Morocco/Western Sahara: Gadaym Izik Riots Become a Volatile Political Crisis

Western Sahara's 35-year-old struggle is once again making the headlines.

The former Spanish colony was annexed by Morocco in 1975 after “The Green March Demonstration” in November of the same year. And, according to Reuters, it witnessed one of the worst violent events in years last week.

Morocco said four of its police officers and a fire-fighter were killed by protesters, while the pro-independence Polisario Front said Moroccan security forces killed a 26-year-old activist during a raid on a protest camp in the desert.

It all started when more than 12,000 people gathered in the Gadaym Izik camp, near Laayoune, in what was reported to be the largest protest in the 35-year clash over Western Sahara’s proprietorship.

According to blogger Cabalamuse, there are two different theories for the reason behind the Gadaym Izik's protest.:

The Gadaym Izik camp stood up a month ago by discontented Sahraouis aiming to draw attention to their straitened economic circumstances. Others saw it as a protest against Morocco’s rule over Western Sahara. The tension intensified two weeks earlier when Moroccan police fired at a vehicle entering the camp; the incident resulted in the death of a fourteen year old boy. Moroccan authorities claimed the vehicle was carrying explosives and weapons.

However it is still possible that the reason behind the protest is “a mixture of this and that,” noted blogger Hisham of the mirror:

I think these people who camped at Gadaym Izik had the right to assemble and protest their poor living conditions. I regret the mismanagement of the issue by the Moroccan authorities who did almost everything one could think of to make the situation worsen, and transform a protest that was economic in nature into a highly volatile political crisis with the subsequent media disaster we’ve been witnessing in the last 72 hours or so.

Bloggers from both sides tried to present their own point of view.

Solidarité Maroc compared the situation in Western Sahara to that in Palestine – with an analogy between what he called the Moroccan occupying forces and Israel.

Il suffit de regarder les vidéos qui arrivent à franchir le mur d’acier élevé par les forces d’occupation pour s’en convaincre : au Sahara occidental occupé par le Maroc, une véritable intifada est en cours. Comme en Palestine en 1987, les protagonistes en sont les chebeb – les jeunes, y compris les très jeunes – et les femmes. Un seul cri retentit sur les barricades bricolées par les insurgés : « Fuera Marruecos ! », Dehors le Maroc. Et s’ils le crient en espagnol, c’est parce que l’espagnol est leur langue de communication principale avec le monde extérieur, le monde tout court, autrement dit nous.

Just watch the videos that pass through the steel wall erected by the occupying forces, and you will be convinced: the Western Sahara is occupied by Morocco, a real intifada is there. As in Palestine in 1987, the protesters are the chebeb – youth, including the very young – and women. A single cry is being shouted there by the protesters: “Fuera Marruecos!”, “Morocco Out!” They yell in Spanish, just because Spanish is their language of communication with the outside world, i.e. us.

He continued his analogy by comparing how Spain handed Western Sahara over to Morocco, just like the British Empire handed Palestine over to Israel.

At the mirror, Hisham questioned the legality of the Western Sahara independence calls.

I support a people’s right to self determination and I would subscribe to any option the people in question might choose, whether autonomy, integration or outright independence. But that said, there are some preliminary questions one ought to ask before accepting such a process as legitimate and not as an orchestrated imposture on the part of meddling regional powers.

A call for independence must at least be based on a coherent argument. There is, however, a fundamental flaw in Polisario’s stance. It is something that makes the separatist plea highly suspicious to me. If we’re going to consider the Sahara and its people, why for example should we restrict that exercise to the relatively minuscule western part of the huge Saharan territory? The nomadic Saharawi population is a unique blend of Arabs and indigenous Berber tribes, that spans a territory that includes necessarily the whole of Mauritania and very large chunks of the Algerian, Libyan segments of the Sahara desert. The separatists would have been more convincing had they stopped playing the puppet role for regional powers’ obvious ambitions.

He added:

The referendum idea, in the context of the conflict over Western Sahara, is I believe passé, because the separation would be a disaster, not only for Morocco, but also for the region.

Spain and Algeria are two foreign countries who are being accused to be behind such ongoing unrest in Western Sahara, explained Cabalamuse:

I don’t discount the possibility that the riots could have been instigated by fomenters doing the bidding of the Spanish secret service in response to the unrest in Melilla, or the Algerian/Polisario security services as a retaliation to the Mustafa Salma Ould Sidi Mouloud affair which in turn was Morocco’s counter for the Aminatou Haydar fiasco. So it seems Morocco, Spain, and Algeria ‘secret services are playing tic for tac.

Spanish claims that both Ceuta and Melilla are integral parts of the Spanish state, and have been since the 15th century, while Morocco denies these claims and maintains that the Spanish presence on or near its coast is a remnant of the colonial past which should be ended. And recently, Morocco has been accused of stirring up unrest in Melilla. And that's why some bloggers claimed that Spain might have a hidden agenda that makes its media support the independence movement in Western Sahara.

Nibras Chabab noted:

إسبانيا تحت ضغط اليمين المتطرف وصلت وقاحتها حد دعوة مجلس الأمن للإنعقاد لدراسة أحداث العيون وهي خطة مسمومة تروم من خلالها إسبانيا تأليب الرأي العام الدولي ضد المغرب و تحويل وتحوير أحداث الشغب لجعلها في قالب سياسي ليبدو الأمر وكأنه انتفاضة “شعب “ مع أن إسبانيا التي تناقض نفسها تنسى أنها الوحيدة التي لا زالت تحافظ وتكرس احتلالها لمدينتين مغربيتين سليبتان تقعان على مرمى حجر من جزر مغربية أخرى محتلة
Spain, and under the pressure of the right parties there, was bold enough to call for the Security Council to convene and investigate the incidents of Laayoune. It's a wicked plan meant to turn the international public opinion against Morocco, and to make those riots appear as a revolution of the Sahraoui people. It's strange because Spain forgot that it's the only country that still occupies two Moroccan cities, which in turn are few miles away from other occupied Moroccan islands.

Meanwhile, the EU Ambassador to Morocco, Mr. Eneko Landaburu said, “The Spanish press made its coverage to be all in favor of the western Sahara Separatist group, the Polisario Front”. In response, Moroccan bloggers attacked the Spanish media for fabrication.

According to Maghreb Voices:

Spanish major newspapers, El Pais and El Mundo, as well as pro-separatist websites posted a photo attributed to EFE, depicting two injured children whom they described as Sahrawi victims of Moroccan forces’ brutality. The surprise is that the somehow graphic photo belonged to Palestinian children injured during an Israeli air assault in Gaza in 2006. World Prout Assembly, an activist website, had previously published the image in 2006 and attributed it to injured Palestinian children.

On the other hand, this blogger wonders how the Moroccan and Algerian diplomatic relations work:

The diplomatic relations between Morocco and Algeria can, candidly, be described as “unique” and “aberrant”. There is nowhere else in the world where a country, in this case Algeria, host, arm and diplomatically support a separatist group that has militarily threatened a neighbouring country, in this case Morocco, and yet both countries have diplomatic relations. So, why does Morocco keep its embassy open in Algiers and host an Algerian Ambassador in Rabat?

He continued:

Since 1975, when Morocco liberated the Western Sahara from Spain, the Algerian government has been involved in a proxy war against Morocco over the liberated territory. While The Algerian military and political establishments claim to have no interest in the Western Sahara, they view the conflict as a way to keep Morocco too weak to challenge the Algerians in North Africa by bogging down the Moroccans in a Saharan quagmire. Although well aware of this obvious Algerian strategy, Morocco kept his counter-attack civil and general. The Algeria backed Polisario front has survived thus far solely on the Algerian support. In other words, all and every action ever taken by the Polisario against Morocco is an Algerian hostile engagement to destabilize Morocco.


  • Hi there !

    just a notice, you started your post with “The former Spanish colony was annexed by Morocco in 1975”

    at the opposite of some other colonised countries, Morocco existed as a state before colonization, in the opposite of other Maghreb coutries for example that were Ottoman provinces.

    one has then to consider the colonization not as as a point after when History starts but just as a short transition.

    Though the history of the western sahara does not start in 1975, but before the Spanish occupation, it was a part of the Moroccan state.

    1975 is thus an attempt to recover something Morocco lost sovereignty on during the occupation.

    Would you say : “Alsace, annexed by France in 1919” ?

    • Joanna Allan

      The above comment is factually inaccurate. In an attempt to justify its invasion of Western Sahara in 1975, Morocco sort the opinion of the International Court of Justice on exactly this point: was Western Sahara part of Morocco before the Spanish colonisation? The answer of the International Court of Justice: a categorical NO. Western Sahara was NOT part of Morocco before Spanish colonisation of the former, and they added that Morocco had NO territorial right over Western Sahara. Please check the official website of the International Court of Justice if you wish:

  • So the headline on this blog is: “Morocco/Western Sahara: Gadaym Izik Riots Become a Volatile Political Crisis”

    The country-tags this blogs uses are : Countries Morocco, Algeria, Spain

    The Topics : Human Rights, Indigenous, Protest, War & Conflict, International Relations, Politics

    That sums pretty well up how biased this blog is – without most readers realising it, probably. It is “Morocco/Western Sahara” as if the latter is a subdirectory of the parent. No country tag RASD. No topic “occupation”.

    Don’t feel comfortable reading the rest of it now..

  • I agree with Lbadikho. Many of our fellow boggers were a bit sloppy about the details if the Sahara dispute. It might have to do with their lack of historic knowledge perhaps.

    In any case, the writer failed to convey all sides of the story, so the account looks a bit skewed. Other bloggers mentioned the dispute in different terms, and their respective opinions quite diverse.

  • بوسيف

    على صاحب المدونة أن يطلع على التاريخ العام والتاريخ اليباسى للمنطقة حتى لا يدفع التاس الى الاغلاط الفادحة,فالمعركة لم تكن يوما بين المغرب ومواطنيهفى الجنوب بل هى بين المغرب والجار الحاقد الذى اعدم أكثر من 200000 من مواطنيه ولا يزال جاثما على صدورهم الى اليوم,خلق جمهورية على الورق وفرضها على بعض الدول الافريفية الضعيقة بالرشوة والابتزاز والضغوط,ونفس الشىء فعلت اسبانبا الدولة المستعمرة سابقا مع أمريكا الاتينية,فهى رغم تسليمها المنطقة وباتفاقبات موقعة فى الامم المتحدة,تراجعت,لكن المغرب لا ولن يسلم أبدا أرضه التى استرجعها بعد سنين من الكفاح فى الامم المتحدة وبالضبط منذ 1962 بعد أن فشلت المفاوضات الثنائية مع الحكومة الاسبانية.
    التاريخ لا يزور وما عليك الا قرائته وفهم الوضع الجيوسياسى لتعرف الدوافع التى جعلت الجزائر تنقلب على المبادىء والاخلاق التى تفرضها الجورة بعد أن أعترفت بمغربية الصحراء وأمام العالم فى مؤتمر القمة المنعقد فى المغرب ,والتسجيلات لا تزال شاهدة على ذالك.

  • @Lbadikho
    It’s hard to tell. As you know both Morocco and Mauritania once had historical claims of sovereignty over the territory. Also, according to Wikipedia, no central government had control over the region in the pre-colonial times.

    In pre-colonial times, the tribal areas of the Sahara desert was generally considered bled es-Siba or “the land of dissidence” by the authorities of the established Islamic states of North Africa, such as the Sultan of Morocco and the Deys of Algeria. The Islamic governments of the pre-colonial sub-Saharan empires of Mali and Songhai appear to have had a similar relationship with these territories, which were at once the home of undisciplined raiding tribes and the main trade route for the Saharan caravan trade. Central governments had little control over the region, although some Hassaniya tribes would occasionally extended “beya” or allegiance to prestigious neighbouring rulers, to gain their political backing or, in some cases, as a religious ceremony.

    I am with you, for sure the history of this part of the world didn’t start in 1975, but I made reference to that particular date as it is the starting date of the ongoing conflict there.

  • @van-kaas
    Apparently it’s not very clear to you how tagging system works here. Tags are mainly meant to make it easy for people to search for a certain posts or find posts under a certain category. And as with any categorization/tagging system, you usually have to choose between having an infinite tags where tags can be more descriptive yet hard to follow, or finite-tags where they are somehow less descriptive yet easier to manage/list/search-in/etc. So the choice was here made to have finite-tags yet covering as much categories as possible, either from lingual, regional, or topical perspective.

    Hence, and since we use a pre-set group of tags, it’s really hard to have a specific category for every single incident. The combination of tags such as “Human Rights, Indigenous, Protest, War & Conflict, International Relations, Politics” are somehow alternative to, and intersects with something such as occupation.

    Regarding the “Morocco/Western Sahara” part of the title, this doesn’t mean that the latter is a subdirectory of the parent. It’s just like the title of the following post, “Iraq/Saudi Arabia: The Clerics War”, which for sure doesn’t mean that Saudi Arabia is a part of Iraq.

  • moh

    @Lbadikho “Would you say : “Alsace, annexed by France in 1919″ ?”

    I would…if the majority of people living in Alsace refused the sovereignty of Paris.

    I can’t blame the Sahrawa for insisting to split from a theocratic monarchy where Islam reigns supreme and the king rules and governs.

  • Dear Tarek,

    First, greetings from Laayoune in the Western Sahara region.

    Just a comment on your comment :). Please do review your esteem on Wikipedia pages. There are/were biased till the last months. Every line is/was subject of contestation regarding the Western Sahara issue and the region as well. Wikipedia pages have induced readers into errors for a long time for a simple reason, the editor of the Western Sahara Project was a hard supporter of the separatist faction of Polisario Front taking place south Algeria. He/she was trusted as nobody could contest his articles. The first one to talk isn’t necessary the one to be trusted. How could you discuss views in the discussion page when it’s definitely biased? Wikipedia is good enough for many other well known subjects except the Western Sahara issue. Having said that I suggest to people to comment in English as GV is destinated to international people.

    Thanks again for the very balanced view on the situation and long life to GV.

    Ahmed Salem Amr Khaddad
    Unionist Western Saharawi

  • Thanks Ahmed Khaddad for your comment, and you are right, Wikipedia should always be taken with a grain of salt.

  • Basiri

    Wow, how many pro-moroccan, pro-majzen, pro-moha6 blogs, u try to be balanced? U dont get balanced, for sure. I would only say one thing: I cant remember a single case in history where in a confrontation between civilians and police & military forces died more police than civilians. Its incredible & totally non-sense.

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