In a manifesto-like speech, King Mohammed VI promised a new economic impetus in Western Sahara to shatter Polisario’s dreams.
Rabat – King Mohammed VI is poised to set the bar high for Morocco’s Western Sahara position, arguing that it is time to go beyond simply maintaining the current diplomatic headway.
Western Sahara for the past decade or two has lived on the precipice of a monumental change. On November 7, Morocco’s King Mohammed VI suggested the time was ripe to conclusively embrace the change and make it permanent.
In the face of continued challenges to Morocco’s position, he spoke of blazing a new path of diplomatic commitment and economic achievements to “confirm the Moroccanness of the Sahara in the international arena.”
As well as sustaining Morocco’s favorable political momentum, he appeared to suggest, the main task for the coming months and years is to propel a new economic impetus to decisively counter any economy-inspired accusations from pro-Polisario quarters.
A manifesto speech for a new impetus
In this sense, King Mohammed VI’s Green March commemorative speech last week slightly diverged from the grand scheme of royal addresses on the Western Sahara question.
For all the outsized anticipation and the patriotic flourish that often precede and sustain them in the Moroccan press and the country’s political imaginary, royal speeches on the Sahara conflict are usually an exercise in disciplined hope.
True, each speech is unique or different in that it absorbs the prevailing political mood of the moment, zooming in on the latest events that set the stage for its delivery.
Putting his address in its historical context, the King on November 7 spoke about “internal as well as external challenges” standing in the way of complete Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara. He expressed hope that pragmatic diplomacy and facts will eventually prevail. These are all recurring, expected Green March themes.
But beyond this usual, almost ritualistic feel, the address had a distinct vibe to it.
Large sections of the speech read like a manifesto. While partly taking heart in “tangible developments” that have consolidated Morocco’s momentum in the Sahara conflict, it mostly urged the necessary action to irreversibly cement recent diplomatic gains.
While most other Green March speeches churned with expectation and cautious certainty, hoping for a way forward, last week’s address appeared to show the way forward.
“My commitment to reaffirming the Moroccanness of the Sahara is as steadfast as my endeavors to make the Sahara an engine of development at the regional and continental levels,” the King announced.
For the Moroccan King, making Western Sahara a regional and continental economic hub is not only about showcasing Morocco’s undying, umbilical attachment to the territory.
Above all else, the point is to stifle Polisario’s and its foreign champions’ “economic exploitation” argument. As the King sees it, putting the spotlight on both the improved — and improving — quality of life in the region and locals’ adherence to Rabat’s development projects is the sharpest rejoinder to claims of Morocco’s “illegal exploitation” of the region’s riches.
Key in this new southern development plan are the fishing sector, seawater desalination projects, tourism, and renewable energy.
‘A real maritime economy’
The anchoring point here is not only, as used to be the case, to sustain the ongoing pro-Morocco momentum on the diplomatic front. Rather, the goal is to use the favorable diplomatic landscape to assertively broadcast what was once only reassuringly whispered or hoped-for.
“To complement the major projects implemented in our southern provinces, I think the time has come to exploit the region’s enormous maritime potential,” the King said.
As to what this would look like, he explained: “In addition to Tanger-Med, which is the first port in Africa, Dakhla Atlantique will contribute to reaching this goal.
“I shall continue to work for the development of a real maritime economy in these provinces, which I particularly cherish. Indeed, they boast significant resources and capabilities that can make them act as a bridge between Morocco and its African roots.”
On a broader scale, though, the King’s address was also a fierce response to Polisario’s clamorous demands over the past few weeks. From the latest UN resolutions to the growing African consensus on the Western Sahara conflict, recent months have bolstered Morocco’s 2007 Autonomy Plan.
The most pivotal development in the past weeks was the opening of diplomatic representations in the cities of Laayoune and Dakhla. To date, 16 countries have inaugurated consulates in the two cities, loudly and uncompromisingly recognizing the region’s innate Moroccan character.
But this has only increased the Polisario Front’s passionate finger-pointing. Over the past three weeks, the group has obstructed traffic in the buffer zone, distressing road users and ignoring repeated UN warnings. The gesture is part of an apparent bid to elicit a more muscular — and less diplomatic — response from Rabat.
While Morocco’s Autonomy Plan enjoys lasting traction in the international community, dark clouds hang over Polisario’s legitimacy claims. But perceptions of a disproportionate response from Morocco could give the militant front the David vs Goliath PR point it craves.
For now, at least, Rabat seems to have avoided this trap. More still, the King suggested in his Green March speech that Polisario’s constant bellicose gesticulations will not drag Morocco in a futile confrontation.
“Morocco will not waver in its position. Nor will it be affected, in any way, by the useless provocations and desperate schemes of the other parties, which attest to a headlong rush, now that their outdated claims have failed.”
Save for “attempts designed to undermine the security and stability of its southern provinces,” the King insisted, Morocco will not take Polisario’s bait. This means solidifying recent diplomatic gains and amplifying the transformative potential of the southern development model are now Morocco’s only concerns.
The idea is that tangible development projects in the southern provinces, coupled with locals’ approval of and satisfaction with the plan, constitute the most shattering blow to Polisario’s improbable dreams.
As this new vision kicks into high gear, however, Polisario will certainly escalate its disruptive acts in the buffer zone. After all, there is not much else left for a group whose position has suffered constant disillusion in recent years.
The question, then, remains whether MINURSO’s apparent inability to deter Polisario will eventually impel Morocco to respond with the “utmost firmness and resolve,” as the King put it in his Green March address.