domingo, 17 de maio de 2009

Omar Hadrami and how to write a CV in the Sahara

The invaluably irreverent gossip-machine that is Bakchich has an interesting article in its No. 31:

A few days before the publication of Ban Ki Moon's piece of prose, the [Moroccan] interior ministry, locked down by Fouad Ali El Himma, proceeded to create a Sahrawi unit. This will operate in the shadows of the aforementioned ministry, which, eight years after the dismissal of Driss Basri, remains in control of the Saharan dossier. The exact task of this unit remains a mystery, but looking at its composition, one may fear the worst...

By royal decree of Mohammed VI, three Sahrawi walis -- Mohamed Ali El Admi, Mohamed Rachid Duihi and Khalil Dkhil - have been promoted to the rank of extraordinary walis ["walis détachés"] within the concerned minstry. With respect to the origins of the three men, the tribal balance has certainly been respected, but ... because there's always a but with the Makhzen: one of the men, Mohamed Ali El Admi, is a horrible torturer who served in the 80s in the refugee camps of Tindouf before joining Morocco. Known under the name of Omar Hadrami, he has savagely tortured both Moroccan soldiers who had been taken prisoners by the Polisario Front (who would be happy to do him in today) and Sahrawi prisoners of opinon, for whom he built a torture centre in Tindouf. In short, a reprehensible person who's got a CV just as reprehensible and who figures in the "best of" of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).
[shoddy translation from french by western sahara info]

What Mr. Hadrami did between 1972 and 1990

The Omar Hadrami case always was something of a litmus test for both Polisario's and Morocco's propaganda. For Polisario, because they pretended that all was well within the refugee camps during the 1980s, while in fact unsavory characters such as Hadrami ran amok amassing personal power and silencing opposition. He was by all accounts widely feared in the camps, by supporters and detractors alike, and his stature was such that the relationship with secretary-general Muhammad Abdelaziz grew increasingly uneasy. He didn't lose power until the late 1980s, after he faced off with Abdelaziz in an attempt to grab power. The coup attempt led to traumatic disturbances in the camps -- of which Sahrawis are still reluctant to speak -- and in the end Hadrami and his collaborators were defeated and thrown in prison. He was however released relatively quickly, and named representative to Washington; still a very prestigeous post, but far from the centre of power in Rabouni camp. From there, he defected to Morocco. He was immediately promoted to governor and lavished with attention by the court and king Hassan II, and has appeared as its loyal Sahrawi face ever since, meeting with countless visiting delegations to tell his ghastly stories about what he saw happen in the Tindouf refugee camps.

But, thing is, as head of Polisario's military security apparatus, he was himself responsible for most of that abuse. This is rarely mentioned in the Moroccan press, just as Polisario would never have mentioned it while he was on their side. In the MAP's official CV, his Polisario years are left out entirely -- there's a curious gap between his 1972 graduation from a Moroccan university and his 1990 installation as wali. Amnesty International's reports on the conflict regularly feature this sour little line:

Those responsible for human rights abuses in the [Tindouf] camps in previous years continued to enjoy impunity. The Polisario authorities failed to hand over perpetrators still resident in the camps to the Algerian authorities to be brought to justice, and the Moroccan government failed to bring to justice the perpetrators of abuses in the Polisario camps present on its territory.

That's a not-too-veiled reference to Hadrami, and the AI has been even clearer:

"In the Polisario camps there was repression until 1992, says [Amnesty International's Donatella] Rovera." "It improved a lot after 1988 when they recognized this and asked forgiveness of their people." Amnesty maintains that Omar Hadrami, chief of internal security in the Polasario camps, actually was given a job at the interior ministry in Morocco after 1988. "If the Moroccans are serious about cracking down on torture, they should bring Hadrami to trial," Rovera says.

Human rights under Polisario

As for the human rights situation in the Tindouf refugee camps, some serious question marks remain. Most observers seem to agree that the repressive structures that were in place under Hadrami have been considerably liberalized by the 1991 structural reforms of Polisario, where the Front also expressly committed itself to multipartyism and other democratic treats -- after independence. A major Human Rights Watch mission that toured the camps extensively in 1995 -- just a couple of years after Hadrami was purged -- found that despite some problems, the situation was now "satisfactory" (the main exception being abuse of Moroccan POWs). The recent UN fact finding mission stated that there were no complaints of human rights abuse in Tindouf, even if a more thorough look at the situation would be necessary. Amnesty now refers to abuse in the camp almost exclusively in the past tense, noting that the Polisario has not -- contrary to Moroccan allegations -- tried to restrict investigations in camps (rather, "they went out of their way to assist us").

Even so, the clique around Muhammad Abdelaziz remains reluctant to share power, and while dissident voices are tolerated, they are neither encouraged nor given any serious chance to affect decision-making. On the grass-roots level in the camps, there is a decently democratic structure of local councils that run day-to-day business, but the sensitive political, military and economic decisions seem to rest in the hands of a select few. This is hardly out of the ordinary in the Maghreb, and by the standards of both liberation movements and refugee camps, the Tindouf exile republic comes off as positively ultraliberal. But nevertheless, the situation on the ground clashes with Polisario's attempts to construct a media image of itself as a shining beacon of uncorrupted desert democracy, and an increasing number of Sahrawi youths are fed up with the stagnated ruling elite.

The Ould man out

However, there's more in the Bakchich article. It goes on to note that, while we don't know who is behind the appointment of the group -- the inner workings of the Makhzen are no less obscure than, say, the legendarily intransparent Algerian military elite -- it's easy to tell who the move has been directed against. Because there is a name missing from the list: the monarchy's all-time palace Sahrawi, Khelli Henna Ould Errachid.

Now, this could perhaps be because he already has a platform -- the CORCAS council, of which he is the formal head. But, honestly, Khelli Henna never was the one to shy away from salaried titles, was he? No. As Bakchich points out, all three interior ministry Sahrawis are long-standing enemies of Ould Errachid, and this must be interpreted as a move to directly undermine him. Omar Hadrami in particular has long been seen as his main rival, and the two men are said to absolutely loathe each other.

In favor of the favored

A peculiar twist is added by the fact that both Duihi and Dkhil are former members of PUNS, an organization set up by Franco to act as the territory's only legal party in the dying days of Spanish fascist rule. Established essentially to draw support from Polisario, the PUNS faithfully advocated Spain's line down to the letter: it demanded the independence of Western Sahara under Spanish guidance, longed for "privileged relations" with Madrid, and most of all, it hotly contested any Moroccan or Mauritanian ties to the territory -- for such was Spanish policy right up until the Madrid Agreement. As the Green March approached, the PUNS leadership even declared itself ready to fight a Moroccan entry with arms in hand to preserve Sahrawi independence hand in hand with Spain. Who the leader of the party was? Why, a certain Khelli Henna Ould Errachid -- then the most outspoken defender of a Sahrawi-Spanish alliance against the machinations of both "expansionist" Morocco and "communist" Polisario. Once again something that will not figure in the official biographies.

As Spain began to withdraw -- and made clear to Khelli Henna that he was no longer slated to become Western Sahara's first president -- all three of Franco's Sahrawis suddenly discovered their Moroccan roots. And ever since 1975, they've been paraded as proof that the Sahara always was and always will be Moroccan.

However, as the case of Mr. Hadrami makes abundantly clear, a shared past doesn't necessarily mean a shared future. The palace Sahrawis have been at each others throats ever since, competing for power and privilege. Morocco has always had a policy of encouraging Sahrawi tribalism -- divide and rule -- and the fortunes of its Sahrawi finger puppets have shifted with the mood of the Makhzen, not to mention with the fortunes of competing clans within the Moroccan power structure. For long, Khelli Henna appeared to be the king's go-to-guy, and he has been allowed to amass a huge fortune through semi-legit businesses in El Aaiún (he and his brother -- who formally runs the business empire -- are sometimes called the richest men in the Sahara). But given his less than impressive performance as head of CORCAS, perhaps the monarchy has decided it is time for another spin on the wheel of Sahrawi fortune?

But don't worry. Some things never change -- and should Western Sahara one day become independent, there will be few Sahrawis who will celebrate as loudly as these three. By then with a fresh set of inexplicable gaps in their CV:s.

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