Remembering Mohamed Abdelaziz, remembering a man of peace – Washington Times

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Remembering a man of peace

Mohamed Abdelaziz fought for democracy and for the Sahrawis of the Western Sahara

– The Washington Times – Sunday, June 12, 2016



Mohamed Abdelaziz, President of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic passed away May 31. Few Americans who read the short obligatory mention of his death had ever heard of him or knew there even is a Sahrawi Republic, but he was a great leader, a Muslim democrat and a man who had spent a lifetime fighting for the independence of his people many of whom have lived for decades in U.N. administered refugee camps in Algeria just across the border from their own land. They are in these camps because their land was seized and is occupied by Morocco which has refused all attempts to displace them so the rightful occupants of the land can return to it and live in peace.

The Sahrawi of the Western Sahara, along with the Palestinians, are homeless. Most people haven’t heard of their plight, however, because President Abdelaziz was a man of peace who, perhaps naively, believed in justice and the rule of law. He was instrumental in the formation of the Polisario Front which fought the Spanish when they ruled the area then known as the Spanish Sahara, but when they left and Morocco moved in he decided to appeal to the world for justice. He went to the International Court of Justice in 1974 claiming that the occupiers of his peoples’ land had no legal or historical claim on which to base their claim and won. The Moroccans ignored the Court findings and dug in as his people fled to the camps in Algeria.

Undeterred, Mr. Abdelaziz established a Republic within the camps and continued his appeals to the world while in the meantime preparing the some 300,000 Sahrawi refugees for the day they would get their land back. The new Republic in the 1980s adopted a constitution unique to that part of the world. It guaranteed equal rights to all and in the years since the Republic established under it has operated democratically, protected the right of religious freedom and the rights of women, many of whom today hold important positions within the Republic’s government.Mr. Abdelaziz was elected and re-elected president although on several occasions he was placed on the ballot over his objections as he felt it important in a democracy that he step aside.

It hasn’t always been easy. Many within the camps have wanted to wage a war of terror against Morocco, seeing that those who like the Palestinians resort to violence get the world’s attention while those who seek justice peacefully are ignored and ultimately forgotten. That he was successful during his lifetime in keeping his people from taking this path is a tribute both to his belief in the ultimate triumph of justice and his persuasiveness as a leader. He never faltered in his conviction that at some point the world would take notice and his people would be able to return to their own lands. In the meantime, he urged them to prepare. Today they have a 90% literacy rate, the highest of any group on the African continent and a functioning democracy.

In 1991, Mr. Abdelaziz took the Sahrawi case to the U.N., which like the International Court of Justice found that Morocco in the wrong and endorsed his call for a plebiscite. Fearing that they couldn’t hold out against world opinion forever, the Moroccans began resettling Moroccans in the occupied territories and demanded that if a plebiscite was to be held they should be able to vote as well.

After years of wrangling, the U.N. named former U.S. Secretary of State Jim Baker to try to come up with a solution. He managed to get the Sahrawis to accept plans for a plebiscite that would indeed allow many of the Moroccans who had been moved into the territories to vote, but Morocco finally rejected the plan. They had never actually wanted to risk losing the land and continue to occupy it while the U.N. passes worthless resolutions and 300,000 Sahrawis live in refugee camps in the middle of the Sahara Desert.


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