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Forum for the Future: Good idea, wrong location

By Kamal Fadel - posted Friday, 3 December 2004


The G-8 countries have accepted Morocco’s offer to host the first meeting of the Forum for the Future on December 11, 2004. The Forum is a US initiative to promote democracy, rule of law, human rights and economic reforms in the Middle East.

The Saharawi people of Western Sahara welcome the Forum’s initiative, but find the proposed location a peculiar choice. Morocco, which invaded Western Sahara in 1975 and has occupied it since, is a state in which the legitimacy of its ruler stems from “divine” authority and its institutions have hardly changed since the Middle Ages. This is how the US State Department describes the Moroccan system:

Ultimate authority rests with the King. He presides over the Council of Ministers; appoints the Prime Minister following legislative elections; appoints all members of the government taking into account the prime minister's recommendations; and may, at his discretion, terminate the tenure of any minister, dissolve the Parliament, call for new elections, or rule by decree. The King is the head of the military and the country's religious leader.

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In Morocco 60 per cent of the population are illiterate (with 80 per cent among women), 25 per cent are unemployed and 20 per cent live below the poverty line. Morocco has over US$18 billion debt and is high on the list of “most corrupted” countries. Morocco spends around US$2 million daily on the maintenance of its army in occupied Western Sahara.

It is hardly surprising that thousands of Moroccans continue to risk their lives trying to flee to Europe. Many Moroccans have also resorted to growing and exporting illicit drugs. Due to their frustration some have also become involved in terrorist acts. Poverty, illiteracy and political oppression are a recipe for disaster.

Saharawis who remain in Western Sahara under the illegal Moroccan occupation have experienced the consequences of lack of democracy and respect for human rights. Thousands of  people have been incarcerated since the occupation began in 1975, others have simply disappeared.

Despite the occupation and the injustice imposed on Saharawis we have not lost hope that we will be able to accomplish our objective of building a modern nation that will contribute to the stability and democracy in our region.

In spite of being occupied by Morocco we have an active democracy; live by the rule of law; and, guarantee human rights to our people who live in refugee camps and the liberated areas. The literacy rate of the Saharawis has increased tremendously and is now 90 per cent. Women play an important role in society and in institutions of state

The Moroccan regime must be pressured to find genuine solutions to problems such as the conflict in Western Sahara, poverty, lack of democracy and human rights.

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Saharawi independence would be of significant benefit to Morocco. It would save its national resources being wasted on the illegal occupation of Western Sahara. The Saharawi state is willing to develop a mutually beneficial relationship with Morocco upon the resolution of the conflict.

We are concerned that the holding of the Forum in Morocco could be wrongly interpreted to mean the G-8 members support the Moroccan regime. This might encourage Morocco to prolong the suffering of the Saharawi people.

The Forum’s initiative is likely to encounter strong resistance among some rulers of the Middle East and those who benefit from the status quo. They will try to hide behind the veil of a relativist approach, and argue that either democracy does not suit them or that they are not ready for it. Morocco’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs commented that Morocco will co-operate with the Forum, “Inasmuch as it is respectful of the will and diversity of each country”. It is a signal that Morocco will sweep any reform under the carpet. This does not bode well for the Forum’s future.

We hope that the first meeting of the Forum for the Future will be an opportunity for the G-8 members to encourage Morocco to abide by the resolutions of the UN Security Council and implement the latest Peace Plan for self-determination in Western Sahara.

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Article edited by Benno Spearritt.
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About the Author

Kamal Fadel is the Polisario Representative to Australia. He has been in the Polisario Front foreign relations corps since 1986 and has served in India, Iran and the UK, as a Saharawi diplomat.

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