Thursday, December 10, 2009
Not Bowing to the Moroccan King
I generally don't post on consecutive days, but this letter posted in the Guardian is quite a read. Let's not pretend the Western Sahara issue is clear cut, this is just one of many voices.
Comment is free
We will not bow to this Moroccan king
Hunger striker Aminatou Haidar must have justice. Begging Morocco's rotten monarch won't bring it
Paul Laverty and Ken Loach
Thursday 10 December 2009 21.30 GMT
A woman from Western Sahara, Aminatou Haidar, lies on the floor at Lanzarote airport on hunger strike and near death. She was refused entry to her own country because she refused to write "Moroccan" on her departure card. She is denied access to her two children in her home town of El Ayoun, under Moroccan control. The international court of justice has declared that Western Saharans have the right to self-determination. The country is illegally occupied by Morocco. Yet Haidar was stripped of her passport and arbitrarily dumped on a plane to Spain.
We were asked to add our names to a letter signed by many brilliant writers, artists, politicians and trade unionists addressed to the King of Spain, urging him to intercede with King Mohammed VI of Morocco so that somehow Haidar's life can be saved. While we respect the goodwill of all, understand that we are all desperate to avoid a tragedy, and indeed hope in our heart of hearts it succeeds, we believe it is less than satisfactory. This initiative does highlight, however, one essential fact: King Mohammed is the figure with real power in Morocco. The letter, in essence, pleads with the King of Spain to plead with the King of Morocco to do us all a "favour" and sort out this mess. If only, and good luck.
It is time for some clarity and less tugging of the forelock. Mohammed VI is estimated to be worth $2bn by Forbes magazine, and judged the eighth richest monarch in the world. According to the Wikipedia entry, Mohammed and his family have vast commercial interests in mining, food processing, retail and financial services. In addition, the palace's daily operating budget is astronomical. Irrespective of Mohammed's great personal fortune, and his huge influence over the country's political institutions Morocco is a state that has signed international treaties with binding obligations. By ignoring these international standards, human rights law and the international court of justice, Mohammed VI is behaving like some medieval despot.
Mohammed VI's foreign policy is crude and stinks to high heaven. The subtext to any challenge is to threaten Spain with unleashing untold numbers of desperate, impoverished Moroccans across the straits into Europe. Or worse, to stop co-operating on questions of "terrorism". In other words, turning a blind eye to Islamic fundamentalists.
The king is a hypocrite. In June 2000 he received an honorary degree from The George Washington University "for his promotion of democracy in Morocco". He should be stripped of this honour. In a speech on 4 November he stated that "one is either a patriot or a traitor" thereby condemning all who refuse to accept Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara and backing repression over peaceful resistance.
Mohammed VI's officials demand, as a condition of return of her passport, that Aminatou Haidar apologise to the king for the temerity of describing her homeland as Western Sahara instead of Morocco on a form. This, from a woman who was tortured and disappeared for four years in a secret detention camp. She was blindfolded, gagged, beaten, inflicted with electric shocks, and threatened with rape. If Mohammed VI had an ounce of humanity, he would beg for her forgiveness.
The great tragedy is that, while many parts of the Muslim world are steeped in violence and desperation, and while many parts of the African continent are blood-soaked, in the middle of all this, is Aminatou Haidar, a frail figure committed to non violent resistance.
We hope there will be an alternative letter presented to Mohammed VI, before Haidar dies, signed by citizens the world over (including the elected prime minister of Spain, Mr Zapatero), demanding the king and his government respect international law and join the civilised world.
As we think of this little man in his big palace, by his phone – all it would take is one call to give Haidar back her passport and allow her to join her two heartbroken children – we are reminded of ancient Roman emperors holding out a thumb to decide captives' fate. While Mohammed VI may feel all-powerful in his luxurious surroundings, if he had one flicker of imagination and a sense of history, he would realise that if he allows Haidar to die, her crystal spirit of peaceful resistance will dwarf his shallow-minded cruelty wherever he goes for the rest of his life. If there is any justice, he will be treated as George Bush was by the shoe thrower of Baghdad, and become a Royal Persona Non Grata to the civilised world. We do not plead favours as conjured up in private by two kings. We demand justice, as human beings.