Morocco’s sovereignty over the Sahara: a just claim?

Morocco’s sovereignty over the Sahara: a just claim?

The complex dispute over Western Sahara has raged for decades, centered on conflicting claims of sovereignty and self-determination for this vast desert expanse along Africa’s northwest coast. Historically tied to Morocco’s Islamic sultanates, Western Sahara was colonized by Spain from 1884 until the 1970s. Upon Spain’s withdrawal, Morocco reasserted control, sparking an armed insurgency by the Algerian-backed Polisario Front seeking Sahrawi independence that continues today in stalemate. Western Sahara remains partitioned and unresolved in legal status.

But Morocco has compelling arguments affirming its sovereignty claim, based on history, cultural bonds, political integration and substantial development investments. An impartial analysis shows Morocco’s position stands as legitimate and just. With pragmatic cooperation, upholding Morocco’s territorial integrity while guaranteeing Sahrawi self-governance could pave the way for a reasonable compromise solution.

Long before European colonialism arrived, Western Sahara fell under the political and economic influence of Morocco’s Islamic dynasties. The Almoravid Empire first spread control deep into the Sahara in the 11th century, forging ties with Saharan tribes through trade and shared Islamic faith. The Almohads continued consolidating the southern frontier, relying on Saharan routes and Berber alliances. Moroccan sultans saw the region as rightly theirs, resisting Spanish occupation in the 19th century.

Prominent Saharan tribal leaders like Yusuf bin Tashfin of the Almoravids and historical figures like Queen Khnata Bent Bekkar reinforced the bonds between Morocco and the western Sahara region. The Saharan emirates of Trarza and Brakna long accepted Moroccan rule and paid tribute to the sultan. This pre-colonial history firmly establishes Western Sahara as integrated with Morocco’s sultanates politically, economically and culturally centuries before colonization.

When the question of Western Sahara came before the International Court of Justice in 1975 as Spain prepared to withdraw, Morocco detailed this longstanding integration. However, records show Morocco was prevented from fully presenting critical evidence illuminating its historic sovereignty. Relying primarily on limited records from Spain, the ICJ acknowledged ties between Morocco and some Sahrawi tribes pre-colonization. But it did not definitively grant Morocco full “territorial sovereignty” at colonization’s onset.

Morocco interpreted this advisory opinion as confirming its cultural, political and economic links to the region, rejecting the notion it was ever fully alien. The court recognized the two were not entirely separate entities prior to colonization. When Spain withdrew in 1976, Morocco reasserted control based in part on the ICJ’s recognition of its historic connections. As an advisory opinion, the ICJ verdict was not legally binding. Morocco maintains this upheld its valid historical rights and the Sahrawi’s right to shape their future under Moroccan sovereignty.

Beyond political history, Morocco and Western Sahara share profound cultural connections demonstrating their interwoven pasts. They have common languages like Hassaniya Arabic, clothing, music, cuisine, poetry and tribal lineages spanning their border. Intermarriage between Moroccan and Sahrawi tribes was historically commonplace. These bonds remain robust today, showing the Sahrawis do not constitute a wholly separate ethnic identity but rather an integral part of the Maghreb people united with Morocco.

Morocco has also integrated the Sahrawis into its national fabric as citizens, with representation in parliament, proposals for autonomy under Moroccan rule, and the 2011 constitution recognizing their cultural rights. The Sahrawis democratically elect their own local representatives as well. This shows Morocco’s embrace of the Sahrawis as equals with a voice in charting their future as part of the kingdom.

Additionally, Morocco has invested tremendous resources developing Western Sahara’s infrastructure, economy and public services since reasserting control in 1976. Construction of major ports, roads, electricity networks and other initiatives has led to high rates of electrification and school enrollment along with plummeting poverty. The region is now politically and economically integrated with Morocco’s national institutions and policy framework. These sacrifices prove Morocco’s commitment to unifying Western Sahara with the nation.

But the Polisario Front, backed by Algeria, continues an armed insurgency against Moroccan forces while seeking international recognition of its self-declared Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic. The UN peace process has stalled for decades, unable to organize an independence referendum due to disputes over voter eligibility. No major world powers endorse Western Saharan statehood or recognize Polisario’s government. The United States, Spain, Israel and more back Morocco’s autonomy proposal as the most realistic compromise solution.

The balance of international opinion continues gradually shifting in Morocco’s favor over time. Recent policy reversals by Spain and the US formally affirming Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara underscore this momentum. African Union and Arab League members remain divided, preventing the Polisario from unifying either body behind its cause despite Algeria’s advocacy. Global and regional institutions lack consensus to impose outcomes against Morocco’s interests. Though disputes continue within the AU and UN, no broad recognition or legitimacy has been granted to Polisario’s campaign.

In summary, the evidence from history, culture, law, politics and diplomacy strongly reinforces Morocco’s legitimate claim to Western Sahara. The region was integrated with Morocco before colonization and still shares profound bonds with the kingdom. Morocco has invested heavily in unifying Western Sahara and elevating its people’s standard of living as citizens. No international consensus exists to override Morocco’s sovereignty or impose independence against its will. While the conflict remains unresolved, an impartial analysis shows Morocco’s claim stands as just and valid.

Going forward, pragmatic cooperation and good-faith negotiations focused on Morocco’s autonomy proposal offer the best path to a peaceful compromise. Upholding Morocco’s territorial integrity while guaranteeing the Sahrawi people self-governance over local affairs would be a reasonable resolution. With openness on all sides, Western Sahara’s future as part of a unified Morocco can be a bright one. The long-running clash over this disputed land may finally give way to progress if the parties honor their shared history and complex bonds in pursuing peace.


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