August 2, 2019

A PEOPLE WHO THINK THEMSELVES A NATION ARE ONE:

THE 'GANDHI OF WESTERN SAHARA' CONFRONTS A DEADLY GENERATION GAP (Ruairi Casey, 8/02/2019

Late one night in 1987, Moroccan policemen arrived at a house in the occupied city of Laayoune, the capital of Western Sahara, and demanded to speak to Aminatou Haidar. It would only take 10 minutes, they told her panic-stricken family; but those minutes stretched into days, weeks, months and then years. The 20-year-old was disappeared without trial to a secret facility not far from her home, where guards tortured her, subjecting her to starvation and threats of rape -- the price for painting graffiti and circulating leaflets calling for a free Western Sahara.

The day she was released, more than three years later, she was unable to stand, her body almost broken from the ordeal. But Haidar was not deterred from activism and since has become a leading voice of resistance to Moroccan repression in the territory, regarded as Africa's final colony. "It made me stronger and more determined, and I was even more conscious of the necessity to lead a struggle for self-determination," she says.

To Sahrawis, the formerly nomadic peoples native to the region, Haidar is the "Gandhi of Western Sahara," a tireless advocate for peaceful resistance who brings international attention to their much-forgotten plight; to the Moroccan government in Rabat, she's a dangerous agitator and separatist who continues to defy what the kingdom calls its "southern provinces," though no other country recognizes this claim.

Now, at age 53, she's become a voice of restraint -- pitted against a new generation of pro-independence activists who Haidar fears are too eager to launch a full-scale war, with tensions rising along the world's longest militarized border.

Posted by at August 2, 2019 12:00 AM

  

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