Your Algerian patrons just held an election. Any serious observer is likely skeptical about the margin of victory and claims of voter participation. The outcome seemed never to be in doubt once all the various clans of “le pouvoir” decided the best way out of their current mess was to just have Bouteflika run for a fourth term, elections in Algeria being what they are. But one thing can be said for the event: there was more than one political party involved in the process; in fact multiple parties put up candidates. You might want to take away at least that lesson from the Algerian political process.
It is difficult to maintain the illusion, even in today’s post Arab Spring Middle East, that a state is “democratic” when only one political party is allowed to participate in what the state wants people to believe was a real election. You may not have noticed, but your own “constitution” still seems rather too much a reflection of its communist roots and justifications for one-party totalitarianism. Putting the word “democratic” in the title of the state just isn’t all that persuasive any longer. Ditto the term “republic,” which actually has a meaning.

And while we are on the subject of the most basic elements of democratic rule, you might also want to consider a few other common modern points of reference related to respect for human rights and the rule of law in democratic states.

I have been astonished these last years at your loud and repeated claims of concern for the human rights of the Sahrawi people. Human rights is another expression that actually has a meaning in modern political discourse. If you would like informed observers to view your professed concerns with any legitimacy you might want to reconsider some of your current governing behaviors in the refugee camps in Algeria.

People have a right to express dissenting views in the public debate over the state’s policies. Meaning you need to stop locking them up when they disagree with you and consider letting them speak their minds more freely and openly. They should not have to whisper their views only quietly among trusted friends in places they hope they aren’t being overheard.

People have a right to free association. The mark of any true democracy is the existence of a vibrant civil society where people can get together to advocate openly for their preferences about public affairs – even when, indeed especially when, their advocacy runs counter to the state’s current practice. Meaning you should consider allowing the emergence of freely formed civil society groups in the camps and allow people to openly express their common views together.
Polisario “constitution” still seems rather too much a reflection of its communist roots and justifications for one-party totalitarianism.
Polisario “constitution” still seems rather too much a reflection of its communist roots and justifications for one-party totalitarianism.
People have a right to freedom of movement. No state that locks away its population and forbids them travel documents of any kind and the right to go where and when they please can be said to be democratic or to respect its citizen’s human rights. This is a rather significant problem for you and one you need to work on a great deal harder. I have interviewed hundreds of your former camp residents over the last years and am still appalled by the horror stories I have heard of what it takes to quit your camps and move themselves and their families somewhere else – including back to Morocco where they came from and are welcome to return.

People have a right to a fair and equitable judicial process. Sorry, but summary judgments without appeal before military or authoritarian state political officials simply does not qualify as a commonly accepted form of respect for the rule of law these days. By the way, under international law that means they have a right to appeal in the Algerian courts as well since they are refugees in Algeria, which has signed and ratified the appropriate international conventions giving refugees on its territory this right.
These are only a few of the very basic elements that you would be well advised to consider if you wish the wider world of informed observers to credit your professed concerns for the human rights of the Sahrawi people as anything more than political theater in the service of other agendas.

Robert M. Holley is Senior Policy Advisor for the Moroccan American Center for Policy, MACP.