Following unprecendented support (nearly 99%) for a draft constitution initiated by Morocco’s King Mohammed VI, the country is being hailed as a model for the rest of the Arab world. And so it should be. Of the handful of mostly Arab countries I’ve visited, this is among the most comfortable and progressive and I can’t make myself leave.
The youth are intelligent, multilingual, well-traveled, and have a lovely curiosity about other people and the rest of the world. And, although it is not advised to speak poorly of the royal family, they genuinely love their King Mohammed VI, who has instituted major reforms since his succession. But there’s a dark side to this enchanting country. And it lies in fish, phosphates, and oil.
Pravda accuses Morocco of not living up to promises brokered by the UN between Moroccans and the Polisario Front, an organization of Sahawaris who have resisted the country’s 1975 annexation of the Western Sahara territory where they live.
The treaty signed in 1991 was supposed to usher in self-determination to this indigenous group, 45% of whom are currently unemployed. Instead, according to Pravda, Morocco continues to occupy the land illegally, and 165,000 Saharawi live as refugees in camps located in what they call an “inhospitable Algerian desert.”
Why, you ask, would Morocco be interested in the Western Sahara? Because the region is rich in fish, phosphates, and probably oil and natural gas. That’s good money for Morocco, and good money for Europe.
This is what Western Sahara Resource Watch says about the situation that most of the world seems to ignore:
Morocco is illegally and brutally occupying the neighbouring country, Western Sahara. While the Sahrawis, the people of Western Sahara, are legitimately struggling for liberty, no state in the world has recognised the Moroccan claims to the territory. Western Sahara is treated by the UN as the last remaining colonial issue in Africa.
A network of organizations and activists who are keeping track of the Western Sahara travesty, WSRW adds that the region is both blessed and cursed with rich natural resources.
Occupied Western Sahara possesses one of the world’s largest phosphate deposits and perhaps the coastline in Africa with the richest fishing grounds. In addition, chances are that there are considerable reserves of oil and gas along the coast. The valuable natural resources have always been a major driving force behind Morocco’s occupation of Western Sahara.
WSRW actively campaigns against European companies that attempt to benefit in concert with Moroccan officials from the natural resources that Saharawis should, by international law, be managing themselves. They have managed to chase out many firms, but Morocco is forging ahead with exploration into parts of the occupied territory for other natural resources such as zirconium and uranium.
Every country has skeletons. Morocco occupies Western Sahara and profits from the stash of natural resources nestled there. Subsequently the country is able to provide its citizens with a decent life. Will Morocco continue to look the other way. Will we?
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