Sunday, November 14, 2010

Morocco: The Repercussions Of The Al-Oyoun Incident

By Mohammad el-Ashab
This comment was published in al-Hayat on 14/11/2010

In what resembles a dry run of what might happen in the Tindouf camps, Morocco has tried to evict Saharan refugees into camps on the outskirts of the city of Al-Oyoun. But incidents then erupted in this calm city, turning some of its parts into devastation.

Perhaps it is the first time in which a large number of victims have fallen to the regular security forces, while there were no casualties among the ranks of the rebels, who forced the camp refugees to submit to their laws that are outside all norms.

The Moroccan authorities were facing two choices, both bitter. They could continue dialogue with representatives of the people, who put forward social demands that are difficult to meet all at once (This is while bearing in mind that this dialogue reached its limit when it was no longer possible for the people to leave the camps, as they faced the threat of the outlaws.) On the other hand, Morocco could intervene and impose the authority of the state, a move that would most likely have repercussions.

Two different types of dialogue are taking place simultaneously. The Moroccan authorities are studying the social demands of refugees in Al-Oyoun before the authorities will be forced to intervene and dismantle the camps that are beyond their control. And in parallel, a dialogue will convene in Manhattan among the sides to the Sahara conflict, as part of unofficial talks sponsored by the United Nations.

The link between the two is that the while the first involves the relationship between Morocco and its residents on a purely social level, something that cannot be separated from socio-economic problems that might be faced by any state, especially with Morocco exercising sovereignty over Sahara provinces, the negotiations among the concerned sides in Manhattan have also tackled their joint commitments and those of the UN. It is interesting that as much as the stances of these parties were distant from each other, they actually converged during the last round of negotiations when Morocco, Algeria, Mauritania and the Polisario Front agreed to discuss a return to confidence-building measures.

The agreement was itself an indicator of unexpected developments. While fears prevailed that a third round of talks will not take place, as a result of the repercussions of the security situation in Al-Oyoun, some of the parties concerned might have noticed the danger of surrendering to a developing situation that leads to even more problems. Most importantly, there is no logic that allows killing security personnel, burning and destroying facilities, and spreading chaos and terror, whatever the justification may be.

Before totaling up the human and material losses that resulted from Monday’s bloody events, it has become obvious that another record of political and economic damage to the region as a whole has been opened as well, as a result of the continuing struggle that only makes itself felt through resorting to violence. The Polisario Front appears unable to convince even its supporters that what took place was necessary, or that those involved in the riots could be its supporters.

As for some of the details that were not made public, during his last visit to Morocco, Christopher Ross was briefed on the background to the incident before the Moroccan authorities tried to dismantle the refugee camps, just like the MINURSO mission in the region was able to observe the true course of events. If what happened in Al-Oyoun was meant to place obstacles before the resumption of negotiations, the information available shows that such a negotiation track enjoys more support than at any time in the past.

There were no benefits or achievements resulting from the incidents, however. They have only demonstrated that it is difficult to hold any domestic dialogue that meets the people’s legitimate aspirations if it is outside the control of the state. To the same degree, withdrawing from the talks or attempting to empty them of any real substance will render the partners unable to live up to their commitments vis-à-vis cementing peace, security and stability in the region. It is also very unlikely that the UN will remain patient and allow such conditions to lead matters toward a dead end.

Naturally, security and stability come before all of the wagers that involve human rights. It is unreasonable to justify killing and the destruction of property in the name of defending human rights. Perhaps the most dangerous aspect of the Sahara conflict is that iit s influenced by the manipulation of certain positions. However, the principal element lies in the continued existence of the Tindouf camps in southwestern Algeria, and not the attempt to create similar conditions in Al-Oyoun.

It is happenstance that made the protocol meeting between Algeria’s new ambassador to Rabat and Moroccan officials coincide with the outbreak of the incidents, and then the return to calm. However, the implications mean that there has been no total rupture in the relations, despite the sharpness of tensions and the exchange of accusations. Perhaps the most important achievement by UN envoy Ross has been to push the sides to the conflict to commit to dialogue over humanitarian conditions for the Saharans. This is a sign that it is possible to make progress on humanitarian issues, when political achievements are not possible.

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