Morocco treats Western Sahara badly

Morocco and the Western Sahara conflict

It happens at dawn. Helicopters circle over the area. A wall of blue lights approaches the camp. Before: Hundreds of police marching towards the camp with protective shields in front of their bodies. Women and children had already been asked to vacate the camp. The police are now using water cannons against the remaining demonstrators - who defend themselves with stones and knives.

The violence spreads to that of the nearby town of Laayoune. Protesters set fire to cars and buildings there. It is difficult to get information at first. Journalists are no longer allowed to travel to Laayoune - let alone to the camp. The cell phone networks are switched off in the city. It is the worst clashes between the police and residents of Western Sahara in years. Mohammed Salem Ould Salek is furious. He is the foreign minister of the Polisario independence movement and calls on the UN Security Council to strongly condemn Morocco's actions. And an international commission of inquiry.

"This war was waged against the civilian population of Western Sahara who are unarmed! It is shameful that the international community is silent about the crime. We have the impression that Morocco and its supporters want to get the people of the Saharoui to take up arms again to grab! "

The reaction from the Moroccan side is no less sharp. A commission of inquiry is out of the question for us, said government spokesman Khalid Naciri:

"Morocco is an organized state, we are not a gang of crooks like the leaders of the Tindouf camps. These people have no lessons to teach. This is a group of adventurers who want to turn the Maghreb into a zone of instability."

Western Sahara, one of the world's forgotten conflicts, is making a name for itself again. As a reminder: 35 years ago the Western Sahara was occupied by Morocco. The kingdom regards the former Spanish colony as its national territory. The "Polisario" movement sees it completely differently. She calls for the independence of Western Sahara - and is supported by Algeria. For years there has been fighting between Polisario and the Moroccan army. For almost 20 years there has been a ceasefire - monitored by a small UN peacekeeping force. But there is also a standstill on the subject of Western Sahara: The Polisario continues to demand the independence of Western Sahara, but Morocco is at most willing to grant autonomy rights.

And yet: Western Sahara still harbors political explosives - the past week has shown that. Even if the demonstrators in the tent camp said they only had social demands. That means: more jobs, more apartments, more money for development. Mohammed, 32 years old, on the French radio station RFI:

"I studied English literature and management in Marrakech. But I have had to work as a receptionist for five years. I tried to get a job with the police. But: No chance. It is a question of trust, you have no trust in You, if you are Saharoui. I have no perspective! I have a Moroccan passport, I have never done anything bad, never raised the Polisario flag! "

Many Saharoui feel like Mohammed. You feel like you're being treated like a second class person - nationwide. To be disadvantaged in terms of training and work. So also Aisha, 22 years old:

"I know that I am competent, but I can't find a job! I'm studying at the University of Agadir, I'm doing an internship in corporate management. I would really like to see a job - but can't find any!"

Aisha stayed for three weeks in this sea of ‚Äč‚Äčtents, surrounded by the Moroccan army. At times more than 12,000 people are said to have stayed here. Quite a lot for a region that has no more than around 200,000 inhabitants. Abdessalam is one of them:

"For me, this place means maximum freedom. We are rediscovering freedom. We came together here to live together, together. Because life under the Moroccan flag is hell. As soon as you have a different political opinion, you get it You answer only violence. "

So how apolitical was the camp really? In fact, the timing could hardly have been better: Morocco has just celebrated the 35th anniversary of the invasion of Western Sahara. Just this week the delegations from Morocco and the Polisario met near New York. This time they came to terms with a particularly tense atmosphere - and, as always, ended with no results. The protest camp was a targeted political action, said Mohammed Lansaer, general secretary of the conservative Moroccan party "Mouvement Populaire":

"Everything points to a specific political plan, hatched by Algeria and the Polisario. We all know about the social problems in this area, nobody denies them. The fact that it all started on October 19th when the UN Christopher Ross was chief mediator in Morocco, that is a sign enough. "

Whether Algeria, the old, graying fighters of the Polisario - or power-hungry local politicians and tribal leaders: whoever pulled the strings during the protest - he played into the hands of the Polisario. Because Morocco is now in a bad light in the global public. The people behind the action are in the dark. But one thing has become very clear this week: the action was a demonstration of the identity of the Saharoui. It has shown that men and women, old and young - all have one thing in common: frustration. And they are ready to irritate the state to the extreme. Even if the tents have long been dismantled: This camp will keep Morocco busy for a long time.