Ahmed Charai, publisher of the weekly Moroccan newspaper L’Observateur and a member of the Board of Trustees of the Foreign Policy Research Institute and the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, writes in The National Interest about Algeria’s role in stoking the Western Sahara conflict, and considers whether there is hope for change:
… More than a generation since the demise of Algeria’s Soviet patron, the Polisario still serves the junta as a convenient foil: the regime adopts the familiar technique of deflecting domestic corruption and human rights abuse on a foreign bogeyman by spreading conspiracy theories about Morocco. For example, in much of Algeria’s state-dominated media, Moroccan intelligence agents are alleged to be supplying Algerian youth with drugs and fomenting civil strife inside the country. Morocco’s progress in democratic development and civil society, meanwhile, are obscured or dismissed.
Meanwhile, inside the strip of Saharan territory which the Polisario controls, two generations of young people have been brainwashed to regard Morocco as an enemy—while international aid to the territory is largely siphoned away by their corrupt political leadership. Civilians under Polisario rule remain hungry and destitute, with limited horizons. They are tempted by the overtures of jihadist groups in the neighboring Sahel, and, as the State Department’s reporting on global terrorism shows, numerous Saharans have joined their ranks.
In response, King Mohammed VI has made a practice of “turning the other cheek,” avoiding conflict and pushing for peace and security. Since assuming the throne in 1999, he has poured billions into the economic development of the Sahara. In response to separatist sentiments among a subset of the ethnic Saharan population, he has extended an autonomy plan for the province, judged by the United Nations and the United States to be a credible resolution to the conflict with the Polisario. Over the next two weeks, the king is visiting the territory and kickstarting a new $14 billion plan to further develop its economic infrastructure and human services. But at every turn, Algiers continues to block efforts to settle the conflict. Thus the future of peace in the Sahara remains a function of Algerian policies—or, to borrow language from more familiar conflicts in the Arab region: “The road to the Sahara runs through Algiers.” [FULL STORY]