|Mr. Holley sharing his insights about issues in North Africa and the problem of |
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 , 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. Rabat
|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 ’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.” Spain
|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 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. Morocco
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 . 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. Morocco
|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
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. Morocco
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.