Said Saddiki, The Sahara Wall: Status and Prospects

Although, the Sahara Wall was built, at first, in a specific context and for a specific goal, today it reflects multidimensional aspects of a long-term conflict—the Western Sahara issue that still threatens the stability of the Maghreb region. The future of the Sahara Wall is closely related to the original issue itself which needs a negotiated, realistic and equitable solution due to its complex dimensions.

Although, the Sahara Wall was built, at first, in a specific context and for a specific goal, today it reflects multidimensional aspects of a long-term conflict—the Western Sahara issue that still threatens the stability of the Maghreb region. The future of the Sahara Wall is closely related to the original issue itself which needs a negotiated, realistic and equitable solution due to its complex dimensions.

All military walls in history were originally built with a protective function to keep out invaders. China’s Great Wall, as the famous and longest manmade structure in the world, was built for defensive and protective purposes, to protect and unify the Chinese territory and empire. Also, in ancient civilizations, the high walls surrounding old cities were constructed as fortifications to defend the people from potential aggressors. However, modem international walls and fences are differentiated from each other according to their specific contexts and functions, which are reflected in their various names, such as “separation wall,” “security wall,” “border wall,” “military wall,” “defensive wall,” “political/ideological wall” and so on.
Therefore, existing walls should be studied separately because each has its specific context and purposes.
Some of those walls are strictly defensive and military fortifications, others are considered as demarcating borders between two or more neighboring countries, others as buffer lines between warring parties, and others play different roles and functions.
The Sahara Wall (also known as Sand Wall, defensive wall and Berm), which was built by Morocco in the Western Sahara, is one of these walls worth studying as a specific case. The Sand Wall was built in a specific international and regional context marked by a furious conflict between the two blocs, during the Cold War, over the control of some geo-strategic areas, including the Maghreb region.
Researchers interested in the Western Sahara issue consider the battle between Algeria and Morocco over its fate as a piece of heritage of the Cold War, which had intensified the struggle for regional hegemony, as noted by William Zartman (1989, 70, 61), “by the end of 1984, the Saharan conflict had lost its specific focus on a piece of land and had become a clash of alliance in the Maghrib.” In this context, characterized by unconditional support provided by some socialist bloc countries (mainly Algeria, Libya and Cuba) to Polisario,1 Morocco had no choice but to build a defensive wall in order to impose its conditions on the battlefield. 
The Advisory Opinion rendered on October 6, 1975, by the International Court of Justice remains one of the key international legal bases to which Morocco refers in its policy towards the Western Sahara. This Advisory Opinion acknowledged that there were legal ties of allegiance between the Sahara territory and the Kingdom of Morocco at the time of colonization by Spain. The attachment of the population to the central power (Sultans, Princes, Kalifas) during Islamic history was based especially on religious and temporal ties of the allegiance (beyâa), which was considered as a contract between the population and the governor.
It is noteworthy that the notion of sovereignty that had been practiced in the Arab and Muslim World differed from “Westphalian sovereignty” that emerged in Europe following the end of the Thirty Years’War in 1648. Even if the system of “Westphalian sovereignty”—based on territoriality—has dominated international relations from that time on, it could not be applied retroactively on previous nations that had known a specific government and administration adapted to their cultural, political and social environment.
Arguably, the construction of the Sahara Wall is absolutely the most important military decision made by Morocco throughout the history of this issue because of its significant subsequent results not only at a military level but also because it has many considerable political and diplomatic consequences.
Moroccan Armed Forces began the construction of the sand wall in 1980 through a series of steps, ending in April 1987, after building more than 2,200 km. At that time the battle in the Western Sahara had completely changed in favor of Moroccan military strategy.
Since the present and future of the Sahara Wall is tied closely to those of the Western Sahara itself, it can be an adequate window to understanding the original question. So, before approaching the status and prospects of the Sahara Berm, it is advisable to start by taking a brief and close look at the Western Sahara issue.

A Glance at the Western Sahara Issue 

This section aims at highlighting both the historical ties between Morocco and the Sahara region, and the progress of this issue in the framework of the United Nations. 

The Sahara Region’s Historical Ties to Morocco
Throughout history, the Sahara has been the strategic depth of the Moroccan State. The rootedness of the Sahara in Morocco results from uninterrupted continuity, regardless of the ruling dynasty, many of whom originated from Sahara. History books overflow with indications of the ties between the Sahrawi tribes and the Moroccan state. These ties reflected the concept of sovereignty as it was practiced during the era of Islamic rule, also consistent with the pattern of nomadic life in the Sahara, which is characterized by permanent mobility and travel, not conducive to the establishment of a fixed administration. Thus, one could not adopt the concept of territorial sovereignty—as developed in Europe after the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648—as a standard to prove or deny the legal ties between Western Sahara and Morocco,since these had been developed in a different political, economic and social context.
The history of the Sahara confirms that Moroccan sultans and kings have exercised various forms of authority associated with internal and external sovereignty over this region. With regard to internal sovereignty, many historical documents show that the sultan has always practiced functions related to legislative, executive and spiritual authorities.
Legislative activities, exercised by the sultan, were not limited only to sultani dahirs (decrees), but extended to economic activity through the control of trade and production, in particular as regards fishing—the monopoly of which was generally reserved for the sultan’s subjects, except in the case of special concessions to foreigners. They also extended to the administration of the ports, in order to open and close them to foreign trade, according to requirements of national policy. The sultan’s legislative authority also related to raw materials and fiscal matters through the assessment, imposition and collection of taxes and dues (ICJ 1975, 8, 93).
Moroccan sultans practiced executive authority in the Sahara region through dahirs, as they did in the legislative field. That was how they appointed and dismissed the caids to whom they entrusted responsibilities of government in a region, on a coast, or over a group of tribes. The caids are, according to the etymological meaning of the term, military commanders who also have administrative functions. That does not mean that the title of caid tended to be an honorary one, as has been alleged. It is a practice in quite a number of countries, in the absence of a centralized authority, to choose persons to govern who have the qualifications which enable them to make their authority felt and carry out their tasks (ICJ 1975, 85, 93). Morocco submitted to the ICJ in 1975 five of those dahirs that showed the administrative and political linkage of the regions of Western Sahara to Morocco. It is the dahirs in documents 4, 5 and 8 which appoint caids with authority over the Sahara tribes of the Tidrareen and Oulad Tidrareen, whose nomadic migration routes extend over the whole of Western Sahara according to Mauritania’s maps numbers 2 and 3, and go beyond Cabo Bojador; the dahir in document 4 also appoints the caid with authority over the Saharan Tekna, whose nomadic migration route extends to the northern part of the Sahara, or the Sakiet El Hamra, according to map number 3 (ICJ 1975, 83,93).
Opinions of many European historians have agreed on the continuous and persistent link of Sahara region to Morocco, Fouad Ammoun mentioned, in his individual opinion, five of those historians -a Frenchman,
Vernet, and four Spaniards, Domenech Lafuente, Seco de Lucena, Huici and Romeu- who inspired great confidence with regard to the facts, supporting the Moroccan case (ICJ 86, 94).
With regard to external sovereignty, the documents relied upon by Morocco show international recognition of Moroccan territorial sovereignty over the Sahara region. Those documents concern bilateral conventions and treaties which Morocco held with some states, most especially the treaty with Spain of 1767, and treaties of 1836, 1856 and 1861 with the United States, Great Britain and Spain, respectively.
Provisions of these deal with the rescue and safety of mariners shipwrecked on the Coast of Wad Noun or its vicinity (ICJ 1975, 51). One of these significant international accords is the Franco-German exchange of letters of 1911—annexed to the Agreement between France and Germany of November 4, 1911—which expressed the understanding of the parties that “Morocco comprises all that part of northern Africa which is situated between Algeria, French West Africa, and the Spanish colony of Rio de Oro” (ICJ 1975,par. 124, 41). Morocco has presented this document as clear recognition by those powers of Moroccan sovereignty over the Sakiet El Hamra as an integral part of its territory.
Although, sovereignty in Islamic history had taken different dimensions generally summarized in the term “spiritual and temporal authority,” spiritual and religious ties had been its most important aspects.
Allegiance (beyâa) based on religious elements was expressed by tribes and inhabitants of the Sahara region to the Moroccan central authority. Religious and spiritual dimensions gave legal force to the allegiance,and the population’s belief in its obligation guaranteed the people’s respect of its requirements even if the state could not extend its material authority to them. This fact explains why an important number of provinces had remained subordinate to the central Islamic state for a long time despite the absence of any tangible administrative or military aspect of sovereignty that could coerce them into subjection.
Since independence in 1956, Morocco, based on the continued subordination of the Sahara region to its territory, has spared no effort in completing its territorial integrity, which was torn apart by progressive multinational colonization since 1884 when the Spanish colonization started.
Before 1956, the Moroccan people used various means, including armed struggle, for liberation from colonialism. However, formal declaration of independence in that year made Morocco fall back slowly to rely on diplomatic and political means, such as direct negotiations and UN instruments, to complete its territorial integrity.
Due to its exposure to multinational colonization and the competing interests of colonial powers, Morocco was unable to recover all of its territory at once in 1956. This did not prevent the country from declaring independence and gaining international recognition as provided for in international law.
Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples—adopted by General Assembly resolution 1514 (XV) of December 14, 1960—stipulated in paragraph 3 that “inadequacy of political, economic, social or educational preparedness should never serve as a pretext for delaying independence.” Nevertheless, this did not mean that Morocco had given up the territories that remained under occupation in the north and south. In fact, the declaration of Morocco’s independence in 1956 did not constitute a break with the colonial past because of the continued presence of Spanish colonization in important parts of Moroccan territory.

Even though Morocco was able to retrieve some parts of its national territory—such as Tarfaya and the sidi Ifni regions, which it regained respectively in 1958 and 1969 by a bilateral agreement with Spain—the Sakia El Hamra and Río de Oro regions, or what is known in international instruments as the “Western Sahara,” have been long considered as a major obstacle to the normalization of Moroccan–Spanish relations. The Spanish government insists on individual initiatives to settle the fate of the province and withdraw from it, and, later, this has been the main obstacle to achieving the Maghreb integration.
In addition to Spain, Algeria tried with all its strength, during this period, to prevent Morocco from achieving complete independence and reintegrating the Sahara region into Moroccan territory. Algeria has based its position on the principle of uti possidetis (i.e. the principle of inviolability of borders inherited from colonization), ignoring the fact that the Western Sahara has never been separated from Moroccan territory in the past. The principle of uti possidetis dates to Roman times and takes its name from the Latin phrase “uti possidetis, ita possideatis,” which means “as you possess, so may you possess.” The modern application of the uti possidetis doctrine emerged after the decolonization of Latin America in the early 19th century. This doctrine was summarized in the 1922 arbitral award by the Swiss Federal Council that settled the territorial claim between Colombia and Venezuela, which described uti possidetis as “the basis of South American public law:”
              … The principle laid down the rule that the boundaries of the newly established
                   republics would be the frontiers of the Spanish provinces which they were succeeding.
                   This general principle offered the advantage of establishing the general rule that in law
                   no territory of Old Spanish America was without an owner…The principle also had
                  the advantage … of doing away with boundary disputes between the new states.
                  (Scott 1922, 428–9)
In sum, the uti possidetis principle is a legal principle that provides that successor states accept international boundaries set by a predecessor regime.
At the beginning of 20th century, Latin America abandoned the uti possidetis principle because “it was found to be too restrictive on States there in rectifying obvious errors and injustices” and “there was often confusion over the location of provinces and other subdivisions of colonial control and thus over which successor State had the right to the territories in question.” Furthermore, “the principle could not be applied to adjacent territories which had been governed under different colonial regimes” (Joffe 1987).
This has always been the attitude of the Moroccan government—amongst others—towards the principle,particularly if it involved the creation of states that, before the colonial experience, had no status in international law (Joffe 1987).
In the African context, the principle of uti possidetis has been adopted implicitly, for example the resolution adopted by the Summit of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) in July 1964 in Cairo stipulated that all member states “pledge themselves to respect the borders existing on their achievement of national independence.” This statement does not mean in anyway that the principle of uti possidetis can be applied in all cases, since it refers only to “national independence” excluding the independence of a part of national territory. Algeria is one of the African countries that has hugely benefited from the implementation of this principle and it has strongly defended it because “it is extremely difficult to define a pre-colonial Algerian State with the same territorial extent as is the case with modern Algeria” (Joffe 1987). It was very difficult during the 1960s to settle Morocco–Algerian disputes over some contiguous regions without resorting to the principle of uti possidetis. Although the application of this principle was not equitable for Morocco, it had demonstrated great will to make significant territorial concessions in order to create a stable Maghreb.
In the case of the Western Sahara issue, although Algeria was anxious to apply the principle in defining an entity different from Morocco in the Sahara region, Morocco had been most unwilling to do so again, if for no other reason than the simple fact that the colonial regimes involved were very different and reflected different colonial approaches rather than any inherent differences in the nature of the contiguous territories involved (Joffe 1987).

The UN and the Western Sahara Issue
Before Spanish withdrawal from the Western Sahara region in 1975, the UN had adopted some resolutions concerning the region, especially Resolution 2072 (XX), adopted by the General Assembly on December 16, 1965, in which Spain was called upon to end its colonization of Sidi Ifni and the Sahara; and Resolution 2229 (XXI), adopted by the General Assembly on December 20, 1966, in which it recommended negotiations for the recovery of Sidi Ifni and called upon Spain to hold a referendum on the issue of the Sahara.
The Advisory Opinion given by the International Court of Justice on October 16, 1975 was a turning point in the modern history of Western Sahara. The ICJ concluded that Western Sahara (Rio de Oro and Sakiet El Hamra) at the time of colonization by Spain was not a territory belonging to no one (terra nullius); and there were legal ties between this territory and both the Kingdom of Morocco and the Mauritanian entity. Despite the disagreement about the interpretation of the ICJ Advisory Opinion, it constitutes the international legal framework of all Moroccan initiatives that seek to find a solution to the Western Sahara issue, because it confirmed the existence of the political, legal and spiritual attachment of the inhabitants of the Western Sahara, on the basis of the ties of allegiance (beyâa) shown throughout history, to the several dynasties which have governed Morocco.
Although, the United Nations had played a very modest role in the question of the Western Sahara during the Cold War era, immediately after the end of that period the UN began to play a more active role, which was reflected in some important decisions taken by the Security Council concerning Western Sahara and other international issues.
This new interaction was observed in the action of the UN to give special importance to the Sahara issue by presenting a set of proposals to the parties concerned, as well as by the creation of the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara, commonly known as MINURSO, on April 29, 1991.
This new role of the UN came to be further reinforced by the direct sponsorship of negotiations between Morocco and the Polisario (Saddiki 2008a).
Within the framework of the revival of the role of the UN in the Sahara issue, the Security Council has unanimously adopted Resolution 690 of April 29, 1991, wherein it showed approval for the report by the Secretary-General relative to the organization of a referendum of self-determination in the Sahara, just as much as it approved of the creation of the MINURSO forces (Saddiki 2008a). 
Once the UN had noticed the difficulty of putting in practice the 1991 settlement plan, the personal envoy of the Secretary-General, James Baker, proposed at the beginning of 2001 another project entitled “Framework agreement on the Status of Western Sahara,” known as “Baker Plan I.” This first “Framework Agreement” was characterized by its political nature, by concluding that the dispute over the Western Sahara is primarily a political issue. Although it was immediately accepted by the Moroccan government as “a framework for negotiations” because it offered the population of the Sahara autonomy within the Moroccan state, Polisario rejected it on the grounds that it did not include the possibility of secession of the territory; therefore, it has never been presented formally to the Security Council.
Convinced of the difficulty of applying the first plan, the former UN envoy proposed a second initiative, called “Baker Plan II” in 2003. The Security Council approved in its Resolution 1495 of March 2003 this plan, which bore the title “Peace Plan for Self-Determination of the People of Western Sahara.” This plan, which suffered from many practical difficulties (Saddiki 2008a), was considered—at least by the Moroccan government—as a step backwards since it proposed again the referendum option as a solution for the Western Sahara. Today, the “Baker Plan II” seems largely dead; since early 2005 the UN Secretary- General has not referred to the plan in his reports concerning the situation in Western Sahara.

This is precisely what accounts for the fact that Morocco should take the initiative to present a daring project that abides by the different resolutions of the United Nations, a project called “The Moroccan Initiative for Negotiating an Autonomy Statute for the Sahara Region” (henceforth, Moroccan Autonomy Initiative; Saddiki 2008a)..The Moroccan Initiative has been welcomed unanimously by the United Nations Security Council in its Resolution 1754 of April 30, 2007, a Resolution which expressly applauded the efforts deployed by Morocco “to move the process forward towards resolution,” and describes these efforts as being “serious and credible.. This praise of the Moroccan Initiative has since then been reiterated, including subsequent Resolutions adopted by the Security Council on the situation concerning Western Sahara; namely, Resolution 1813 of April 30, 2008, Resolution 1871 of April 30,2009, resolution 1920 of April 30, 2010, and Resolution 1979 of April 27, 2011. 

Status of the Sahara Wall
Although, the Sahara Wall was built at first for defensive reasons, since the beginning of the 1990s its status has undergone an important change with the creation of the MINURSO, which has signed some military agreements with the two sides of the conflict in order to define the status of the Berm and the surrounding areas.

The Original Function: The Sahara Wall as a Defensive Military Instrument
Like other military walls in various parts of the world that were erected in times of conflict, and symbolized the transition from an offensive strategy of conquest to a defensive, by which the state or empire protects its population and sustains a fait accompli (Novosseloff and Neisse 2008, 101), the Sahara Wall reflected the shift in the Moroccan military doctrine at the beginning of the 1980s. Morocco confirmed that the construction of the sand wall was purely for defensive purposes. Protection of civilian populations and the vital areas in Western Sahara were the top priority of this defensive policy against attacks of the Polisario forces (Abouddahab 2009). Moreover, this incremental strategy allowed Morocco to gain and secure more and more territory, as recommended by counter-insurgency theorists (Harvey 1988, 29).
At the time when the wall was finished, Polisario leaders—according to Mustapha Bouh, a former member of the Polisario’s political bureau—had to accept that the wall imposed another kind of war on them. The Moroccans had adapted their strategy and, in turn, Polisario had to follow suit (Moniquet 2005, 31).
Indeed, the construction of the Sahara Wall has extensively affected the margin of maneuver of Polisario and disrupted its military capabilities, whereas it has enhanced the Moroccan military strategy on the ground vis-à-vis Polisario and strengthened its negotiating position. This fact is explained by the significant decrease in the number of attacks carried out by Polisario against Moroccan forces, and was a turning point in the course of the conflict that led eventually to the cease-fire between the two sides. This situation, which delayed the vehicular and dismounted movement of Polisario troops, prompted Polisario leaders to abandon the military option and enter into direct negotiations with Morocco. Arguably, the sand wall has played a double role: protection and stabilization (Abouddahab 2009). In addition to the protective function, the sand wall has played an important role in stabilizing the region during the recent two decades.
It is notable that one of the main strategic reasons behind the building of the sand wall into the Western Sahara territory by Morocco, leaving an important part of the territory temporarily out of its direct control in the south and east of the Berm, is to avoid being confronted directly by the Algerian army and avoid chasing Polisario guerillas into Algerian territory or violating Mauritanian sovereignty. By this military doctrine, the Moroccan army has voluntarily limited its right of pursuit in the event of Polisario attacks (Moniquet 2005, 31) and it has demarcated the battlefield. Furthermore, the wall is built in mostly


Figure 1. The map made by MINURSO based on Military Agreement No. 1. 

 uninhabited territory in the Sahara. The defensive purpose of the Sahara Wall is clearly recognized in the  Secretary-General’s Report S/10/1998 on October 20, 1998 (paragraph 8 of section B, entitled “military aspects”), which stated with its construction work for logistical and accommodation purposes nearly completed at Dakhla, the engineering support unit from Pakistan is now focusing its efforts on the establishment of the forward logistical base at Awsard and on the refurbishment of sub-sector commands east of the defensive sand wall (Berm) Moreover, there is no report of the Secretary-General condemning the construction of the wall. In addition, no resolution of the Security Council and UN General Assembly mentions or describes the wall as “illegal.”

Current Function: the Berm as a Landmark of the Cease-fire Monitoring Agreement
The current status of the Berm is defined by Military Agreement No. 1 (henceforth MA#1) which is considered as the basic legal instrument for UN monitoring of the cease-fire in Western Sahara.
MINURSO developed and signed MA#12 in December 1997 and January 1998 with the Royal Moroccan Army (RMA) and the Frente Polisario Military Forces (FPMF), respectively (Figure 1). One of the most important clauses of MA#1 is its emphasis that it details only activities of the military and has no provisions for civilian movements. 
MA#1 divides the territory of Western Sahara into five areas in which the Berm is considered as a landmark of this demarcation (Figure 2). Each of the five parts has specific restrictions for the two parties’ military activities (MINURSO).
   • One 5 km wide Buffer Strip to the south and east sides of the Berm. MA#1 prohibits the entry of RMA and FPMF personnel and equipment into this area by ground or
      air, and the firing of weapons in or over the area. It stresses that it is prohibited at all times and any infraction counts as a violation of the cease-fire.
Figure 2. The map made by MINURSO based on Military Agreement No. 1.
   • Two 30 km wide Restricted Areas along the Berm. The Buffer Strip is included in the Restricted Area on the Polisario side and the Berm is included in the Restricted Area on the RMA side. MA#1 forbids the firing of weapons and/or military training exercises, with the exception of physical training activities of unarmed personnel.
Also, this agreement bans any tactical reinforcements, any redeployment or movement of troops, headquarters/units, stores, equipment, ammunition, weapons, any entry of military aircraft and any improvements of defence infrastructures.
However, it notes that some exceptions apply and some activities are allowed following prior notification to or approval by MINURSO.
   • Two Areas with Limited Restrictions, which are the two remaining vast, stretches of land of the Western Sahara on both sides, respectively. In these areas all normal military activities can be carried out with the exception of the reinforcement of existing minefields, the laying of mines, the concentration of forces, and the construction of new headquarters, barracks and ammunition storage facilities. MA#1 states also that MINURSO needs to be informed if the parties intend to conduct military exercises, including the firing of weapons of a calibre above 9 mm.
In addition to Military Agreement No. 1, MINURSO signed two other military agreements with the two parties separately. Military Agreement No. 2 was signed in April 1999 between the FPMF and the MINURSO with the aim of reducing the danger that represents residual mines and Unexploded ordnance (UXOs). However, the terms of this agreement do not apply to the mines and UXOs in the Buffer Strip.
On the other hand, Military Agreement No. 3 was conceived within the framework of strengthening the cooperation between the RAM and the MINURSO. With a humanitarian and environmental significance, it aims at reducing both the danger of residual mines and unexploded engines. It is further understood that this agreement aims at reducing the danger but not at performing a mine-cleaning operation or a large-scale research endeavor.
It is worth mentioning that the sand wall does not constitute an international border, as was noted in paragraph 56 of the Peace Plan (contained in the Report of the Secretary-General No S/2003/565 on May 23, 2003) “The Moroccan troops remaining in the Territory will ... consist only of troops deployed in static or defensive positions along the sand wall constructed by Morocco close to the eastern and southern frontier of the Territory.” Also, the report of the Secretary-General No S/1995/779 on September 8, 1995 distinguished between the Berm and the international border of Western Sahara, stating, in paragraph 25, that as noted in my last report (S/1995/404), during consultations held by the former Special Representative in 1991, the Frente POLISARIO had objected to the suggestion that its troops be confined outside the Territory, while Morocco had refused to agree that the POLISARIO troops be confined in the area between the sand wall (Berm) and the international border of Western Sahara.
New Functions of the Sahara Wall
Today, the role of the Sahara Wall has multiplied as a result of new phenomena in the region, especially the increase in operations made by some military groups and the growth of irregular sub-Saharan migrants crossing the Sahel and Sahara region.
Geographic features of Great Sahara, especially its immense open space and porous borders, have made the region, during the last decade, a safe haven for some Islamic military groups from which to threaten the countries of the region. Many attacks and kidnappings have been carried out by these groups, especially in Mauritania, South Algeria and the north of both Niger and Mali. So, the Sahara Wall can be practically considered as an effective impregnable obstacle to the movements of Islamic military groups which are located and acting in both the Sahara and Sahel region. This fact explains why Western Sahara remains away from the attacks of these groups in comparison with other regions.
On the other hand, the Sahara Wall plays an important role in preventing or at least reducing irregular immigrants. This is why sub-Saharan migrants generally prefer to enter Morocco at the border east of Oujda from Algeria after they have crossed the Sahara overland, usually through Agadez in Niger and Tamanrasset in Algeria (Hass 2008, 17–49), because they are aware of the difficulties of crossing into north Morocco from the south because of the Sahara Wall. This is why the cases of sub-Saharan irregular immigrants mentioned in periodic reports of the UN Secretary-General on “the situation in Western Sahara” remain limited and happen especially in the south and east sideS of the Berm.
The Prospects of the Sahara Wall
Today, the Sahara Wall finds itself at a crossroads because of significant developments in the Western Sahara issue, especially after the Moroccan Autonomy Initiative in 2007. This has been the subject of negotiations between the Moroccan government and Polisario, which started in Manhasset (US) in June 2007 and have continued intermittently up to the present time.
In fact, the future of the Sahara Wall depends closely on the fate of the Sahara issue itself. There are three scenarios for the future of the Sahara Wall, in accordance with the positions of the conflicting parties:
separation of the Sahara region from Morocco, success of the Moroccan Autonomy Initiative, or continuation of the existing status quo. 
Separation of the Sahara Region: an Unrealistic Solution
The dissident thesis, adopted both by Algeria and Polisario, focuses on the separation of the Sahara region and creation of an independent state as the ultimate solution of the conflict.
The notion of “Sahrawi people” or “people of Western Sahara” has been the subject of a controversial debate which accompanied, and still does, the different phases of the Western Sahara issue. In fact, the populations of Western Sahara have never regarded themselves as an independent nation or people. Even if we should consider the inhabitants of the Sahara to constitute a people in themselves, it should be mentioned that the Sahrawi tribes are not to be found exclusively in the Moroccan Sahara, for a great number of Sahrawis exist also in the entire south-west region of Algeria, from Bechar all the way to the borders between Mauritania and Mali. The same goes for the north-west of Mauritanian territory, to the north of Mali between Timbuktu and the Algerian borders, through Taoudeni (Saddiki 2008b, 81–2).
It is notable that many international actors interested in the Sahara issue have been aware that the self-determination option in the Sahara region is unworkable without a new vision that takes into account the inadequacy of the independence option. In fact, one of the major odds encountered by the referendum option is to define who would be entitled to vote in the referendum. Erik Jensen (2005, 13) has treated this issue eloquently with the following questions: “Who is a Sahrawi, who is a western Saharan, and who should be entitled to vote in the referendum? Who should be the determining self in the fact of self- determination?” The core issue—according to Jensen—has been the electorate deemed qualified to vote in a referendum. For Morocco, the right to vote had to be comprehensibly based on the principle of jus sanguinis, extending to all Saharan tribes linked to the former Spanish Sahara; for Polisario it should be narrowly defined in terms of jus soli, and limited to those counted in the Spanish census of 1974 (Jensen 2005, 13).
The statement made by the former Personal Envoy of the Secretary-General for Western Sahara, Peter Van Walsum, at the Security Council on April 21, 2008, certainly reflected the international awareness of the reality of the Sahara issue. Van Walsum considered that an independent Western Sahara is not a realistic proposition and not a reachable goal. He also urged the parties concerned to resume negotiations on the basis of excluding the option of referendum.
Furthermore, the creation of an independent state, that lacks the basic conditions of viability and continuity, is bound to constitute a heavy burden for the entire international community, and particularly for all the countries of the region. The risk is that such a microstate is likely to hurl the entire Maghreb region into a period of trouble and uncertainty. Significantly, the reserves expressed by the international community with respect to the Polisario’s separatist thesis indicate a growing awareness of the inappropriateness of creating microscopic states. This is because such entities represent yet another heavy burden to be borne by a world that is already weighed down by several political, economic, and security-related problems. Today, failed states constitute breeding hotbeds for military groups, arms and drug trafficking, as well as social violence and human rights’ violations. The creation of a failed state in the Sahara, bordering the Atlantic Ocean, will undoubtedly have a serious impact on international peace and security.
In addition, the application of such a narrow and rigid principle of self-determination, as claimed by the Polisario Front and its supporters, especially Algeria, will have some very dangerous political and security ramifications. Indeed, it will be at the root of some unceasing troubles in the Maghreb region, troubles which will not stop at the borders of a given country, particularly when we bear in mind the ethnic,linguistic and tribal composition of the countries of the region, mainly Algeria (Saddiki 2008b, 83). In fact, the diversity of the population of the Maghreb countries is a factor of strength and wealth, if properly employed. At the same time, such population diversity could turn, if manipulated or mismanaged, into a factor of trouble and tension, having unprecedented political and security repercussions, whose flames will not stop within a particular country; rather it will consume the whole region.
Moroccan Autonomy Initiative: a Middle-ground Resolution
In order to break out of the impasse of the Sahara issue and respond to calls that have been regularly launched by the Security Council since 2004 to “the parties and States of the region to continue to cooperate fully with the United Nations to end the current impasse and to achieve progress towards a political solution,” Morocco submitted an autonomy proposal for the Sahara in 2007, within the framework of the Kingdom’s sovereignty and national unity. This initiative, according to the official document,is part of the endeavors made to build a modern, democratic society, based on the rule of law, collective and individual freedoms, and economic and social development. As such, it brings hope for a better future for the region’s populations, puts an end to separation and exile, and promotes reconciliation.3
The Moroccan Autonomy Initiative took great care to conform to the principle of self-determination, giving it a special meaning compatible with the specificity of the Western Sahara issue. The concept of autonomy is related to what is known in international law as “internal self-determination.” This concept refers to the right to exercise political, economic and cultural autonomy within an existing state, and is concretely translated into the establishment of large control over the political, economic, social and cultural development of the concerned region. In other words, according to Patrick Thornberry (1993, 101), “the external dimension or aspect [of self-determination] defines the status of a people in relation to another people, State or Empire, whereas the democratic or internal dimension should concern the relationship between a people and ‘its own’ State or government”. Article 5 of the Moroccan Autonomy Project falls within the latter perspective in so far as it stipulates that:
... the Sahara populations will themselves run their affairs democratically, through legislative, executive and judicial bodies enjoying exclusive powers. They will have the financial resources needed for the region’s development in all fields, and will take an active part in the nation’s economic, social and cultural life.
Unlike other proposed projects, including the referendum, which have encountered tremendous problems in terms of their implementation, the Moroccan Autonomy Initiative seems to be a concrete project. The Moroccan Initiative has, thanks to its realism, garnered wide international support, both within the Security Council and elsewhere, because it is considered as a credible and realistic solution to the conflict in the Sahara, which has lasted too long already. 
Comparative constitutional law has been able to lift the ambiguity surrounding the definition of the notion of the autonomy statute, given that this right is linked to some practical experiences of autonomy statutes. At this level, three categories of autonomy statutes can be distinguished which spring from constitutional practice (Suski 1998, 151–71). The first category is the one organized by the constitution of the state concerned, which gives the autonomous authority its own judiciary as well as some exclusive legislative powers (examples: Aaland Islands in Finland, the region of Gagauzia in Moldova, and other applications in Spain, Italy and Portugal). The second category is composed of the specific statutes of an official constitutional delegation, and concerns the power to create laws with the exception of its own laws (example: Greenland and the Faeroe islands in Denmark). In contrast of the first category, the second is an example of “fully autonomous territory,” or as Kristian Myntti (1998, 279) described the case of Greenland as an “autonomous territory proper.” The third category is constituted by the regimes of autonomy that enjoy a specific constitutional statute, with the attribution of ordinary administrative and judicial competences belonging to those of the central authorities concerned (example: the Crimea region in Ukraine). According to the studies conducted by Markku Suksi (1998), only the Spanish Constitution provides for the autonomy as a claimable constitutional right (Article 2 of the Spanish Constitution),4 whereas all other constitutions do not recognize the statute of autonomy as a constitutional right.
Hence, the Moroccan Initiative appears to be a middle-ground solution, since it states in Article 29 that “... the Moroccan Constitution shall be amended and the autonomy Statute incorporated into it, in order to guarantee its sustainability and reflect its special place in the country’s national juridical architecture.”
The integration of the autonomy statute of the Sahara region in the constitutional text reflects, indeed, the importance given by Moroccan decision makers to this project.
As far as the competences attributed to the autonomous region are concerned, the fact is that there are two cases where the exclusive competences of the central power are listed, when the attributions of the autonomous region emanate from organic or ordinary law. Otherwise, only the exclusive competences of the autonomous region are listed, which implicitly suggests that all other attributions belong to the central authority, be they exclusive to the state or in common bond with the autonomous region. In yet a third situation, one which was equally adopted by the Moroccan project, the exclusive competences of the central power and the autonomous region are laid out in a clear manner; be it in connection with exclusive or conjoined competences, one condition being that “... powers which are not specifically entrusted to a given party shall be exercised by common agreement, on the basis of the principle of subsidiarity.”5 In addition to the above, the Moroccan project is also characterized by seeking to establish a negotiated autonomy on the basis of compromise between the parties concerned and is not imposed unilaterally by constitutional, ordinary or organic law. That is why the Moroccan government considers it as a ground for negotiations with Polisario, not a final version of the autonomy statute.
Continuation of the Status Quo
The third possibility is that the Sahara Wall will perpetuate for many years, consolidating the status quo in the region, since there are no indications of a clear willingness from Polisario to compromise its position on creating an independent state in the region. This status quo scenario may take two tracks:
   • continuation of the current stalemate of the Sahara issue as it has been over theprevious three decades;
   • the implementation of the autonomy statute in the Sahara region unilaterally by Morocco, as a result of the failure of negotiations initiated in 2007 under UN
      auspices between the two sides.
Aware of the gravity of this scenario, some observers have warned that the collapse of negotiations between Morocco and Polisario will have far-reaching impacts on the future of the Western Sahara dispute and it will perpetuate the status quo. This conclusion is associated with the rise of many voices in Morocco that call for applying the autonomy initiative unilaterally in the framework of the new Moroccan policy of advanced regionalization, which aims at improving and enhancing the competences of local authorities.
Although some international and regional powers are satisfied with the maintenance of the status quo in the region because they are benefiting so far from this situation, the prevailing view in the United Nations wants to put an end to the problem and overcome the current stalemate. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon stated, in the UN report on the situation concerning Western Sahara on April 14, 2008, that the momentum—which has existed during the last years—can be maintained only by trying to find a way out of the current political impasse through realism and a spirit of compromise from both parties. He concluded that “the consolidation of the status quo is not an acceptable outcome of the current process of negotiations.”
It is arguable that the Sahara Wall is very different from other cases. It was built in a specific context, for specific goals and, furthermore, it is related to a dissimilar issue. The Western Sahara issue is one of the heavy legacies of the colonization age that left Africa with arbitrary and unreasonable borders which were demarcated inequitably. Therefore, the Berm is just an aspect of a complex conflict, and it will disappear when the original issue takes the right steps towards an ultimate and just resolution.
In this context, it is worth mentioning that Algeria is the main sponsor of the separatist thesis that delays Maghreb integration. Actually, the Arab Maghreb Union (AMU), which was established in February 1989 between Morocco, Libya, Algeria, Mauritania and Tunisia, can be an adequate framework in which Algeria achieves its interests rather than creating an artificial and non-viable state. The success of the integration process in the region cannot only resolve the Western Sahara issue and hence the disappearance of the Berm. The AMU must also be pushed to be a trailblazer for the Arab World as well as other developing countries.
Granting an autonomy statute for the Sahara region is currently the equitable and realistic solution of the issue, because it aims at achieving a political resolution based on a middle-ground “no winner no loser” away from the zero-sum referendum or so-called “winner-take-all” approach.
1 -Polisario is an acronym for the Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia el Hamra and Rio de Oro, founded in Zouerate (Mauritania) on April 29, 1973 with the purpose of obtaining independence for Western Sahara.
2 - (accessed November 25, 2010).
3 -Article 3 of the Moroccan Project of Autonomy.
4 -Article 2 of the Spanish Constitution states that “The Constitution ... recognizes and guarantees the
   right to autonomy of the nationalities and regions which make it up and the solidarity among all of them.”
5 -Article 17 of the Moroccan Project of Autonomy.
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