Morocco sick of Western Sahara

By  Khadija Mohsen-Finan –

Since October 3, 2014, a mysterious hacker has published hundreds of documents. This abundant literature made available to all Internet users confirms the centrality of the question of Western Sahara in the Moroccan political sphere. The priority given to this issue was reaffirmed in the King’s speech, delivered on November 6, 2014 on the occasion of the 39th anniversary of the “Green March”.

Western Sahara is a real obsession with power. Erected as a “national cause” according to the official phraseology, it has been at the center of the country’s political concerns for nearly four decades. But as the conflict bogged down and the “recovery of the southern provinces” encountered multiple obstacles, the regime’s obsession grew even more important. The Moroccan poet Abdellatif Laâbi was not mistaken in considering his country “sick of the Sahara”.

When it broke out in the mid-1970s, this “Sahara affair” – as the Moroccans called it – was fairly commonplace in the context of the time. Somewhat out of step with the era of decolonization, the claim of a former Spanish colony by Morocco and by a group of independentists is not surprising. It is perceived as a struggle between nation-states which are being built by asserting their sovereignty over territories with uncertain borders and with populations that are shared and all in all little concerned.

Given the disproportion of forces between Morocco and the handful of guerrillas of the Polisario Front, the conflict was to be short-lived in the mind of Hassan II. The time that a formidable political consensus is made around the Alawite throne in a Morocco undermined by tensions and political divisions, and after two coups d’état perpetrated by the army against the person of the king in 1971 and 1972.

Hassan II, who had initially opted for the strategy of the closed file, was far from imagining that this conflict, which engulfed in the breach of the dispute between his country and the Algerian neighbor, would be long and expensive. The cost is primarily political, Morocco having mortgaged the life of the country to the sacred cause of the recovery of what Moroccans call the “Saharan provinces”. It is precisely this link between the success of the regime and ownership of the Sahara recognized by the international community that is in question. Hassan II, who thought that time would necessarily work in favor of his country, liked to say that “sooner or later, our title to the Sahara must be deposited with the United Nations Land Conservation”. The power’s inability to obtain this title to property explains its nervousness,

In his speech, the monarch announces a reorganization of his Saharan policy, designates Algeria by name as responsible for the current blockage and summons his subjects to show patriotism by defending the sacred cause of the Sahara considered as Moroccan. As for the Allied States, and in particular the United States, they must necessarily “get out of the ambiguity”. The documents unveiled by the so-called “Moroccan Wikileaks” reveal the methods and means that Rabat uses to implement this policy.


“We have called for a radical revision of the mode of governance of our southern provinces” declared King Mohammed VI in his speech on the occasion of the 39th anniversary of the “green march” (1). If implicitly the remarks insinuate the failure of previous policies, the king lists despite everything the multiple actions carried out by Morocco in the Sahara: massive investments and years of sacrifices on behalf of the Moroccans to recover “the territorial integrity” of their country.

Despite this, the monarch recognizes dysfunctions in the management of the Sahara – which he intends to correct. But this is less a change of course than the implementation of a new method, even if the “break” with the previous mode of governance is clearly stated.
By expressing his desire to substitute a system based on “respect for equal opportunities and social justice” for an “economy of rent and undue privileges”, Mohammed VI refers to the scheme of integration of the Sahrawis into the Moroccan company that had been adopted by his father. Hassan II had in fact relied on a Sahrawi elite to govern this territory that Morocco has administered since the mid-1970s, without the UN having ruled on its sovereignty. In return for their allegiance and loyalty, the Sahrawis who came to his aid were associated with the most dynamic activities in the region (fishing, building, trade). They were also assigned posts as officials or advisers to the king.
Mohammed VI knows that these patronage links, which he has not been able to maintain, no longer meet the expectations of the young Sahrawi generations. Impregnated by the political change that began at the end of the 1990s in Morocco, young Sahrawis expressed themselves differently to demand work, access to housing and more justice in the redistribution of the wealth of the Sahara. It is to better respond to these requests drawn from a new reference register, that of human rights, individual and political freedoms and international legality, that the sovereign intends to modify its offer by proposing a regionalization qualified as an advance. This regionalization would correspond to “areas and regions united, complementary, which help and support each other”. Regularly announced, this regionalization, which primarily concerns the Sahara, is not implemented. However, the project is supposed to promote the management of Saharan affairs by the populations of this region.


The announcement made by the sovereign in 2014 of a reorganization of Saharan policy aims to draw an end to the mismanagement of the region, mainly in the area of ​​human rights. For nearly ten years, in fact, numerous cases have attested to the poor political relations between Sahrawis and Moroccan authorities. Taking into account these recurring tensions, the United States, in April 2013, requested the extension of the mandate of the United Nations Mission for the Organization of a Referendum in Western Sahara (Minurso) to human rights, before retract. An official document published by hacker Chris Coleman reveals the secret agreement between Barack Obama and King Mohammed VI in November 2013. The United States would have abandoned their request on three conditions: that the Saharawis not be tried by military courts (2); that Rabat facilitate visits to the Sahara by officials of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and that it agree to legalize the associations which claim the independence of the Sahara.

Faced with these demands, the monarch decides to establish a rigid framework. In his speech, he calls for the opening of a dialogue on the different ways in which it is possible to respond to “the concerns of the populations of the region”. The royal offer would relate in particular to more dignified living conditions, but in return public order must be respected and Morocco’s sovereignty over the Sahara is in no way negotiable. The monarch is clear: “Autonomy is the maximum that Morocco can offer within the framework of negotiations to find a definitive solution to this regional conflict. »


More than a framework designed for the Saharawis, the king’s words are akin to a real summons when he qualifies as a “traitor” anyone who passes him: “either one is a patriot or one is a traitor, there is no there is no middle ground ”, specifies the sovereign in the same speech. This game of inclusion and exclusion does not only apply to Sahrawis and Moroccans. The king designates Algeria as the main person responsible for the blockage. He also asks the United States, the United Nations and the international powers to “get out of their ambiguity”. In his mind, the praise formulated about Moroccan progress in terms of political openness or the role played by Morocco in the international fight against terrorism must necessarily translate into unconditional support for Moroccan positions on the Sahara.

This posture is a constant in Morocco’s foreign policy, in particular with regard to the Sahara. The country’s image and its role in regional geopolitics are used to obtain alliances on the Sahara. Meticulously counted, the states which do not recognize the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) self-proclaimed by the Polisario Front and recognized by the African Union must also condemn Algeria and support the autonomy plan proposed by Rabat in 2007. Anyone contravenes this policy is exposed to the wrath of power by being reproached for being in the pay of Algiers. The accusation, which applies to researchers and journalists, also applies to United Nations officials who dare to transgress the rules dictated by Rabat in terms of intrusion into the Saharan conflict.


In April 2004, Rabat rejected the peace plan proposed by the personal envoy of the United Nations Secretary General for Western Sahara, James Baker. The former US Secretary of State had indeed proposed a plan that maintained the principle of self-determination with the election of a local authority within a sovereign Morocco. But the final status of the Sahara was to be determined by a referendum at the end of 4 to 5 years after its entry into force. Morocco, which had ruled out any self-determination project, then spoke of closeness between Baker and the Algerian regime.

On May 17, 2012, Morocco unilaterally decided to withdraw its confidence in the UN envoy for the Sahara, Christopher Ross, accusing him of carrying out partial and unbalanced work. A month earlier, the report of the Secretary-General of the United Nations – based on the reports of Chris Ross – indeed bluntly pinpointed the obstacles to the proper functioning of MINURSO by Morocco. The report quite rightly questioned what is legitimate and what is legal in action in the Sahara. He also questioned the credibility of Minurso in the Sahara. Despite this, the diplomat was not disowned by his hierarchy. Openly benefiting from the support of Ban Ki-moon, he was kept in his post.

This support, which had become possible in the post-2011 regional context, gave an unprecedented character to relations between Morocco and the UN. The documents posted online reveal the strategies deployed by Moroccan parallel diplomacy to marginalize Ross. In a fax of August 22, 2014, Omar Hilale, Morocco’s representative to the United Nations in New York, evokes a strategy to “isolate Ross, weaken him and push him to his limits regarding his hidden agenda on the Sahara “.

On all the questions relating to the very sensitive issue of the Sahara, the documents revealed in recent months overlap and agree with the words of the sovereign on the Saharan policy of Morocco. Much more than a protagonist in this old regional conflict, Morocco defines the actors, dictates the policy of foreign powers and excludes negotiations for the settlement of the issue.


(1) On November 6, 1975, Hassan II launched a peaceful march of 350,000 men to occupy Western Sahara, a territory which was a Spanish colony.
(2) Reference to the condemnation to heavy sentences, by a Moroccan military court, of 24 Sahrawis accused without evidence in the Gdim Izik case. In the fall of 2010, Sahrawis had set up a peaceful camp to denounce their living conditions in Western Sahara. After setting up a mixed Moroccan-Sahrawi committee, the Moroccan authorities dismantled the camp by force, on the pretext that it had fallen into the hands of groups of traffickers and criminals who held part of the Sahrawi population against its will.

SAKHRI Mohamed
SAKHRI Mohamed

I hold a bachelor's degree in political science and international relations as well as a Master's degree in international security studies, alongside a passion for web development. During my studies, I gained a strong understanding of key political concepts, theories in international relations, security and strategic studies, as well as the tools and research methods used in these fields.

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