Representatives from Morocco and Algeria engaged in a heated exchange at the United Nations regarding the status of Western Sahara on Tuesday. Algiers advocated for the revival of a long-delayed referendum to determine the fate of the former Spanish colony.
Algerian Ambassador Amar Bendjama asserted, “We Algerians have chosen the path of justice, decolonization, freedom, self-determination, and human rights. This commitment extends to the cause of the Sahrawi people, who have been awaiting justice from the UN for nearly half a century.”
Western Sahara is recognized by the United Nations as a “non-self-governing territory,” with 80 percent of it under Moroccan control. Morocco envisions autonomy for the region while maintaining its sovereignty.
Algeria has consistently supported the Polisario Front, an independence movement led by the Indigenous Sahrawi population of the region.
A United Nations mission has been stationed in Western Sahara since 1991, with the mission of organizing a referendum to determine the territory’s future. However, the referendum has never been held, and in late 2020, the Polisario announced a resumption of hostilities after a long-standing ceasefire.
Ambassador Bendjama questioned why the referendum was being blocked, stating, “If the Moroccan occupation of Western Sahara had genuinely transformed it into a paradise, whether with or without autonomy, why is this referendum being prevented?” He also expressed condolences to Morocco following a deadly earthquake earlier that month, while also criticizing Morocco’s stance on Western Sahara.
Moroccan Ambassador Omar Hilale responded, defending Rabat’s position on Western Sahara and emphasizing the need to respect “Morocco’s national sovereignty and territorial integrity.” He firmly stated, “Morocco is in the Sahara and will remain so indefinitely.”
Morocco has become more assertive diplomatically regarding its claims over Western Sahara, particularly following U.S. recognition of these claims in 2020, as part of an agreement for Morocco’s diplomatic normalization with Israel. This recognition has emboldened Morocco to pursue a more aggressive diplomatic approach to garner support from other nations for its stance.