Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Marc S. Ellenbogen & the Myopic Miasma of Moroccan Malice

In a recent UPI/Washington Times article titled Atlantic Eye: Morocco's Right to Sahara, Marc S. Ellenbogen reports on his recent visit to Morocco, heading a delegation from the Global Panel Foundation and the Prague Society for International Cooperation. The purpose of the trip was to hold “a series of briefings and brain-storming sessions … held under the auspices of THE ROYAL STRATEGIC STUDIES INSTITUTE (IRES)” on the future of Morocco. The visit was “at the invitation of the Hon. Hassan Abouyoub, Chief Foreign Policy Advisor to H.M. King Mohammed.” The article, which deals specifically with the Western Sahara situation, opens with the following poetic paragraph:

Washington D.C., April 26 (UPI) -- Ambassador Hassan Abouyoub, Jens-Hald Madsen and I stood on the portico of the magnificent Mirage Hotel in Marabata. The Atlantic waves hammered the steep cove below. Hassan and I took a smokers break, as Madsen noted the vast beauty in front of us.

From what follows in the article, one has to wonder what it was they were smoking while gazing down from the portico. Morocco is, after all, the world’s leading exporter of hashish. In any event, as the article moves from this idyllic scene to more serious matters of international law regarding the Western Sahara, Mr. Ellenbogen’s grasp of reality seems to completely deteriorate as he descends into a myopic miasma of Moroccan malice (hey, I get to wax poetic too).

Having reported recently on several cases of media madness on the Western Sahara, I’ll try to keep it brief by touching on the worst of what Mr. Ellenbogen has to say. I urge you, however, to follow the link and read the whole article because you will be tickled by the gravitas of it all. Here are some of the gems:

“It remains undisputed that Spain's restoration of Western Sahara to Morocco was legal.” Of course it is exactly the opposite of this that is much closer to being “undisputed.” The UN has ruled unambiguously that Spain’s transfer of the Western Sahara to Morocco (and Mauritania) was ILLEGAL under international law. And Morocco’s claim that it was a “restoration” was emphatically rejected. Here, Mr. Ellenbogen, are the links to the International Court of Justice ruling on the Western Sahara in 1975 and the more recent reaffirmation of that ruling by the UN’s legal counsel, Hans Corell, in 2002.

“The Moroccan proposal for extended autonomy submitted to the UN has been praised by experts - but rejected by both the Polisario and Algeria.” Sure SOME experts on the Western Sahara have supported Morocco’s proposal, but most of the experts that I am aware of are dismissive of any such Moroccan plan that denies the Western Saharans the right to self-determination.

“The supporters of the Sahrawi, who are mostly Algerians and European 60's throw-backs, have used the question of human rights as an instrument for forcing the issue of Moroccan Western Saharan secession and independence.” Mr. Ellenbogen is apparently unaware that some 40 countries also support the Sahrawi. I’m trying to figure out who exactly these “European 60’s throw-backs” are. I suspect they are those Europeans who believe fervently in decolonization and self-determination for colonial peoples. But then Mr. Ellenbogen doesn’t appear to support self-determination. As for those Sahrawi supporters using “the question of human rights as an instrument for forcing the issue…,” what’s wrong with that? But then again the author doesn't seem to like human rights either.

“There is no legal reason for Morocco to accept the secession of Moroccan Western Sahara - and UN formal resolutions do not demand this either.” To illustrate the inanity of this statement, I’d like to tell the story of a friend of mine who left her husband and filed for divorce; a couple days later her lawyer got back to her with the good news that, since she had lied about her age (15) when they got married in Vegas, they had never legally been married – so they didn’t need to get divorced. Just as you can’t legally divorce if you were never legally married, you can’t legally secede if you were never legally joined in the first place. That precisely is the case with the Western Sahara since not one country recognizes Morocco’s annexation.

Morocco's approach, which respects the letter of the UN resolutions, puts an end to the logic for Moroccan Western Sahara secession.” How “Morocco’s approach…respects the letter of the UN resolutions” is a total mystery to me. Morocco’s autonomy proposal is an attempt to circumvent over thirty years of UN resolutions supporting Western Saharan self-determination. Sure the UN has urged the parties to start talking again, but nowhere does the UN support Morocco’s autonomy approach, which is clearly inconsistent with self-determination. Many UN resolutions, however, support the right of the Western Saharans to self-determination and independence if they so choose. And again to talk about putting an end to the logic for secession is absurd, since the parties were never married to begin with.

“The consensus at this Global Panel session is that the Moroccan Western Saharan question is best left to the principals involved. The United Nations, noted a ranking European diplomat, would best serve the needs of all concerned by removing itself from the entire question.” The Global Panel doesn’t seem to have a clue here that the Western Saharan question from 1975 until the late 80’s WAS “left to the principals involved” with minimal UN involvement. And it is not a coincidence that those were the years of war between the parties. It is disturbing that the best the panel can come up with is the return to a situation which would probably make war inevitable.

What is most interesting about this article is that Mr. Ellenbogen actually tries to make a legal case for Morocco’s autonomy plan. This is in stark contrast to the more-typical negative approach we have been seeing a lot of recently which says that one must support Moroccan sovereignty because the Polisario is a terrorist organization, or in cahoots with al-Qaeda, or communist, or in bed with Castro, or non-democratic, or whatever.

While Mr. Ellenbogen’s avoidance of the usual false negatives is I guess commendable, unfortunately his legal approach is just as bad. As I discuss above, his arguments that Spain’s transfer of the Western Sahara to Morocco was legal, that the Western Sahara quest for independence is illegal secession, that replacing self-determination with autonomy is legal, all these arguments are bogus. The UN and international law just don’t back him up on any of these things.

In the final analysis, this whole exercise by Mr. Ellenbogen strikes me as a thinly veiled attempt to kiss up to his gracious and generous Moroccan hosts by parroting their totally discredited legal opinions on the Western Sahara.


  1. Anonymous5:31 PM

    The Polisario represents itself.

  2. Nice wedding analogy. For a 60's throwback, I've sure missed out on some good times.

  3. Check out this shameless pandering to the valuable Western Sahara blogger demographic:


  4. Anonymous12:29 PM

    Saltana Khaya: a young Saharawi student, heavily injured during police intervention at Marrakech university on May 09 2007. She is in danger to loose an eye --> photos: http://www.asvdh.net/img/main.php?g2_itemId=1074

  5. Check out my http://www.afapredesa.org/in_index.htm as well, it is sad but the sahrawi kids keep getting their asses kicked every week. By the way, your article has been very well put. I am adding a link to you two in afapredesa. Long live human rights!

  6. Raul Alvaro Fraser,

    Many thanks for your visit to my blog and for your kind words. And I will absolutely visit your site.



  7. Anonymous1:03 AM

    I'm writing my masters thesis on this topic and I must say that this Ellenbogen chap is a complete numbskull. Your analysis is biting and, unfortunately for Mr. Ellenbogen, completely correct.

  8. Dear Anonymous,

    Thanks for your comment. The pro-Moroccan case is so weak from so many angles; but Mr. Ellenbogen's attempt to justify Morocco's occupation on legal grounds is I think particularly silly. I have spent many years researching this issue and certainly if I can be of any assistance as you write your thesis feel free to contact me. And I'd love to read it when it's finished.

    All the Best,


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