By Samir Bennis*
By Samir Bennis*
Morocco World News
New York, September 14, 2011
With the uprisings taking place in North Africa, the demise of Gaddafi, the news reports about the involvement of Polisario militias in quelling the Libyan revolution and the ambiguous position adopted by the Algerian government regarding the National Transitional Council of Libya, increasingly more analysts point out that the political landscape emerging from the Arab Spring does not favor the Polisario’s claims over the Sahara and its goal to build a state in that territory.
“The future of the Sahara can only be conceived under the sovereignty of Morocco”, NTC spokesman in London Guma al-Gamaty said on regional television in Laayoune last week.
On Tuesday, a Spanish expert of the Sahara conflict pointed out that the prospects of the Polisario achieving its goal of the independence of the Sahara from Morocco are very dim. “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.
The Spanish expert also highlighted the dwindling support lent by the current Spanish government to the Polisario in recent years, adding that Spain has maintained an active neutrality that favors Morocco. “Spain maintains an active neutrality that favors Rabat and allows the latter to maintain its control over this territory”.
In the same connection, he highlighted the privileged relations of Morocco with both France and the United States, adding that the two countries are unlikely to give up on Morocco as a strategic ally in North Africa.
As Morocco has been quick to meet, to a great extent, the demands for change expressed by the country’s youth over the past six months, carrying out constitutional reforms that have been hailed by the international community, most analysts concur that Morocco may emerge from the current upheavals taking place in North Africa as one of the main beneficiaries in terms of strategic and diplomatic gains, especially regarding the Sahara conflict.
In this regard, Jesús Nuñez said that the “current situation might result in Morocco obtaining international recognition of its legitimacy over the Sahara”, in exchange for more autonomy to the territory.
The Spanish expert has also addressed the question of the support lent by Spanish civil society to the Polisario, pointing out that existence of pro-Polisario public opinion in Spain is the result of long decades of mobilization in favor of the Saharawi population. He added, in this regard, that the unbridled support shown by Spanish public opinion, including the hosting of Saharawi children during summer vacations, has, at times, brought about counterproductive effects, such as corruption on the part of the Polisario.
Over the past 5 years there have been many reports denouncing the corruption of the Polisario leadership and its handling of humanitarian assistance intended for the population living in the Tindouf Camps. These reports, which more often than not go unnoticed in the Spanish press, point to the misappropriation by the Polisario leadership of humanitarian aid.
A considerable part of that aid ends up being sold in the markets of Mauritania or other Sub-Saharan countries.
In early 2005, the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) issued a report that incriminated the Polisario for its practices regarding humanitarian aid it receives from the European Union and other international and non-governmental organizations.
In March 2008, the non-governmental organization, Interfaith International stated before the UN Human Rights Council that the “Polisario is misappropriating and reselling humanitarian aid and is spending enormous sums of money for military parades.”
Among the practices denounced by numerous organizations is the tendency of the Polisario leadership to overestimate the number of people living in the Tindouf camps, with the unspoken objective of obtaining larger amounts of humanitarian assistance from government and non-governmental organizations keen on helping the population living in dire conditions in Tindouf, on Algerian soil.
In this regard, Professor Nuñez assessed the number of people living in Tindouf to stand at around 100,000, which is a far cry from the total number put forth by the Polisario of around 160,000.
Most analysts agree that the emerging geopolitical situation in North Africa may lead the international community, especially the permanent members of the Security Council, to press for a rapid and final solution to the Sahara conflict. We may see France and the United States place the Sahara conflict high on the international agenda, in which case the Autonomy Plan proposed by Morocco in 2007, may be used by the international community as the most viable and credible basis for negotiations for reaching a final settlement.
Until now, Morocco and the Polisario have been holding informal negotiations under the auspices of the Special Envoy of the United Nations Secretary General to Western Sahara. The last round of these informal negotiations was held in mid-July with no progress, leading many analysts to question the usefulness of the process and to call for the adoption of new approach.
As Algeria seems to be increasingly isolated after it was orphaned of its main ally in the region, Muammar Gaddafi, and the Polisario is being accused of helping Gaddafi along with misappropriating humanitarian assistance, chances are that the international community might change the approach of negotiations between Morocco and the Polisario. This may include setting a timeframe for reaching a mutually accepted solution, as well as setting the framework for negotiations.
* Samir Bennis in Morocco World News’ co-founder and editor-in-chief.
Editing by Benjamin Villanti.