Polisario Front (or Frente Polisario), an armed separatist group in North Africa, and its master, Algeria, have suffered a series of setbacks on many fronts in 2020.
Prior to 2020, Polisario was already bleeding heavily as it had lost its popularity, sympathy and support internationally as well as among the Sahrawi people.
Polisario’s main supporter as well as financer – Algeria – was in a bad shape as it suffered multiple crises, including the Hirak social protest movement in 2019, its worst economic crisis triggered by low oil prices and a severe health crisis from the COVID-19 pandemic.
More than 95 percent of Algeria’s exports constitute oil and gas. Due to low oil prices, Algeria’s forex reserves experienced a sharp decline from US$194 billion in 2013 to just $60.91 billion in October 2020. Last year, its state budget was cut by 50 percent compared to 2019.
Currently, Algeria is no longer in a position to provide millions of dollars and weapons to Polisario, as it had done in the past.
Polisario received the biggest blow to its 48 years of existence from United States President Donald Trump on Dec. 10, 2020 when he announced his country’s decision to recognize Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara or Moroccan Sahara.
In a proclamation signed by Trump, Washington said that Morocco’s Autonomy Plan was the best solution for the decades-long conflict in Western Sahara. The plan, if agreed by the warring parties, would pave for “enduring peace and prosperity” in Western Sahara.
“The United States recognizes Moroccan sovereignty over the entire Western Sahara territory and reaffirms its support for Morocco’s serious, credible and realistic autonomy proposal as the only basis for a just and lasting solution to the dispute over the Western Sahara territory,” the proclamation said.
The Autonomy Plan, which Morocco submitted to the United Nations in April 2007, suggests turning Western Sahara into a semi-autonomous region under Moroccan sovereignty.
“The Polisario and Sahrawi government condemn in the strongest terms the fact that outgoing American President Donald Trump attributes to Morocco something which does not belong to the country,” the Sahrawi exile government’s information ministry said in a statement sent to the Agence France-Presse (AFP).
It was the first time a major Western country recognized Morocco’s sovereignty over Moroccan Sahara.
“It was the right decision by the Trump administration to recognize Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara because Morocco administers 80 percent of the territory of Western Sahara and 90 percent of the Sahrawi people live in Moroccan Sahara,” Taufik Abdullah, a lecturer from Jakarta, told this author recently.
In a striking blow to Polisario’s claims that the international community does not recognize Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara, around 20 countries, including the US, have already decided to open their consulates either in Laayoune or Dakhla in Moroccan Sahara. Many countries are in line to recognize Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara and open their consulates in the desert region.
Several Indonesians also wanted Indonesia, the world’s biggest Muslim country, to recognize Morocco’s sovereignty over Western Sahara.
“Indonesia is also facing a similar separatist movement in Papua. In fact, Polisario and Papuan separatist leader Benny Wenda are working closely. Benny got the idea to establish an exile government from Polisario, as Polisario had done in 1976. It would be nice to see Indonesia and Morocco work together to crush these separatist movements,” Khairunnisa, a resident of West Jakarta, told this author recently.
“Morocco respects fully Indonesia’s unity and sovereignty. Indonesia should consider to do the same.”
Indonesia, which does not take sides in the Western Sahara dispute, wants the conflict to be solved through peaceful negotiations. Indonesia maintains close relations with both Algeria and Morocco.
Commenting on the US decision, Moroccan Ambassador to Indonesia Ouadia Benabdellah described the US decision as a “historical one”.
“Morocco and the US are long-time friends and partners. It is a historical decision to recognize Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara. This decision will certainly speed up the peace process and implementation of the Autonomy Plan,” Ambassador Benabdellah said.
Morocco, according to Benabdellah, welcomes the US decision with joy.
“Moroccan King His Majesty Mohammed VI has already conveyed His sincere thanks to US President Donald Trump and his team for this frank and unambiguous support to the Moroccan Sahara. Such support strengthens the powerful strategic partnership between the two countries and raises it to the level of a true alliance that encompasses all fields,” Benabdellah said.
In another blow to Polisario and Algerian diplomacy, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) has used, for the first time, an integral map of Morocco that includes Western Sahara just after the US announcement on Dec.10.
NATO, the world’s most powerful military alliance of 30 countries from Europe and North America, mentioned in a press release on Dec. 14 about its Defense Education Enhancement Program (DEEP) and partner countries. As part of the program, NATO published the undivided map of Morocco, a major diplomatic victory for Moroccan diplomacy.
Earlier, NATO used to publish on its website the UN’s map of Morocco, where Western Sahara was marked as a disputed region.
Polisario has also suffered another setback in Europe, this time due to its own mistake.
On Dec. 15, German Euro-deputy Joachim Schuster resigned as the president of the European Parliamentary Intergroup “Peace for the Sahrawi people” in a strong protest against Polisario’s recent decision to end the cease-fire with Morocco.
“I consider the Polisario Front’s decision to end the cease-fire to be a serious strategic error,” said Schuster in his resignation letter to his colleagues at the European Parliament.
“I do not see how this can promote a solution to the conflict but rather fear that this conflict will be significantly exacerbated. I do not think that this serves the Sahrawi people,” he said.
Shuster was referring to Polisario’s recent decision to end a three-decades-old cease-fire with Morocco after the Moroccan military disbursed Polisario protesters in the Guerguerat area. The protesters put a blockade on the national highway in a buffer zone connecting Morocco to Mauritania.
Polisario leader Brahim Ghali has unilaterally announced the end of its truce on Nov. 13.
A brief history of the Western Sahara conflict
Western Sahara, a desert region, was a Spanish colony from 1884 to 1976. According to the Moroccan government, the region was under the control of Moroccan kings prior to 1884 as many Sahrawi tribal leaders constituted as their subjects.
In 1975, Spanish colonial masters left Western Sahara and handed over administrative control of the region to Morocco and Mauritania.
Polisario, which was established in 1973, first fought against Spanish colonial rulers and later on, Morocco and Mauritania.
In 1976, Polisario created the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) with the help of Algeria. The republic’s headquarters is currently located in Tindouf, Algeria, and the exiled government is fully funded by the Algerian government.
Why is Algeria supporting Polisario?
In 1963, Morocco and Algeria had a border war, which was known as Sand War. Here, Algeria suffered a humiliating defeat in the hands of the Moroccan military. Since then, it has been adamant about teaching a lesson to Morocco by fully supporting the Polisario separatist movement.
The war between Polisario and Morocco, which is mostly a guerrilla war, continued until 1991, when both agreed to a cease-fire and find a solution through peaceful negotiations under the supervision of
In the 1970s and 1980s, Algeria spent hundreds of millions of dollars to get the support of several African countries. Polisario was very good in generating publicity and spreading disinformation. As a result, the SADR was recognized by 84 countries, though mostly communist countries and African states, in the 1980s, and it became a member of the African Union in 1984.
Since then, most of these 84 countries have withdrawn their recognition. Now, according to the various media reports, 164 out of 193 UN member states do not recognize SADR. Many countries now know about Polisario’s false clams and the fact that Morocco is the legitimate ruler of the region.
The key to resolving the Western Sahara conundrum is in the hands of Algeria, not Polisario. If Algeria makes peace with Morocco and Polisario accepts Morocco’s Autonomy Plan, the suffering of the Sahrawi people will come to an end.