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

Categories: Middle East & North Africa, Algeria, Morocco, Spain, Western Sahara, Human Rights, Indigenous, International Relations, Politics, Protest, War & Conflict

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” [1] in November of the same year. And, according to Reuters [2], 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 [3] 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. [4]:

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 [5],” 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 [6].

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 [5].

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 [4], 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 [7].

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 [8], “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 [9].

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 [10]. 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 [11]:

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.