Hassan Hami
24 January 2024

The Failure of Hard and Soft Pressures to Break Morocco’s Bones

The Failure of Hard and Soft Pressures to Break Morocco’s Bones
The Failure of Hard and Soft Pressures to Break Morocco’s Bones

A recent proposal for a Paris Conference on the Sahara conceals its true motives: undermining Morocco’s recent advances and restoring France’s lost global prestige.

In politics, nothing happens randomly. In the academic field, nothing is done for the mere sake of advancing scientific research. A collective of academics and journalists has recently suggested that the dispute over the Western Sahara region could be solved by holding an “international conference in Paris.” This international conference would have a chance to succeed if the Europeans were actively and steadily involved. Independent observers would perceive such a proposal as a genuine attempt to stir up the moribund status quo and strike a fair deal.

Nevertheless, other independent observers would have different interpretations and perceive the move as another behind-the-scenes attempt staged by the deep state in France with the aim of resuming its lost role as the main beneficiary of the long-lasting unresolved regional dispute. How could we assess both interpretations and get a balanced perception?

First and foremost, the academics and journalists who signed the collective article in Le Monde include members who have always taken a biased stand against Morocco. Some others are mainly of Algerian descent. This may not appear to be a solid argument to dismiss their views. But though they serve at important universities or institutes of strategic and security studies, their ideological support for Algeria has always been highlighted whenever Morocco was the subject.

The Hidden Script Aims at Dividing the Sahara

One of the things that strikes one at first sight is that the same honorable people have been advocating the same argument since 2007. This date is very important because it coincides with the change of paradigm regarding the prevailing diplomatic consensus over the Sahara dispute. The new move is very related, if not close, to the idea that was long supported to divide the territory between the parties to the dispute. Hence, this time the parties highlighted are Morocco and Algeria. It is worth recalling that the proposal of splitting the territory was first put on the table in 1979 by France through a confidential plan called “Sahara Demain.”

The proposal was a smart move to ease the growing tension between Morocco and Algeria in the aftermath of Mauritania’s withdrawal from Terris Al Gharbiyya (now Oued Eddahab) and Morocco’s recovery of this part of its southern provinces. The proposal was rejected by all parties involved.

In Algeria, the political situation was on the verge of generating a general chaos caused by the fear of the post-Boumediene era, where political voids and the souvenirs of the bloody post-independence era kept the oligarchy in power suspicious. The way Boumediene died in 1978 is still a big mystery. He was supposed to meet with King Hassan II in Switzerland to work out a potential solution.

In Mauritania, President Mohammed Khouna Ouled Haidallah resorted to tribal appeal in an attempt to create existential confusion in the minds of Sahrawi living in Morocco and Algeria, mainly in Tindouf. He totally failed and was ousted from power through a coup d’etat. For Algeria, the main strategic goal has always been to see the whole territory fall under a proxy state’s influence so it can be able to get a corridor on the Atlantic Ocean. Besides, Algeria endeavored to exhaust Morocco into adopting a low profile with respect to the unresolved issue of the borders, despite the signing of an agreement to that effect in 1972.

Morocco rejected the proposal because it perceived it as a subtle maneuver by the deep state in France to continue ruling its former colonies by dividing them. And also, because Morocco held France accountable for grabbing large swaths of its territory since its occupation of present day Algeria in 1830.

In 1981, the socialists won the election in France. Francois Mitterrand, who was minister of the interior during the Algerian independence war, pushed forward a solution based on the referendum to solve the Saharan dispute. This was apparently a fair proposal at the time, given the triumph of Third-Worldism back then. Mitterrand wanted to make amends so that Algerians would forgive what he was fingerprinted about during his tour of duty (1954–1955) under Pierre Mendes France’s government.

But the tricky thing was that by defending the principle of self-determination, France aimed at using it as a “perfect tool” to maintain French rule in overseas territories. In fact, France has always maneuvered to keep the issue under its own control. It is an open secret that when the dispute over the Sahara was dealt with in a circus-like style in the African Union, France was satisfied with the results. There was no resolution on the horizon, given the deep ideological divide in Africa. When the UNSC started to be seriously involved, Paris lost its leverage and game orientation.

In 2007, when Morocco proposed its Autonomy Plan, France appeared to be in favor of Rabat while adopting a low profile to play down Algiers’ anger. This lasted till December 10, 2020, when the United States decided to recognize the full sovereignty of Morocco over its southern provinces. The second time the partition of the territory was suggested was when President Abdelaziz Bouteflika visited Houston in 2001. He met with James Baker, who was then the UN Secretary General’s personal envoy to the Sahara.

In a vicious and insidious move, Bouteflika proposed that the parties go back and somehow work on dividing the territory in the spirit of the 1975 Madrid Agreement, on the condition of introducing a major change. Mauritania, which had signed the 1979 agreement with Polisario, would be out and replaced by the latter. 

The Algerian proposal was meant to hamper Baker’s Plan I, which some observers thought was slightly in favor of Morocco. Baker came up with an edited second plan that was completely unacceptable to Morocco because its implementation would pave the way for the creation of an independent state in southern Morocco. This would put the strategic balance of power in North Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa at risk.

Baker’s proposal, inspired by Algeria (and, some think, by hydrocarbon interests in military and industrial complexes in Texas), had a short life and was even opposed by hardliners within George W. Bush’s administration.

Later, John Bolton, who was Baker’s assistant when he was in charge of striking a deal between the parties to the Sahara dispute, used all his utmost to impose this view. He became even more dogmatic when he later occupied the position of US representative to the United Nations (2005–2006). He did it again when he served as National Security Adviser (NSA) to President Donald Trump (2018–2019). He was caught by surprise when President Trump recognized, by a presidential order published with immediate effect in the Federal Register, Morocco’s sovereignty over the Sahara on December 10, 2020.

Bolton signed, together with James Baker and Christopher Ross, also a former personal envoy of the UN Secretary General, a joint letter slamming Trump’s decision. Independent observers were astonished to find out that Bolton’s argument was as shallow as outdated.

He was shocked because during his short assignment as NSA, he endeavored to get President Trump to take a stance in favor of Algeria and Polisario. He was even suspected of working hand in hand with David Keen, the former head of the National Rifle Association and a lobbyist for Algeria in Washington, D.C. Even though lobbying culture is part of American politics, the way Bolton behaved shed light on the unseen and hidden practices pertaining to such a profession in the United States and in other western democracies.

Algeria’s Tindouf Dilemma

The idea of partitioning Western Sahara was launched for the third time last month by President Abdelmajid Tebboune, in a very controversial speech pronounced on the occasion of a meeting with governors of different wilayas of Algeria. He said that Algeria would never give up defending the right of people to self-determination, and that the disputed Sahara territory was no exception.

President Tebboune added that Algeria would accept the results of a free, organized referendum, whether the Sahrawi chose to be part of Morocco or part of Mauritania. He, on the contrary, stressed that Algeria would never accept that the Sahrawi population in Tindouf be Algerian under whatever pretext or argument.

In this, President Tebboune pretended to ignore that, since 2007, the referendum is no longer an option for resolving the dispute over the Sahara. It was even ruled out in Baker’s I plan and only cautiously mentioned in Baker’s II plan to ease down Algerian pressure.

President Tebboune’s statement was an expression of great fear that the Sahrawi in Tindouf would decide to stay permanently in the western region of Algeria. The Algerian president’s fear is justified because, over the last three years, people there have lost hope of seeing a breakthrough in the Saharan issue. They have a solid argument to stay in Tindouf and make it their homeland; they have participated in different local and general elections as Algerian citizens.

Algeria needs Tindouf free of Polisario’s camps because it projects to exploit Garât Jbilat iron ores and extract minerals that the region’s subsoil is believed to contain. Foreign investors are reluctant to put their money in such an unstable region. Tebboune’s move thus is intended to provoke Morocco’s reaction as the 1972 Algeria-Morocco agreement on the borders contains provisions on mutual exploration of iron ore.

Besides, the plan concocted by the Algerian establishment to make the north of Mauritania a substitutionary land for Tindouf seems hard to implement. Even elements of Polisario that sought and got Mauritanian nationality over the last thirty years have started to have second thoughts about whether to go forward with the initial plan or not.

Sovereignty Means Effectivity, and Vice Versa

The problem with all these proposals is that they are concocted by policymakers and military strategists who pretend to ignore important factors cemented by history, culture, and effectiveness. The latter confirms the accuracy of the two others. What else could be said about the proposal initiated by the collective of French scholars? It seems that it describes a coordinated action inspired by segments of the French media and political elite.

Following the publication of the proposal, an allegedly classified note written by the Directorate General for External Security, France’s intelligence agency, has been widely shared on the internet. In the note, President Emmanuel Macron was warned against letting Morocco become another Turkey in the West flank of the Mediterranean. It was the same note that had circulated a couple of months ago with the same purpose: to intimidate, frighten, and threaten Morocco. 

Before that, a paper published by the German Institute for International and Security Affairs  urged the German government to act to halt Morocco’s progress because it was distancing Algeria and Tunisia at a high speed.

Does Morocco present any sort of threat to Europe by boldly and strongly defending its right to secure its southern provinces and go ahead with its plans to evolve freely and independently and escape from the feudal structure of an anarchical international system? The answer is yes. Morocco has proven that the old stereotype of classifying developing countries as total strategic dependencies is no longer pertinent. Europe is losing ground to new international powers. Europe can no longer reproduce the same conditions that paved the way for colonial rules about a hundred years ago or so.

The answer is also positive when you look at the aggressive sequential attacks that portray Morocco as some sort of “rogue state.” The media in France joins efforts to spread the idea that Morocco is a danger and resorts to despicable and harmful methods that by all means jeopardize European internal interests, with France being at the top of the list. In this respect, the French newspaper Marianne has proven how ridiculous and totally out of logic it is, spewing despicable poisons in a desperate attempt to smear Morocco’s image.

Doing so, Marianne takes its readers for what they are not. According to this newspaper, Morocco has a hold on every inch of the French decision-making system and is now blankly accused of blackmailing Europe by using immigration, security, and terrorism threats as drivers to get what it needs. This paranoid perception is wrong, unjust, and insipid.

France is part of the problem in the Sahara

Another problem with the proposal of a conference in Paris is the timing. Why now? At least three explanations might be at hand. Firstly, France has always played up Europe’s unwillingness to deal with Morocco and Algeria’s struggle for leadership in North Africa. It always aimed at accrediting the idea that it could be a potential good peacemaker between the two parties. This long-hidden scheme fell apart when the United States recognized the territorial integrity of Morocco. Germany, Spain, Nederland, Belgium, etc. followed suit. 

Out of twenty-seven countries, more than twelve members of the European Union support, with slight differences, the Moroccan autonomy plan. Secondly, France found itself caught between parties’ hammers and anvils. Thirdly, France is severely damaged because other European countries are inclined to side with Morocco and are convinced that Rabat has won the diplomatic and military war that Algeria waged against it via a proxy movement. Spain and Germany are at the top of the list of countries that will benefit from this new, emerging state of affairs. 

Indeed, Spain will get huge dividends by cleverly siding with Morocco. Pending issues such as maritime boundary delimitation (with full respect for the 1982 international convention on the law of the sea), investments, and coordination in matters related to security are being dealt with behind the scenes in a constructive spirit.

The only sound idea between the lines of the collective proposal for a Paris Conference on the Sahara question is that Polisario is relegated to the second plan, and the regional dispute about the Sahara is recognized as definitely opposing Morocco and Algeria.

Yet again, suspicion is legitimate, as one might wonder where are hiding the scholars and politicians who used to jubilate about Mohammed Bedjaoui’s pleading in favor of Algeria in 1974 before the International Court of Justice with respect to principles of “Terra Nullius,” “historical rights,” and the right to self-determination? Bedjaoui opposed Morocco’s argument about its historical and legal claims over the Sahara, matching the principle of allegiance with full sovereignty rooted in the credo of the Commander of the Faithful, an institutional principle in Islamic law that is ignored in the West.

The Algerian regime no longer refers to Bedjaoui’s argument because this might be used by the MAK, the new, emerging movement for the independence of Touaregs in southern Algeria.Furthermore, why would the collective of scholars, journalists, and experts try to erase all that the UNSC has achieved up until now? 

It is obvious that Morocco’s opponents are aware that the United Nations is the right forum to resolve the Sahara dispute based on the Autonomy Plan that allows the main parties to the conflict (specifically Algeria) to save face. Furthermore, if the Sahara conflict is resolved, it will stop France and a few other countries from playing Morocco and Algeria against each other.

Finally, if the collective of academics perceives the international conference proposed as an opportunity to mediate between Algeria and Morocco, why don’t they ask France to do it in the first place? The answer, as Aziz Boucetta recently emphasized, is that France is the problem and cannot be trusted as an impartial peacemaker. Besides, precedents of international conferences have proven that the aim is to stir up frozen conflicts with no sound attention to solve them.

Morocco is victim of its resilience and its recent diplomatic breakthroughs

In summary, Morocco is targeted because it awakens people and governments in developing countries to the fact that being truly independent requires sacrifices. All this campaign, from the baseless accusations during the Pegasus saga, to blaming Morocco for using its right to lobby, as the practice is legally sustained in Europe and America cannot hide the ugly face of democracy’s biased style.

The cards of allegedly human rights abuses or illegal exploitation of natural resources in the Sahara are now burned. Morocco’s adversaries are less inspired than they used to be. The bare truth right now is that colonial nostalgists won’t give up their plans to reshape the post-Covid era. 

Whether they believe in conspiracy theories or not, they are included in the list of those who staged the whole thing. They cannot accept that they belong to the past. But they are. Over the last fifteen years, we have witnessed the resurrection of imperial temptation in Russia, China, Iran, and Turkey, to name but a few. This imperial temptation has been strongly condemned in the West.

Prior to that, a narrative about the end of American supremacy in the world pushed some European countries to take this assumption as being true. They started to distance themselves from the United States. Big mistake.

Now, they pay for opening the door to more involvement of China in Europe and for failing to halt Russia’s steady way to recover the influence it had lost in the 1990s. Punished by the United States, most of the European Union’s members look for scapegoats. They are eager to take revenge on countries that were supposed to be their taken-for-granted strategic backyards. Yet, those among these backyards that had been thought to be strategic dependencies and showed the guts of breaking the chain are now being harassed. Morocco is at the top of the list.

Another big question might be raised: what would be the benefit of holding an international conference on the Sahara regional conflict as it appeared that France had abdicated to face Iran and Russia’s growing influence in its former colonial possessions in North Africa (Algeria, Tunisia, and Mauritania), West Africa, and Libya?

It seems that the scholars who concocted the article have lost sight of the reality on the ground. Moreover, some of them being of Algerian origin, they might be driven to work to save the military regime in Algeria rather than genuinely seeking a fair, just, realistic, and lasting solution to the regional conflict over the Sahara.

Source : moroccoworldnews.com

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