"Western Sahara" and "the Basque Republic"

Spain's double standard on the issue of the Moroccan Sahara versus the Basque people's quest for a homeland in northern Spain is truly contemptuous and arrogant. Before I go any further, I would like to make it  clear that when I refer to groups struggling for self determination for  the people of the Basque region , I am not referring to the armed group ETA (Euskadi Ta Askatasuna which is Basque for "Basque Homeland and Freedom") but rather  the non-violent Basque nationalists . The Basques are one of oldest ethnic groups in Europe and live in northern Spain along the French borders. The Basque population is distingtive physically, linguistically, historically, and culturally from the rest of the Spanish population. In fact, the Basque as entity, in one form or the other, pre-dates modern European nation-states. On the other hand, the Sahrawis of the Moroccan Sahara have the same language, culture, religion, history, physical characteristics as the rest of the Moroccan populace. The "Western Sahara", historically, never existed as an independent political entity outside Morocco. The Basques political struggle for a homeland was a homegrown movement that started in the early 20th Century; in contrast, the so-called Sahrawi endeavor for independence was fabricated in Algiers and imposed on Morocco in the form of an Algerian proxy war. Now, let's put these historical facts on a scale to determine which group would qualify for the rights to self-determination and independence. While Morocco, King, government and civil society have been good neighbors to our friends across the strait of Gibraltar and never contemplated this kind of debate, reciprocity was not forthcoming from the Spaniards.

Furthermore, Spanish non governmental organizations (NGO) are the most active pro Sahara independence groups in Europe. Last week, several Spanish NGOs demonstrated for self-determination for the "Sahrawi" people. But what about the self-determination for the Basques? In October of this year, 20,000 people marched on in several Basque towns, demanding a referendum on the right to independence. Conspicuously, there were no marches in other Spanish cities outside the Spanish Basque country. It is hypocritical that few weeks ago, several Spanish human rights activists traveled to Laayoun in the Moroccan Sahara to discomfit the Moroccan government into accepting a referendum on the right to independence for the Sahrawis while discounting their countrymen's plea for the same type of cause.  Spain's answer to the Basques demand for self-determination has been local autonomy within Spain's sovereignty. Madrid considers the Basque country, notwithstanding its startling distinct identity, too valuable economically and geographically to be lost to an independent Basque Republic. European leaders, conveniently disregarding their rhetoric of Human Rights and people's right to self-rule, embraced Spain's policy in the Basque region. My questions then are: Why are Spain and the European Union not endorsing Morocco's "local autonomy plan" for solving the Sahara problem, since this approach follows to the letter Madrid's policy in the Basque region? Why is the Spanish civil society deaf to the Basques demands for self-rule but quick to support the Algerian government theories in support of an independent Sahrawi Republic?

It may be time for Moroccans to travel to Bilbao and march with the Basques in support for their claim to independence. May be then and only then the Spanish authorities and civil society get the hint.

 I am neither supporting nor advocating for the ETA. The core of my argument is to draw attention to the double standards of the Spanish position on the issue of the Moroccan Sahara. To put it bluntly, The Spanish Government and civil society are in no position to lecture Morocco on how to handle its affairs in its Sahara. Along the same lines, the Basque question is an internal Spanish issue that should be handled locally, and Morocco has been approaching it as such. Also, I stayed away, on purpose, from addressing the occupation of Ceuta and Melilla and the Status of the Catalan Region.

 Because of "historical" links or rather imperial deeds, some Spanish quarters think they have the right to discuss the so called self-determination of Sahrawis, while Moroccans should sit and watch. In fact, the Spanish Supreme Court has outlawed two political parties (Batasuna is one them) with links to pacifist Basques in an attempt to muzzle the non violent pro-independence Basque groups. The Spanish government has operated the Basque region under an autonomous government since 1978 and Morocco has the same rights to govern its Sahara in the same manner.

 While the Socialist Governments of Gonzalez and Zapatero (whom I respect) have been shy in their support of the Morocco local autonomy plan in the Sahara, Generalissimo Aznar's right wing extremists (Partido Popular) are always on a rampage to destroy the image of the Kingdom.      


 Author: Hassan Masiky is a native of Kenitra, Morocco. He graduated from the University of the District of Columbia with a degree in political science in 1991. Upon graduation, Hassan joined the Washington DC based non government organization the Parliamentary Human Rights Foundation (PHRF) where he worked as a consultant for USAID democracy projects in Mexico, Haiti, Republic of Georgia and the European Parliament. After leaving PHRF, Hassan dedicated his time advising Amnesty International USA on African and Middle Eastern affairs and representing the organization in press conferences. Mr. Masiky was a host on several television shows discussing human rights and democracy. He is currently working for a Federal Agency in the Washington area.