Chomsky on the Western Sahara and the “Arab Spring”

Chomsky on the Western Sahara and the “Arab Spring”

This is a well-deserved put-down of Chomsky on Jaddaliya:

Since last year, Noam Chomsky has argued that the so-called “Arab Spring” did not begin in Tunisia, but rather, it began in the Western Sahara. Chomsky slips into a dangerous framework that assumes the ongoing events in the region can be marked with a beginning, and an inevitable end that many have attempted to impose from Morocco to Yemen.

In several media appearances, Chomsky pointed to the October 2010 protests in Gdeim Izik as the beginning of the “Arab Spring.” Moroccan security forces brutally repressed the protests, resulting in the death of eleven people, and several hundred others were injured. If the “Arab Spring” refers to the recent wave of popular uprisings throughout the region, rooted in socioeconomic grievances and the opposition to authoritarianism, placing the Western Saharan struggle on this spectrum is dismissive of a long history.

It's not just a question of the futility of trying to find a starting point other than the death of Mohammed Bouzizi for the Arab Spring. If the protests-turned-riots at Gdeim Izik were the beginning, than why not the 2009 protests in Sidi Ifni in Morocco? Or the 2008 protests in Mahalla in Egypt? Chomsky picks the Western Sahara because it is a pet leftist cause — that's pretty much it. He appears to have no fine-grained understanding pf how those protests began (I was there, in Laayoune, just two weeks before they broke out and followed them closely as they turned from peaceful socio-economic protests into, after provocation and attacks by the Moroccan army, more violent and outright pro-Polisario riots). 

To tell the truth, I'm not sure what Chomsky has to contribute in our understanding of the Arab Spring. He has not been here. This is not his area of specialty. I've always found him over-rated, but while I might listen to what he has to say on the US Occupy movement or media issues, I'm pretty puzzled about what he knows about the current moment in the Arab world.

What's happening in Western Sahara?

One of the most under-reported stories in the Arab world at the moment is the camp protest taking place at Gadaym Izik, near Laayoune, in Western Sahara. Over 8,000 tents have been set up, gathering at least 10,000 people, to protest economic inequality and Morocco's control of the territory's resources (phosphates and fishing for the most part.) Interestingly, though, the protest does not seem to be Polisario-led or to be making direct requests for self-determination or independence. Talking to people familiar with the protest, it seems to be beyond the control of either pro-Moroccan or pro-Polisario Sahrawis and even local activists (who are mostly pro-independence, even if they retain a degree of independence from the Polisario).

Something has been brewing for several years in Western Sahara, reflecting the local population's dissatisfaction with economic governance, and to some extent its expectation that the government should provide jobs and redirect revenues from local resources to the population, partly due to the longstanding Moroccan practice of providing subsidies and various forms of rent to Sahrawis to secure their support. How this relates to the Polisario movement is very ambiguous — on the one hand the Polisario is recognized in international law as the legitimate representative of the Sahrawis (which even Morocco recognizes since it negotiates with it), on the other the Tindouf leadership has become relatively alienated from the Sahrawis in Moroccan-controlled Western Sahara. But today it seems the major new dynamic is not coming from Tindouf, which makes all of the political actors involved nervous.

Beyond its relationship to the conflict, this protest has some interesting ramifications. If Western Sahara, as Moroccan wants, is to be an autonomous province inside Morocco, should it continue to benefit from such subsidies that are not available to Moroccans elsewhere? Considering that Morocco spends a considerable amount of money on subsidies (never mind the military), what is the balance between how much is extracted from the region and how is spent? Is this question besides the point if the main question should be whether the Sahrawis want to be Moroccan or independent?

You won't find much discussion of all of this, though. This week's Economist has a story on the conflict overall ahead of the resumption of talks in New York next week, and the best coverage of the Gadaym Izik protest has been by Ignacio Cembrero of El Pais (search for "marruecos" for the latest). Most journalists have been blocked from covering the protest, and al-Jazeera was recently banned from Morocco over its coverage. There's a nice Flickr set of the camp here, that accompanied a Rue89 report. But the lack of information, and access to the camp, only serves to suggest that Morocco has something to hide.

 

Links for Jan.10.10 to Jan.11.10

“Lorsque je commençais mon enquête sur le tourisme au Sahara marocain, je n’imaginais pas être prise à témoin d’échanges sexuels” « Ibn Kafka's obiter dicta – divagations d'un juriste marocain en liberté surveillée | On sexual tourism in Western Sahara. ✪ What the "Eurabia" Authors Get Wrong About Islam in Europe - By Justin Vaïsse | Foreign Policy | Critique of Eurabia theory. ✪ The Trials of Tony Judt - The Chronicle Review - The Chronicle of Higher Education | ✪ U.S. to store $800m in military gear in Israel - Haaretz | To keep in mind in context of Iran. ✪ Israel and Iran: The gathering storm | The Economist | Interesting story with background on Osirak bombing, Israeli prospects against Iran. ✪ Executive | Magazine has new books section. ✪ Strong reaction to warning of coup - The National Newspaper | Iraqis react to UK ambassador's testimony to Chilcot Enquiry that coup to purge Iran influence still possible in Iraq. ✪ the arabophile | New blog. ✪ Joe Sacco: Graphic History | Mother Jones | Interview with the cartoonist and author of "Footnotes from Gaza." ✪ High cost of living means more unmarried in Egypt | Bikya Masr | Stats on why Egyptians are marrying later. ✪ Arab Reform Initiative | Report on constitutional reforms in the Arab world. ✪ The architecture of apartheid | SocialistWorker.org | On the bantustanization of Palestine. ✪ The Venture of Marty Peretz’s bigotry: Arabs, Muslims, Berbers and more « The Moor Next Door | Kal on the New Republic editor's Islamophobia. ✪ The Forgotten Recantation — jihadica | Interesting post on the recantation of Abbud al-Zommor. ✪ 'Bush sold Arab states arms in violation of deal with Israel' - Haaretz - Israel News | Obama, more pro-Israel than Bush: "The Bush administration violated security related agreements with Israel in which the U.S. promised to preserve the IDF's qualitative edge over Arab armies, according to senior officials in the Obama administration and Israel."
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Links for Dec.13.09 to Dec.16.09

â�© Egypt puts archives on Web to boost Arabic content | But what's the address? â�© Muslims in Europe: A Report on 11 EU Cities | Open Society Institute | Tons of interesting questions raised by this ground-breaking poll. â�© Abkhazia Is Recognized by Even Smaller Nauru - NYTimes.com | Sharqeya next? â�© Pro-Israel Lobby Group’s Iran Petition Features Lots of Questionable Names « The Washington Independent | Such as "Porn Sex Video" and Comfylovely". â�© LedgerGermane: Karzai Says Afghan Army Will Need Help Until 2024 | Yikes. â�© Future of US-Egypt Relations: A View from the Next Generation | Notes on another POMED event. â�© POMED Event: U.S. Military Assistance: Obstacle or Opportunity for Reform? | Steven Cook, Emile Hokayem, etc. some discussion of Egypt-US military relations. â�© Mideastwire.com | Zaitout: reports about Algeria-US agreement over temporary military bases | Handle with care. â�© British court issued Gaza arrest warrant for former Israeli minister Tzipi Livni | The Guardian | More of this please. â�© Nights to remember - The National Newspaper | Arabian Nights conference in NYU Abu Dhabi. â�© Obama's Big Sellout : Rolling Stone | Must-read Matt Taibbi story on Obama's bailout of Wall Street. â�© Al-Masry Al-Youm | Police raid home of prominent blogger | Wael Abbas sentenced to six months of prison in absentia for stealing his neighbors' internet??!?! â�© We will not bow to this Moroccan king | Paul Laverty and Ken Loach | Comment is free | The Guardian | Strongly worded op-ed for Aminatou Haidar. â�© David Ignatius - Jordan's ex-spy chief wasn't too good to be true | On former GID chief Saad Kheir - a dubious tribute. â�© Orientalism in Reverse | Brian Whitaker critiques Joseph Massad's "Gsy International" theory.
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Links for 11.25.09 to 11.26.09

Le journal hebdomadaire | Abou Bakr Jamai's imagines a letter from a Sahrawi. ✪ For Jews, roiling Yemen no longer place to call home | On persecution of the less than 350 remaining Yemeni Jews. ✪ MyMemory - Machine translation meets human translation | Uses records of translations to provide best one possible, Arabic possible. ✪ BBC iPlayer - Document: 23/11/2009 | BBC radio show on Britain's role in the Oman coup of 1970. ✪ AFP: Court jails Moroccan rights activist over drug case | Outrageous imprisonment of whistleblower for denouncing official corruption. ✪ Yemeni refugees caught up in Middle East's forgotten war | World news | The Guardian | Is it forgotten if the Guardian and others keeps on talking about this war, though? It's more that most of the world doesn't care. ✪ Q&A: Iraq war inquiry | UK news | guardian.co.uk | Interesting info - and note, no such inquiry in the US... ✪ Joe Sacco | The Observer | Interview with the cartoonist author of "Palestine" and "Footnotes form Gaza." ✪ Le Figaro: Uri Davis, Juif et dirigeant palestinien | About an Ashkenazi Jewish Israeli who converted to Islam and joined Fatah. ✪ Is Everybody Disappointed In Obama? | TPMCafe | Because he's a coward, that's why. ✪ Who's Paying?: The Case for More Transparent Policy Discourse | Stephen M. Walt | "Not surprisingly, the exposure of Galbraith's dealings has caused some controversy in Iraq, though remarkably little in Washington." ✪ SHE2I2: Egyptian court upholds comic book ban, fines creator & publisher | "Metro" ban upheld. ✪ Marwan Barghouti: Peace talks with Israel have failed - Haaretz | "I do not see that there are fundamental political differences between Fatah and Hamas." ✪ Morocco relishes dual identities - Variety | On Morocco's film industry. ✪ Public Service Announcement | Center for a New American Security | Andrew Exum stops blogging. I understand him...
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Links for 10.08.09 to 10.09.09

‘Abuse’ of Islamic rule lands lawyer in court - The National Newspaper | About time someone stopped Nabih el Wahsh and his ridiculous hesba claims, but this needs to go further: a judicial ruling or new law should declare hesba unacceptable in courts.

Israel FM to tell U.S. envoy no peace deal possible | Lieberman always says what's on his mind.

Mideast sliding into 'darkness': Jordan king | Jordan's king does his Cassandra routine.

Sudan: SLM Warns US Envoy Not to Visit Darfur Areas Under Its Control Asharq Alawsat Newspaper (English) | "The Sudan Liberation Army Movement [SLM] led by Abdul-Wahid Nur who resides in France has warned US Envoy to Sudan Scott Gration not to visit the areas in Darfur that are under its control and where he is expected to hold a conference in the "Darbat" area in Murrah Mountain on 20 October."

Unjustifiable To Lose ‘Goldstone’ Asharq Alawsat Newspaper (English) | "It is not the time for point-scoring. Goldstone’s report marked the beginning of the international justice the Palestinian people need. The issue goes beyond political wrangling between Hamas and the PA, and also goes beyond the assumed price for slip ups. It is about responsibility for people’s lives."

‘The Times’ lets everyone off the hook on Goldstone | The NYT's continued hasbara on the Goldstone report.

BBC NEWS | Middle East | UN body to debate Gaza 'crimes' | Slated for 14 October.

Fatah seeks joint action with Hamas over Gaza report - Yahoo! News | About time.

ei: Abbas helps Israel bury its crimes in Gaza | Ali Abunimah: "Just when it seemed that the Ramallah Palestinian Authority (PA) and its leader Mahmoud Abbas could not sink any lower in their complicity with Israel's occupation of the West Bank and the murderous blockade of Gaza, Ramallah has dealt a further stunning blow to the Palestinian people."

“The Challenge of Moderation in Islam: Egypt’s Religious Institution Versus Extremism.” | POMED notes on speech by Egyptian Mufti Ali Gomaa.

Palestine on the brink: only a quick de-escalation can prevent an explosion | Israel Policy Forum | Hussein Ibish.

Abbas Cancels Israel War-Crimes Report, Boosting Hamas - Yahoo! News | It's over for Abbas, morally now and politically eventually.

Saudi, Syria agree to 'remove obstacles' to closer ties - Yahoo! News | They also called for a NUG to be formed in Lebanon.

Security Council to raise UN Gaza report next week - Yahoo! News | Libya move to push for discussion of Goldstone report moves ahead, despite Mahmoud Abbas's failure to push for it (and his subsequent reversal.)

All these Abdelazizes | New head of Western Sahara mission MINURSO is Egyptian.

Oren likens Goldstone to… Nazi threat | Israel Ambassador to US Michael Oren: Goldstone = Nazis = Nuclear Annihilation.

Agents arrest dozens for theft scheme in US, Egypt | Egyptian hackers engage in $2m phishing scam.

Pew Forum: Mapping the Global Muslim Population | Pew report says there are 1.57bn Muslims, analysis and breakdown through maps and more.

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Links for 08.04.09

AFP: Maroc : Mohammed VI très populaire, selon un sondage interdit dans son pays | Great headline - "Morocco: Muhammad VI very popular, according to poll banned in his country." FT.com / Middle East / Economy - Egypt’s cotton kingdom cut down to size | Good story on Egyptian textile industry: "Egypt is likely this year to produce its smallest cotton crop in a century." FT.com / Comment / Editorial - The cost of Arab peace concessions | Bravo FT: "In 1992-96, at the height of the peace process, Israel reaped a peace dividend without concluding a peace. Diplomatic recognition of Israel doubled, from 85 to 161 countries, exports doubled and foreign investment increased sixfold. Per capita income in the occupied territories fell in the same period by more than a third, while the number of settlers expanded by half. A broad-looking avenue led quickly to a road-block. The Arabs have not forgotten, and Mr Obama will have to get more than a settlement freeze out of Israel to lure them down that road again." Newsweek Steps Up Effort to Free Reporter in Iran - NYTimes.com | On Maziar Bahari's detention in Iran. Venezuela : Chavez suspend 34 médias d'opposition | Hugo Chavez bans 34 independent media outlets. In the Sahara, a Film Festival Complete With Camels - NYTimes.com | On a film festival in Sahrawi refugee camps. Blog: Middle East Diary | Hannah is back. Hugh Miles and CCTV Arabic | The author of a book on al-Jazeera on the new Chinese channel. 'VALIS and Later Novels,' by Philip K. Dick | VALIS, which I am now reading, enters Library of America. Someone should write a PKD-ish novel set in the Arab world. Then again, I've always found Cairo highly reminiscent of the world of Bladerunner. 10,000 Uighur disappear in China, U.S. silent | Spero News | Shocking link from Angry Arab, although I'm not sure about the source - this site has a lot of religious agit-prop. Liam Stack, Greek Club Civil War, and Developing Developments | Boi boi Liam...
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Links for 08.03.09 to 08.04.09

In the Sahara, a Film Festival Complete With Camels - NYTimes.com | On a film festival in Sahrawi refugee camps. Blog: Middle East Diary | Hannah is back. Hugh Miles and CCTV Arabic | The author of a book on al-Jazeera on the new Chinese channel. 'VALIS and Later Novels,' by Philip K. Dick | VALIS, which I am now reading, enters Library of America. Someone should write a PKD-ish novel set in the Arab world. Then again, I've always found Cairo highly reminiscent of the world of Bladerunner. 10,000 Uighur disappear in China, U.S. silent | Spero News | Shocking link from Angry Arab, although I'm not sure about the source - this site has a lot of religious agit-prop. 500 Internal Server Error | 500 Internal Server Error Liam Stack, Greek Club Civil War, and Developing Developments | Boi boi Liam...
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