Abdelaziz, Mohamed (1947–)
Mohamed Abdelaziz (also Muhammad Abd al-Aziz) is the secretary-general of the POLISARIO front and president of the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic.
Mohamed Abdelaziz was born 17 August 1947 in Marra-kech, Morocco. His family was from the Reguibat Fokra clan of Arab bedouins (nomads) who traveled through Mauritania, Algeria, Morocco, and Spanish Morocco. His father was an officer in the Moroccan army.
Spain colonized the region later known as Western Sahara beginning in 1883. The Frente Popular para la Liberacion de Saguia el Hamra y Rio de Oro (POLISARIO) was born in May 1973 as an independence movement among Saharawis (Arabic: those of the desert, i.e., of Western Sahara) to fight for the region's independence. Joining the liberation struggle while at university in Rabat, Morocco Abdelaziz was one of POLISARIO's early activists.
When Spain relinquished its control over Spanish Morocco in 1975, Morocco and Mauritania laid claim to Western Sahara, despite a ruling from the International Court of Justice that the region should become independent. Morocco ultimately came to occupy much of the region and Mauritania the rest. In February 1976, POLISARIO declared the independence of the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), a government-in-exile based in the Saharawi refugee camps in Algeria's Tindouf province. This government is supported by Algeria and recognized by approximately forty-three nations. In August 1976, Abdelaziz was elected secretary-general of POLISARIO and president of SADR. Mauritania abandoned its claim to Western Sahara in August 1979, but Morocco still strongly asserts its legal claims to control the area.
INFLUENCES AND CONTRIBUTIONS
Abdelaziz is the longtime leader of the POLISARIO movement, and has played a crucial role in the Saharawi drive for independence. He led the movement through negotiations that led to Mauritania's evacuation from that portion of Western Sahara it had occupied, through the long war against Morocco from 1975–1991, and through the lengthy peace process with UN involvement that has continued ever since. Abdelaziz has also brought the SADR to prominence within the African Union (AU), and some have credited Abdelaziz with moving the Saharawi independence movement away from war towards diplomacy, and away from the vague socialism of its early years towards free market economics.
THE WORLD'S PERSPECTIVE
Not surprisingly, opinions about Abdelaziz vary. Morocco steadfastly refuses to recognize the SADR, and some in Morocco consider Abdelaziz a separatist who is merely a tool of Algeria, and who is responsible for years of conflict and lost lives. Most Arab states defer to Morocco and refuse to recognize the SADR. The AU, however, allowed Abdelaziz to appear as one of the presidents representing the five main regions of Africa at its founding meeting in July 2002, when he was also named as one of the AU's vice presidents.
Name: Mohamed Abdelaziz
Birth: 1947, Marrakech, Morocco
Family: Wife, Khadija Bent Hamdi
Education: Some university education
- 1976: Elected POLISARIO secretary general and president of the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) government in exile
- 1979: Mauritania abandons its claim to Western Sahara
- 1991: Brings Saharawi-Moroccan war to an end; negotiates beginnings of UN-mediated peace process
- 2002: Appears as president of SADR at founding summit of the African Union (AU); is named one of five AU vice presidents
Among Saharawis, there is both appreciation of Abdelaziz for his historic role in their struggle, and frustration that his lengthy stewardship of POLISARIO/SADR's diplomatic struggle has not reaped any tangible benefits since 1991. Some Saharawis also criticize him for heading an undemocratic and corrupt government, and for not allowing Saharawis in refugee camps in Algeria freedom of movement.
It remains to be seen how history ultimately will judge Abdelaziz, but there is no denying his key role thus far in the Western Sahara issue.
Bryant, Elizabeth. "Saharawis Fight for a Homeland." Washington Times (28 April 2004). Available from http://www.washtimes.com/world/20040427-094716-9184r.htm
"Regions and Territories: Western Sahara." BBC News (26 April 2007). Available from http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/africa/country_profiles/3466917.stm
Michael R. Fischbach