Posted by: ateedub | July 14, 2008

Inside a Country with No Government

What is it like to live in a region largely at peace but without government? We’ve heard many stories about war torn regions where there is little to no government control, but what about those places that actually don’t have a government at all?

Western Sahara has existed in this state since the 1960s when it was released from Spanish colonization. “Release” is the best word I can come up with, as control of the territory has been disputed since that time. The United Nations has listed it as a Non-Self-Governing Territory since that time. With little pressure to resolve the dispute from the outside world, the two opposing governments of Western Sahara (Morocco and the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic – SADR) vie for recognition from other countries.

So what are Sahrawi bloggers saying?

New Sahrawi Satellite TV Station
I started over at Global Voices, and discovered they just began coverage of Western Sahara on July 5th. Their first highlight notes a brand-new TV station run by the SADR or SADR-sympathizers (I’m not entirely clear which). This seems to be the first one, so it’s interesting to see how the blogosphere reacts to this. This post, which pulls from (an translates) the Arabic Western Sahara blog, now has 29 comments – most of which are positive about the new station.

I found one of the comments (actually #29) particularly interesting:

Mohamed, mohamed and Agaila, you and your supporters were alone on the Internet since more than a decade to support separatism in Western Sahara. Now, that the Moroccans especially the sahraouis are aware of the impact of such a media, your sole aim is to discredit the arguments of unionist sahraouis on Internet by qualifying them as members of DST…

What I find so interesting is that this person is suggesting that one side in the sovereignty dispute dominated the online space for several years.

Natural Resources & Human Rights
Onward through the blogosphere, my Technorati search on Western Sahara brings me 612 posts. The relevant ones in English (that aren’t spam/advertising blogs) focus on resource disputes and human rights violations. There was an interesting post on politics and one of the plans put forth to resolve the dispute by Nick Brooks, a climate scientist who studies the Sahara desert. In fact his posts categorized under Western Sahara are all quite interesting and provide his personal experience grappling with the dispute. Most of these posts are written by people outside of Western Sahara, so with the exception of the last one, they don’t quite provide the internal perspective I was looking for.

Interestingly, the launch of the Global Voices Western Sahara blog garnered quite a bit of attention. I guess GV does play an important role in make voices heard.

The View from Western Sahara
Luckily, many of the comments on GV posted linked to their favorite Western Sahara blogs. Here’s what is out there:

  • Unfortunately, I don’t speak Spanish, but Saha blogs aggregates over 20 Spanish-language blogs on Western Sahara. From what I can understand (thanks to French and Latin), there is a range of topics – from human rights to a poetry festival to something about the prime minister of Spain.
  • Another Spanish-language blog by Aziza Brahim, a Sahrawi singer, shows some of the culture of the territory. Again, I can’t understand much, but I believe she just performed in Madrid.
  • One Hump or Two? is a fantastic name and a blog about the Western Sahara by a fellow Washingtonian. Will Sommer comments on the latest news affecting Western Sahara, including a recent attack on a Sahwari human rights activist. Sommer has gotten a many comments from Sahrawis praising him for his coverage and providing additional details about some of his postings. Sommer’s perspective is that Morocco oppresses the territory through its occupation.
  • Le Sahara Occidental Occupe also reports on “occupied” Western Sahara. The perspective is definitely Algerian (which is pro-SADR), thus the French coverage. There is strong reporting on political developments, and particularly disturbing images of torture.
  • Sahara Occidental – Western Sahara aggregates news and provides links in English, Spanish, and French. It includes links to news reports from Morocco, but takes the SADC side.
  • Free Western Sahara is written by an ex-patriot who has never seen her homeland. It’s an aggregation of video and images of Western Sahara, and conveys a strong sense of nostalgia. Posts are in both English and Spanish.

Many of these blogs are from the SADR perspective. That certainly backs up the comment from GV. But I wonder whether this is an artifact of searching for “Western Sahara.” Are there pro-Moroccan blogs that would turn up under different search terms?

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Responses

  1. Hi. I found your blog through the incoming links to Sand & Dust. I thought I’d comment on your last point, about the apparent prevalence of the SADR/Sahrawi perspective, and whether this was a result of searching for “Western Sahara”.

    I’d say that your suspicion that a “Western Sahara” search would result in an SADR bias is probably correct, as more Moroccan-oriented sites will generally just refer to the “Sahara” (generally meaning Western Sahara), the “Moroccan Sahara”, or to Morocco. Moroccan sites don’t recognise Western Sahara as a disputed territory, but instead assert that it is part of Morocco (they generally ignore or deny the fact that Western Sahara is partitioned between a Moroccan and a Polisario controlled zone).

    If you want to see what the Moroccan side is saying, I suggest a search on “Moroccan Sahara”, which will not doubt throw up loads of sites. Also a search on “Polisario” (the self-proclaimed government in exile of the SADR – which controls about a quarter to a third of the territory despite its political headquaters being physically situated in the Sahrawi refugee camps in Algeria) will throw up a mixture of sites. Some of these will be pretty neutral, others will be pro-Polisario, while others will be sites set up by the Moroccan government and its sympathisers, generally aimed at portraying the Polisario as anything from hardline communists to slavers and Islamic militants in cahoots with al-Qa’eda (needless to say this is all to be take with a large barrel of salt).

    In terms of political blogging, I’d say that Morocco has been throwing much more at the online PR campaign lately that Polisario has. This is part of a wider PR campaign involving foreign lobbyists and academics sympathetic to Morocco, and focusing on spreading misinformation about the Polisario, the nature of the refugee camps, and the facts on the ground in Western Sahara itself. Polisario doesn’t have the resources to do much of this, and I’d say that the pro-SADR material is generally the work of enthusiasts, while the pro-Moroccan stuff is more “official”.

    In the interests of transparency, I will declare my sympathies for the Sahrawi, my low opinion of Morocco’s activities in Western Sahara, and the fact that my scientific fieldwork (which is apolitical in nature and separate from my blogging activities) is conducted in cooperation with the Polisario. But I think you’ll find that much of the material speaks for itself, and you can always cross reference and check claims from the partisan nooks and crannies of the blogosphere against reports from more neutral international bodies such as Amnesty, the BBC, Refugees International, Landmine Action, etc. In particular watch out for unsubstantiated claims of widespread slavery in the camps, claims that the population of the camps is held against its will, assertions of links between the Polisario and terrorist organisations, underestimates of the number of people in the camps, and claims that the Polisario-controlled areas are in fact a Moroccan “buffer zone”. Polisario has not been as active as it might have been in addressing these claims by Morocco and its sympathisers. For its part, it tends to focus on the “illegality” of Morocco’s occupation, on Morocco’s oppression of Sahrawi in the occupied territories, and on nationalistic rhetoric.

  2. Hi! Thanks for your kind words about my blog–I’m glad you liked it, and even happier that you’re checking out Western Sahara.

    I second Nick on searching Moroccan Sahara to find more pro-occupation sources. Like Nick said, Morocco has a lot of websites supporting its position, but it seems like Morocco is far weaker on blogs–maybe because blogs require more consistent, daily effort than just putting up a website does, discouraging people who are just paid to promote Morocco’s views.

    Another blog you’ll enjoy is Western Sahara Info (http://w-sahara.blogspot.com), a great, funny blog about Western Sahara whose writer knows more about North Africa than I ever could.

  3. […] A. Tee. Dub. wrote a lengthy and informative post about the region, mentioning GV and its coverage quite a bit: […]

  4. Great post, and thanks for the new leads! Since I am no expert on Western Sahara, I’ll speak to this point instead:

    “I guess GV does play an important role in make voices heard.”

    That’s precisely what brought about the decision to cover the Western Sahara. I’d been wanting to do it for quite some time, but it was always a contentious issue – how do we categorize the posts? How do we keep our authors from getting slammed either way?

    But when we sat down to discuss it at the Summit, we decided that, no matter how we decided to categorize (in the end, we’re titling posts with Western Sahara and checking off both the W.S. and Morocco categories), those were voices that absolutely needed to be heard.

    I’m glad you feel that way about GV 🙂

    Incidentally, I too am looking for pro-Morocco blogs – the vast majority, however, come from Moroccans, and therefore would not be representative of Sahrawi voices. That’s not to say I wouldn’t give them coverage, but pro-occupation blogs from Morocco just aren’t a high priority – we know how Moroccans feel, and there are so many other fascinating things going on in the blogoma.

    That said, if you ever find a pro-occupation Sahrawi, let me know 😉

  5. Jillian – there may well be pro-occupation (or pro-autonomy) Sahrawi, but I suspect they’re few and far between, apart from the members of CORCAS – the Royal Advisory Council on Saharan Affairs (one of the posters on GV speaking in favour of the Moroccan position links to the CORCAS website, which has the usual dubious anti-Polisario propaganda). I don’t precisely how CORCAS is constituted, although I think Will has a better idea of this (my experience is on the other side of the Berm, and events in the occupied territory are not an area of expertise for me).

    You will find comments on the blogs by people claiming to be Sahrawi, speaking in favour of Morocco’s position, but I suspect a lot of these, perhaps most if not all, are not genuine, and are part of the propaganda campaign.

    There are Sahrawi who have defected to Morocco from the camps, or so I hear. Morocco has been wheeling a handful of alleged Sahrawi around the US recently, speaking about the terrible conditions in the camps and how bad the Polisario administration is, but whether these are genuine Sahrawi, and what their agenda is, I don’t know. The problem is that anyone speaking for autonomy pushes the same party line, much of which is based on claims that seem outlandish to anyone who has visited the camps. I don’t know whether any of the defectors blog. So supporters of autonomy all end up looking like crude propagandists (and the fact that the autonomy plan ignores the issues of partition and refugees doesn’t do much to lend it credibility, or presumably to make it appeal as a solution to anyone serious about resolving the conflict).

    I’m sure there must be a diversity of opinions among the Sahrawi living in exile and under occupation, perhaps more so with the latter, who presumably have a variety of views on how best tackle the current impasse and confront or engage with the occupaiton. Of all the Sahrawi I’ve met in the camps, in Western Sahara itself (east of the berm), and outside the region, none have supported the Moroccan autonomy plan, and all have wanted independence. That’s not to say this approach is universal among these groups, but credible evidence to the contrary seems to be lacking.

  6. Wow, thanks so much for the additional information Nick, Will, and Jillian! I will run another search later this week and report back what I find on “Moroccan Sahara” and “Polisaro”.

  7. Nice post. I second most of the above, esp. of course Will’s plug for my blog (thanks for the kind words).

    You’ll find more blogs in the link lists of the ones listed above, but the only authentic pro-Morocco Sahrawi that blogs, that I know of, is the lady on this address:

    http://chagafaziza.blogspot.com/

    There might be others, esp. in French, that I haven’t seen, but apart from that, all blogs I know of that favor the Moroccan argument are either written by non-Sahrawi Moroccans (and even they tend to focus on other stuff) or official government material, or very thinly camouflaged efforts by Morocco’s PR agencies (eg. supposed amateur blogs showing up as paid Google ads), or websites supposedly written by various enthusiastic pro-Morocco Sahrawis all registered at the same place in the US etc.

    Whether this means that there are few Sahrawis who favor the Moroccan thesis, or that they for some reason aren’t into blogging, I’ll leave unsaid. Certainly, Internet access is pretty poor for Sahrawis in both the refugee camps and in Moroccan-controlled Western Sahara, but infinitely
    better in the last location, and blogs and sites by Sahrawis outside of both Morocco/Moroccan-controlled W.S. and the refugee camps (like the communities in Spain, Algeria, etc) uniformly seem to support Polisario.

  8. […] Winning the Internet War? Western Sahara v. Moroccan Sahara As promised (though late, again), I’ve done a quick analysis of the websites dedicated to Western Sahara. […]

  9. Hello
    I’m a college student who is interested in possibly writing about Morrocco for my international relations class. Although I’ve tried to follow some of your blogs, I’m am still not quite sure I understand all of the complications. If you can help me in any way I would appreciate it so much.
    Thank you.

  10. There is obviously a lot to learn. There are some good points here.

    Robert Shumake Paul Nicoletti


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