Notes from Western Sahara : Page 2 of 3
B: It seems that oil exploration in Western Sahara was not that successful. A few decades ago, Spain and a few other countries had set up oilrigs but that didn’t really work out. But now the focus is on phosphates?
B: I find that, generally, in any kind of political history, a kind of narrative is built up, and once that narrative has been decided, it becomes impossible to change it. It becomes harder and harder to go back in time and try to really figure out what exactly happened or why things happened. Most narratives about Western Sahara claim that the main rupture took place in 1975. That’s when this situation was born. Do you agree with that as a starting point, or do you think there were some pivotal moments before that which led to where we are now?
F: When we talk about 1975, it means we are talking about the birth of our relationship with Morocco. But the problem did not start at that time. It started before that, with Spain. Western Sahara was a Spanish colony from 1884 to 1975, and in this period the Sahara’s case had been made in the UN because the idea of a referendum was proposed to Spain before that time. But Spain, instead of celebrating the referendum, decided to leave the land in another way, and to leave the land to another power with which Spain could share the responsibility and the benefits. We had a very important moment in our history in 1970, which was when the Sahrawi revolution started. It got visibility as a revolution because of our leader, Muhammad Bassiri, who was subsequently disappeared and has not been seen to date. Spain had to leave, not because they wanted to leave. It was because of the Sahrawi revolution that began in 1970. The proclamation of the Polisario Front happened in May of 1973. Even the name Polisario is a Spanish word, not an Arabic word.
B: Do you feel that historically Western Sahara, because of its location and the way it’s been sandwiched between many big powers, has always been a place where violence has been a part of daily life? Has Western Sahara known an existence without violence?
F: In fact, when we think about our history, our past, we can only think about violence because we lived this violence with Spain. And even before Spain, there were other forces, like France and Portugal, which tried to invade us. Before Spain, there were Morocco and Mauritania. When we think about our past, we can only find violence, but I think it is precisely this condition that makes one realize that what is important is peace. But unity also becomes very important. I think we have very solid social values, due to which we have been able to survive all of this violence.
B: In my research, I have found that when a place experiences a lot of violence over a long span of time, and even when its people finally achieve the statehood that they want, they are not able to achieve peace. Violence continues to afflict such a space. This is one of the biggest problems when you think about so many African and Asian civil wars after colonialism. Do you think Western Sahara will fall into that trap? What does an independent state of Western Sahara look like, and what will happen to all this legacy of violence?
F: When the Polisario Front decided to proclaim the nation-state, even while they’re still fighting, they also want to emphasize that this is a movement, a political movement. Now we have the two systems. We are a movement, but also we are a nation-state. The objective is to try to build and construct our nation-state while we are fighting to get independence. And that is also why, as women, we are trying to reconstruct our new society. We aren't only dealing with the problem of managing and securing peace, but also with the process of improving human rights and women's rights after the independence.
B: In the history of revolutions and freedom movements, women’s participation and involvement is pivotal. But once the revolution dies, women tend to be left out of the history and they are pushed into traditional roles as if they never actively participated in the history. Do you feel that with the way you have structured the movement and the way in which the women of Western Sahara are mobilizing that you might be able to avoid this category?
F: In 1991, when the peace process began in Western Sahara, this was one of the very important issues that we discussed as women. Until that time, women were alone in the camps and had gotten a lot of responsibility as leaders. But after that, because of the ceasefire, the men returned to the camps. They stayed in the camps much longer than before. This new situation showed us that our progress was threatened and we started to organize a discussion space between the women in the camps, and also with other women all over the world, to reflect on our experience. And we discussed how to be the pillars of the resistance, and how to guarantee our participation and involvement in our future independent state. I think it was our biggest achievement during the peace process period. We agreed to rebuild our strategy and tried to change our roles in the society because we were responsible for all the activities in the camps. We have a lot of social assistance, education and health programs. But we have not had enough time to dedicate to very important issues like women’s rights, leadership, and empowerment. In that moment, we also decided to improve our participation in the government, to build a special ministry for social affairs, and to also improve our participation in the parliament. We built spaces for women in all the camps, and offered them the chance to participate in training for service teams, leadership, empowerment and communication, and to reinforce and build capacity within them for now and for the future.
B: You spoke a little bit about having solidarity with women across the world. Do you feel there is a tension between the way Western feminism and Western women engage with the struggle of the women from marginalized, poorer, more religious or traditional societies?