Econostrum | Economic News in the Mediterranean

Western Sahara issue further divides the Maghreb

Written by Frédéric Dubessy on Tuesday, November 2nd 2021 à 17:55 | Read 310 times

While the Minurso's mandate has just been extended by one year, Staffan de Mistura starts his new mandate as UN envoy for Western Sahara in the middle of a regional crisis.

MOROCCO / ALGERIA. Staffan de Mistura (74) began his new mandate as UN envoy for Western Sahara on 1 November 2021 in the midst of a crisis in the region. Appointed at the beginning of October 2021, the Italian-Swedish has as a roadmap the revival of the diplomatic process which has been at a standstill since spring 2019. The difficulty of this post is measured by the time needed, two and a half years, to find a successor to the German Horst Köhler, who threw in the towel, officially for health reasons, in May 2019.

The polyglot Marquis (he speaks seven languages) Staffan de Mistura was in thirteenth place on a list of thirteen names put forward by Antonio Guterres, the UN Secretary General, to take up this post. Both parties accepted this candidate at the last minute.
The former Italian minister (under-secretary of state for foreign affairs and then deputy minister of foreign affairs) is known as a diplomat specialising in delicate operations. He has already been UN envoy in Afghanistan (2010 to 2011), Iraq (2007 to 2009), Syria (2014 to 2019) and South Lebanon (2001 to 2004). This CV gives him a know-how that will be very useful as the situation is complicated to unravel for decades while the upheavals in the region for a year make this mission impossible.

In November 2020, the Moroccan army entered the buffer zone of Guerguerat (border with Mauritania), under the pretext of improving the road and the circulation of trucks. The Saharawis then decided to protest by blocking, through sit-ins, this axis linking Mauritania to Morocco. The intervention of the Moroccan army led the Polisario Front (Frente Popular de Liberación de Saguía el Hamra y Río de Oro), the political and armed wing of the self-proclaimed Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), to break the ceasefire in force since 1991 (despite some regular skirmishes). The guns were once again talking on the side of the 2,700 km long Moroccan defensive sand wall designed to prevent incursions by the Polisario Front. In early October 2021, before the Security Council, Antonio Guterres spoke of "a major setback towards achieving a political solution" and stressed that "the resumption of a political process is all the more urgent.

Tunisia prefers to abstain

The Minurso is renewed for one year, a resolution criticised by Algeria (photo: Minurso)
The Minurso is renewed for one year, a resolution criticised by Algeria (photo: Minurso)
At the end of August 2021, Algeria, which supports the Polisario Front independence movement, unilaterally broke off diplomatic relations with Morocco, which claims Western Sahara as one of its provinces. A reaction partly due to the rapprochement between Israel and Rabat. It had facilitated the American recognition of Moroccan sovereignty over this region. A territory of 266,000 km² and 654,000 inhabitants (2018 figure), Western Sahara has been classified by the UN on its list of "non-self-governing territories" since 1963. Morocco controls 80% of it and the Polisario Front the remaining 20%.

A few days ago, another Maghreb country, Tunisia, put its turn in the sand in the file by abstaining, Friday, October 29, 2021 in New York, during the vote of the UN resolution for the renewal of one year (until October 31, 2022) of the mandate of the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (Minurso) which Staffan de Mistura also becomes the head. It is the only one of the fifteen members of the Security Council, along with Russia, to have opted for this position, drawing the wrath of the Moroccan press, which did not hesitate to speak of a "stabbing". Walid Al Hajjam, adviser to Tunisian President Kaïs Saïed, tried to calm the game by declaring: "Tunisia holds on to its distinguished historical and fraternal relations with all the Maghreb countries, and adheres to the principle of positive neutrality in its management of the Western Sahara.

Algeria considers the new resolution too favourable to Morocco

The new UN resolution (n°2602) is indeed judged too favourable to Morocco by Algiers. The Algerian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the National Community Established Abroad made its disagreement known in the following terms: "Algeria expresses its deep regret about the fundamentally unbalanced approach enshrined in this text, which cruelly lacks responsibility and lucidity due to the unfortunate forcing of some of the influential members of the said Council. Its spokesman evokes "a biased resolution which has the effect of reinforcing the exorbitant claims of the occupying state, whose intransigence it encourages and whose manoeuvres aim at hindering and perverting the decolonisation process of Western Sahara". Algiers even asks Staffan de Misura to return to the 1991 conflict settlement plan, unanimously adopted by the Security Council. This would be tantamount to erasing the twenty or so previous ones adopted.

After a few hours of threatening not to go to the future round tables of negotiations, Algeria reaffirmed on Sunday, October 31, 2021, its desire that the discussions are carried out directly between the Moroccan authorities and those of the Sahrawi independence. The sole objective is to organise a referendum on self-determination for this region. Two round tables (December 2018 and March 2019) have already taken place in Geneva in the presence of the four parties concerned: Morocco, Algeria, Mauritania and the Polisario Front. In April 2020, the members of the Security Council concluded that there was no alternative to this format.

Presented in April 2007 by Morocco to the UN Secretary General to resolve the territorial conflict, and rejected outright by the Polisario Front, the Moroccan autonomy plan is based on the principle of autonomy and territorial integrity of Western Sahara, but under Moroccan sovereignty. It speaks of a Sahara Autonomous Region (SAR) with a local government led and formed by a head of government representing the Moroccan state in the region, elected by the regional parliament and invested by the King of Morocco.

For the United States, as for France, this plan "constitutes a serious and credible basis for discussion with a view to the resumption of dialogue", as their representatives specified on Friday 29 October 2021 at the Security Council.

Read also our special report on Western Sahara in three parts 

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