Monday, September 10, 2007

Edward M. Gabriel: Beating on a Dead Camel

Oh I know I said I wasn’t going to bore you with a detailed analysis of Edward M. Gabriel’s article in National Interest supporting Morocco’s autonomy plan . However, after Ambassador Gabriel honored me with a comment on my humble blog, I feel impelled to respond to his challenge.

“I stand by the content of my article,” writes Mr. Gabriel.


Here are some of the statements he stands by (his words in bold):

“For centuries, nomadic tribes of the Sahara–known collectively as Sahrawis—subsisted in the vast expanse of the Sahara (across present-day Morocco, Algeria, Mauritania and Mali) while pledging allegiance to the Sultanate of Morocco. The colonial occupation of the region by Spain, and subsequent borders imposed in the area, did not take into account the unique cultural, political and economic identity of the Sahrawi people, who had always been inextricably tied to the south of Morocco.”

I’m a little confused here. If the Sahrawi tribes subsisting in the “vast expanse of the Sahara (across present-day Morocco, Algeria, Mauritania and Mali)” all pledged allegiance to the Sultanate of Morocco and if these pledges really constituted bonds of sovereignty that justify Morocco’s invasion and occupation of the Western Sahara, then why isn’t Morocco trying to recover their Algerian, Mauritanian, and Malian Saharas also. Actually, after Morocco got its independence from France, the nationalist Istiqlal party did claim all of this area (and even some of Senegal), but these grandiose claims haven’t seen the light of day for a while. Why Mr. Gabriel seems to be dredging up the long-discredited greater-Moroccan thesis is unclear. And if he truly believes in this thesis, why is Mr. Gabriel picking only on the Western Sahara?

“During the Cold War, following Spain’s withdrawal from the Sahara, a separatist revolutionary group known as the Polisario Front, backed by the USSR, Algeria, Cuba and Libya, attempted to wrest the region away from Morocco, which had reestablished its traditional sovereignty in the former Spanish colony.”

I wonder whether that is “separatist revolutionary” as in the thirteen colonies. In any event, I have discussed the erroneous use of “separatist” elsewhere. No country recognizes Moroccan sovereignty over the WS, so there is nothing to separate from. In his attempt to place the Polisario on the wrong side in the Cold War, Mr. Gabriel includes the USSR as one of their backers. In fact, the USSR always refused to back the Polisario either financially or militarily in order to protect its huge 30-year phosphates deal concluded with the kingdom in 1978. Even diplomatic backing was lacking, which can be seen from the fact the USSR (and Russia for that matter) has never recognized the Polisario Front. And Mr. Gabriel seems to have forgotten that during the Cold War the number of countries that “backed” the Polisario with official recognition reached into the seventies. And of course Mr. Gabriel’s claim that Morocco “reestablished its traditional sovereignty in the former Spanish colony” was debunked by the International Court of Justice and discredited by the de facto refusal of the world community to recognize any such “traditional sovereignty.”

“A United Nations ceasefire was established in 1991, but since that time various efforts to reach a political solution to the issue have failed.”

The 1991 cease-fire agreement that was signed by both parties and which, among other things, called for a referendum on independence or inclusion in Morocco WAS a “political solution.” If Morocco had honored its agreement to hold a referendum with an electorate based on the 1975 census, the Western Sahara crisis would have been over a long time ago. Gabriel’s contention that “efforts to reach a political solution … have failed” is a feeble attempt to cover up the fact that a political solution was reached years ago and the reality that Morocco bears full responsibility for not allowing implementation of that solution.

“The impasse reflected the Polisario Front’s firm stance that only independence will suffice, while Morocco insisted upon reintegration of its land and people within its national borders.”

This is just wrong. The Polisario has NEVER taken a “stance,” and certainly never a “firm” one, that “only independence will suffice.” The Polisario has always said they would abide by whatever the inhabitants of the territory voted for in a referendum – be it inclusion in Morocco, autonomy, or independence. Their firm stance is that only a referendum on independence will suffice. Similarly, if Morocco has always “insisted upon reintegration of its land and people within its national borders,” why then did Hassan II sign an agreement setting up a referendum on independence?

In assessing this article, the sections that I have put under the microscope constitute only the edge of the Sahara of Mr. Gabriel’s dishonesty. As is usually the case with this kind of writing, all the facts and points of international law that that don’t fit into or that contradict his pro-Moroccan line are just left out.

And so, having fabricated a totally misleading and bogus history of the conflict, Mr. Gabriel moves on to make his case for Morocco’s autonomy proposal. You know right away where he is going when he writes, “This decision [to present the autonomy plan] was reached through a wide-ranging discussion among the stakeholders in Morocco….” Come on Mr. Gabriel, who cares what they think in Morocco; they are after all the invader and occupier. It’s what they think in El Ayoun or Tindouf that matters.

I find his case far from convincing, but here I will really truly refrain from delving into the minutia of his arguments. Mr. Gabriel can blather on all he wants about how Western Saharan autonomy is the best solution for all the ills of Morocco and the Maghreb, but his arguments are all irrelevant because of his total rejection of the Western Saharans’ right to de-colonial self-determination.

The Polisario has already rejected Morocco’s plan and after two meetings in Manhasset has stood firm in its refusal to discuss autonomy outside of the context of a referendum on independence. Mr. Gabriel’s article in support of Morocco’s autonomy plan is an attempt to create a sand storm to blind the American reader to the truth and reality of the Western Sahara issue. Or as Bob Dylan might have said ("Man in the Long Black Coat" in Oh Mercy), “Somebody is out there beating on a dead camel.”

I thank Mr. Gabriel again for making his comment on my blog. His excuse that he divulged his affiliation with the Moroccan government with National Interest and they refrained to mention it with his article is I think rather lame. In published opinion pieces, authors who have a financial interest in the propagation of a particular point of view have an ethical obligation to divulge that interest – either in the article or in a biographical note. Mention of Mr. Gabriel’s paid relationship with the kingdom of Morocco initially appeared in neither place.


  1. The only way to settle this is a three-legged race at the peace thing.

  2. It seems most lands in and around Africa is also in conflict with some neighbours or other, they want independence, then they want the land around them, then financial help, I wonder whats next, Polaris World will demand independence and what the rest of Spain will it ever stop.