Who or what is Sahrawi?  This is the name of a people that lives in the Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony along the coastal strip of West Africa between Morocco and Mauritania.  When Spain decided to evacuate this colony (part of which was called Rio de Oro) in 1975, it signed an agreement with Morocco and Mauritania to divide the colony between them. Since the agreement did not include the local inhabitants the UN does not recognize this agreement.  But, the local Sahrawi people claimed that they should have sovereignty and in 1976 formed the Polisario Front and started an insurrection principally against Morocco. Mauritania withdrew from the area, but Morocco claims the land for itself and regards it as Southern Morocco.

A war was fought between the Polisario and the Moroccan Army as a result of which the Polisario captured ca. 25% of the country, while the Moroccans control the rest.   The UN arranged a ceasefire in 1991 that has frozen the situation, so that Morocco controls most of the country along the coast and exploits its minerals and fishing, while the Polisario have set up the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic in their area.  Morocco has built a wall along the dividing line between the two regions.   Most of the Sahrawi population is in the Moroccan occupied zone.  There are also perhaps 200,000 Sahrawi refugees in camps in Mauritania and Algeria, and ca. 100,000 living in Spain.

There is clear evidence that the Moroccan authorities use brutal means to suppress dissent in their zone, including torture and mistreatment of the Sahrawi people.  In Sahrawi society women are treated as equal, contrary to most Arab countries, and this has resulted in especially brutal treatment of Sahrawi women.  Western Sahara has been called the last African colony.  There have been negotiations at the UN involving the US, Spain and Germany, but these have come to nought.

In principle, you might think that Israel should support the right of the Sahrawi people to self-determination.  But, does Israel need another Arab Republic that will automatically vote against it.  And Morocco is one of the few Arab countries that remains friendly towards Israel and accepts its Jewish community as a part of the country.  Actually the Sahrawi are not Arabs, even though they speak their own dialect of Arabic and are Muslims.  They are the indigenous Berber peoples of that region and are another example of the colonial attitude of the Arabs towards other indigenous peoples.



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