Western Sahara: Controversy Over McDonald's Maps

The Moroccan McDonald's franchise faced controversy last week after it released a children's “Happy Meal” toy which included a map of Morocco. The borders on the map separated Western Sahara from Morocco; the Western Sahara is a disputed territory between Morocco and the Algerian-backed Polisario Front. The controversy ended with the Moroccan franchise issuing an apology to the citizens of Morocco.

Although Moroccan bloggers were mute about the issue, the Western Saharan blogosphere and its friends commented on the story. Nick Brooks, whose blog Sand and Dust focuses primarily on the region, wrote of the apology:

I guess this is understandable – small considerations such as respect for international law and UN resolutions, and squeamishness about territorial aggression, occupation of neighbouring territories, and widespread human rights abuses obviously take a back seat when it comes to the important business of selling burgers and making lots of money.

Goufia, a diaspora blogger residing in Canada, calls for a boycott of McDonald's along with several other bloggers:

We learned from the press (01.12.08) that McDonalds Moroccan subsidiary has withdrawn some ‘Happy Meal’ toys including a map with the legally recognized borders between Western Sahara (WS) and Morocco, pretending to replace them with other toys with a map including WS inside Moroccan borders. This would mean a clear violation of International Law.As you are surely aware, WS is a Non-Self-Governing Territory as declared by the UN, militarily invaded and occupied by force by Morocco, whose sovereignty is recognized neither by UN nor by any country in the world. Morocco systematically violates human rights of Saharawi citizens, refusing to accept several UN resolutions and preventing their right to self-determination. This attitude of McDonalds Moroccan subsidiary discredits McDonalds image and reputation.We urge McDonalds to take the necessary actions to ensure that their Moroccan subsidiary respects and does not violate International Law on behalf of McDonalds…

French and Spanish text regarding the boycott can be found in the Sahara Resiste blog. A UN map of Morocco and Western Sahara can be found here.


  • Brahim Iberkak

    The local McDonald’s did the right thing for apologizing to Moroccan citizens. These stores are conducting business in Morocco and they should respect the people and laws of the land. Moroccans believe firmly in their just cause and that Western Sahara is part of Morocco. This part of the Great Sahara has never been a country. The Polisario “separatists” are seeking to take control of it and set up a puppet state for Algerian government. It may be true that no country has openly recognized the sovereignty for Morocco but no country in the Western World, or any Muslim state, would say is not Moroccan with the unfortunate exception of neighboring Algeria!
    That is the sad fact. If it wasn’t to Algerian ambitions’ in the region, this conflict would have never existed.

  • Right Brahim. The article above comes from the blog of a very well known Polisario supporter under the name of Nick Brooks. His pro-polisario blog is about biases he is far from the situation on the ground. I have already discussed with Nick about his position. He always argues that he is impartial in his blog ?!#2~à@)&°0 !!!!! I told him so why putting just pro-polisarian links on your blog? Why not putting URLs form the unionist sahraouis website as CORCAS and many others supporting unionism in the region of Western Sahara? No way. Nick is not credible at all. He is supposed to conduct some research work in a buffer zone established by the UN in 1991 just after the war held between the moroccan army and the polisario troops supported by Algeria & Lybia. HE IS SPONSORED BY AN ALGERIAN STAKEHOLDER OIL COMPANY ;-). He is very closed to Polisario troops in the buffer zone.

    I believe Nick is among those who would like to maintain the status quo in the Western Sahara issue to keep alive his research work and SPONSORING.

    Nick has no lesson to give to the international community about the reality on the ground in Western Sahara. It becomes clear to everyone that Polisario leaders were lying and they are still continuing to lie on Human rights in Western Sahara.

  • Lars

    Dear Brahim,

    You wrote that “no country in the Western World, or any Muslim state, would say is not Moroccan with the unfortunate exception of neighbouring Algeria!”.

    I understand that you as a nationalist Moroccan have the views that you have on Western Sahara. I know Moroccans who have different opinions.

    However regarding the Moroccan claims on Western Sahara they are questioned not only by Algeria. The government of Sweden for example considers that Western Sahara is illegally occupied by Morocco.

    This is also the official policy of most countries in the world as far as I know, and also the policy of the United Nations.

    Although the UN is reluctant to call the Moroccan presence in Western Sahara “illegal” or describe it as “an occupation” it is clear that it does not accept the Moroccan claims on sovereignty. Hence also the demands from the UN for “self-determination” for the Saharawi people.

  • Ahmed. Thank you for the extremely flattering denouncement. It’s gratifying that you are working so hard to argue that I have no credibility. Very flattering indeed, and I appreciate it – I really didn’t think I was that important.

    Just one tiny quibble – I am partial in the conflict. I am partial to the holding of the long promised referendum, originally endorsed in principle by Morocco. I am partial against Morocco’s occupation and the position of the Moroccan government, and against propaganda spread by people such as yourself in support of oppression and occupation in contempt of what passes for international law.

    One point of confusion. You have argued before that my work in the Free Zone is a front, a cover for my “propaganda” activities. Now you say that I support the Polisario for the sake of being able to continue the Project. Which is it? Your position appears to consist of a rather circular argument.

    And you’re really being very naughty again with all this “buffer zone” stuff. As we’ve discussed before, this is an “area with limited restrictions” with the an equivalent status applying to the Moroccan-occupied areas.

    Interesting that you say I have no credibility because I am not impartial (I never claimed to be impartial) and am close to the Polisario (not as close as you think, although necessarily I cooperate with them for the logistics of my fieldwork). Are you trying to tell me that you are impartial and objective and not close to the Moroccan government, as you sit in Casablanca devoting a good proportion of your time spreading false, pro-Rabat propaganda on the web? Really? Is that what you’re telling me?

    In the unlikely event that anyone is interested in the points that Ahmed has made and the previous exchanges between us, they can find them on another Global Voices thread (a new Sahrawi satellite TV station, at: http://globalvoicesonline.org/2008/07/05/western-sahara-a-new-sahrawi-satellite-tv-station/). Be warned, this went on for a long time and became rather tedious. A more succinct exchange is on my blog at http://nickbrooks.wordpress.com (comments here: http://nickbrooks.wordpress.com/2008/11/25/eu-fighting-al-qaeda-throughfishing/#comments).

    If anyone wants to see the reality the Free Zone they can come and work with the Western Sahara Project as an archaeological volunteer and do some interesting fieldwork – and learn some science too. Despite Ahmed’s conviction that we have unlimited funding from the forces of darkness, coming out as a paying volunteer helps support our (scientific) work, and the project certainly needs the finance. If interested contact me via the Sand and Dust website above or via the Western Sahara Project website (http://www.cru.uea.ac.uk/~e118/WS/wsahara.htm). The Free Zone is nice, and the trips are fun. The project focuses on archaeology and past environmental change, not politics. The political stuff is just a hobby on my part.

    Ahmed, I’ll leave you to it.

  • Dear Lars,

    The Moroccans you are talking about are from the extreme left (Annahj Dimocrati) as the Polisario Front ideology. It’s the only “political party” claiming independence in Western Sahara. This party has no serious political base and it’s not represented in the parliament. People from the extreme left were friends with the leaders of Polisario in the 70′ (they all were studying in the university of Mohamed V in Rabat). They all tried to plot the monarchy in Morocco in a cold war context. Since then, they were supported by Lybia then Algeria to make down Hassan II. If you miss this period of the moroccan history, you will be wrong on the Western Sahara issue. From the perspective of Polisario leaders, it’s an occupation but from the moroccan one the green march was made on the basis of a political agreement between Morocco and Spain to recover the region. The UN was informed about the content of this agreement.

    The policy of the UN is actually to stop the sufferings of people in Tindouf camps. The referendum is a blocking issue because of identification issues. Morocco proposed in 2007 an initiative to make the region autonomous. The project was considered as credible and serious by the international community. Autonomy is a sorte of self-determination achievement according to the UN charte.

    The international community is asking the Polisario Front to negotiate on that basis to move forward. Independence was qualified as an unrealistic option by the last personal envoy Walsum.

    For any further information about Western Sahara please visit the following websites :
    http://www.corcas.com (international community support)
    http://www.sahara-online.net (conflict history, satellite maps, TV/Radios…)
    http://www.sahara-culture.com (culture of Western Sahara)
    http://www.sahara-villes.com (Cities views)
    http://www.sahara-developpement.com (Economic development of Western Sahara)
    http://www.sahara-social.com (Social development of Western Sahara)

  • […] if they’re now using the same source, or should that be sauce?), Ahmed Salem underwent a veritable eruption on Global Voices online, which had linked to my ramblings. Apparently I hit some sort of nerve. […]

  • Ahmed Salem, you say “Autonomy is a sorte of self-determination achievement according to the UN charte.”

    Well, if you say so. But I thought that self determination meant people determining their own future themselves. The phrase sort of speaks for itself. When someone keeps telling you what your own self determination means it rather defeats the object. The autonomy context has been determined not by the people of Western Sahara themselves, but but the occupying government of Morocco. You will argue that the rubber stamping by CORCAS makes it legitimate, but the bottom line is that the people haven’t been allowed a voice or a vote. So it’s a sham and you know it.

    By the way, there’s a whole post about our interactions over on my blog. There are lots of links to your posts on here and elswhere, and even one to CORCAS. You should be very happy as you’re always saying I should link pro-occupation sites.

    Now perhaps you’ll post some links to sites that don’t reflect your views – some Sahrawi human rights organisations, or news stories about human rights abuses in the occupied territories. Oh, sorry, I forgot – everything is perfect there and any suggestions to the contrary are wicked propaganda made up by evil lackeys of the communists and Islamic fundamentalists who hate Morocco, modernity and progress, and who make the Sahrawi suffer by denying them the largess of the kind and generous Moroccan state. Sorry – I often find it difficult to remember that. You’ll have to keep reminding me ;-)

  • Brahim Iberkak

    Dear Lars,
    To reply to your comment, there is no embassy for Polisario in Sweden or any where in Europe as far as I know, but there is one in Algeria, and it was the first one to be opened, then Libya, which is no longer a supporter, and Cuba. The names of these countries say it all. If we truly care about the Sahrawis, Algeria has them too, and has more than 4 times bigger Sahara than current Morocco including Western Sahara. Let’s all support the Sahrawis to get all the Sahara, the western and the eastern one!!
    Good Luck…

  • Brahim

    That sounds remarkably like the arguments of certain Zionists who argued that the solution to the Israeli-Palestian conflict was for the displaced Palestinians to be absorbed by other Arab states. Now I’m no big fan of Israel’s policies towards the Palestinians, but at least the Israelis’ desire to grab land for a Jewish state is understandable, given the long history of persecution of Jewish diasporas for as long as the Jewish people were a people without a country. What’s Morocco’s excuse?

    Maybe in the interests of symmetry Morocco could offer to assimilate displaced Palestinians? One should generally try and practice what one preaches.

  • Brahim

    Dear Nick,
    Don’t try to compare the Israeli Palestinian conflict with the Moroccan Algerian one over Western Sahara because they are totally different.
    First, Palestine was country before the creation of Israel.
    Western Sahara was never a country by itself.
    Palestinians are Arabs, Israelis are not.
    Western Saharans are mix of Arabs and Berbers, exactly the same as Moroccans.
    Palestinians and Israelis speak different languages.
    Moroccans and the Sahrawis speak the same language and share the same history.
    Palestinians have different religion than the Israelis.
    Moroccans and the Sahrawis share the same religion, both are Sunni Muslims.
    All Arab nations are against the occupation of Palestine, none are against territorial integrity of Morocco except Algeria. You already know the reasons behind it.
    There is no symmetry here. I am trying to make a statement that the Sahara is for Sahrawis, and I am talking about all the Sahara from Morocco to Egypt. You can’t single out Morocco just because it was the last to get back its part.
    Western Sahara is part of Morocco. The most important ruling dynasty came from this same Sahara and Marrakesh was their capital. Today, more than a million Moroccan can trace their ancestors to Western Sahara. If you really think that these Sahrawis are different than the Moroccans, why is it that the so called Polisario Sahrawi president for the last 30 years is Moroccan? He was born, grew up and educated in the middle of Morocco. His father is a retired Moroccan soldier. This should confirm something to you. Poeple like you try to make the Sahrawis different. You can defend the rights of the Sahrawis in general wherever they are, be it Western Sahara(Morocco), Mauritania, Algeria…. But don’t give false hopes that Western Sahara will be independent. All major countries realized that there is no way for Morocco to give up its legitimate claim. The Maghreb is composed of 5 weak, poor and corrupted nations and there is no hurry for a 6th one.
    As long as Algeria has natural gas and oil that western nations still need, no one is going to force it to stop this conflict. Those poor refugees in its land are the unfortunate ones that are paying the price the most.
    Keep the good work. Work for ways to unite not to divide…

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