PhilMUN 2007 3 and bloody conflict between the indigenous Saharawi people and the Moroccan government and people. The Saharawi people identify the Moroccans as “invaders,” and have been fighting to gain their independence since the late 19 th Century. 1 One of the major points of contention is that the Saharawi people have a culture that differs from their Moroccan neighbors. The Saharawi people descend from Arab Yemenites who intermarried with Berbers and Black Africans in the late 13 th Century. 2 Initially a nomadic people, by the 1960s many had settled into cities and towns. 3 Today, the Saharawis reside in an area the size of Nevada just south of Morocco. 4 The Saharawis speak Hasseriya, a very pure version of Arabic. They are Sunni Muslims who worship without mosques in the desert camps where most now reside. 5 Cultural differences between the Moroccans and the Saharawi people partially explain their years of conflict. While the Moroccans share the Saharawis’ Berber roots, the Moroccan culture has been greatly impacted by trade with Westernized nations. Both the rural and urban populations maintain a high degree of loyalty to Islam, although religious practice in many regions is unorthodox and the demands of industrialization organization have made traditional devotion difficult for those employed in modern sectors. 6 These complicating factors ensure that fighting will continue until the Saharawi people are given a definitive response regarding their sovereignty from the United Nations and the international community. A History of Colonialism International involvement in Western Sahara was minimal until the Treaty of Marrakesh. Signed 28 May 1767 between Spain and Sultan Sidi Mohamed Ben Abdallah, the agreement was cited in the 1975 ICJ hearings regarding the referendum 1 Ruddy, 548. 2 Ryan, Nick. “A Forgotten War.” Geographical Magazine (May 1999): 40. 3 Ibid. 40. 4 Hottelet, Richard C. “Western Sahara Climax?” Christian Science Monitor (12 November 1999): 11. 5 Ryan. 40. 6 “Islamic Religion in Morocco.” The Western Sahara. August 2006. University of Pennsylvania. 29 Nov 2006 .
PhilMUN 2007 4 dispute. The Arabic translation for Article 18 of this treaty, which remains highly controversial, states that: His Imperial Majesty warns the inhabitants of the Canaries against any fishing expedition to the coasts of Oued Noun and beyond. He disclaims any responsibility for the way they may be treated by the Arabs of the country, to whom it is difficult to apply decisions, since they have no fixed residence, travel as they wish and pitch their tents where they choose. 7 That is to say, the Arabic version seems to suggest that the Arabs will view fishing expeditions emanating from the Canary Islands as hostile. Moreover, it implies sovereignty over the region, suggesting that the Sultan “disclaims any responsibility for the way they may be treated in the country…” The Spanish version, however, reads considerably differently in that it does not suggest any form of Moroccan sovereignty over the area, indeed it denies it: His Imperial majesty refrains from expressing an opinion with regard to the trading post which His Catholic Majesty wishes to establish to the south of the River Noun, since he can not take responsibility for accidents and misfortunes, because sus dominios does not extend so far. 8 Perhaps most compelling is a letter sent by the Sultan to Carlos III of Spain stating, “they are not subordinate to nor fearful of anyone, because they are greatly separated from my dominions and I do not have power over them ... These Arabs have no fixed abode and move around as it pleases them without submitting to government or any authority.” 9 As far back as the 18 th Century, the inhabitants of Western Sahara were a nomadic people that were comfortable in their ability not to answer to a central government or to submit to the control of the imperial powers. In 1799, the Meknes Treaty was agreed upon by Spain and Sultan Moulay Souleiman, reinforcing Spain’s interests in the region, specifically the Canary Islands. Unlike most colonial powers, Spain had limited interaction with its colonies, and was primarily concerned with the Canary Archipelago and the safety of its fishermen. 10 Spain’s intentions changed in 1884 following Captain Emilio Bonelli Hernando’s 7 Western Sahara Online. 2003. Marrakesh Treaty. < http://www.wsahara.net/m_treaty.html > 8 Ibid. 9 Ibid. 10 Aggad.