While ethnic nationalism was never a force to reckon with in the Moroccan-controlled Western Sahara, ethnic identity is becoming more pronounced. This does not translate into support for separatism, but it does enhance the forces of divisiveness, which erode the rule of law and undermine the existing social fabric.…Separatist tendencies have always been negligible and the Polisario’s credibility very low, as leaked U.S. State Department cables from Morocco revealed. “Extensive interviews and independent sources in the territory,” wrote senior American official Robert P. Jackson in a confidential document in 2009, “suggest that the principal goal of most Sahrawis is more self-government than self-determination.”…The disappointment of those Sahrawis who are disenchanted with Moroccan rule does not stem from ideological convictions but from political, social, and economic deprivations.
AQIM [Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb] and its offshoots in the Sahel are already working to expand their partnership with smugglers from massive refugee camps in Tindouf, Algeria, and to enlist recruits among the disenchanted youth there. If AQIM strengthened its alliance of convenience with the Polisario, the movement that has long fought for Western Sahara’s independence, a formidable terrorist organization could emerge.
We are obviously always concerned that al-Qaida in the Maghreb could expand its operations, but frankly, I wouldn’t quite get it if they were expanding into that region. I’m not quite sure I would see what the up side for them would be. And in any case, we haven’t seen the proof that it is – that that is really what’s going on.
… the Polisario "government" severely punishes anyone caught trafficking persons or weapons that could aid terrorists. Polisario also restricts the refugees from accessing extremist websites in the camps. All such activities are seen as harmful and a liability to the Polisario's political goals. …They [extremists and terrorists] perceive the Sahrawi people as too close to the West and not pious enough, in part, these contacts believe, because Sahrawi religious leaders have encouraged Western NGOs to participate in seminars on inter-faith dialogue and women's issues.
Morocco’s proposal for autonomy for the Western Sahara and the country’s July 2011 constitution are the first steps toward a solution. Rabat’s friends in the West, especially the United States and France, must pressure Morocco to expedite a significant devolution of power to the Western Sahara to limit the threat of instability.
The Western Sahara is probably the only issue in Morocco that enjoys near-universal and unwavering popular support. For many Moroccans, renouncing their historical right to the Western Sahara—where thousands of soldiers have died and billions of dollars have been spent defending a territory that represents almost half the size of Morocco—would be a national tragedy. This deep-rooted belief in the righteousness of their cause has unfortunately led to the negation of the legitimacy of the other point of view.