Political Opinion and National Identity: Dilemma of the Sahrawi Ethnic Unity after 38 Years of Diaspora
Western Sahara has been called “the last colony” of Africa. The territory was colonized by Spain in 1884. During the pan-Maghreb liberation period in the 1950s, the local population, Sahrawi people also joined the resistance against colonial powers. However, when Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Mauritania obtained own independence as nation-state, the “Maghrebian dream” ended. Western Sahara has not only been left under the colonial rule until 1975, but it has not yet reached independence. When Spain left the territory, it was “recovered” by Moroccan-Mauritanian joint control against the Sahrawi’s will. At the point, half of the Sahrawi population took refuge in Tindouf, southwestern Algeria and established the Sahara Democratic Republic (SADR) through the leadership of the Polisario Front in 1976. At the same time, the other half of the Sahrawi were left under the Moroccan occupation. Here Sahrawi ethnic diaspora is found. After the diaspora, the Western Sahara conflict became more complicated. Despite of the approach by the international organizations, including the United Nations, the Sahrawi people have not yet used the right of self-determination and the conflict has not yet reached a solution. Thirty-eight years have already gone since the diaspora. While the Sahrawi are found in the different political spaces between Tindouf and Western Sahara (Moroccan controlled zone), the political opinion of the Sahrawi, particularly the future status of the territory, have varied considerably. Not all of them agree with total independence, but some might be able to accept autonomous plan under the Moroccan authority. At this point, it could be said that new political division within the ethnic group has emerged. Taking the above situation into consideration, I will analyze the relation between political opinion and national identity in this paper. With reference the theory “National Identity” (1990) by Anthony Smith, the difference between ethnic and national identities, and the strength of nationalism are discussed. For example, one Sahrawi man from the Polisario talked about other Sahrawi who can accept the autonomous plan by the Moroccan authorities. The man said “do they become Moroccans?” In this case, it seems that one’s political opinion can determine his/her national identity. While referring my field work data, the discussion is focused on; 1) transformation process of national identity, and 2) dilemma within Sahrawi national unity. According to the points, I describe what kind of crisis Sahrawi national unity has now and what will be a solution to overcome the crisis.
ForlagUniversitetet i Tromsø
University of Tromsø
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