A forum devoted to current political, economic trends, and news of the Maghreb region.

Friday, November 8, 2013

The King's Speech: Mohammed VI takes on Human Rights Groups

 Morocco celebrated the 38th anniversary of the "Green March," which commemorates Morocco's annexation of the Western Sahara in 1975 after Spanish withdrawal of the territory. As it is customary, the king of Morocco delivers a speech usually underlining Morocco's position towards the territory and celebrating the kingdom's development projects for the benefits of the Sahrawi people. Wednesday's speech, however, was different as the king went on the offensive against non-governmental organizations' reports on Morocco's human rights violations in the Western Sahara.

Mohammed VI speech comes at a critical time where Morocco is under tremendous scrutiny for its human rights abuses in the Western Sahara, and the attempt by some groups to link human rights issues to the overarching question of self-determination in the territory. In an earlier piece to Muftah, I argued that the conflict is far more complex to be reduced to regime type or claims of human rights abuses. The tenuous nexus between self-determination and the authoritarian nature of the Moroccan state do not advance our understanding of the conflict, nor contribute to a conceptual disaggregation of the various variables and factors hindering a resolution to the problem of self-determination in the territory.

In the "Green March" speech, the king condemned what he perceived as the attempt by some NGOs to "use some isolated incidents to undermine [Morocco's] image and trivialize its human rights and development achievements." In a thinly veiled reference to Algeria, Mohammed VI charged that this "unfair treatment of Morocco" is principally due to the attempt by "rivals (Algeria) that squander the resources of a brotherly people, who is not concerned with this conflict, to buy the voices and positions of anti-Moroccan organizations."  The sovereign's criticism is at its most vociferous when he comparatively points to the plight of human rights abuses in the POLISARIO-controlled camps in Tindouf, Algeria. 

The king's speech comes at a pivotal time in the history of the conflict where the POLISARIO Front has recently been successful in its international public relations campaign to shed more light on the conflict and the plight of the Sahrawi people in the camps in Algeria. The POLISARIO campaign has received high level support, notably from Hollywood A-list actor Javier Bardem whose documentary: "Sons of the Cloud: The Last Colony" has made the rounds of film festivals and governmental hallways capped by a high level viewing in the US Congress. Meanwhile, Morocco's diplomacy is still plagued by endemic incompetence, and its use of traditional forms of lobbying mainly on capitol hill in the United States.

The speech is also a strong indication that Morocco's position is firm when it comes to its commitment to  a comprehensive political solution within the confines of its 2007 proposal for Sahrawi autonomy under Moroccan sovereignty.  To that end, Mohammed VI reiterated the kingdom's stance seeking  a "final political solution to the artificial conflict over our territorial integrity, within the framework of our autonomy initiative which has been recognized for its seriousness, credibility and realistic spirit."

The speech is surely going to draw the ire of both the POLISARIO and Algeria, and it is the latest episode in the rhetorical war between the three parties to the conflict over the Western Sahara. Meanwhile, any movement towards a semblance of constructive negotiations remains elusive.