that gathered them together in this forgotten Arab state in the heart of the desert of poverty. (People) who see themselves as coming from Bani Hassan, and the tribes of Maktal which moved to (Mauritania) with the Helalis and Bani Salim during the days of the Fatimid caliphate…

In contrast, some Arab officials will recall that Mauritania is a country of military coups, making up most of its independence history (since late 1960), a fact which is recognised by its “big neighbour” Morocco…yet it did not enter the Arab League until 1973, and then the military coups followed one after the other following the overthrow of its first president, Mokhtar Ould Daddah, who renewed his mandate four times from his position as the leader of the “People’s Party”.

And because Arabs may have become “two groups” or various countries of common identity, basically, and with contrasting policies causing a war between them, practically, they would not care much about (its) internal situations during its own history which has witnessed several military coups, through which the current president has reached power.

In any case, few Arab kings, princes, and presidents will participate in this summit, from which Morocco had “escaped” and offered as a royal gift to this poor country, that was forced to set up a big tent for the “Arab leaders” to meet in. These Arab leaders have refused to lodge in it, so their aircraft engines will remain operating until the completion of the recitation of the final statement. And this will be in any case a repetition of previous summits, Arabic and Islamic, with the addition of golden sentences condemning “Hizbullah” as a terrorist organization (or at least, its military organization, as if there were a difference between civilians and the mujahidin in it).

It does not require a lot of explanation and justification to “convince” the leader of Mauritania, the poor and forgotten country at the end of Arab lands, to join the sectarian camp. The majority of the royals will be present, and the republican minority will never use its veto power. Perhaps the positions of Algeria, Iraq, Lebanon and Tunisia stood out in their objections.

There is no room now to recall history, and to shed the light on the fact that the Mauritanians (who were some Arabs) may have contributed to the liberation of Andalusia, and their country’s name includes the word “Mort”, that took the meaning in western culture – particularly French – of “enemy” due to their role in Andalusia.

In any case, Arab republics will have a faint attendance at this summit. Kings and princes will occupy its forefront. This summit will take place in the absolute poorest Arab country, in which “Israel” was able to bury some of its atomic waste in its vast desert in 1996.

It goes without saying that the new summit does not belong to the history of the Arab conquests, but perhaps an extension of the decline of active Arab presence, and the lack of attempts to re-unify Arab ranks in the face of threats to Arabs in their existence as a nation…in addition to the absence of Syria by (royal) order, and the absence of Libya, which has more than one government. Iraq will attend, (a country) busy with its fateful and grave problems which threaten to do away with its state, nationalism, and identity. The Prime Minister of Lebanon will attend, (a country) that has no president. Some (Lebanese) ministers (directly concerned with the summit) have apologised and will not attend, without giving any convincing reasons.

Egypt will continue to fail in restoring its leadership role, which was (part of the role it played included directing the annual Arab summit towards being mainly about confronting the “Israeli” project) related to bringing together (the summit’s) states due to never-ending differences between their leaders.

It is the half-day summit, in a state lost between a limitless desert and the Atlantic Ocean which links continents together, but which is too narrow to accommodate Arab-Arab differences, and differences between Arab countries whose destinies are almost all threatened.

But it might inspire Mauritanians, most of which are poets, to write a new stanza about the Arab summits of concessions at the expense of Palestine, (summits) which remain too weak to put an end to their differences, which are tied to various reasons and excuses…rather, it may exacerbate the danger to all of their fates.

Source: As-Safir, Translated and Edited by website team

27-07-2016 | 11:26


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