The Militant (logo)  
   Vol. 68/No. 4           February 2, 2004  
Morocco frees 12 Saharawi patriots
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Hundreds waited at the gates of Ait Melloul prison in the southern Moroccan city of Agadir January 7 to greet Ali Salem Tamek, one of 12 Saharawi independence fighters freed by royal decree from Morocco’s dungeons that day along with 21 other political prisoners. Upon leaving the prison he was hoisted on the shoulders of the cheering crowd and then headed to the University of Agadir, where he addressed a meeting on the campus.

“I will not give up my struggle for the defense of human rights,” Tamek said in an interview with the Algerian media after his release. By freeing the Western Saharan political prisoners, said Tamek, “the Moroccan regime thinks that it will be able to hide the aggressions and violations it has committed against the Saharawi population.” He noted that “more than eight Saharawi political detainees are still in prisons, and there are more than 500 Saharawi disappeared” who remain unaccounted for from the decades-long struggle for independence.

Western Sahara is a nation in northwest Africa that has been engaged in a struggle for independence for over a century. The fight was aimed first against Spain, which ruled the country as its colony until 1975, and now Morocco, which has occupied the majority of the country—with the support of Washington, Paris, and Madrid—since Spain withdrew.

Tamek is a founder of the Forum for Truth and Justice, Western Sahara section. The group was founded in 2000 to shine a spotlight on the repression facing Saharawis who resist the boot of the Moroccan regime.

The Forum played a key role in the international campaign to win freedom for Sidi Mohamed Daddach, the longest-held Saharawi political prisoner, who was released in November 2001 after 23 years behind bars. The Moroccan regime in Rabat declared the organization illegal in 2002 and has imprisoned its central leaders. Members of this group facing 10-year sentences for their political activities were among the 12 Saharawis who recently won an amnesty.

Tamek, who was arrested in August 2002, was charged with “threatening the interior security of the state and affiliating to the Polisario Front.” The latter is the organization that has led the Saharawi independence struggle since it was founded in 1973.  
‘Release is not a gift’
“I salute the women, the men, the youth, the students, the workers, the unemployed, and other defenders of human rights in the occupied territories of Western Sahara and south Morocco, for their firm support to our imprisoned sons, through demonstrations of protest, communiqués, strikes, sit-ins, and other actions,” declared Polisario General Secretary Mohamed Abdelaziz in a letter to the liberated freedom fighters.

The release is not “a charity or a gift,” said Abdelaziz, but the “fruit of the struggle and the sacrifices you have made.”

“This victory is the result of pressure from international groups, from inside the occupied territories, and from within the prisons themselves,” said Kamal Fadel, the Polisario representative in Australia, in a January 14 telephone interview with the Militant. “They continued to be active inside the prison. Ali Salem Tamek spoke to the Polisario congress even from prison, showing that Morocco is not able to crush the resistance or silence their voices.” Fadel was referring to greetings from prison Tamek gave by telephone to the Polisario Front’s 11th Congress last October.

In addition to the 12 Saharawi freedom fighters, eight journalists imprisoned for opposition to the Moroccan government were released. One of the eight, Ali Lmrabet, was jailed for publishing an interview supporting independence for Western Sahara as well as cartoons and articles that were critical of the monarch. He was charged and convicted of “threatening the integrity of national territory” and insulting the king.

The announcement of the amnesty was timed to coincide with the visit of Driss Jettou, Morocco’s prime minister, to Washington.

“When Morocco is under pressure,” commented Fadel, “they try to make some gestures to sell themselves to the West. This happened on the eve of Morocco’s visit to the U.S.”

The monarchy in Rabat has been coming under pressure from Washington to carry out reforms to put a democratic face on Morocco’s autocracy. These moves are in line with U.S. imperialism’s offensive in the region that has been carried out in part under the banner of bringing democracy to the Middle East. Last year the king announced a reform to the family code that promises more rights for women. Since his ascension to the throne in 1999, he has also appointed several women to prominent government posts. The recent amnesty came after the king established a commission to investigate “past” human rights abuses.  
Imperialism’s hand in the region
U.S. president George Bush reserved special praise for these reforms by the Moroccan monarch in a November 6 address to the National Endowment for Democracy. “Many Middle Eastern governments now understand that military dictatorship and theocratic rule are a straight, smooth highway to nowhere,” he said. “Governments across the Middle East and North Africa are beginning to see the need for change. Morocco has a diverse new parliament. King Mohammed has urged it to extend the rights to women….The king of Morocco is correct; the future of Muslim nations will be better for all with the full participation of women.”

The White House is also using the current negotiations to increase the penetration of U.S. capital into Morocco and the entire region.

According to the January 9 Financial Times, Rabat’s amnesty of political prisoners “is part of a broader package of reforms that will help it benefit from the U.S. Millennium Challenge Account…. Morocco was likely to become the only Middle Eastern Country to benefit from the Bush Administration’s…multi-billion dollar fund intended to channel aid to countries successfully pursuing internal reforms.”

The London daily added that “Morocco was also in the final stages of negotiating a free trade agreement with the U.S. and hoped to sign the pact this month or next.”

A July 2003 report by the right-wing Heritage Foundation said that this trade pact would provide “greater access for American exporters” pushing Morocco to reduce its tariffs, which, it complained, currently average “over 20 percent.” The report also noted that by lowering barriers to U.S. agriculture, “U.S. farmers would have more market access than European farmers do. Such competition would put pressure on countries that engage most in agricultural protectionism, like France, to move toward more open markets.”

Washington is promoting this pact as part of an aggressive drive to challenge Paris as the dominant imperialist power in the region. Paris, Morocco’s former colonial master, is the country’s number one trade partner and holds half of its foreign debt.

Since 1995, the Moroccan government has carried out an intensive sell-off of state-owned businesses and property to ameliorate this debt, which totaled $23 billion that year. By selling the country’s national patrimony to foreign investors in exchange for debt relief, Morocco had brought that figure down to $14 billion by 2002.

Washington is also pressing to increase its military role in the region under the banner of fighting the “war on terrorism.” U.S. secretary of state Colin Powell announced during a December 3 visit to the region that Washington will double its military aid to Rabat. During the war against the Saharawi independence movement, Washington supplied hundreds of millions of dollars worth of military hardware and training to the Moroccan regime. The king has reciprocated by acting as one of the firm pillars of support for U.S. imperialist interests in Africa and the Middle East.

Annalucia Vermunt in New Zealand contributed to this article.  
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