By Saharawi Voice
Today, we find ourselves at a revolutionary impasse: not only in how many people view and understand colonialism, but also in how they conceptualize the struggle against it in the first place. The whitewashing and even utter erasure of revolutionary histories all too often leads to colonialist apologia. As an occupied people, we Saharawis must continue to challenge this, particularly now as the world’s eyes are on Morocco’s national football team.
What concerns us today as Saharawis is not the individual act of cheering on the Moroccan national team, per se, or of celebrating it in sports more generally. We have witnessed 47 years of political, technical, and economic engagement with Morocco. As we are not political nihilists, we of course do not deny that Morocco belongs to this region. As a result, there will be no complete break with it. However, what we firmly stand against is begging for support from the occupiers. This requires that we be clear not only about who it is that denies our right to exist, but also of those, individuals and groups who, on the one hand have anti-colonial and anti-capitalist rhetoric, while on the other hand, contradicting these principles the moment the time comes to criticize Morocco’s occupation of Western Sahara. Regrettably, these supposed “allies,” partake in the most despicable process of justifying Morocco’s colonial project, thereby arrogantly disregarding and in many cases even silencing the voices of the Saharawi people, treating us with the kind of colonial condescension which they themselves, in other contexts, vehemently condemn.
We oppose the rampant whitewashing of our struggle in the guise of football-related nationalism. The world of football is, of course, full of contradictions which provide us as revolutionary circles a chance to transform it from mere entertainment and pleasure towards an arena where we can articulate and defend the political positions with which we agree, and be clear about that which we oppose. Indeed, regimes actively whitewash their political image through football. When we’re able to successfully expose this political whitewashing, we consider that a victory for us.
We oppose the optics whereby spectators celebrate Morocco as a symbolic victor against colonialism because it defeated a team that represents Western imperialism, or because the Moroccan team raised the flag of Palestine, while simultaneously perpetuating its own colonial power dynamics against the Saharawi people, exploiting us and plundering our natural resources, and silencing our voices. Moreover, Morocco supports Western powers to maintain control over us. To add insult to injury, after displaying the Palestinian flag supposedly in solidarity, the Moroccan national football team shamelessly sang a colonial song which praises the invasion and annihilation of the Saharawi people.
We oppose the act of emptying our anti-colonial revolution of its history and its liberatory tools, by distracting the world with a spectacle, which dilutes our efforts to raise awareness about our struggle and, perversely, presents Morocco, the agent of colonialism, as a hero. Whoever dares to confront that agent ultimately ends up paying a heavy price in the form of further ostracism and marginalization, as well as continued erasure. Furthermore, we challenge the erasure of the fact that the Saharawi people are the ones who fought against Spanish and French colonialism from the Berlin Conference of 1884 to this day, and nonetheless we continue to pay dearly for that defiance, as our oppressors have deprived us of our right to govern ourselves – our very existence – and our wealth and resources, on our own land. We continue to be the victims of a war of extermination which has forcefully displaced half of our population.
To those who celebrate Morocco’s football victory: know that it is intimately connected to the whitewashing of an occupying regime which has punished our people for resisting colonialism. Know that our history, our voice, and our symbols, such as the martyr, Mustafa al-Sayyid, the revolutionary Pan-African leader and internationalist, who used to prepare his people to fight against Western capitalist imperialism and its agents, all of these have either been whitewashed beyond recognition, or downright silenced and erased.
Morocco and its supporters cannot have their cake and eat it too. Either they coherently challenge colonialism at home and abroad, or, they contest colonial oppression elsewhere, while nonetheless hypocritically continuing to oppress the Saharawi people closer to home. Politically, ethically, and morally, there is no middle ground.
The reflections of Frantz Fanon are especially relevant and poignant to us in this very moment. Regarding colonialism, Fanon reminds us that it “leaves behind germs of rot which we must clinically detect and remove [not only] from our land but from our minds as well.”