Polisario Front smuggling international aid

Reuters

Polisario Front soldiers take part in a parade for the 35th anniversary celebrations of their independence movement for Western Sahara from Morocco, in Tifariti, southwestern Algeria February 27, 2011.

The Polisario Front claims to be the government of the self-declared Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), a state which it hopes to establish in the Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony controlled by Morocco since 1975. Backed by Algeria, the Polisario Front waged war against Morocco until 1991, but now controls little beyond camps in western Algeria for Sahrawi tribesmen it claims are refugees. While the Polisario claims the Tindouf camps hold more than 100,000 refugees, diplomats and former residents place the number considerably lower, perhaps 40,000. Nor are all the camp residents technically refugees from the Western Sahara: as many as half have their origins in Algeria, Mali, or Mauritania. Nevertheless, with the Polisario Front refusing to allow an independent census, the international community bases its humanitarian assistance for the Sahrawi refugees in these camps upon the inflated numbers. 

All access to the camps comes via Algeria, which also controls the transit of aid over the approximately 1000 miles from Algiers (or other coastal cities) to the camps. It is an open secret throughout the region that much of the aid goes elsewhere: diplomats and other travelers report seeing assistance from the camps in markets in Mauritania, Mali, Algeria, and elsewhere in the Sahel. The smuggled supplies help fund both the Polisario’s activities and, apparently, the life style of senior Polisario leaders (beyond smuggling, the group receives income only through the largesse of the Algerian government, which sees the Polisario as a lever to use against its rival, Morocco). 

Within the Sahrawi community there is growing frustration with the Polisario leadership. The group’s president, Mohamed Abdelaziz, has had a stranglehold on leadership since 1976 and, true to the group’s Marxist roots, maintains a Communist bloc-style personality cult. While the international community once favored a referendum to resolve the Western Sahara question, disagreements over eligibility have prevented such a referendum from taking place. The United States and many other countries have therefore accepted Morocco’s offer of functional autonomy for the Western Sahara. The Polisario Front, however, has adamantly refused to accept autonomy under Moroccan control, and instead holds onto the fiction of SADR independence, issuing coins and postage stamps, maintaining a declining number diplomatic missions (paid for by Algeria), and refusing in most cases to allow residents of the Tindouf camps to return to Morocco or other countries of origin.

It is in this context that the report in Morocco’s independent, left-of-center Aujourd’hui Le Maroc is interesting, for it suggests, if accurate, that the Polisario is beginning to face internal resistance, both with regard to its misuse of international assistance and from residents frustrated with its refusal to accept Sahrawi autonomy in the Western Sahara. With the end of the Cold War the Polisario has lost much of its power and legitimacy. As Morocco has made good on its pledges of economic development and autonomy in the Western Sahara, reasons for Sahrawi insurgency have declined even further. Should the trends reported in this article continue, it is possible that internal fissures within the Polisario-administered camps might become the death knell for a group which, in effect, is one of the last relics of both the Cold War and African liberation movements

Also Visit
AEIdeas Blog The American Magazine
About the Author

 

Michael
Rubin


  • Michael Rubin is a former Pentagon official whose major research areas are the Middle East, Turkey, Iran and diplomacy. Rubin instructs senior military officers deploying to the Middle East and Afghanistan on regional politics, and teaches classes regarding Iran, terrorism, and Arab politics on board deploying U.S. aircraft carriers. Rubin has lived in post-revolution Iran, Yemen, both pre- and post-war Iraq, and spent time with the Taliban before 9/11. His newest book, Dancing with the Devil: The Perils of Engagement examines a half century of U.S. diplomacy with rogue regimes and terrorist groups.


    Follow Michael Rubin on Twitter.


  • Phone: 202-862-5851
    Email: mrubin@aei.org
  • Assistant Info

    Name: Ahmad Majidyar
    Phone: 202-862-5845
    Email: ahmad.majidyar@aei.org

What's new on AEI

image The Census Bureau and Obamacare: Dumb decision? Yes. Conspiracy? No.
image A 'three-state solution' for Middle East peace
image Give the CBO long-range tools
image The coming collapse of India's communists
AEI on Facebook
Events Calendar
  • 21
    MON
  • 22
    TUE
  • 23
    WED
  • 24
    THU
  • 25
    FRI
Wednesday, April 23, 2014 | 12:00 p.m. – 1:30 p.m.
Graduation day: How dads’ involvement impacts higher education success

Join a diverse group of panelists — including sociologists, education experts, and students — for a discussion of how public policy and culture can help families lay a firmer foundation for their children’s educational success, and of how the effects of paternal involvement vary by socioeconomic background.

Thursday, April 24, 2014 | 12:00 p.m. – 1:30 p.m.
Getting it right: A better strategy to defeat al Qaeda

This event will coincide with the release of a new report by AEI’s Mary Habeck, which analyzes why current national security policy is failing to stop the advancement of al Qaeda and its affiliates and what the US can do to develop a successful strategy to defeat this enemy.

Friday, April 25, 2014 | 9:15 a.m. – 1:15 p.m.
Obamacare’s rocky start and uncertain future

During this event, experts with many different views on the ACA will offer their predictions for the future.   

No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled today.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.