Thursday, January 19, 2012

Western Sahara Expert Visits The George Washington University

Mr. Holley sharing his insights about issues in North Africa and the problem of Western Sahara in particular

George Washington University students were treated to a highly informative lecture by Robert Holley, sponsored by the American Task Force on the Western Sahara. Mr. Holley, who spent 21 years as a Foreign Service Officer in the State Department, was Counselor for Political Affairs at the embassy in Rabat, and was also the principal US Government with the Polisario Front during the Administration of President Clinton between 1998 and 2001. Mr. Holley currently advises the Government of Morocco and has been the Executive Director of the Washington D.C.-based Moroccan-American Center for Policy since 2003.

Mr. Holley emphasizing the profound interests at stake for the United States in the Western Sahara dispute
Speaking and taking questions for almost an hour and a half, Mr. Holley shared his insights about issues in North Africa and the problem of Western Sahara in particular.  On Western Sahara, Mr. Holley traced the evolution of the problem from its origins with Spain’s withdrawal from the territory in the mid 1970s through the various different attempts of the United Nations to secure a resolution to the question. Explaining how an early effort to find a solution based on a popular referendum had failed, Mr. Holley went on the explain how the United States and others in the international community had come to accept the idea that a basic political compromise would be needed to resolve this 35 year old conflict. Such a solution, he explained, could only be based on a formula where all parties to the dispute recognized that, “Everybody has to give up something.”  “It is difficult and tough to do this in reality, but it’s essential if you want to end a conflict of such proportions.”

GWU Students learning about the Western Sahara Conflict

To reach such a compromise, Mr. Holley explained that it had been necessary that Morocco recognize that its southern provinces in the Sahara would need to be granted a special autonomous status while still retaining its sovereignty over the region. While Morocco had been willing to accept its part of the bargain and proposed an initiative for autonomy for the region in April 2007, the Polisario remained stubbornly opposed to any solution except a referendum on independence for the territory to be conducted under conditions that the Polisario preferred.
What is the solution then? Mr. Holley repeatedly emphasized that a political solution based on Moroccan sovereignty over the region but also granting the provinces a very substantial form of self government in the form of an autonomy arrangement was the only reasonable way forward. The arrangement, Mr. Holley explained, would grant the local autonomous region ample authority over local matters, but would reserve for the central government authority in such key sovereign duties as foreign, defense and security policies as well as such customary trappings of national sovereignty as the post office, currency and national symbols such as the flag.
Mr. Holley and Mr. Throup taking questions from the audience

 Mr. Holley also gave the students a very thorough and passionate explanation of the continuing human costs of the conflict for the thousands of Sahrawi families who have been split apart by this lingering humanitarian crisis. He explained that the Polisario continues to prohibit those in the camps in Algeria from leaving the camps to return to their homes and families in Morocco. Over the years, he pointed out, nearly 7,000 refugees had fled the camps to return home, but many did so at great personal risk to themselves and their families and those who were caught were still subject to very severe punishment from Polisario authorities.
GWU student checking the American Task Force on Wester Sahara website
 Although Mr. Holley acknowledged that the peace process currently is at a standstill and has effectively stagnated, he reiterated his support for the process and it and his optimism that both sides would eventually become more serious about negotiations and act for the betterment of the people in the region.  In the end, Mr. Holley pointed out, any solution that was agreed on a political compromise between Morocco and the Polisario would also need to have the approval of the people of the region. Mr. Holley noted that the Moroccan Government’s autonomy initiative also took this principle seriously and included a call for a vote of the concerned population to ratify any agreement.
 ATFWS hoped Mr. Holley would enlighten students about the realities and prospects for the region, and his presentation was well received by those in attendance who asked follow up question for nearly forty minutes.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

The Western Sahara Today: In Light of The Arab Revolutions

The Western Sahara conflict has always been a controversial issue and could be traced back to the bloody clash between the Polisario front and the Moroccan army during 1970s. In a time of great tension, shaped by a lasting barrier to formal regional economic integration agreements, there is an urgent need for the world’s intervention. In other words, world political leaders were impelled to act boldly and swiftly to tear down this conflict. In fact, the history, complexity, and the world’s interest on the issue have unleashed strong reactions of political leaders alongside the rise of organizations to call for an immediate resolution to the dispute. In effect, the potential results of the successful resolution of this decades-old conflict of violence and mistrust are tremendous for both parties, if not, the world. Given the influence of the United States, there is an urgent need to spread awareness of the Western Sahara issue in America.
American Task Force on the Western Sahara Event at George Washington University
In June 2010, a youth organization called, the American Task Force on Western Sahara (ATFWS) was established to help spread this awareness. Defining itself as a youth-and-student-led initiative, the organization’s mission statement is to bring about more awareness and action on the Western Sahara conflict to the world. In fact, ATWFS was established to demonstrate the profound American interests at stake in the Western Sahara conflict. Just recently, the organizations leaders took an unprecedented initiative to address the sensitivity of the Western Sahara conflict to the American people starting from students, faculty members, and representatives of American organizations. This event took place at the George Washington University and included a comprehensive lecture given by a true authority in the field of Western Sahara, Dr. I. William Zartman. Dr. Zartman is a professor of international organizations, conflict resolution, and former Director of Africans studies. He is truly an acclaimed authority in North African studies, conflict resolution, negotiation, and crisis management. In his lecture, he gave audience the big picture of the situation in the Moroccan-administered Western Sahara, its current status, history and the major efforts undertaken by Morocco to solve the dispute.
GWU Students Learning about the Western Sahara Conflict
Dr. Zartman has acknowledged at first his strong admiration of ATFWS for both its clear vision to promote awareness on Western Sahara conflict and the wisdom of its founders by making it lie on the involvement of all the American people. In his lecture, Dr. Zartman believed that understanding the history of the Western Sahara conflict is inextricably linked to having a clear understating about this region of conflict and its people. Unlike the Polisario Front, Dr. Zartman affirmed that Morocco has always clearly stated its position regarding the Western Sahara region as being one unbreakable part of Morocco. “From the Moroccan point of view, the claim on Western Sahara is simply the last element of retrocession for its full independence,” Dr. Zartman claimed.  Historically speaking, the Western Sahara controversies released major areas of interest for Spain, the fact that has shaped the Spanish government’s relations with the Maghreb countries. On its Sahara retrocession, Morocco has always blamed Spain for the current Western Sahara conflict for not being determined to recognize Morocco’s rights on its independence in 1956. Dr. Zartman pointed to the major steps the United Nations took to resolve the conflict; launching a referendum for the Sahraoui people. Yet, this proposal reached an impasse as Morocco felt disadvantaged over the Algerian party. Since the conflict is getting costly for both parties, Morocco has taken major steps forward to bring end to the conflict. According to Dr. Zartman, Morocco’s Autonomy plan proposal has been effective to some extent in unifying both parties’ interest; a proposal that is open to negotiations and offers the Sahrawi people the self determination within a Moroccan sovereignty. 
 Above all, the Western Sahara conflict remains as insoluble as ever no matter how much progress has been made. Both parties bear in mind that resolving the conflict should pass through giving the Sahrawi people the right to self determinate. Furthermore, a strong determination of both parties to make compromises based on mutual interest and mutual respect is the key to resolve this divergence. The first world nations are also required to take part in unifying both parties to reach a common ground. This is what Dr. Zartman put emphasis on when he affirmed: “Outsides countries such as USA, France, Germany, and England have got the power to lead the situation to a serious consideration of autonomy, serious discussion, and recognition of both parties interest.”