Rabat – The Moroccan delegation at the Pan-African Parliament held in Johannesburg, South Africa, has called for a general census of refugees in the Tindouf camps, arguing that Algeria’s “political game” in Western Sahara is the primary culprit for the continued diplomatic stalemate in the decades-long dispute.
Taking part in an ordinary session at the AU parliament on Monday, May 13, the Moroccan delegation drew attention to the dire humanitarian crisis in the Tindouf camps, pointing fingers to the Polisario Front and its “Algerian backers for mismanagement of funds and humanitarian aid given by the international community to assist the Tindouf refugees.
‘Political game’ in Tindouf
According to Moroccan Arabic daily Al Ahdath Al Maghribia, the Moroccan MP’s strongly worded proposal for a census in the Tindouf camps came in response to accusations of “military occupation” and “colonization” from Algerian and Polisario representatives.
In what the Moroccan outlet described as a “very heated confrontation” between Moroccan and Algerian Pan-African MPs, Rabat responded to Algiers’ traditional de-colonization and self-determination discourse by pointing to “Algeria’s political responsibility” in the creation and escalation of the “artificial conflict in Western Sahara.”
In addition to reproaching Algerian representatives for their country’s involvement in complicating the Sahara question, Moroccan delegates pointed out Algiers’s implication in “serious human rights violations” in the camps, according to Al Ahdath Al Maghribia.
“Forced disappearances, arrests and torture, the use of tanks to disperse protesters fighting for their rights to freedom of speech and movement—these have become the daily lot of Sahrawi populations,” the Moroccan delegation protested.
Beyond its logistical support to the Polisario Front to “sequestrate and torture dissenters,” Moroccan MPs argued that the Algerian government is also complicit in the Polisario leadership’s massive embezzlement of international aid intended for refugees.
The Moroccan MPs added that Algeria and Polisario use the Tindouf population as “commercial capital.” This point further drove home to fellow Pan-African MPs a central element of Rabat’s stance on Algeria’s support for the Polisario Front: that Tindouf refugees are exploited by Algiers and Polisario for their own political ends.
Faced with such emphatic criticism, Algerian representatives were bound to respond in kind.
Hamid Boucharef, a National Liberation Front (FLN) MP at the Algerian National Assembly, hit back at Moroccan representatives, saying that Rabat’s vitriolic comments on Algeria’s Western Sahara position are but a veiled attempt to “distract attention from much more serious concerns.”
For the Algerian MP, the “more serious concern” in the Western Sahara dispute is Morocco’s lack of compliance with “total self-determination for the Sahrawis.”
The self-determination-flavored rebuttal emboldened Moroccan representatives to call the pan-African parliament’s attention to Algiers’s “lies” and “face-saving game” when it comes to Western Sahara settlement debates.
“Why has Algeria consistently refused demands for a general census in Western Sahara?” asked the Moroccan MPs.
The point of that rhetorical question, according to Al Ahdath Al Maghribia, was to show that, contrary to widely circulated ideas in a number of Polisario-friendly circles in the international community, Morocco has never opposed proposals for a lasting solution to the conflict, including a referendum.
Instead, the PMPs pointed out, Morocco’s stance has been that without a reliable political base—a general census of “true Sahrawis” in Tindouf— a referendum will be politicized and, as a result, doomed, and would fail to broker a mutually acceptable settlement.
International community sidelines referendum
While the Moroccan delegation at the Johannesburg Pan-African parliament was adamant about carrying out a census in the Tindouf Camps to “confront Algeria with its own lies and political game” in Western Sahara, it is unlikely that Moroccan diplomats will push for such a move in the near future.
The “heated debate” between Moroccan and Algerian pan-African MPs comes as recent developments on Western Sahara signal a gradual paradigm shift in how the international community plans to resolve the decades-long dispute.
In the latest UN deliberations on the way forward for a settlement in Western Sahara, there is a consistently increasing consensus on a politically negotiated and compromise-based settlement, a notable move away from a referendum on self-determination.
In its most recent resolution on Western Sahara, the Security Council emphasized notions of dialogue, compromise, realism, and political feasibility. The language of the resolution has been unanimously interpreted as favoring Morocco’s proposal of negotiated settlement over Polisario’s separatist claims.
But most critical in Moroccan delegates’ perceived confidence at the Johannesburg parliamentary session is Morocco’s unmistakable rise in significance as a continental leader.
Only three years ago, when Morocco was still de jure absent from African discussions, Algerian delegates would have easily convinced other African MPs of their stance on Western Sahara.
But since its return to the African Union in January 2017, Rabat has taken bold steps to make the continental balance swing in its favor on numerous issues of critical importance for the North African Kingdom.
Key among Morocco’s achievements in continental affairs have been the AU’s decision to refrain from pushing for an agenda other than the UN-led political process as well as the increasing perceptions in policy circles that Rabat is boldly establishing itself as an indispensable player in the ever-shifting African geopolitical chessboard.
Commenting on Morocco’s consequential return to African affairs, Brahim Fassi Fihri, a recognizable name in Morocco’s Africa and South-South momentum, recently told Morocco World News that the “Africanness of Morocco” is no longer a debatable issue.
Fassi’s suggestion is that Morocco’s genuine interest in African development and intra-African integration is gradually giving it the continental upper hand over some countries that have traditionally fought to delegitimize a number of Moroccan positions.
“Africa has become the center of gravity of Moroccan diplomacy,” Fassi said, hastening to add that “since January 2017, when Morocco joined the AU, we’ve seen that many countries that used to berate Morocco on its Western Sahara position are now reassessing their own views and policies on the question.”