The timing of Morocco’s threats to walk out of its FTA and Turkey and TRT’s airing of a pro-Polisario video is no coincidence.
Rabat – Is Ankara resorting to blackmail to stop Morocco from walking out of a Morocco-Turkey Free Trade Agreement the North African country says does not benefit its economy?
Last week, Turkish media giant TRT aired a pro-Polisario video clip on the Western Sahara question, an unusual move that suggests that something might be going on between Turkey and Morocco.
Titled “Who is Aminatou Haidar, the Ghandi of the Western Sahara?” the video is presented as a concise biography of Haidar, the pro-Polisario and self-determination activist.
In the two-minute video, Haidar speaks about putting more pressure on the international community to compel Morocco to leave the “annexed” territories in its south. Although the ongoing UN process in Western Sahara has implicitly disqualified referendum on self-determination as a viable alternative to lasting settlement in the Western Sahara conflict, TRT uncritically quotes Haidara’s thesis that there will not be peace without a referendum.
“It is a question of decolonization. It should not be taken out of its legal context,” Haidar says in the clip.
She then goes on to stress that Morocco must be made to submit to “international legality” by respecting the UN resolutions on self-determination and the right to return. At that point, TRT describes the Polisario activist as having endured torture and related abuses in a secret Moroccan prison who has yet chosen to spread messages of non-violence and a dialogue-based solution to the Western Sahara conflict.
Curious change in framing
Not so long ago, TRT would not—or would rarely— paint the Western Sahara conflict in such a clearly pro-Polisario light. In most of its previous videos and articles about the conflict, the Turkish media giant was more careful with nuances, sometimes even sounding to be in favor of Morocco.
In a video on the berm (the Moroccan defense wall), for instance, TRT refers to the berm area as “Moroccan Western Sahara.” It also described the Polisario Front as “a guerilla group fighting for a separate state.”
The Haidar video however, refers to Polisario as “independence fighters.” The change in the framing is significantly indicative of TRT’s agenda, in spite of the usual claims of objectivity.
So why the sudden change in framing?
With the video coming days after Morocco threatened to walk out of its Free Trade Agreement with Turkey, one easy theory is that TRT’s video is Ankara’s way of striking back and flexing its media muscle to show how much it could hurt Morocco.
From this perspective, the video is both a warning and a show of force, with the aim of dissuading Rabat from going any further than it already has in its reported plans to end the FTA with Turkey.
Ankara could dismiss the theory by pointing to the independence of TRT’s editorial board, arguing that the media mogul does not get its marching orders from Turkish authorities. But such a denial would be equally easily dismissible. First, TRT is state-owned, and secondly, broad agreement around lack of media freedom in Turkey would easily squash any claims of editorial freedom.
Meanwhile, this is not the first time that a Moroccan ally has brought up the Western Sahara dispute when bilateral relations are tense.
In February, a Saudi TV channel, Al Arabiya, aired an avowedly pro-Polisario documentary on the Sahara dispute, using concepts like “occupation” and “colonization” to refer to Morocco’s “invasion” of the territories. “Western Sahara is one such ‘no-go zone’ which in the past the Saudis have respected and more or less agree on any way,” a TRT contributor wrote in an op-ed at the time of the Rabat-Riyadh feud.
The argument was that, despite Riyadh’s low-key denial that it had anything to do with Al Arabiya’s documentary, the known proximity between the Saudi Royal Court and the channel, as well as the fact that such pro-Polisario narratives would never make it to Saudi television in times of warm relations between Morocco and Saudi Arabia, suggested otherwise. Much the same could be said of TRT’s abrupt pro-Polisario turn.
Meanwhile, on TRT’s YouTube page, many commenters have lamented the Turkish giant’s untraditional pro-Polisario bias, pointing to the similarities between the Sahrawi and Kurdish questions.
“Polisario is like PKK to Turkey,” one comment read, appearing to argue that, with Morocco having always distanced itself from any statements condemning Turkey’s position on the Kurdish issue, it was “surprising” that a Turkish television channel would broadcast a video close to Polisario’s claims.