Sábado, 18 de Julho de 2009
Obama’s new position on the Western Saharan conflict causes panic for Moroccans
In a letter published on July 3, 2009, by the Maghreb Arab Press Agency (the official media source of the Kingdom of Morocco), President Barack Obama wrote to King Mohamed VI on a variety of issues, including the 35-year-old conflict between Morocco and the Saharawis’ Polisario Front over the political future of the Western Sahara. The President’s statements – which made no mention of the previous Administration’s unofficial policy of support for the Kingdom’s 2007 autonomy proposal – have already caused panic and discord among the supporters of the Moroccan position.
While the President’s letter did not specifically endorse the Saharawis’ right to self-determination – the only legal solution to the conflict according to the United Nations’ Charter and countless resolutions, as well as a 1974 ruling by the International Court of Justice – his endorsement of UN-led negotiations as “the appropriate forum to achieve a mutually-agreed solution” marked a notable divergence from the policies of the previous Administration.
During former-President Bush’s tenure, while the Administration did not officially endorse either of the two sides to the conflict, many statements were made by U.S. State Department officials in favor of the Kingdom’s proposal on autonomy as the only realistic solution to the conflict.
Upon the publishing of President Obama’s letter, the Moroccan American community immediately interpreted his words as “a reversal of the American Administration’s position on the Western Sahara conflict”, according to an article posted on the Moroccan American Community board’s Web site.
The opinion piece, which was written by Hassan Masiky (a Moroccan who has lived and worked in Washington, DC, since 1991) accused a variety of unspecified “Moroccan American ‘organizations’” of overreacting to the President’s comments and showing their political incompetence in Washington.
“The recent flap over a fake ‘press article’ indicating a reversal of the American Administration’s position on the Western Sahara conflict has highlighted several deficiencies and shortcoming [sic] of some ‘leaders’ of the Moroccan American community in the United States,” argued Masiky. “This shows a lack of a political maturity.”
Acknowledging recent missteps by the Moroccan lobby in the U.S., Masiky did not withhold his criticism.
“Some newly minted Moroccan American ‘organizations’ in the U.S. are still new to the field of political engagement and popular lobbying and need a lot more experience before reaching adulthood and attaining Washington political ripeness,” he bemoaned.
Masiky went on to say that “the Moroccan [sic] must convince the American Administration to frame the Conflict [sic] as a Moroccan Algerian dispute first and foremost, linking efforts to secure the Western and Algerian Sahara to a resolution of the outstanding issues between Rabat and Algiers.”
This statement was made despite the fact that the UN, the Saharawis, and the Kingdom of Morocco have officially recognized that the only two parties to the conflict are Morocco and the Polisario Front. Such has been the basis for the past 18 years of failed efforts to hold a referendum for the Saharawis and the past three years of UN-led negotiations.
What is to be made of these comments made by advocates of Morocco’s position in the Western Saharan conflict? First, it is clear that there is still uncertainty about the new U.S. Administration’s position on the issue. The confusion and overreaction by the Moroccan advocates highlight this fact.
Second, the Moroccan supporters’ willingness to consistently reframe the conflict has been made painfully apparent. While the Polisario Front has argued one consistent theme since 1975 – a free and fair referendum for the self-determination of the Saharawi people, as endorsed by the UN Security Council and General Assembly – Morocco has reached into its bottomless arsenal of arguments to try to win over the support of the powerful Western nations.
In the earliest years of the conflict, Morocco invaded and then defended the majority of the Western Sahara, claiming that historical religious ties inherently linked the territory to the monarchy (a claim rejected by the ICJ’s 1974 ruling). Over the next few decades, the Polisario Front was accused of being an organization of communists, socialists, or terrorists, depending on the international concerns of the United States at the time.
Now, as a number of policy-makers and think tanks in Washington have expressed interest in furthering regional cooperation in the North African Maghreb region (most notably, a report entitled “Why the Maghreb Matters” published by The Potomac Institute and bearing former-Secretary of State Madeline Albright’s name – supporters of the Moroccan position are trying to reframe the conflict as a dispute between Algeria and Morocco, the two powerhouses in the region.
While it is not the first time that the Moroccans have made this argument, the words of Masiky (one of the louder Moroccan voices in Washington on the Western Saharan issue) suggest that perhaps this misrepresentation of the conflict’s actors should be the focus of the Kingdom’s lobbying efforts in the U.S.
Obama’s new position should not be reason for the Saharawis to celebrate – the relatively new U.S. President made no specific mention of their UN-backed right to self-determination. Nonetheless, the fact that he did endorse the UN-led negotiations and a mutually acceptable solution may signify that Rabat can no longer count on the United States’ support for its attempt to cling to the Western Sahara despite UN declarations against the status quo.
As he has done with many of his statements to Israel, President Obama has again shown that he is willing to maintain the U.S.’s friendships and alliances without blindly allowing those friends and allies to violate international law and human rights norms.
President Obama arrived at the White House on a promise of rational decision-making and negotiation, rather than succumbing to the will of interest groups and powerful lobbyists in Washington. For the past three decades, Morocco’s far superior lobbying capabilities and funds have overshadowed the Saharawis’ attempts to gain support from the U.S. Congress and Presidency. If the new President is no longer impacted by those lobbying efforts, the Moroccan American supporters of their Kingdom’s position in the Western Saharan conflict may be right to panic.
The article by Hassan Masiky can be found at www.moroccoboard.com/viewpoint/68-hassan-massiki/582-flap-over-qnewsq-article-a-political-immaturity.