By Samir Bennis
Morocco World News
New York, January 2, 2012
Morocco assumed today its role as non-permanent member of the Security Council for the period 2012-2013. The question that many Moroccans are asking is to what extent our country will benefit from its membership in the most influential UN body, especially regarding the Sahara issue, one of the subjects on the council’s agenda.
When it comes to the Sahara issue, one of the issues on the Security Council agenda since 1991, there are many reasons to think that Morocco is more likely to benefit from its position in the UN body during the period 2012-2013 as opposed to the last mandate of the country in 1992-1993
Morocco in the Security Council in 1992-1993 and 2012-2013
Compared to 2011, the political standing of Morocco back then was much weaker than today, mostly in regards to human rights issues. At the time Morocco was living in a political atmosphere in which human rights were not respected and in which fundamental freedoms were violated.
It was common knowledge that Morocco was the home of many political prisoners whose rights were abused. As a result, the country was listed by human rights watchdogs as one of the countries with the worst human rights records.
This factor was sufficient to make people sympathize with the Polisario and express their opposition to Moroccan sovereignty over the Sahara. Ever since, one of the main arguments used by Morocco’s adversaries to weaken its position regarding the Sahara is the situation of human rights in the country, including in the Sahara. This element in itself was enough to prevent Morocco from having any room of maneuver to lobby in the Security Council in favor of its stance regarding this territory.
Moreover, at that time the United Nations had just brokered a ceasefire between Morocco and the Polisario, the main consequence of which was the establishment of MINURSO in order to organize a referendum to determine the future status of the territory. As the view back then was that a referendum was the only option likely to put an end to the Sahara conflict, Morocco chose to abide by the provisions of the resolution of the United Nations in that regard.
As a result, during its two-year term at the Security Council in 1992-1993, Morocco lacked any asset to push for a solution in line with its rights over the Sahara.
Sahara: Morocco is the main beneficiary of the Arab Spring
Unlike that period, the situation now is different for many reasons. The first reason is that after it set in motion constitutional reforms, Morocco has distinguished itself from other Arab countries where the uprisings have been dealt with brutally. All world leaders have hailed the way in which Morocco addressed the concerns of its people. In addition, Morocco’s record on human rights issues has improved considerably since the beginning of the 1990’s and in comparison with other countries in the region, mainly Algeria.
On the other hand, and after several years of attempts by the United Nations to reach a solution through a referendum on self-determination, the international community came to the conclusion that this solution was unfeasible due to the irreconcilable positions of both parties (Morocco and the Polisario) over the electorate.
At the beginning of the past decade, many analysts and even UN officials started suggesting that United Nations ought to look for other ways, if possible to find a lasting solution for the Sahara conflict. In his 2000 report to the Security Council on the Situation in the Sahara (S/2000/461), Kofi Annan, then Secretary General of the United Nations, stated that it is essential that the parties be “prepared to consider other ways of achieving an early, durable and agreed resolution over their dispute over the Sahara.” A few years later, in an interview given to the Spanish newspaper El Pais in August 2008, the former Special Representative of the UN Secretary General for the Sahara, Peter Walsum, stated that the establishment of a Sahrawi State is not an “accessible objective”. The same message was conveyed by the spokesman of the US State Department on April 30th 2008 before the UN Security Council, on the occasion of the vote of resolution S/RES/1813.
In the face of the stalemate over the conflict, Morocco presented an Autonomy Plan in April 2007, which was hailed by the Security Council as “serious” and “credible” a solution to put an end to the conflict. Ever since, Algeria and South Africa did not leave any stone unturned to thwart Morocco’s attempts to end this dispute. They have persisted in claiming that the only acceptable solution is through the holding of a referendum of self-determination, in spite of all the evidence that prove its unfeasibility as a solution.
The past two years have been rife with events that have reinforced Morocco’s position. Besides the participation of the Polisario with Gaddafi in quelling the revolution and the implication of its elements in the kidnapping of three European aid workers in the Tindouf camps last October, the Polisario has made some strategic mistakes and underwent many setbacks, which demonstrate the state of disarray in which it is engulfed.
One of these strategic errors was the arrest of Mustapha Salma Ouled Sidi Mouloud, former Polisario Police Chief, on his way back to Tindouf in September 2010, after he had stated during a family visit to Smara that the Autonomy Plan presented by Morocco was likely to put an end to the conflict. The arrest of Ouled Sidi Mouloud, which was denounced by many human rights organizations, constituted a blow to the Polisario’s reputation as a democracy-prone movement.
The statement made by Ouled Sidi Mouloud has also shown to the international community that there exist dissenting voices in the Tindouf camps whose ideas are not represented by the Polisario leadership.
On the other hand, among the major setbacks suffered by the Polisario recently in its attempts to sully Morocco’s image was the refusal of the European Parliament to refer the recent renewal of the EU-Morocco Fisheries Agreement to the European Court of Justice. The Polisario and Algeria strove, in vain, to push the European Parliament to reject the renewal of this agreement.
In addition, many international observers and analysts have been emphasizing the involvement of Polisario key elements in the activities of Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQMI) and warn that the existence of a potential state south of Morocco would be propitious to the proliferation of criminal and terrorists activities, with an ensuing impact on the stability of the Maghreb and Europe. The abduction yesterday (October 23) of three camps workers in the Rabuni camp near Tindouf is further indication of the infiltration of the Polisario by AQMI and the involvement of some of its elements in terrorist activities.
Furthermore, increasingly more analysts have been pointing out that the current landscape emerging as a result of the Arab upheavals does not favor Polisario’s claims over the Sahara. “No one single country seems to be ready to support a possible proposal in favor of the independence of this territory,” said Jesús Nuñez, director of the Spanish Instituto de Estudios sobre Conflictos y Acción Humanitaria at the University of Menéndez Pelayo in the Spanish City of Santiago de Compostela. He went on to say that the “current situation might result in Morocco obtaining international recognition of its legitimacy over the Sahara.”
It is worthwhile recalling that the number of countries that support the Polisrio has plummeted between the beginning of the 1990s and today. While the number of countries that recognized the Polisario back then was 84, it now stands at 46 countries.
The Presence of Morocco in the Security Council as Leverage
All the above-mentioned elements prove that Morocco is in a stronger position over the Sahara than before and explains why the Polisario and its staunch backers, namely South Africa and Algeria, were bent on preventing it from wining a two-year term at the Security Council.
No one can argue that Morocco will be able on its own in the coming two years to push for a definitive solution to the conflict. However, its presence at the Security Council gives it leverage over the issue and enables it to bring balance in the face of South Africa’s membership on the Council through the end of 2012.
It is likely to see Morocco strive to convince the Security Council members to adopt a resolution that clearly calls on the Polisario Front to engage seriously in constructive direct negotiations with the goal of reaching a consensual solution to the conflict founded on the 2007 Autonomy Plan.
Morocco has to voice its concern that the protracted current situation cannot be sustainable, and that it cannot continue to take part in fruitless informal negotiations.
Morocco has to take advantage of the current situation in the Maghreb and of the positive echo of the comprehensive constitutional reform initiated by Mohamed VI, and convince the Permanent Members of the Security Council that the Autonomy Plan not only meets international standards on people’s self-determination and self-rule, but also contributes to safeguarding the stability in the Maghreb and the vital interests of its neighbors.
Morocco has to also strive to build on the last report of the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon (S/2011/249) in which he proposed to “include respected representatives of a wide cross-section of the population of Western Sahara inside and outside the Territory, formally or informally.” During Morocco’s mandate it should convince the Security Council of the necessity to hear the other sensibilities of the Tindouf camps and do away with viewing Polisario as the sole representative of the Saharawis.
The ball now is in Morocco’s court and it has to make good use of this situation to its advantage. In a fast changing geopolitical atmosphere, Morocco has emerged as a major player, negotiator and credible partner for the international community.
Editing by Benjamin Villanti.
*Samir Bennis is Morocco World News’ co-founder and editor-in chief.
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