At first glance, recent trial (known as the Gdim Izik trial) of Sahrawi separatists in Rabat and the creation of a new pro-independence party in the Spanish Basque country seem two distinct events. Nevertheless, these unrelated developments present Moroccan officials with new ideas to consider in their never-ending quest to close the “Sahara dossier”. In light of recent diplomatic and public missteps, Rabat should contemplate formulating a new approach to tackle the Western Sahara conflict.
Moroccans more than ever need to look at this “war” through different lenses. As the Moroccan-Algerian rivalry intensifies with no hope of a respite, Rabat must find alternative representatives who will speak on behalf of the pro-independence movement in the Southern Provinces.
A decision to legalize a home grown pro-independence organism will expose the extent of Algeria role in obstructing the UN efforts to end the conflict and will marginalize the position of Algerian operatives such as Aminatu Haidar. Spain’s’ handling of the Basque’s nationalist movements is an example for Morocco to study and follow.
The Gdim Izik trial, notwithstanding its shortcomings, revealed to the Moroccan public and the world the existence of two types of pro-independence Sahrawis. A group closely associated with the Algeria based Polisario Front, but more importantly a local set of Sahrawis who would like to consider independence of the Sahara as an option.
According to a former Polisario official, currently living in Morocco, “the Polisario leadership is very much worried about the emergence of a new breed of young Sahrawis born and raised either in the Camps or under Moroccan rule in the Sahara and stand somewhere between the Moroccan and Algerian positions.”
This key demographic group, who yearns for a final solution to the conflict, grasps Algeria’s obstructionist role and Morocco’s shortcomings. The expanding profile of this collection of young Sahrawis offers the Moroccan authorities a second chance to bring certain Saharawi tribes into the fold by offering real political and judicial reforms.
Since Morocco’s critical decision to negotiate with the Polisario rendered the Western Saharan separatist organization as one of the legitimate representative of Sahrawis, Morocco should offset this past mistake by granting the local independent and independence leaning Sahrawis the right of association and speech within the officially permitted boundaries of Moroccan laws.
By allowing “non-affiliate” Sahrawis to organize, Morocco will initiate a national dialogue about the ramifications of independence versus the benefits of the Moroccan proposal for self-rule in the Sahara. The input from the local Sahrawi population, and not the chosen tribal spokespeople, is vital to the success of any resolution.
Furthermore, involving different local actors in the evaluation of future political projects for the Western Sahara will enrich the features of proposed solutions, including the Local Autonomy Plan, and would give Morocco a more solid standing on the international scene. Spain’s experience in “domesticating independence movements” could be used as a model.
Despite the Spanish civil society’s overt support for the “Sahrawi drive for independence”, the Spanish political and judiciary systems offer Morocco few “local autonomy prototypes” to emulate and adopt soto settle the separatist aspirations of some Sahrawis. The legalization of a Basque independence movement in Spain could be a prelude to the formation of a lawful Saharan pro-independence organization in Morocco.
Madrid’s recent decision to legalize Sortu, a party advocating for an independent Basque nation, is a major change in Spain’s approach to dealing with its “domestic” separatist movements. Despite “scant “support for the Polisario position in the Western Sahara, past and present Spanish governments fought and derailed attempts by Spanish Basque and Catalan political movements to push for independence from the central government.
For Spain’s ruling Partido Popular sanctioning Sortu is a departure from its past practices of using Spanish court and political dirty tricks to block the formation of minority-nationalist parties in the Basque. Sortu, a leftist and nationalist organization that was officially authorized in 2012 after years of legal brawling in Spanish courts, is fervently for Basque independence and is unmistakably similar to the outlawed Batasuna.
The lessons for Morocco in Madrid’s decision to co-exist with Sortu is contained in the judicial vetting and the legal and political restriction put forward by the Spanish authorities before allowing the Basque separatists to operate in the open. Moroccan authorities could use similar process to allow local pro-independence Sahrawis form an officially authorized group.
As Madrid required Sortu to demonstrate to the Spanish courts that it had no political affiliation with the armed organization Basque Homeland and Freedom (known as ETA), Morocco should put forward mechanism to insure that a potential Saharan organization has no links to either the Polisario or Algeria.
Sortu gained legal status but with string attached. In its decision legalizing the Basque pro-independence movement, Spain’s’ highest court outlined several condition if not met will prompt the outlawing of Sortu in the future. If Rabat decides to accommodate and mollify Sahrawis leaning towards independence, Morocco should set up similar mechanism to insure the political and ideological independence of such organism.
Moroccans, weary of the Saharan conflict’s heavy toll on the socio-economic development of their country, hope to see their government come up with a new approach in dealing with the tension in the region while some worry about potential pitfalls from such risky move .Moroccan officials ability to execute and oversee such plan, if adopted, without incidents or mistakes will make a difference for all the people of the Sahara.