Al Jazeera omits recent developments surrounding Western Sahara, instead amplifying only the pro-Polisario voices.
Agadir – On January 11, Al Jazeera published an article titled “Western Sahara: What’s at stake for Joe Biden?” While trying hard to come across as a “report” on recent events in the Sahara crisis, the article reads more like a hit-piece, devoid of nuance and balance even as it “reported” on a complex topic.
By giving voice only to pro-Polisario “experts and observers,” Al Jazeera willingly participates in obstruction of history and the simplification of the state of Magrebi affairs today.
In the article, Al Jazeera resorted to one-sided reporting, picking facts that suit their narrative, while omitting history or current developments that do not. The result? The piece does more to confuse and mystify, than to clarify or educate.
When examining the Western Sahara conflict, one will find many ahistorical opinions on the issue. In other words, most commentators of the territorial dispute tend to upend the conflict’s complex history, deeming irrelevant, or willfully omitting, any developments that do not corroborate their preconceived conclusions.
Such a narrative is reinforced by people such as Joe Bolton and Stephen Zunes writing for Foreign Policy magazine, or US Senator James Inhofe’s constant and post-truth-inspired outbursts to draw attention to Morocco’s “unlawful” claims and the “Sahrawis’ struggle for decolonization.”
Samir Bennis debunked this “black-and-white history” in a recent analysis. As he pointed out, this pro-Polisario, make-believe reporting on the Sahara conflict “is often driven by a false urgency to save the Sahrawis. Lost are the intricacies of the dispute, as well as its implications for the region and the world at large.”
Age of misinformation
“Critics of the agreement say it undermines a United Nations-led process to find a permanent solution to the conflict,” says Al Jazeera’s report of the recent US proclamation on Morocco’s sovereignty over Western Sahara.
But what about the well-documented — and increasingly robust — UN consensus around the credibility of Morocco’s autonomy proposal? What of the UN Security Council’s consistent approval of a “compromise-based” political solution in the last 15 years?
However, none of this seemed topical or relevant enough for the Al Jazeera report. Instead, it compounded its own misleading portrayal by peddling one of the most used pro-Polisario tropes. “Morocco has consistently refused to entertain the prospect of independence for the Sahrawi,” said the article, brazenly sidelining the fact that Morocco proposed holding a referendum on self-determination in 1981, which Algeria and the Polisario rejected.
The piece also brings attention to US Senator James Inhofe’s relentless pro-Polisario lamentations, audaciously describing the US’ fictional support for Polisario’s “Sahrawi people’s right to self-determination” rhetoric as “ a universal principle that remained consistent across US administrations.”
While the recent US proclamation on Western Sahara surprised many Sahara watchers, it is an open secret that Washington’s position has always been closer to Morocco’s stance. According to reliable reports various US Administrations have long been supportive of the Moroccan Autonomy Plan for Western Sahara.
In fact, the Moroccan proposal was a US initiative, according to one recently declassified document. As the document revealed, Washington’s idea has long been that a feasible solution to the Sahara conflict should be based on “continued Moroccan sovereignty … but with the granting of a broad and substantial (by international standards) autonomy for the territory.”
To be sure, some “observers” have maintained that Biden may distance himself from the Trump-brokered US position on Western Sahara. Joseph Huddleston, an assistant professor at Seton Hall University’s School of Diplomacy and International Relations, told Al Jazeera that “derecognition is already commonplace in this conflict and it would mean realigning with other international players’ position in the conflict.”
Huddleston does not appear to confidently assert that Biden will overrule the recent US decision on Western Sahara. However, he also failed to acknowledge that the majority of “other international players,” in Africa and beyond, now believe that a compromised-based solution (the diplomatic euphemism for Morocco’s Autonomy Plan) is the best way to end the Sahara crisis.
Others, more disdainful of what they see as a Trump-negotiated “transactional” deal with Morocco, continue to maintain that Biden will repeal the US’ Western Sahara proclamation. Their main argument is that Biden, who has defined himself as the antithesis par excellence of Trump, will make it a priority to disentangle a number of Trump-era defining policy moves, including the recognition of Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara. But many reports have cast doubt on this notion. Still, in uncritically mentioning this line of thought, Al Jazeera’s article once again missed the mark by failing to recognize the rapidly changing situation surrounding the Sahara debate.
As it happens, investigating the validity of the facts presented by Al Jazeera does not take months-long study. Nor does it require excavating buried diplomatic correspondences or hidden administrative dossiers. All it takes is a cursory google search and familiarizing oneself with some history to understand that on a foundational level the position presented by Al Jazeera does not stand up to scrutiny.
From Polisario’s failure in Guerguerat to the increasing irrelevance of the separatist group’s agenda in Africa, recent developments scream what the Al Jazeera article fruitlessly attempted to silence: That referendum is no longer considered a serious and viable option.