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Saharan Spring In Cincinnati Winter

Two local women raise awareness of human rights abuses in Morocco

By Stacey R. Hall · March 6th, 2012 · News
news1Illustation by Julie Hill
“The Arab Spring actually began in autumn in a small camp in Western Sahara,” says Salka Barca. Barca doesn’t note that this fact is known by too few, but it is implied in a facial expression that is equal parts pride and exasperation. 

In October of 2010, after years of stalemate over independence for a place described by Dr. Stephen Zunes, Professor of Politics and International Studies at the University of San Francisco, as “Africa’s last colony,” the season seemed right for change. The Sahrawi — people native to Western Sahara — launched a youth-driven tent city at Gdeim Izik to protest and assert their rights to self-determination. The youth were motivated, in particular, by years of what human rights groups have agreed is systematic repression of the Sahrawi by Morocco, as well as poor economic conditions and lack of job opportunity.

“It started as 12 or so tents,” says Barca, who, along with roommate Najat Allili, communicated with loved ones participating in the tent city from their home in Cincinnati. “Youth organized the camp, developed their own police and health centers. Tents had entertainment and children playing,” Barca adds.

The tent city continued for a month with between 7,000 and 20,000 people present, according to a Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights report. The camp modeled non-violent principles championed by such Sahrawi leaders as Aminatou Haidar, often termed the Saharan Gandhi.

On Nov. 8, 2010, Moroccan security forces attacked the camp without warning. Violence at the camp and later in the Saharan capital of Laayoune was committed by both sides, according to Amnesty International, though its December 2010 report on the incident assigns primary blame to the methods employed by Morocco. 

News coverage was scant in the U.S. and quickly forgotten with more focus on events in Tunisia in December, followed by Egypt in early 2011. Barca cheered the attention it received and was hopeful that awareness of what was being termed “Arab Spring” would make its way back to the starting point: Western Sahara. It never happened.

Western Sahara is the nation state that never quite happened.

“It was a former Spanish colony on the verge of independence,” says Zunes. Instead, it was taken over, with tacit Spanish approval, by Mauritania and Morocco in 1975. The Sahrawi resisted, and armed struggle was waged by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Saqiat al Hamra and the Rio de Oro — the Polisario. 

Mauritania pulled out in 1979, but Morocco remained. And the fighting continued until a United Nations-facilitated ceasefire in 1991. At that time, negotiations between Morocco and the Polisario — which had established a government in exile from the Tindouf refugee camps in Algeria — were to result in a referendum to determine independence versus Moroccan rule. The referendum never quite happened, either. 

U.N. efforts have failed to bring agreement on who is eligible to vote in a referendum. Meanwhile, Morocco has made it clear it intends to maintain sovereignty and has encouraged Saharan settlement by Moroccans to bolster its claim. Access to phosphate and fishing resources might be a motivator.

Barca spent her childhood in the Tindouf camps until she was sent to school. “I was crying like crazy,” she says of saying goodbye to her family. Sending children away from the harsh refugee conditions, she explains, was the best way parents could provide any chance of education, healthcare or safety. “There was always fear of Morocco bombing the camps.”

This is why Barca’s worst fears were realized when Moroccan forces moved in at Gdeim Izik. “It was horrifying. It was very emotional,” she says. “I went to work and was not functioning. I blamed myself for not being there — for hiding in America and running my mouth.” 

Allili grew up in Laayoune. Her extended family includes aunts and uncles imprisoned for years for their resistance against Moroccan rule. She was a teenager in the early ’90’s when those that survived were released. “I remember every minute,” she says. “They were like skeletons, their clothes were from the 1970s.”

“At that time, I started understanding what had happened,” Allili says. Her commitment to Sahrawi freedom was formed.

Barca and Allili’s work toward this end includes use of social media to educate about Western Sahara and the translation of training materials for activists on non-violence. It is slow work made even more so by lack of global interest. A Congressional Research Service report from 2011 says, “Western Sahara was not high on the international political agenda and that most capitals seek to continue good relations with both Morocco and Algeria. Hence, they acquiesce the impasse.” 

“They” includes the United States, which — while it has encouraged Morocco to address its human rights abuses against the Sahrawi — has maintained its support of the Moroccan monarchy. 

There are moments when the Sahrawi cause makes itself known, however quietly. Allili, a student at Cincinnati State Technical and Community College, sees it in the international building on campus where flags highlight students from around the world.

“We listened to her,” says Yolanda Lawrence, International Student Advisor. “If students don’t see their flags they come to us and ask for them,” she explains. When they see their home flag it says, “I am here.”

Allili’s flag is now there. And it is the Sahrawi flag that represents her, not Morocco’s.

Barca sees it in the Occupy Movement’s use of the tent. “Tent is symbolic of resistance in Bedouin society,” she says. “It is symbolic of freedom and the natural life.”

“Their support of non-violence is key,” says Zunes of Barca and Allili. “Their role in the Sahrawi Diaspora is that the people need international support to help raise awareness.”

“The best hope for non-violence,” he continues, “is getting the story out.”

And so, at their computers, Barca and Allili work to make that happen, little by little, everyday. ©



03.07.2012 at 06:03 Reply

thank you salka ana lila and always viva sahara free


03.07.2012 at 08:49 Reply

A nonsense article. Void of any historical facts, void of impartiality, void of justice. Honestly, what drives you to write such tosh? Is it your political allegiances or petro-incentive... or are you just plain ignorant? This entire propaganda piece is merely an appeal to emotion, and yet worse, at its very foundation are some of the most despicable lies. Foremost, regarding the misuse of the term "Saharawi": The Reguibat (who trace their origins to Sidi Ahmed al-Rgibi, descendant of Moulay Abdeslam Ben M'chiche, descendant of Moulay Idris) are the largest tribe in the western Sahara and originate from northern Morocco, where Moulay Abdeslam Ben M'chiche remains buried (between Ouazzane and Chefchaouen). Actually, the origins of many other tribes within our Southern Province are also traced further north and vice versa. Throughout the centuries the nomadic and semi-nomadic populations have continually moved up and down from the tip of Africa through the Atlas into the Sahara, across this entire area known for centuries to the West as "Morocco" and to the East as Maghreb. The religious zawiyas (originating from upper Morocco) that sought to spread the message of Islam penetrated far beyond the Sahara into West Africa (for example, the Arma people in West Africa are descendants of the 16th century Moroccan missionaries). The grand imperial cities of Marrakech, Meknes, Fez and Rabat drew peoples from all across our Kingdom in search of knowledge and prosperity. Speaking of "Sahrawis" (who are every bit Moroccan) as if they are foreign to our geography, history and identity only exemplifies the major distortions and the sheer and absolute ignorance regarding this issue - lies propagated by Algerian petrodollars. To emphasize the point: Guelmim is located outside of the disputed area (straight-lines drawn in the sand by France and Spain) in Northern Morocco (geographically, Guelmim is also part of the western Sahara) and its population are no less "Sahrawi" than those of Laayoune. To further emphasis the point: Due to the the efforts of the Moroccan Army of Liberation (la guerra olvidada for example), Spain were forced to return Tan-tan, Tarfaya and later again Sidi-Ifni. It was only when Spain were seen to be making efforts to legalize their occupation of our Sahara (by falsely claiming that the land was terra nullius prior to their occupation) that Morocco took the matter from the battle-field to the court. Without doing so, Spain might otherwise have secured the land by making it an integral part of Spain, thus any Moroccan war-effort to liberate the Sahara would have become doubly challenging.


"We have always been Moroccans. My ancestors are buried in several Moroccan cities and one of my ancestors is Moulay Abdeslem Ben Mchich. We fought the French across the entire territory, even as far as northern Mauritania. My father fought in several battles, including the battles of Ahmeim. Our goal was to drive the colonizer out and free the country. We obtained supplies in Essaouira. The currency used in those times was the Hassani. With that, what doubt can there be about our origins? The south had nothing but its livestock to live on. The rest came from the north of Morocco. There have always been commercial and political ties to Morocco. When the Army of Liberation was formed, many in the Reguibat tribe joined it, fighting as far south as Tagal in Mauritania to defend the Moroccan identity of the Sahara. We followed orders from the high command of the Army of Liberation, which was made up of people from the north. Weapons also came from the north. I can tell you that in one way or another, all the Saharawis took part in the fight against the occupier of the Moroccan Sahara." (A testimony from a native of Semara presented to JPRS Reports) 


The "western" Sahara is a name corresponding to the geographic reality of the territory in regard to the entire Sahara (which for the record, spreads from the Atlantic Ocean to the Red Sea). 90% of Algerian territory is engulfed by the Sahara. Moreover, "Mauritania" is also part of the western Sahara and it's no coincidence that the colonialists established independence for this "Sahrawi" state with a name formerly associated with northern Morocco (Ancient Mauretania). Why not Numidia or the Sahrawi Islamic Republic? The term Sahrawi was, prior to the political manipulation that arose from this artificial conflict, very much a literal expression used to describe all those who lived in the Sahara (Arabic for desert). Today, for various reasons, it holds a more specific connation, however, so too does the word "Jebli" (one of the Mountain), which is another term used within Morocco to describe a specific group of Moroccan people who live in our northern-most mountains.


"The identity label ‘Sahrawi’ is a matter of great legal and political contention. Literally, the term sahrawi in Arabic refers to any inhabitant of the desert (sahra’). However, the term is most frequently used in the West as an umbrella term to refer to those individuals who belong to specific tribes which have traditionally lived and moved throughout the territory currently defined as the Western Sahara. This usage is relatively recent, emerging towards the end of the Spanish colonial presence in the territory. In the 1970s, the term Sahrawi was increasingly mobilised (and arguably monopolised) by the Polisario Front as a political unifier and identifier for the multiple tribes which moved in and around the territory. It is, as a result, intimately related to this group’s political struggles. Given that tribal identification is the primary basis for the referendum for self-determination designed to resolve the conflict over the Western Sahara, precisely which tribes and individuals are defined as ‘Sahrawi’ rather than ‘Moroccan’ or ‘Mauritanian’ is politically and legally highly significant."


You simply cannot speak of (Moroccan) "Sahrawis" and Moroccans as two discrete entities: one is a national classification, the other a relatively recent internal classification. If some brainwashed or opportunist separatists falsely claim they have no ties to Morocco and that they are of Yemeni descent (as they often do in a pathetic attempt to disassociate themselves) then let me remind you and them that Yemen still exists on the world map and that they are more than welcome to leave the refuge of our Kingdom, home to the INDIGENOUS MOROCCAN people and return to the desert of Arabia from whence they came! Of course, we know their motives well: Algerian oil money, power, ideology (indoctrination)... in fact many of these dissidents were first loyal to their Spanish occupiers; although I'm all too aware that today, some dissidents are now sadly a natural product of a 35-year old war environment. Yes, a WAR ENVIRONMENT. Funny that Stacey should fail to mention the countless more human rights violations perpetrated by the terrorist organisation, the Polisario Front and their higher-command in Algiers; but for the record, the Gdeim Izik camp was set up entirely as a socio-economic protest authorized by the government. To maximise the success of their demands, the organisers set up the camp a few weeks prior to scheduled talks at the UN regarding the Sahara conflict; throughout this time, the Polisario and their mouthpieces in the western media were painting the protest as an awakening against "Moroccan occupation". Unfortunately for these scheming manipulators, who hoped to exploit the situation in the UN, the demands of the camp organisers were met prior to talks even began. What followed truly exposed the merciless nature of the Polisario Front. Having received complaints from locals that armed gangs were preventing people from leaving the camps, the local police authorities stepped in to peacefully dismantle the camp. Armed solely with batons, what transpired was a shocking exposure of a mercenary organization that is often absurdly lauded as a defender of human rights! A dozen officers were slain in cold blood, their heads severed and their bodies urinated on. Where was the international outcry?




Yet despite this, pro-Polisario activists both native and foreign were brazenly proclaiming all sorts of malevolent lies against Morocco! Including the now infamous claim made on Spanish national television that the Moroccan authorities were attacking women and children, citing a picture of a wounded child - FROM PALESTINE - as evidence! 




Are these the sources that Stacy and co bank upon? I would suggest that claims of human rights abuses carried out by Moroccan authorities be taken with a pinch of salt. I would further suggest you start investigating the countless claims of human rights abuses perpetrated by the Polisario Front, from kidnapping to torture, murder and embezzlement! Or whatever you do, please, just stop the hypocrisy and deceit!








"I want to liberate Sahrawis from separatists' servitude" - Mustapha Salma 


To this day the Algerian junta continues to occupy Moroccan land, and by waging a war in our Southern Province they've sought to keep us from rightfully reclaiming the territories which were illegally annexed by the colonial powers and illegal attached to Algeria.


"Algeria today has stood by the claims made by France during the years 1956-1962; and, fully in accordance with the policy statement relating to colonial boundaries that was put forth by the Organization of African Unity, has stated simply that Algeria's rightful boundaries are those that were inherited from the French colonial regime. Insofar as the portion of the common frontier region that is being examined here is concerned -- the Guir-Zousfana river basin area -- the Algerian criterion for legitimacy is not well founded. It can be proven that during the period 1956-1962 the French presented a case for their claim that was distorted by their failure to make known some of the most relevant documentation bearing on the issue. ... Morocco today can legitimately claim the right to a territorial boundary at the 1901 line." (Morocco's Boundary in the Guir-Zousfana River Basin, African Historical Studies) 


Similarly, Spain too continues to occupy Moroccan land and just as coincidently (no doubt) a strong backing for the terrorist organisation of the Polisario Front can be conveniently found within this neighbouring Kingdom of ours. Oddly, both the Kingdom of Spain and Algeria have refused to grant pockets of their own population the independence that they so ardently desire (in the case of Algeria, who comically pose as champions of human rights, a refusal that translated into bullets) .






Due to it's Marxist foundations, the Polisario Front has global audience amongst those driven blindly by ideology. Furthermore it's estimated that Algerian junta has spent over $300 billion of its petrodollars progressing this artificial cause and one only has to pay close mind to the bias reporting that follows this subject to appreciate where some of that money might go.




Our fight for decolonization is water-tight and we will never surrender to this injustice. Moroccans stand united in this cause and we willing to sacrifice arm and leg for truth to prevail. We have all the evidence and more to support our case - although it might be naive of me to expect those who divided us in the first place and further created artificial entities around us to acknowledge Islamic definitions of sovereignty! Irrespective, as General Assembly resolution No 1514 (XV), paragraph 6 states: "Any attempt aimed at the partial or total disruption of the national unity and the territorial integrity of a country is incompatible with the purposes of the Charter of the United Nations." 


"It has always been recognized that the territorial sovereignty of the Sultan extends as far as his religious suzerainty" - Paul Cambon. 


"In itself, allegiance to the sovereign is of a political and constitutional character, as in certain countries that were subject to a military feudal system. Furthermore, at the time of colonization by Spain, that is to say towards the end of the nineteenth century, the Sultan combined in his person the legislative and executive powers, to which was added the spiritual power. He exercised those powers by means of dahirs, which were issued - a significant fact - under his sole signature. Does this not mean that the Sultan at that time personified the State, all of whose powers he exercised? Therefore allegiance to the Sultan, or sovereign, was equivalent to allegiance to the State. This entails acknowledging that the legal ties between Morocco and Western Sahara recognized by the Court took the form of political ties, indeed ties of sovereignty."




03.08.2012 at 06:51

@Aadam, your comment is interesting for you seem to strive to no less  as total annexation of the Western Sahara by Morocco PLUS some territory from Algeria, PLUS some Spanish territory. All to be united under the rule of the Holy Mohamed VI, your Islamic leader. One question : why did you forget the claim to Al Andalus? Because it would reveal your link to AQIM maybe?


03.12.2012 at 03:49

Sahrawi human rights activist confirms she was exposed to torture and ill-treatment





Sahrawi defender of human rights Izzana Amidan, 31, confirmed, in an audio testimony after she was provisionally released Monday, she was tortured and ill-treated.

She was subjected to severe beatings, insults, verbal abuse and practices degrading to human dignity. She was also interrogated by various Moroccan intelligence services at the so-called prosecutor s office in the center of gendarmerie in the occupation city of El Aaiun, on charges of participation in the camp of Gdeim Izik.

The human rights activist had been arbitrarily arrested Saturday by the police officers of the Moroccan occupation, before being released temporarily pending her appearance again in front of the so-called investigating judge February 28, with a view to her interrogation.

On the other hand, two Sahrawi activists, Kaltoum Lebsir and Mariam Bourhim, arrested Sunday at the airport in Casablanca (Morocco) on their return from South Africa, have also been provisionally released Wednesday until March 24.


03.08.2012 at 09:14 Reply




03.08.2012 at 11:27

@van kaas, unfortunately the same can't be said about your own sorry excuse for a comment. Although amusing, I would suggest you do a little study before making such ridiculous claims.




Moreover, you've failed to address any point put forward and merely wish to talk fancies; but I've become all too familiar with this ploy of yours - you epitomize DRS propagandists. The illegal annexation of Moroccan land, and the lands subsequent absorption into the post-colonial state of Algeria by the colonial power of France is academically documented. Whilst France signed international treaties with the Kingdom of Morocco guaranteeing its territorial integrity it nonetheless broke them and usurped large parts of Morocco's desert. Thus, Algeria's continued occupation of our land remains a gross violation of international law. As for your comical remark about Al-Andalus, the principle of uti possidetis has long prevailed in this case. Unless you know something I don't, the Moroccan authorities have never laid claim to Southern Spain. Now, as much as facts appear toxic to you, please stop clutching at straws and address the real issues.


Furthermore, it is rather dubious attempt to link Morocco, or more specifically, myself with AQIM considering all that we know. I strongly recommend you delve into it's foundations... or perhaps therein lies a problem for you? I'm sure you're all too aware that the so-called AQIM originally went by the name of GSPC (Groupe Salafi pour la Predication et le Combat) and was strictly an Algerian organization. AQIM remains, by and large, an Algerian problem - although it has extended its reach into the Sahel. Furthermore, according to well respected researchers, AQIM is, by and large, a pawn in the hands of the Algerian junta. Which, if so, would not be the first time the Algerian secret services exploited the "Islamist" card. During Algeria's civil war, the DRS carried out countless atrocities across their state (and beyond) in order to quell support for Islamic parties by laying the blame of terrorist attacks upon them.


"The tragedy of Algeria's 'disappeared'"


"Al-Qaeda in the Sahel"


"Who really bombed Paris?"


More interestingly Van Kaas, the Sahel states continue to accuse the Algerian DRS of being at the heart of AQIM and further that the Polisario Front (another DRS product) is working hand-in with them.


"Bamako warns Polisario: 'Mali is not Wild West'"


"Study Warns of Rising al-Qaeda Threat in North Africa - Urges closing Polisario camps which have become recruiting ground for terrorists"


"West Africa: Polisario's Involvement in Drug Trafficking in the Sahel Exposed by U.S. Experts"


"Al-Qaeda Infiltration of the Western Sahara's Polisario Movement"


As for your apparent obsession with our King, would you prefer it if we instead had our very own Mohamed Abdelaziz? Polisario's "President" of 35 years; or perhaps you'd prefer that we unite under the merciless rule of the Algerian junta? Now, I really would like to continue setting you straight, but I'm pretty sure it would be to no avail; petrodollar incentive more than likely drives your bent claims and all I can afford you is truth.


03.08.2012 at 10:22 Reply

thank you salka and najat.. I'm sure, you are always at the event ... and .. courageous ...


03.08.2012 at 11:38 Reply

thank you salka and najat always western sahara free