afrol News, 11 October - As the Western Sahara government is exiled and technically at war, opposition to the national unity movement Polisario until recently was rare. But many Sahrawis now demand more democracy and criticise "corrupt" authorities.
It caused shock waves within the Polisario as its own police inspector Mostafa Salma Sidi Mouloud in August, during a conference in Moroccan-occupied Smara, made a public statement saying he supported Rabat's plan for Western Sahara's autonomy within the Moroccan kingdom. Mr Mouloud added he would further promote the autonomy plan to the Sahrawi refugees living in the Polisario controlled refugee camps in Algeria.
The prominent police officer was detained upon arrival in the camps for being involved in "an operation of espionage in favour of Morocco, a country at war with the Sahrawi Republic."
While the Polisario increasingly had accepted dissident voices among its refugee camp-based population, Mr Mouloud obviously had crossed the line for acceptable viewpoints for Polisario officials. Polisario does not see itself as a political party but as the mass movement representing the Sahrawi people in all its width until the national territory is recovered.
The arrest of Mr Mouloud however put the Polisario in a bad light. For the first time, the human rights group Amnesty International denounced a "political prisoner" in the Sahrawi Republic, demanding its release. Amnesty regularly denounces systematic Moroccan rights abuses in the occupied territory of Western Sahara.
The Moroccan government and media meanwhile were able to launch a massive campaign against Polisario's political repression and human rights abuses.
Last week, Sahrawi authorities freed Mr Mouloud "at the request of international human rights organisations."
Interestingly, the loudest voices from the Sahrawi refugee camps after Mr Mouloud's release were protests. The Khat al-Shahid faction within the Polisario was outraged by the release of the "traitor", calling it "an insult to our dignity."
Khat al-Shahid - basically translated to "Line of the Martyr", referring to Polisario's first leader El-Ouali Mustapha Sayed, who was killed in action in 1976 - has since 2004 slowly been built up as a conservative opposition to the Polisario leadership.
The faction is allowed to call itself a part of the Polisario movement as the prevailing system does not foresee true political parties or non-attached movements. Khat al-Shahid also recognises Polisario as the sole representative of the Sahrawi people.
But that does not prevent the faction from becomi
Polisario's first leader El-Ouali Mustapha Sayed (1948-1976)
ng ever more critical with the Polisario leadership. Its newest statement calls Sahrawi President Mohamed Abdelaziz a "tyrant with absolute powers" whose government is based on "corruption, bribery and lies."
With the release of Mr Mouloud, President Abdelaziz "opens the door to all traitors and apostates" and was selling out Sahrawi interests to foreign organisations, the faction holds. Khat al-Shahid sees this bowing into Amnesty's demands in line with the current leadership's inability to maintain Polisario's military striking power and the apparent diminishing strength of Sahrawi positions in UN-mediated negotiations.
Khat al-Shahid during the last years has increased its power base in the Sahrawi refugee camps, where more and more citizens are frustrated about living in dire exile conditions during 35 years and with little or no advance in the negotiations since the 1991 ceasefire. These frustrations are increasingly connected to President Abdelaziz.
While Sahrawi opposition forces increasingly form within the Polisario movement, some few refugee camp dwellers also try to organise outside the ruling movement. For eights years, a group of Sahrawi intellectuals have tried to run the country's first truly independent newspaper, 'Futuro Saharaui'.
The journalists, in addition to constantly report about Moroccan abuses in the occupied territory - denounce the ruling Polisario movement's leadership, calling for more democratisation, larger freedom of expression and fight against power abuse and corruption among Polisario cadres.
Contrary to all other media in the camps, which all operate within the Polisario movement, 'Futuro Saharaui' does not receive any government assistance and sees itself worked against by authorities, for example when it comes to access to paper and printing facilities. But the independent media is still being published.
In surveys, the independent media has documented "wide discontent with the situation in the camps" and a growing distrust with the Polisario leadership. Opposition in all directions is growing and increasingly is being allowed to surface.
With the freeing of Mr Mouloud - only following international pressure - the Polisario leadership seems to allow opposition views on even the most existential issue of the exile Sahrawis: the question of Western Sahara's independence.
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