See also:
» 05.03.2011 - Peaceful Western Sahara anti-government protests
» 12.02.2011 - Saharawis at unease over Algeria, Morocco unrest
» 11.10.2010 - Sahrawis awake to government opposition
» 11.02.2010 - Morocco-Polisario revive talks
» 03.02.2010 - New talks on Western Sahara in US
» 18.12.2009 - Sahara activist allowed back home
» 11.12.2009 - UN chief intevening in Saharawi activist cause
» 17.11.2009 - Unblock foreign visits to Sahrawi activists, HRW

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Western Sahara
Politics | Human rights

Even Sahrawis plan pro-democracy protests

Sahrawi protesters

© SPS/afrol News
afrol News, 28 February
- The North African pro-democracy protest movement has reached the refugee camps of the Sahrawi people. The "Revolutionary Youth" on Saturday will demand reform from its 35-year-old government.

The Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic has just celebrated its 35th anniversary in a group of refugee camps in the Algerian desert, close to the border of Moroccan-occupied Western Sahara. Its exiled one-party government, a full-fledged member of the African Union (AU), rules over an estimated population of 150,000 in the refugee camps.

For the first time in the history of these camps, on Saturday 5 March, there will held a protest march calling for political reform by the POLISARIO regime. The lack of previous protests has not so much been outright repression by the one-party regime, but a widely felt need for total unity among the refugee population.

While there has been a ceasefire since 1991, the Sahrawis are still at war with Morocco. Protesting the POLISARIO rule could send wrong signals to the enemy.

The "Sahrawi Revolutionary Youth", before calling for peaceful pro-democracy protests, carefully notes its nationalist sentiments, hailing the martyrs that have fallen for the Sahrawi Republic.

Their demands for the Sunday protest march are modest, compared to those in other countries. There are no calls for Sahrawi President Mohamed Abdelaziz or his government to resign.

Rather, there are calls for the Sahrawi army to improve its standing and salaries; giving larger attention to the needs of the victims of the war and the families of the martyrs; and to give greater support to the many Sahrawis still struggling for freedom in the occupied territories.

But the "Revolutionary Youth" also wants reforms in the refugee camps, governed by the POLISARIO government. Especially, they demand, "the judiciary and the state administration" urgently needed to be reformed.

The protesters especially react against the alleged widespread nepotism, tribalism and corruption in government institutions. Many government officials were busier filling their own pockets than during their duty serving citizens in the impoverished refugee camps, they hold.

A major demand was for corrupt officials to be brought to trial and the funds stolen from the Sahrawi people to be restored.

It was also time that a new generation of Sahrawis were allowed to "to participate in political life," the

President Mohamed Abdelaziz of the Sahrawi Republic

© SPS/afrol News
youths demanded.

The most daring demand was for changes to the electoral code in Western Sahara that would give voters a larger possibility to influence the election of parliamentary members and the President.

The revolutionaries urged all Sahrawis to gather in front of the presidential office in the Chahid Alhafed refugee camp on Saturday morning, bringing Sahrawi flags so as not to play into the hands of Moroccan media." A statement also warned Moroccan media not to abuse the upcoming protests in its propaganda campaigns against the Sahrawis.

afrol News asked Sahrawi journalist Malainin Lakhal about the potential of the upcoming protests. Mr Malainin's first reaction was that the youth grouping had not stated any of their names, so "nobody knows who they are."

"The real criticism that can be addressed to the initiators of this action is that they are anonymous, and this is not helping me for example to take it seriously, especially that it would have been better received by many Sahrawis if the initiators had put their names on the petition," he added.

Mr Malainin, himself based in the refugee camps, nevertheless agreed that "some of the demands they defend are acceptable and can only be supported by any Sahrawi, while there are some strong statements and discussable points in the text."

The prominent Sahrawi journalist further agrees there are some democracy deficits in the Sahrawi Republic. "However, I also think that it is very easy to criticise when you are looking to the action from outside. This is why I believe that my generation and the younger generation need to get more involved in the political life," he adds.

Mr Malainin also agrees the Sahrawi government needs to "listen more to the youth, to the people in the occupied zones and to listen to the international changes."

"Saharawis have everything to gain from strengthening their democratic institutions and building a better democratic state, and one of the ways to do that is to always inject fresh blood in the system, to empower the youth and to create more opportunities for the young generation to learn from previous experiences and be part of the decision making mechanism," the journalist adds.

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