Resurrecting Saul Alinsky in North Africa: Rules for the Polisario By Leah Farish, Esq.

* Recently, New York Post writer Richard Miniter finished a critical piece on Algeria’s Polisario by saying that the Polisario “would rather rule in hell than serve in heaven.”1 This is an apt description of the flinty leaders of a handful of malnourished camps in the desert who call themselves a nation, all the while resisting the blandishments of a comfortably prosperous Morocco (capital, Rabat) next door. It is also John Milton’s description of Satan in Paradise Lost.2 Saul Alinsky’s classic tool for community agitation, Rules for Radicals, hails Satan for the same reason: as “ . . . the very first radical known to man who rebelled against the establishment and . . . won his own kingdom—Lucifer.”3 While the Polisario are by no means the devil personified, they just may have been rifling Alinsky’s dark bible for strategies as they struggled to establish their own kingdom: the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR). The Polisario started as a left-wing student movement in the 1960’s and 1970’s, cherishing the examples of Ché Guevara and Fidel Castro in part because of the link to Hispanic Marxism that was left behind when Spain pulled out of the “Spanish Sahara.”4 Riding the

* Leah Farish is a civil rights attorney and a volunteer with Teach the Children International.

Richard Miniter, Letting Another Qeada Bastion Grow, N.Y. POST, Nov. 1, 2010, 4ZwpV5YwReZKXQjUd64FP.

See generally JOHN MILTON, PARADISE LOST (John Leonard ed., Penguin Classics 2000) (1667).


See Pablo San Martín, ‘¡Estos Locos Cubarauis!’: the Hispanisation of Saharawi Society (. . .

momentum of decolonization, the young activists next aspired to claim the whole “liberated” territory, an area about the size of Colorado. However, unlike most rebels, they had camped outside their “country,” and neighboring Algeria took them in and gave them use of an old military installation called Tindouf. Some indigenous Saharans (Saharawi) joined them there; others wanted to gather there to demonstrate in favor of independence for what they now called Western Sahara, but then were not permitted to leave.5 Many say they were essentially

kidnapped and/or taken to Tindouf to swell the ranks or to provide some professional services.6 The young activists running the Tindouf camps, which originally contained over 150,000 residents,7 showed remarkable astuteness in organizing themselves. They constructed an

elaborate representative, a one-party government for their “nation-in-exile” that has endured for after Spain), 7 J. OF TRANSATLANTIC STUDIES 249, 251-52 (2009); see also Getting to ‘‘Yes’’: Resolving the 30-Year Conflict over the Status of Western Sahara: Hearing Before the Subcommittee on Africa, Global Human Rights and International Operations of the Committee on International Relations, 109th Cong. 16 (2005) (statement of Hon. Lincoln Diaz-Balart); S.E. Cupp, A New Desert Hotbed for Terror, TOWNHALL, Sept. 2009, at 60, 61.

Interview with Mhamed Lamine, Escapee, in Dakhla, Morocco (July 23, 2010); Interview with Mhamed Lamine, Escapee, in Dakhla, Morocco (May 11, 2011); Interview with Mbarka Bouaida, Member, Moroccan Parliament, in Rabat, Morocco (July 27, 2010); Interview by Nancy Huff with Dakhna Bara, Escapee, in LaAyoune, Morocco (July 24, 2010); Saadani Maoulainie, Moroccan Saharawi Stories in Refugee Camps, WESTERNSAHARAONLINE, (last visited Feb. 10, 2011); see generally THOMAS HOLLOWELL, ALLAH’S GARDEN: A TRUE STORY 62-96 (2009).

Interview with Mhamed Lamine, Escapee, in Dakhla, Morocco (July 23, 2010); Interview with Mhamed Lamine, Escapee, in Dakhla, Morocco (May 11, 2011); Interview with Mbarka Bouaida, Member, Moroccan Parliament, in Rabat, Morocco (July 27, 2010); Interview by Nancy Huff with Dakhna Bara, Escapee, in LaAyoune, Morocco (July 24, 2010); Saadani Maoulainie, Moroccan Saharawi Stories in Refugee Camps, WESTERNSAHARAONLINE, (last visited Feb. 10, 2011); see generally THOMAS HOLLOWELL, ALLAH’S GARDEN: A TRUE STORY 62-96 (2009).

See Tim Judah, Background: The Forgotten Conflict, BBC NEWS, Jan. 27, 1999,


thirty-five years.8 Making a virtue of necessity, the SADR accorded women plenty of leadership while the men were off on skirmishes with Morocco, trade missions, or mine-planting expeditions.9 Living their Maoist dream, the Polisario deconstructed family, and to some extent tribal identity, and made it a punishable crime to use any terminology denoting extended family.10 “The dismantling of all the tribal and patriarchal traditions gave the Saharawi a unique opportunity to promote their liberation cause.”11 In doing so they took a page from Rules for Radicals: “All change means disorganization of the old and organization of the new.”12 Schooling was initiated for the children, and literacy among both women and children improved.13 If one classroom observation was typical, then education was used as a means of propaganda: a teacher would rap on the desk as a signal for pupils to start the chant, “Kill the king! Kill the king [of Morocco]!”14 One Saharawi remembers growing up in the camps with a picture of Karl Marx on the wall; another recalls being taught to hate Morocco and America. A

See S. Rossetti, Formal and Informal Gender Quotas in State-Building: The Case of the Sahara, Arab Democratic Republic, UNIVERSITY OF WOLLONGONG RESEARCH ONLINE 10-12 (July 2008), available at

See Rossetti, supra note 8 at 15-16.


Interview with Laamar Sidi Brahim, Escapee, in Dakhla, Morocco (July 23, 2010); see also San Martín, supra note 4, at 252-53, 259.
11 12 13

Rossetti, supra note 8, at 13. ALINSKY, supra note 3, at 116.

Background to the Western Sahara Conflict, FORCED MIGRATION ONLINE, (last updated Sept. 23, 2011).

Interview with Nancy Huff, President, Teach the Children International, in Boujdour, Morocco (July 24, 2010).


common type of math problem given in Cuba was, “[i]f there are ten Americans and you kill seven, how many will be left?”15 Thousands of children were sent to the ideological homeland, Cuba, for education starting as early as first grade,16 and continued schooling through high schools in Cuba, Algeria or Libya. Promising students, and children of the Polisario leaders, somehow found means to attend college in Europe.17 Returning from campus to camp naturally proved difficult, but was required.18 Now, after thirty-five years of hardship, uncertainty, and isolation, those in the camps manifest depression and schizophrenia at alarmingly high rates.19 Food and water are scarce in the harsh environment called the Devil’s Garden. The Algerian and Saharawi Red Crescents, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the World Food Programme, and humanitarian groups such as Teach the Children International, have made various attempts at trucking in food or water.20 However, camp dwellers and humanitarian workers began to notice that aid was being diverted. The Polisario


Lamine, supra note 6 (July 2010; May 2011); Interview with Sadani Maoulainie, Escapee, in LaAyoune, Morocco (Nov. 7, 2009).

Lamine, supra note 6 (July 2010; May 2011); Interview with Sadani Maoulainie, Escapee, in LaAyoune, Morocco (Nov. 7, 2009).

Interview with Salka Omari, Escapee, in Dakhla, Morocco (July 23, 2010); see Main Finding and Provisional Recommendations, JOINT WFP-UNHCR ASSESSMENT MISSION 9 (Jan. 26, 2004), wfp036323.pdf [hereinafter WFP-UNHCR]; see also Samuel Loewenberg, Displacement is Permanent for the Sahrawi Refugees, 365 THE LANCET 1296 (2005), available at journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(05)61010-0/fulltext.
18 19 20

San Martín, supra note 4, at 254-59. Loewenberg, supra note 17.

Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic Ministry of Public Health, Nutritional and Food Security Survey Among the Saharawi Refugees in Camps in Tindouf, Algeria, 9-12, 53 (2008),


would ask for containers full of one item only, which is easier to trade,21 and cooking oil with aid labels would show up on the black market shelves in Mauritania.22 Of a caravan of trucks carrying donations from an Algerian port, one or more would be spotted veering off the route, never to be seen again.23 One Saharawi man described being tortured with burns and sticks when he would not lie about a new medical scanner being broken; he said he knew it was broken to obtain mercury for making explosives.24 Another woman told of having to trade sex with Cuban food distributors in order to get her food ration.25 There was definitely trouble in paradise—or rather, in hell—as malnourishment occurred along with anemia, blood pressure problems and diabetes.26 Recently, in light of the Polisario Front's continued refusal to allow UNHCR to conduct a registration of the refugee population, UNHCR and the World Food Programme (WFP) agreed that the official number of food aid beneficiaries should be reduced from 158,000 to 90,000.27 The Polisario insists that the number

Huff, supra note 14; see generally Interview with Ali Salem, in LaAyoune, Morocco (Apr. 29, 2011); Merrill Smith, Stonewalling on Refugee Rights: Algeria and the Sahrawi, U.S. COMM. FOR REFUGEES & IMMIGRANTS 12 (2009), 20Work/3_2_1_3_Morocco/Stonewalling.pdf.

See generally Getting to ‘‘Yes’’: Resolving the 30-Year Conflict over the Status of Western Sahara: Hearing Before the Subcomm. on Africa, Global Human Rights and Int’l Operations of the H.R. Comm. on Int’l Relations, 109th Cong. 84 (2005) (statement of Mr. Gordon Gray) [hereinafter Gray].
23 24 25 26

Lamine, supra note 6 (July 2010; May 2011). Interview with Abd Slaimifrisni, Escapee, in LaAyoune, Morocco (Nov. 7, 2009). Interview with Sallakha El Bachir, Escapee, in LaAyoune, Morocco (July 24, 2010).

Loewenberg, supra note 17, at 1295; see WFP-UNHCR, supra note 17, at 3; SAHARAWI, supra note 19, at 11.

Gray, supra note 22, at 84; see also Smith, supra note 21, at 3 (The U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI) estimates there are at a maximum 90,000 people in the camps). 5

is 160,000 and Algeria says it is 165,000.28 It was foreseeable that complaints would begin to surface in the camps, and the Polisario had to maintain order among disgruntled folks who were living in tents or concrete buildings in 130-degree summer heat, with floods, sand storms, and cold temperatures in other seasons. Discipline was peremptory and sometimes cruel.29 The court system that functions in Tindouf, commendably on some occasions, was not always utilized; rather the Polisario favored nighttime disappearances, beatings, and the separation of families.30 Children were warned that if they escaped, they would be “killed with a red truck,” or that if they reached Morocco, Moroccans would inject them with a solution that would paralyze them.31 One man told Congress about people in the camps being disposed of in a cement mixer or left to die in holes.32 Another person told the UN of people being forced to cut, roast, and eat their own flesh, and of other victims of dental torture and even crucifixion.33 Additional reports have detailed children seeing their

Stephanie Koury, The European Community and Member States’ Duty of Non-Recognition under the EC-Morocco Association Agreement, in INTERNATIONAL LAW AND THE QUESTION OF WESTERN SAHARA 180, note 77 (Karin Arts & Pedro Pinto Leite, eds., IPJET 2007); WFPUNHCR, supra note 17, at 1.

Smith, supra note 21, at 3; see also Interview with Ahmadou Souilem, Former Member, Polisario Camp Leadership, in N.Y.C., N.Y. (Apr. 8, 2010); Omari, supra note 17; see also Interview with Gahouana Quballa, Escapee, in LaAyoune, Morocco (July 24, 2010); Interview with Essaadi Lemania, Escapee, in LaAyoune, Morocco (July 24, 2010).

HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH, HUMAN RIGHTS IN WESTERN SAHARA AND IN THE TINDOUF REFUGEE CAMPS 118, 120 (2008), available at; HOLLOWELL, supra note 6, at 88-91; Smith, supra note 21, at 7-8.
31 32

Brahim, supra note 10; see also Bachir, supra note 25; Maoulainine, supra note 15.

Getting to “Yes”: Resolving the 30-Year Conflict Over the Status of Western Sahara: Hearing Before the Subcomm. on Africa, Global Human Rights and Int’l Operations of the H.R. Comm. on Int’l Relations, 109th Cong. 57-58 (2006) (statement of Ali El Jaouhar, Former Moroccan Prisoner of War).


parents tortured or killed,34 while others have described the enslavement of black Africans.35 People who attempted to function as journalists have stated that they were censored; in one case, was detained for months.36 The Polisario’s ideals had been lofty but, in Saul Alinsky-fashion, their ends justified their means. Alinsky would have approved the stern tactics needed to control the Saharawi; he once wrote, “[t]o attempt to operate on a good-will rather than on a power basis would be to attempt something that the world has not yet experienced.”37 He also wrote, “[i]n a fight almost anything goes. It almost reaches the point where you stop to apologize if a chance blow lands above the belt.”38 The fight through the years has been over how much self-rule the Saharawi will and should have when they resettle someday in the region they historically lived in as nomads. A vote on the particulars of Saharawi self-rule would provide the self-determination that the UN wants to see, but no one can agree on who would be counted as a voter. The SADR emphasizes the use of a census that the Spanish took as they were pulling out; Rabat has always wanted more inclusion of tribal connections, documented orally, as well as inclusion of settlers who have lived


U.N. GAOR, 65th Sess., 5th mtg., U.N. Doc. A/C.4/65/SR.5 (Oct. 7, 2010), available at
34 35

Maoulainie, supra note 15; Brahim, supra note 10.

HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH, supra note 30, at 11; Interview with Adahamedi Ben Mahmoud, Escapee, in LaAyoune, Morocco (Nov. 9, 2009).
36 37 38

Brahim, supra note 10; Lamine, supra note 6 (July 2010; May 2011). ALINSKY, supra note 3, at 119. See id. at 24, 29, 129-30.


in the region for a few years.39 Naturally, the larger the number of settlers and others with ties to Morocco proper, the more favorable the outcome of the vote for Rabat. Hence both sides want to bolster their numbers. To keep up population levels that would also justify requests for food and guns, the SADR needed to maximize camp population. Whereas the original population may have been as high as 150,000, it is now estimated to be about 90,000.40 Practically no one feels free to depart the camps, though some do travel to other destinations with relative ease. Those who do wish to leave for good (as many as nine out of ten in a 2006 poll)41 must make secret travel arrangements, and leave belongings behind so as not to reveal their objective.42 Women are urged to reproduce, occasionally being forced to take a second husband if one went missing.43 Tindouf inhabitants have been warned that if they were lucky enough to escape to Morocco, they would be imprisoned or killed.44 No documentation of such Moroccan behavior appears to exist, but with little to no media and communication available to the camp dwellers (especially in the early years), illusions have doubtless been easy to create.45
39 40


Abbas Shiblak & Greg Constantine, Statelessness Around the World, 32 FORCED MIGRATION REV. 37, 39-41 (2009), available at
41 42 43

Smith, supra note 21, at 6. HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH, supra note 30, at 125-28; Smith, supra note 21, at 7.

Interview with H.B., Escapee, in Dakhla, Morocco (July 23, 2010); U.N. GAOR, 65th Sess., 5th mtg. U.N. Doc GA/SPD/453 (October 7, 2010), available at
44 45

HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH, supra note 30, at 125. With the advent of cell phones, this is changing.


When the UNHCR began “confidence-building measures” to allow family visits to Morocco and Mauritania, some writers trumpeted the fact that only a few of those who were allowed to go on these visits failed to come back to the camps.46 But often this was because whole families were not allowed to leave together, so that visitors were faced with abandoning their relatives who couldn’t leave the camps.47 Individuals who spoke out against the Polisario in the camps,48 or while outside on a family visit, were retaliated against upon return.49 Despite these measures, it was necessary to go on the offensive, to find an enemy to focus the peoples’ anger on while they waited for a place to settle permanently—Alinsky says that although goals may be fluid, there must be “a target upon which to center the attacks.”50 Of course, Morocco, administering the non-self-governing territory of Western Sahara, which it calls Southern Morocco or Moroccan Sahara, is the natural target. Mauritania released its claims to the area in April 1979, and, currently, the UN merely monitors the ceasefire between Morocco and the Polisario, with modest forces both in Tindouf and in Western Sahara (called the U.N. Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO)).51


Edward Benson, Confidence-Building Measures in Western Sahara, FORCED MIGRATION REV. 57 (2009), available at

Interview with Afia Hmaidi, Escapee, in Dakhla, Morocco (July 23, 2010); HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH, supra note 30, at 128.
48 49

Smith, supra note 21, at 3; Omari, supra note 17; Brahim, supra note 10.

Leigh Anne Arnold, Sidi Mouloud Shot Attempting to Escape Algerian, Polisario Captors, CHRISTIAN NEWSWIRE, Nov. 1, 2010,; Bachir, supra note 25.

ALINSKY, supra note 3, at 131; See generally Toby Shelley, Resistance and Colonialism: Building the Sahrawi Identity, in INTERNATIONAL LAW AND THE QUESTION OF WESTERN SAHARA 35 (Karin Arts & Pedro Pinto Leite, eds., IPJET 2007).

See generally JENSEN, supra note 39; HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH, supra note 30, at 26-27.


A primary way for the Polisario to plague Morocco is through attacks on its human rights record, which is spotty when it comes to entertaining protests about the disputed territory, though the country has “increasingly free and fair elections, and growing attention to civil liberties and the principles of rule of law . . .”52 Focusing on human rights abuses is a wise SADR strategy for several reasons: it gets the attention of wealthy and educated Moroccan, North American and European players, it is low in cost to conduct, and creates sympathy for the Polisario, deflecting attention from their own human rights abuses.53 Even if they are questioned about what goes on in the camps, discussing the two situations puts the camp leaders on par with an ancient and well-established sovereign nation. Righteous indignation is an important feature of the

asymmetric warfare the Polisario has to wage. Thus, although scholars and humanitarians can endlessly scrutinize the “performance of civil rights”54 throughout Morocco and measure it against international law, the SADR is not a state under most definitions, and therefore international law is rarely applied to the Polisario.


Why the Maghreb Matters: Threats, Opportunities & Options for Effective US Engagement in North Africa, POTOMAC INSTITUTE, 6 (2009), NorthAfricaPolicyPaper033109.pdf; but see Sidi M. Omar, The Position of the Frente Polisario, in INTERNATIONAL LAW AND THE QUESTION OF WESTERN SAHARA 38 (Karin Arts & Pedro Pinto Leite, eds., IPJET 2007); Toby Shelley, Sons of the Clouds, RED PEPPER, Feb. 8, 2011,; see also M. Abbas El Fassi S’entretient vec une Delegation Parlementaire Francaise, MOROCCO NEWS, Jan. 28, 2011,

See Patrick Worsnip, UN Council Favors Informal Talks on Western Sahara, REUTERS, Apr. 30, 2009,; Alle, Meet the New Polisario, Same as the old Polisario, WESTERN SAHARA INFO. BLOG (Dec. 27, 2009),

Lauri Hannikainen, The Case of Western Sahara from the Perspective of Jus Cogens in INTERNATIONAL LAW AND THE QUESTION OF WESTERN SAHARA 63-71 (Karin Arts & Pedro Pinto Leite, eds., IPJET 2007).


In November 2010, a weeks-long demonstration in LaAyoune, in southern Morocco, finally went sour after a month of pro-independence advocacy outside the town. Wildly varying reports of casualties on both sides55 indicates the premium put on spin by both sides. Timed to add pressure to imminent negotiations in New York, the tent protest was “an act of political opportunism,” said one Saharawi Moroccan official, while demonstrators spoke openly about how they chose their message: the “protest’s focus on bread and butter issues was a deliberate calculation.” One protester said, “[t]he social issues hide the other issues.” Flags and other Polisario symbols were not displayed, out of stated fears of provoking Moroccans.56 This approach would have warmed Alinsky’s heart: “goals must be phrased in general terms like . . . ‘Bread and Peace.’”57 Present-day partners with “left/radical social movements” have expressed support of the demonstration.58 Alinsky preached that “[t]he real action is the enemy’s reaction, [and the] enemy properly goaded and guided in his reaction will be your major strength.”59 The tent city and various marches and demonstrations against Morocco are actions that need only wait for one Moroccan


Colum Lynch, U.N. Asked to Investigate Violence in Western Sahara, WASHINGTON POST, Nov. 16, 2010, AR2010111602813.html; YEMEN MAGAZINE, New Violence Reported in Western Sahara, Nov. 10, 2010,; ARAB RESOURCE AND ORGANIZING CENTER, CIVIL UNREST SPREADS IN WESTERN SAHARA. BLOG (Nov. 9, 2010), [hereinafter ARAB RESOURCE].

Lamine Ghanmi, Western Sahara Protest Camp Tests Morocco’s Nerve, REUTERS, Nov. 9, 2010,
57 58

ALINSKY, supra note 3, at 45.

ARAB RESOURCE, supra note 55; ARAB RESOURCE AND ORGANIZING CENTER, Partners, (last visited Apr. 23, 2011).

ALINSKY, supra note 3, at 136.


civilian, soldier, or police, to overreact or fail to act. “Any attack against the status quo must use the strength of the enemy against itself . . . they can constantly be pushed to live up to their own book of morality and regulations,” Alinsky gleefully noted.60 Another example of Alinsky’s tactics is the carefully staged campaign of Aminitou Haidar. After years of highly-visible campaigns against Morocco while living comfortably in the South, on her return from receiving an activism award in the U.S. she left the “Citizenship” line blank on the customs form and wrote “Western Sahara” as her address. She was detained and then deported to the nearby Canary Islands for insisting on re-entry, while apparently renouncing her Moroccan citizenship.61 U.S. and European human rights organizations railed against

Moroccan cruelty.62 She was eventually re-admitted after engaging in a hunger strike that was carefully followed by some media, and she earned kudos for her intrepid opposition to the King.63 Alinsky assured the activists of the 1970’s that “[y]ou can club them to death with their ‘book’ of rules and regulations”64 because, especially in a novel situation like being presented

60 61

Id. at 48-49.

Erik German, Why Morocco Welcomed Human Rights Activist Aminatou Haidar Home by Arresting Her, CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR, Nov. 17, 2009, World/Middle-East/2009/1117/p06s10-wome.html.

Alle, Morocco vs. Aminatou, MAGHREB POLITICS REVIEW (Dec. 8, 2009),; Alle, Aminatou Update, MAGHREB POLITICS REVIEW (Dec. 17, 2009),

Amnesty International Welcomes Aminatou Haidar’s Return to Western Sahara, AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL (Dec. 18, 2009),; see also Shelley, supra note 50, at 31; Owei Lakemfa, Western Sahara: Aminatou Haidar—The Shame of Spain, ALLAFRICA GLOBAL MEDIA (Dec. 17, 2009),

ALINSKY, supra note 3, at 127, 157. For instances of breakdowns of Moroccan justice regarding protesters, thoroughly scrutinized, see HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH, supra note 30, at 3965, and the painstaking Moroccan response, see id. at 159-173.


with a claim of “Western Sahara” citizenship, they will more likely falter and do something inappropriate. As Rules for Radicals advises, “[w]herever possible, go outside of the experience of the enemy.”65 Such creativity is suggested by the trend in the use of the term “performance” of rights or laws. For Susan Slyomovics and others, the term refers to such “behavior associated with enacting human rights onto the public arena” as mock trials, sit-ins, rallies, slogans, graffiti, and hunger strikes.66 Other Western Polisario admirers can be associated with these tactics as well as with anarchy and economic upheaval, apparently including one “paper [which says it] was supported by a grant from the Institute for Anarchist Studies.”67 Toby Shelley’s book favoring the Polisario was, according to sources, published “in association with War on Want,” which boasts a “leading role in the global movement fighting [free trade] agreements . . . [with] millions [who] have taken to the streets to . . . help change the rules of the global economy for good.”68 The Polisario has sometimes echoed Alinsky’s tactics at the level of negotiations with Morocco: on two occasions surprising the other side and onlookers by unexpectedly acceding to
65 66

ALINSKY, supra note 3.

SUSAN SLYOMOVICS, THE PERFORMANCE OF HUMAN RIGHTS IN MOROCCO 9 (2005); Jacob A. Mundy, Performing the Nation, Pre-figuring the State: the Western Saharan Refugees, Thirty Years Later, 45 J. MOD. AFR. STUD. 275, 297 (2007), available at

Josephine Bjelkholm, Gothenburg Post: Greenpeace Stops Vessel, WESTERN SAHARA RESOURCE WATCH (June 11, 2008), parse_news=single&cat=105&art=744; see also Mundy, supra note 66, at 275; Gael Murphy, Another World is Possible, CODEPINK (Jan. 23, 2006),

Trade Justice, WAR ON WANT, (last visited April 2, 2012); see generally TOBY SHELLEY, ENDGAME IN THE SAHARA: WHAT FUTURE FOR AFRICA’S LAST COLONY? (2004).


demands.69 This “calling of the bluff” has more than once caught the larger and less-agile monarchy off-guard and made Morocco appear to be negotiating with less than sincere resolve. For example, in 2003 the “Baker Peace Plan” tried to resolve the dispute over Western Sahara by allowing a vote by the Saharawi named on MINURSO’s and UNHCR’s provisional voter lists and those residing in the territory since 1999.70 The referendum was to take place about four years from then, a lingering time of uncertainty that the Moroccans disliked.71 “In an astute tactical move . . . the Frente Polisario sprang a surprise” and accepted the plan as the basis for moving forward—Morocco “had presumably counted on Polisario’s rejection and was thoroughly bemused.”72 Disruption can be almost inevitable when the sand shimmers with heat and mirages, and one’s destiny has been stalled for thirty-five years. Or as Alinsky observed, “[p]eople hunger for drama and adventure,”73 and if that was true for Alinsky’s 1960’s Americans, it is certainly true for those languishing in the camps and even their leaders. Around 1988, camp residents began to see a change for the worse among the Polisario. After the ceasefire between Morocco and the Polisario in 1991, guns piled up unused and the Polisario became restless and unresponsive to the people, skimming off more aid than ever.74 Slavery of black Africans, which was initially

69 70 71 72 73 74

ALINSKY, supra note 3, at 130. JENSEN, supra note 39, at 110-112. Id. Id. ALINSKY, supra note 3, at 120.

Omari, supra note 17; Lamine, supra note 6 (July 2010; May 2011); Bara, supra note 6; see generally With the Best of Intentions: Western Sahara , THE ECONOMIST, Sept. 12, 1992, at 44; Edward M. Gabriel, Mercenaries in Libya: Gadhafi's Hired Terrorists, THE HILL (May 16, 2011, 14

frowned upon, returned to the camps.75 Islamists drifted into the camps, teaching jihad against the Polisario to the discontented populace.76 As Chekhov once said, “if you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off.”77 Recruiting for terrorist ranks began with the training and equipping of several Al Qaeda princes.78 The SADR sold some of the plentiful weapons back to Algeria.79 While the Polisario may have initially resisted or not recognized Al Qaeda as such, some welcome it now: “[t]hank God, the appearance of al-Qaeda gave us hope of independence and eradication of the occupation.”80 But the question arises: why does the Polisario not target Algeria, the nation in which it is located? If they so object to the “autonomy” arrangement Rabat has conceived of for them, why

2:21 PM),

Lamine, supra note 6 (July 2010; May 2011); HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH, supra note 30, at 14349; Interview with Ali Salme, Escapee, in LaAyoune, Morocco (Apr. 29, 2011).

Lamine, supra note 6 (July 2010; May 2011); Mohamed Cherkaoui, Morocco and the Sahara: Social Bonds and Geopolitical Issues 45 (2d ed. 2007).
77 78

DONALD RAYFIELD, ANTON CHEKHOV: A LIFE 203 (1997) (quoting Chekhov).

See generally Interview by Nancy Huff with Anonymous, Escapee, in LaAyoune, Morocco (July 23, 2010); Abdul Hameed Bakier, Al-Qaeda Infiltration of the Western Sahara's Polisario Movement, 8 TERRORISM MONITOR (May 13, 2010), %5BbackPid%5D=457&no_cache=1; Claude Moniquet et al., The Polisario Front and the Development of Terrorism in the Sahel, EUR. STRATEGIC INTELLIGENCE & SEC. CTR. (May 2010),

Lamine, supra note 6 (July 2010; May 2011). More recently, the Polisario may have turned their surplus to profitable use as mercenaries in support of Moammar Qaddafi in rebuffing insurrection. See Libyan Opposition Denounces Recruitment of 'Polisario' Mercenaries to Quell Insurrection—News Agencies, MOROCCO NEWS AND PRESS REVIEWS, Feb. 28, 2011.

Bakier, supra note 78.


is not a nearly identical de facto jurisdictional arrangement in Algeria more offensive? Moreover, under international law, the Saharawi are being unlawfully “warehoused”81 by Algeria, not Morocco. They are not allowed Algerian identification, freedom of movement, or work permits,82 all in violation of international law, including Chapters II and III of the Geneva Convention and the related 1967 Protocol. With work permits, Saharawi can work and move about until a resolution is reached; with a refugee identification card they can at least apply for a visa to go elsewhere. The Polisario demand a “referendum” on the fate of the Saharawi, but that does not require that the Saharawi be huddled in the desert together. If they are properly identified, counted, and contacted regarding a vote, Saharans should be able to live anywhere they like pending the vote. By contrast, on March 9, 2011, King Muhammad VI of Morocco instituted a referendum on all sorts of issues, decreeing broad new powers for regionally elected councils83 to either overrule or replace royally appointed governors.84 With this revision of the nation’s constitution, King Muhammad VI confers much of the autonomy most Saharawi want without needing Algeria to buy in on the concept. He also responds to the substance of many of the Saharawi complaints rather than trying to engage with the symbolism of marches and strikes. As


Richard Black, Putting Refugees in Camps, 2 FORCED MIGRATION REV. 4, 4 (Aug. 1998); CAITLIN DEARING, GROUP RIGHTS AND INT’L LAW: A CASE STUDY ON THE SAHRAWI REFUGEES IN ALGERIA 49-50 (Jean AbiNader ed., 2009).
82 83 84

Smith, supra note 21, at 2. Note that the Saharan provinces count as regions.

Eileen Byrne, Moroccan King Announces Referendum on Reform, FINANCIAL TIMES, Mar. 11, 2011,; King Mohammed VI of Morocco Historic Speech, YOUTUBE (March 9, 2011),


he said when demonstrations were spreading from Egypt, “he would not bow to ‘demagoguery and improvisation.’”85 The ugly reality is that Algerian designs on the valuable coastline of Western Sahara make Moroccan sovereignty over its fisheries and ports unacceptable to Algeria, regardless of what the Saharawi population might want. Algerian competition with, and antipathy for, its neighbor also motivates Algeria to secure camps, because they are a thorn in its side, impeding development and creating embarrassment for the Moroccan king.86 Scholars, and even the Polisario, often note parallels between the Polisario/Morocco situation and the Palestinian/Israel situation, and call both “intifadas,” a term also used for the leftist uprising in Bahrain against British presence there.87 However, they rarely note that, similar to the little band of Palestinians that are the funding and sympathies of Saudi and Iranian governments, the Polisario is being backed by Algeria itself, which has reasons to prolong Saharawi anguish (and thus Morocco’s anguish) as long as possible. One scholar calls this the strategy of the Algeria “imperialist,” since SADR control of Western Sahara would amount to


Morocco: King Mohamaed VI Speech, AFRICAN DIPLOMACY, Feb. 24, 2011,

CHERKAOUI, supra note 74, at 28-9, 178; JENSEN, supra note 39, at 118 (calling the situation “an expensive irritant” to Morocco).

Catriona Drew, The Meaning of Self-Determination: “The Stealing of the Sahara” Redux? INTERNATIONAL LAW AND THE QUESTION OF WESTERN SAHARA 87 (Karin Arts & Pedro Pinto Leite eds., IPJET 2007); Aminatou Haidar, A Testimony of Human Rights Violations against Saharawis, INTERNATIONAL LAW AND THE QUESTION OF WESTERN SAHARA 347 (Karin Arts & Pedro Pinto Leite eds., IPJET 2007); see also Jacob Mundy & Maria J. Stephan, A Battlefield Transformed: From Guerilla Resistance to Mass, Nonviolent Struggle in the Western Sahara, J. MIL. & STRATEGIC STUD., Vol. 8, Iss. 3 (Spring 2006);.


Algerian control.88

Among the Saharawi who live in the territory and speak out against

Morocco, two observers admit that there is a “strong transnational component.”89 As the original anti-colonial heroes defect or die off, it appears that Algeria is not only taking over Polisario leadership, but is also bolstering the population of the camps to keep them viable.90 A man who had left the camps returned to them after several years for a family visit and reported that the neighbors he had remembered were gone and that everyone around was Algerian.91 A high-level Polisario defector stated to the New York City Bar Association last year that Algeria is trucking in Algerians who “don’t fit in” and leaving them in the camps.92 Algeria would likely benefit from disruptions in Morocco, and thus they are in step with the Polisario, who were disappointed when the royal succession in Morocco went smoothly.93 One researcher fumes that the UNHCR mandate is to maintain the humanitarian and civilian character of the camps, yet Algerian police and security work with the Polisario to control freedom of movement.94 Apparently they are both to blame for the access that Al Qaeda has to the camps.95

88 89 90

CHERKAOUI, supra note 76, at 28. Mundy & Stephan, supra note 87, at 1.

Bouaida, supra note 6; Omari, supra note 17; Interview with Kher Ahmad, in LaAyoune, Morocco (Nov. 8, 2009).
91 92

Brahim, supra note 10.

Souilem, supra note 29 (Apparently there are a lot of defectors: a 2009 poll of Algerian men said that half would “probably or definitely try to reach Europe in the near future”); Jacob Mundy, Bouteflika’s Triumph and Algeria’s Tragedy, MIDDLE E. RESEARCH & INFO. PROJECT (online) (Apr. 10, 2009),
93 94

JENSEN, supra note 39, at 118.

Michael Bhatia, Repatriation Under a Peace Process: Mandated Return in the Western Sahara, 15(4) INT’L J. REFUGEE L. 786, 791 (2003). 18

There is another reason why Alinsky’s tactics don’t work in the Algerian regime: they so rarely even purport to live by “the book” of justice and compassion,96 ethical limits which Alinsky would use to trip up the powers that be (“whenever the Haves start living by their book they present a golden opportunity to the Have-nots . . .”).97 Unlike Morocco, Algeria is not a signatory to many UN conventions and treaties that would hold it accountable and subject it to scrutiny. Even where it is obligated, impunity seems to prevail. Regarding the broad picture of Algerian civil rights violations, “[n]ot a single government official, not a single member of the security, [nor a single member of the] military . . . has gone to prison or stood before a truth commission.”98 While Algeria does give the Saharawis ‘refugee’ status, it does not accord them the protections illustrated in the 1951 Geneva Convention or a related 1967 human rights protocol.99 Likewise, the UN has issued over 100 resolutions (though no sanctions) about how Morocco should conduct itself in regard to various issues vis-à-vis the Saharawi (even though Morocco furnishes housing, medical care, education, and even a stipend to Saharawi), but virtually none about Algeria, which warehouses almost as many Saharawi in miserable conditions.100


Mideast Unrest Raises Al-Qaida Fears, UNITED PRESS INT’L, Feb. 2, 2011,
96 97 98 99

Smith, supra note 21, at 2; HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH, supra note 30, at 9. ALINSKY, supra note 3, at 153. Mundy, supra note 92. See generally Black, supra note 81, at 4-7.


Stephanie Koury, The European Community and Member States’ Duty of Non-Recognition under the EC-Morocco Association Agreement: State Responsibility and Customary 19

Interestingly, Rules for Radicals hints that nonviolent techniques such as Gandhi’s only work for a while, and that “the future does not argue for making a special religion of nonviolence”—“new means” will be adopted and “[t]he explanation will be . . . ‘[t]imes have changed.’”101 Nonviolent “performances” of civil rights have been the preferred means in Morocco for Polisario-influenced Saharawis to advocate for their rights. However, violence ramped up with a bombing in Marrakesh that was attributed to al Qaeda sympathizers.102 It has been said that the debate over the area started as “another of the ‘proxy wars’” between the US/Western Europe and the Stalinists/Communists that “defined the international system during the Cold War period.”103 It would be tragic if a vestigial organ of the left-like Saul Alinsky tactics keep thousands of people in a wilderness because the Polisario would rather “rule in hell” than serve in a Moroccan Sahara. “To one side,” said Alinsky in a section called Ego, “a leader is a demigod, to the other a demagogue.”104 As petitioner Fatma Saida said to the UN Fourth Committee, “this artificial conflict” is sustaining a “life of hell.”105 Hopefully the Polisario can forsake their demigod status for the good of the people they claim to represent.

International Law, in INTERNATIONAL LAW AND THE QUESTION OF WESTERN SAHARA 165 (Karin Arts & Pedro Pinto Leite, eds., IPJET 2007).
101 102

ALINSKY, supra note 3, at 42-45.

Larry Luxner, Morocco Tries to Reform, While Preserving Stability, WASHINGTON DIPLOMAT, June 12, 2011, =article& id=7869:morocco-tries-to-reform-while-preservingstability&catid=1474&Itemid=428.

Caitlin Dearing and Robert Holley, Group Rights and International Law: A Case Study on the Sahrawi Refugees in Algeria, INTER-UNIV. CTR. FOR LEGAL STUDIES 5 (Sept. 2009),
104 105

ALINSKY, supra note 3, at 60. Saida, supra note 43.


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