The Saharawi Peace Movement was recently created to work towards a feasible, negotiated and peaceful solution to the entrenched problem in Western Sahara, moving away from the postulates of the Polisario Front. Atalayar talks to its first secretary, Hach Ahmed Baricalla, to discuss his organisation and the issues affecting the Saharawis.
The Saharawi Movement for Peace has just held its constitutive congress. How do you assess its realization?
We have overcome a great challenge, celebrating it in the middle of a pandemic. The wonderful thing about the whole process is to see how hundreds of people without knowing each other, without sharing the same geographical space, without belonging to the same tribal environment have mobilised with such enthusiasm in favour of a political idea. The participation has been remarkable. The presence and the speech of President Zapatero gave the event an international dimension. On 3 October we took a substantial step towards a peaceful solution and at the same time towards political pluralism after half a century of totalitarianism and political and ideological sectarianism. Overall it has been a success.
In the final declaration of the congress, there is no mention at all of "the right of the Saharawi people to self-determination", which has been the main slogan of the Polisario for 45 years. Why? Do you think it is not viable today?
The founding manifesto does mention self-determination and the set of political, economic and social rights of the Saharawi people. Moreover, the solution we propose must be framed in self-determination and in accordance with universal standards in order to determine the territory's final status.
In the same political declaration it is stated that the MSP calls "on the leaders of the Polisario Front, together with those of all Saharawi political movements, currents and organisations to establish a dialogue to coordinate a common strategy to reach a peaceful and viable solution to the conflict". Apart from Polisario, which other Saharawi interlocutors do you refer to, including those elected in the general, regional and municipal elections held by the Moroccan government in the territory?
The emergence of the MSP was the trigger for the emergence of many political currents and bodies. Even some activists and organisations that had hitherto acted as human rights organisations became political actors. The Polisario is no longer alone on the board. Of course the Saharawi representatives elected under the Moroccan administration will have to participate. They have the same rights as the representatives of Polisario and the other entities. The important thing is to reach a consensus and to agree, as soon as possible, on a formula. We have defined, in broad terms, a proposal for a settlement. This is a Saharan entity of its own whose competences, both exclusive and shared, must be negotiated in order to reach a point of convergence between the rights and interests of the parties.
The MSP has asked the Moroccan government to release the Sahrawi prisoners, specifically those of Gdeim Izik. Is this a precondition for any dialogue?
It is an indispensable gesture to build the necessary trust. We must bury the bad memories of the past, break out of the vicious circle and look to the future with hope. Any gesture of goodwill is welcome. A commitment to further blockade the El Guerguerat border crossing could also be welcome.
The MSP also asks the Polisario leadership to repair the material and moral damage caused to the victims of its repressive acts. Are there still prisoners of opinion in the Polisario prisons in Tindouf?
Unlike Morocco, the Polisario has not yet repaired the victims of its repression, nor has it assumed any political responsibility. This is a subject that has remained unresolved since the 1970s and 1980s. The most striking current case is that of the disappearance of Khalil Ahmed. The most striking case at present is that of the disappearance of Khalil Ahmed.
How do you intend to solve the problem posed by Dakhla's delegation, which does not feel represented in the MSP leadership elected by the congress, according to the Moroccan digital Yabiladi?
Criticism and open debate in a political organisation is very healthy. Those of us who come from the Polisario are more grateful for this than others. I would even say that it is very positive that the protest and discontent is over the regional quotas and not over the tribal ones. In this case, the Dakhla delegation is only failing in arithmetic. They forgot to include in their quota those of us from that city, but we have been out for decades for reasons of force majeure. What matters is the great flood of affiliations that is taking place and the hope that the MSP is generating.
What model have they followed for the organisation of the Movement? Centralised party? Federation? Grouping of territorial and local associations? Federation of tribes and ethnic groups?
For this initial stage and in the absence of experience in political pluralism, a centralist model has been chosen. Our main concern is not to fall into the errors of the Polisario and not to let tribalism and caudillismo dominate the system.
When the MSP speaks of "the parties interested and/or involved in the peace process in Western Sahara", to whom does it refer?
We refer to all those parties who have power over the will of the Saharawis. Of course Morocco and Algeria, but also influential powers such as the United States, France, Spain and, finally, the UN. Until now, the Saharawis have been used for the game and the clash of interests of regional or world powers. The time has come for us to look after ourselves and provide a period of tranquillity and prosperity for our people.
When you call for "reviving peace negotiations", do you mean bilateral, Morocco-Saarawi, or multilateral, the four Geneva partners, or extended to Spain, France and the United States?
After seeing how in three decades so many international efforts and mediations have contributed absolutely nothing, not to say that they were a failure, it could be useful to try the bilateral route. Sometimes the presence of observers, witnesses and stenographers prevents the parties from stepping out of their defensive positions to make concessions. At the Marrakech meeting in 1989 (Hassan II received a delegation from the Polisario Front led by Bachir Mustada Sayed, Brahim Ghali and Mahfud Ali Beiba at his Marrakech palace) the parties spoke very frankly, and it was not long before they reached an understanding.
Does the MSP believe that the African Union has a role to play?
I don't think so. Its main concern is to avoid any discussion that could give rise to crises like those experienced by its predecessor, the OAU (Organisation of African Unity), in the 1980s. Your role will be that of a silent witness.
What does the MSP think of the crisis at the El Guerguerat border crossing?
It is a storm in a glass of water. I don't think the incidents of 2017 will happen again. In any case, neither the closure nor the opening are of any importance. It's just blanks, hardly attracting the attention of a couple of blue helmets full of boredom.
Does the MSP have any plans for action and communication in Spain, mainly with civil society?
Certainly. Spain is important for the Saharan issue. In fact, we want civil society to understand and support the MSP's approach. Those of us who resisted half a century and buried brothers and fathers in the Hamada desert have the right to seek an honourable way out for our people.
We must put ourselves in the shoes of the people and families who have been living precariously in canvas tents in one of the harshest deserts on earth for five decades. I was confident that the approach we are proposing and the emergence of a voice other than Polisario would be a source of satisfaction for any Spanish democrat aware of the problem. I don't understand why our commitment to internal democracy and the emergence of our Movement has made some people in the Spanish solidarity movement, the group known as "Coordinadora CEAS-Sáhara", uncomfortable.
I find their brazen interference in the internal Saharawi debate unacceptable. Even a monumental rudeness to call the MSP a "ghost" or to criticise the former socialist president José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero for his support for our movement. In any case, nothing alarming, it is a strange mixture of nostalgic ex-military who knew the Sahara through the "mili" and outdated militants of the extinct Spanish communist movement and the abertzale left close to Herri Batasuna. They are the only ones in Spain who still identify with Polisario and its totalitarian system, and have always remained silent about its democratic deficit and human rights abuses.
They simply travel to the meetings called by the Polisario to chant their slogans. They travel thanks to the subsidies of the Spanish public entities to the appointments and meetings, including the end-of-year trip with all expenses paid for the usual photo with the "indigenous" Sahrawis in their reserves in Tinduf and to some wild parties in the desert dunes. So, CEAS gentlemen, lessons, the jousting!