The policy advisor from the US embassy in Morocco, Robert Holley, protested that he was followed by security agents during his entire visit in El Ayoun last week, during which he held a number of meetings with political groups in the city regarding the recent events and trials. His visit was in preparation of an annual report on human rights issued by the US State Department (Al-Ittihad al-Ichtiraki, Moroccan daily).
A low-level US State Department employee’s testiness at the well-known totalitarian methods used by Rabat to keep the lid on the illegally occupied Western Sahara is not in itself earth shattering. What is of interest here is the career history of the protester, Robert Holley. From those seemingly principled days in 1999 battling Moroccan heavy-handedness and writing reports on Moroccan human rights abuses, Holley has emerged as Rabat’s number one apologist and propagandist in the United States.
From his position as director of the Moroccan American Center for Policy (MACP), a registered agent of the Moroccan government, Holley is the American face and voice of Rabat’s aggressive, well-funded, and thoroughly mendacious campaign to win over public opinion, interest groups, and political leaders to the Moroccan point of view on the Western Sahara issue.
Given the direct link between MACP and the Moroccan government, it is no surprise that their website, moroccanamericanpolicy.com, reads like a greatest hits of Moroccan propaganda, with lots of juicy press releases glorifying Morocco and demonizing the Polisario Front. There you will learn that the Polisario is a Marxist-inspired terrorist group that has been holding tens of thousands of poor Saharawi civilians as prisoners in Algeria-supported refugee camps for over thirty years and that they intend with help from Fidel Castro to take over the Western Sahara, which has been Moroccan sovereign territory for some thousand years. Morocco, of course, is portrayed as a lovely, moderate, democratic and modernizing place closely allied with the US under the enlightened leadership of their young and energetic king.
For those of us that have been following the Western Sahara issue for many years, none of this is extraordinary. These are basically the same lies and misinformation that Rabat has been floating for over thirty years and that have been definitively disproved many times over by numerous researchers (see Toby Shelley’s Endgame in the Western Sahara as the best recent update), NGO’s (see Freedom House, Transparency International, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, for starters), and International Organizations (UN, UNHCR, African Union, etc.).
Holley’s efforts are worth commenting on only insofar as he has modernized the old Moroccan nationalist and cold-war message to fit the post-USSR and -9/11 world and has ratcheted up the efforts to manipulate American public opinion. The twin towers of Moroccan propaganda since at least 1975 have been their claims that the Western Sahara has been part of greater Morocco since ancient times and that the Polisario is a marxist-inspired proxy for the USSR and/or Cuba. Pandering to current American fears, Holley has repackaged the Western Sahara as a terrorism issue; his new message is that the Polisario cannot be trusted to rule the Western Sahara because it is a terrorist and criminal organization, and even worse one with Islamist tendencies. That the Polisario has absolutely no history of terrorist activity is irrelevant in Holley’s scheme of things – not to mention that Morocco itself is by far the largest incubator of terrorism in Europe and north Africa, as well as the largest hashish trafficker in the world.
Of greater concern than this propagandizing is Holley’s active lobbying on behalf of Morocco. To backup the blatant misinformation in his press releases, MACP has been parading a group of Saharawi and ex-Moroccan prisoners from Tindouf around the country to give first hand accounts of Polisario perfidy. The heavily scripted performances at these dog and pony shows usually include: a showing of a MACP-produced propaganda film heavy on pictures of SADR President Abdelaziz shaking hands with Fidel Castro and a shady Cuban spy divulging that Che Guevara was the originator of the Polisario; weepy speeches by the Saharawis and Moroccans about their abuse at the hands of the Polisario and Cuba; and stirring speeches by the sponsor of the particular show lifted directly from the MACP press releases.
Of course, Holley and his sponsors forget to mention that he is a registered agent of Morocco and that the guest speakers are Moroccan stooges. They also conveniently ignore the testimony of thousands of international observers who have lived in the Tindouf camps for extended periods, of UNHCR who runs the camps (see UNHCR Machel report P. 48), and of the many Saharawi who have studied in Cuba, who overwhelmingly refute Holley’s tall tales of horror. And then there is the small question of why, if all the Saharawi in Tindouf are prisoners of the Polisario and all the students in Cuba are being abused, Morocco and MACP so violently oppose a referendum.
It is also interesting to note the groups and individuals that Holley has been targeting to host his road shows. To counter the historically strong support for the Polisario in the US Congress, he has latched on to a group of rabidly anti-Castro Cuban-American congressmen in Florida. A press conference thrown by Reps. Lincoln Diaz-Ballart, Mario Diaz-Ballart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen in Miami last September to showcase Holley’s abused Saharawis and Moroccan prisoners was an especially preposterous and dishonest Moroccan propaganda show. The tone was set by Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Ballart’s opening comments which are right out of MACP’s playbook:
During the Cold War, one of the terrorist groups which was created, armed, and trained by the Soviet Union—and in fact was put in the hands of the Castro, Khadfi and Algerian regimes by the Soviet Union and continues to provide arms and training—is what is known as the Polisario Front.
And these are some of the nicer things thy had to say about the Polisario. What is disturbing here is Holley’s success at using a wedge issue – in this case anti-castroism – to manipulate and win over a group of legislators who clearly are clueless regarding the issues surrounding the Western Sahara. And what is particularly nutty about this case of the Cuban-American legislators is that these exiles from and victims of Castro’s brutality should be the first to sympathize with the Polisario, who after all represent the exiles from and victims of Rabat’s brutality.
This use of wedge issues to split groups that historically have been largely sympathetic to the Polisario was equally evident at a series of MACP events in March sponsored by the National Clergy Council. Christian groups have for many years been the most visible and activist supporters of the Polisario in the US. In particular, the US-Western Sahara Foundation’s Christian liaison office has coordinated a wide array of Christian efforts to bring supplies and organize visits to the refugee camps, raise awareness of the Western Sahara issues, and host Saharawi children in the US. These Christians have lived among the Saharawi in the camps for months at a time and arrive at their strong support for the Polisario from a solid base of first-hand experience.
The head of the National Clergy Council, Reverend Rob Schenck, ended up in Morocco last year on a mission to promote Christian-Muslim understanding in a moderate Muslim place closely allied with the US. It is apparent that the Moroccan government saw the Christian-Muslim understanding issue as a good wedge to split the US Christian community, and so the dirty work fell to Holley and MACP to recruit Schenck to host his propaganda show. Thus we had in March the pathetic spectacle of Reverend Schenck foaming at the mouth about Polisario atrocities in front of a group of clergy at the Trenton (NJ) Marriott, followed by the weepy speeches of the abused Saharawi and the nauseating MACP propaganda film. The fact that Schenck openly admitted that he had not bothered to contact any of the Christian groups who have been active in the Western Sahara for years is the best indication of how clueless and irresponsible this man of God is.
I guess the Moroccan agents following Robert Holley around El Ayoun must have concluded that he was a man that could be bought; and I suppose his new career as a professional liar for hire kissing the king’s ring is more lucrative than hunting down human rights abusers for the State Department. For those of us who are interested in truth regarding the Western Sahara and are convinced of the righteousness of the Polisario cause, it is important that Robert Holley be recognized as the mercenary and propagandist that he is.