After nearly three decades of being forgotten, the Saharawi people have run out of patience. In November they ended their ceasefire agreement with Morocco, which occupies 80% of Western Sahara, the Saharawi homeland. Morocco controls the entire coastal strip, including its rich fisheries, as well as the region’s phosphate and other resources, and most population centres.
The Saharawi independence movement, the Polisario Front, was formed to resist Spanish colonial oppression. When Spain moved out in 1975, Morocco moved in, and the struggle for independence continued. After 16 years of fierce armed resistance, the United Nations brokered a truce in 1991, promising to hold an independence referendum.
Today, the longed-for vote is nowhere in sight. Instead, Morocco is becoming more entrenched. A sand wall, or berm, surrounded by landmines, separates the occupied east of the country, referred to by Morocco as its southern provinces, from the west — the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic, or free zone. Like the West Papuans and Palestinians, the Saharawi are also resisting state-sponsored mass transmigration, which would turn them into a minority in their own country.
Resisting “facts on the ground.” Morocco uses infrastructure to reinforce its occupation. The regime constructed an illegal road, in breach of the ceasefire, which runs through the buffer and free zone areas assigned to the Polisario. It also established a border crossing at Guerguerat. With everything to lose, the Saharawi are fighting back.
Women are pillars of the resistance in both the occupied territories as well as in the free zone, where their leadership is respected. Women’s high status is a Berber tradition, which predates colonialism and can be traced to an ancient matriarchal society. On 20 October, women established a blockade at the border, preventing trucks driving from Morocco, through Western Sahara and on to Mauritania. Their goal was to pressure Morocco, secure release of political prisoners and draw global attention to their demands for independence. Morocco threatened to retaliate with force. On 13 November troops rolled into the buffer zone in contravention of the ceasefire. When unarmed protesters were attacked, the Polisario Front declared enough and ended the ceasefire!
Salmi Gailani was born the year of the ceasefire and says he is ready to fight. He told Euro News, “30 years is long enough to place ballot boxes.” With no end in sight, the Saharawi people have little option. They are an oppressed nation who have a common territory and economy. Their language is Hassaniya, and their culture is based on deep tribal traditions. Marxists uphold the right of oppressed nations to self-determination, and this right is essential for the Saharawi. The self-determination of the Saharawi is also important for all of the oppressed of Morocco.
Moroccan nationalism suits the monarchy. The Saharawi are not the only people resisting the regime. Working class Moroccans are also organising. The country is governed by a repressive and authoritarian monarchy, which gains prestige from the occupation. More than 500 political prisoners are incarcerated: activists, bloggers, trade unionists and journalists are in jail for “crimes” such as publishing Facebook posts “insulting the king” or demanding improved living conditions. Class divisions are sharp and unemployment is high. Recent strikes have broken out amongst teachers, healthcare and transport workers. The position of the Moroccan Left is immeasurably strengthened when it makes common cause with the Saharawi people’s fight for self-determination.
Around the world, workers and the oppressed can build solidarity with the Saharawi people by supporting these demands:
- Condemn Morocco’s attack on the Guerguerat protests
- Close the Guerguerat crossing, destroy the berm and remove all landmines
- Free all Saharawi and Moroccan political prisoners
Moroccan troops out now — self-determination for the Saharawi people!