By Lahcen Haddad
By Lahcen Haddad
Morocco World News
Rabat, October 12, 2012
Saadani Maulainine was five years old when the Polisario, an alleged guerilla movement illegally administering the Tinduf refugee camps in South Western Algeria, arrested her father and tortured him in public, in front of all the Sahrawis living in the camps.
The Polisario was living its “cultural revolution”, in Communist fashion, in the early eighties. Saadani’s belongs to the saintly family, the Maulainines , who are highly respected by all the Sahrawi tribes south of Morocco. But he was a convenient scapegoat for the Polisario revolutionary “guard” since he and his family symbolize the very traditional culture a cultural revolution is supposed to subvert.
The trauma was overwhelming for the five year old Saadani, but when she was taken away from her family at the age of 9 and sent, along hundreds of other Sahrawi children, to Cuba for indoctrination and military training, she thought that her life was coming to an end. “I would rather die,” said Saadani in perfect Spanish, “than be separated from my mother.” Her father had died a few months after he was released by the Polisario. “He was so broken by the public humiliation and torture— by the way, his tortures knocked off all his teeth and in public—he just gave up and died,” added Saadani washing off tears of her face.
Eighteen years in Cuba were enough for Saadani and other Sahrawi children to forget their mother tongues—Hassani Arabic–, their culture, and their families and become native speakers of Spanish but uprooted, lacking an identity and having no connection whatsoever to their homeland. “In Cuba, we grew up on a revolutionary rhetoric which included vilifying and hating Morocco” recalls Saadani; “when Algerian and Polisario officials visit us they tells us of the atrocities committed by Morocco against the Sahrawis.”
Upon their return to the Tinduf Camps on the Algerian soil, the “Sahrawi children of Cuba” felt so estranged from their own families and culture that most of them opted for life in Spain, close to home but somewhere where they could communicate and hopefully lead a “normal” life. Others, like Saadani’s mother fled the “hellish life” in the camps, following the trail of thousands of Sahrawis that have defected back to Morocco.
“How could my mother do it? Is it possible to go to live in Morocco, this place so painstakingly described by Cuban and Algerian trainers to be inhospitably monstrous?”, wondered Saadani. She could not believe for a second that Morocco could be a place for a Sahrawi like her and her family to live in. She did not want to suffer again as she did with the tragic loss of her father and the forced separation from her mother.
Saadani fled the Tinduf camps to Nouakchott in Mauritania. Despite phone assurances from her mother about Morocco, she was so scared to board the plane to Laayoune, the biggest city in the Western Sahara. At the airport, she was expecting to be arrested at any moment by the Moroccan authorities. The “welcome back” and hospitality gestures were for her only sham rituals before the monster will jump at her. It took her months to discover another reality totally different from what the revolutionary propaganda in Cuba and Algeria taught her.
I first met Saadani in Geneva two years ago during one of the sessions of the UN Human Rights Council. Then as at every moment I would see her again, tears never part with her as she tells her story in vivid details. « I don’t think I will ever overcome the trauma or forget the pain,” lamented Saadnai, only to add with a faint smile amid copious tears, “but I won’t spare a single moment to tell the World of the crimes committed by the Polisario, Algeria and Cuba against hundred of Sahrawi children.”
Lahcen Haddad, PhD, is Academic Director for the Vermont School of International Training and Senior Associate of the DC-based Management Systems International. He is a leading member of the Popular Movement Party . He is currently Morocco’s Minister of Tourism.