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Western Sahara: An Algerian-Moroccan condominium as a political solution to the fifty-year old conflict

on Tuesday, December 7th 2021 à 16:02 | Read 2463 times

By Cécile Le Roux, author, and Rachid Nekkaz, businessman and politician

Western Sahara: An Algerian-Moroccan condominium as a political solution to the fifty-year old conflict
For forty-six years, the realisation of the Greater Maghreb has been blocked by the absence of a diplomatic solution for Western Sahara, a former Spanish desert colony of 266,000 km² that lies between Mauritania, Morocco and Algeria. 75,000 Arab-Berber souls live there.

Despite international mobilisation (United Nations, Europe, Spain, the United States, the African Union, the Arab League), no solution acceptable to all has yet been found for this land rich in phosphates and whose Atlantic coast is generous in fisheries resources. The persistence of this conflict represents a significant human, moral and financial cost for the Saharawi people, Morocco, Algeria and the international community.

The world cannot leave the Saharawi people in the lurch. The Abraham Accords signed in Washington in September 2020 under the Trump administration between Israel and certain Arab countries such as the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain have shaken up the regional chessboard. In exchange for the establishment of diplomatic relations between Rabat and Tel Aviv, the US committed to recognise Morocco's sovereignty over Western Sahara. This historic decision in December 2020 aggravated tensions between King Mohamed VI and President Tebboune, who saw it as a casus belli against Algeria. From being neutral, the United States has become the unconditional ally of the Cherifian kingdom, to the great displeasure of the Algerian neighbour, whose traditional ally Russia has remained strangely silent.

Two referendums

As specialists in the region and peace seekers, we defend the following political proposal in order to find a lasting diplomatic solution to this conflict and an acceptable and honourable way out for all parties involved. It is the organisation of two referendums in Western Sahara within the next decade.
Obviously, these referendums will have to be organised under the aegis of the United Nations, the only legitimate partner in whom all the protagonists of the conflict have confidence.

Some are already asking why two referendums over such a long period of time?

History teaches us that any conflict resolution architecture that does not integrate an evolutionary dimension over time is doomed to failure. Only the time factor combined with the good faith of the actors can reduce the negative impact of accumulated resentment and hatred. We must therefore be careful not to repeat the tragic mistakes of the past, in particular the tragedies that followed most of the independences due to the absence of a progressive decolonisation strategy in Africa or Asia.

Two questions

In this spirit, if this idea is retained by Rabat, Algiers and the representatives of the Saharawis, the first referendum can be envisaged within the next twelve months. The Saharawis will be asked two questions.

1) Yes or No, do you want autonomy within the Kingdom of Morocco for ten years?

2) Yes or No, do you want a dual sovereignty of Algeria and Morocco (condominium) over Western Sahara for ten years, like the principality of Andorra, run by France and Spain?

In the interests of fairness, the vote of those who were present before the Spanish decolonisation in 1976 will count double compared to those who settled afterwards.

The novelty of this referendum lies in the second question asked. This is the original proposal for a UN-sponsored Algerian-Moroccan condominium over the Western Sahara. The merit of this question is to open the political abyss and to put an end to the diplomatic blur surrounding Algeria's role as the unofficial guardian of the Polisario Front, the sole representative of the Saharawi people, of which twenty-four states recognise the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) which it created in February 1976.

Algerian-Moroccan rivalry

A condominium is a territory over which several sovereign states exercise joint sovereignty. The duration of a condominium varies. It can be short, as in the case of the Samoan Islands in the Pacific between 1889 and 1899 (10 years) between the United States, Germany and the United Kingdom. Medium, as in the case of Sudan which was administered between 1899 and 1956 (57 years) under an Anglo-Egyptian condominium. Or long, like the Principality of Andorra, which lies between France and Spain. From 1278 to the present day (843 years), it has been under the authority of two co-princes, the Bishop of Urgell and the President of the French Republic.

The international community is aware that the lack of understanding between Algeria and Morocco for 46 years is the main reason for the status quo in the region. These two countries share the same Arab-Berber languages, the same history and the same culture. Dialogue between Algeria and Morocco, which are fighting for regional leadership, would make a decisive contribution to a lasting political solution to the conflict and to the prosperity of the region, which, according to the World Bank, is losing two points of GDP because of this disagreement.

However, reaching an agreement necessarily presupposes a direct dialogue without taboos between Algeria and Morocco by tackling, without complexes, the subjects that have polluted their stormy relations since the Green March of November 1975 orchestrated by King Hassan II, which mobilised 350,000 Moroccans in Sahrawi territory:

1) drug trafficking, where Morocco must commit itself to drastically controlling its borders
2) smuggling at the borders where Algerian fuel is six times cheaper than Moroccan fuel at the pump
3) the mutual media smear campaigns orchestrated daily in both countries
4) the official proclamation of the final recognition of the Algerian-Moroccan borders
5) the reopening of the gas pipeline between Algeria and Morocco that transports Algerian gas to Southern Europe. It has been closed since 31 October 2021.
6) the re-establishment of diplomatic relations frozen since 24 August 2021
7) the reopening of land (closed since 1994) and air (since September 2021) borders
8) reparations for the 350,000 Moroccans expelled from Algeria and the 20,000 Algerians deported in 1975.

Autonomy or condominium

In this new perspective of Algerian-Moroccan understanding, the choice of autonomy or condominium would allow the Saharawi people to no longer be hostages of their two cumbersome neighbours. It could look to the future with serenity and above all take the time needed to reflect on the most advantageous and appropriate political option after this ten-year period. The 600 000 Saharawi refugees could indeed return to Western Sahara and participate in the development of the region with the effective and generous help of the international community.

If the establishment of a Moroccan regional autonomy or an Algerian-Moroccan condominium is democratically and freely approved by the Saharawi people, they will have to express themselves again in a referendum after ten years, this time on three questions:

1) Yes or No, do you want autonomy within the Kingdom of Morocco?

2) Yes or No, do you want a dual sovereignty of Algeria and Morocco (condominium) over Western Sahara?

3) Yes or No, do you want independence for Western Sahara?

The particularity of this second referendum is twofold. Firstly, the Saharawis will have to decide definitively on the political future of their territory by answering again the two questions they were asked ten years ago, but without the time limit of ten years for autonomy or condominium.

Finally, the second novelty of this democratic consultation is the presence of a third question. After a decade of experience under the Algerian-Moroccan autonomy or condominium regime, the Saharawis will additionally have the possibility to vote for the independence or not of Western Sahara.

The sovereign answer that gets the most votes, be it autonomy within the Kingdom of Morocco, Algerian-Moroccan condominium or independence, will close the political future of Western Sahara once and for all, and lay the foundations for much-needed regional stability in the whole of North Africa. A new era could then begin in the heart of the Mediterranean, bringing peace and prosperity in close cooperation with the European Union.

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