The Puzzle of Nonviolence in Western Sahara
Matthew Porges and Christian Leuprecht | BIG Research Reports | #78
Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony that has been controlled by Morocco since 1975, has seen virtually no violent resistance by the indigenous Sahrawi people since the conclusion of a 1975–1991 war between Morocco and the pro-independence Polisario Front. That lack of political violence is puzzling in light of several factors, including broad support for independence, social and economic disparities between Moroccan and Sahrawi inhabitants and Morocco’s repression of Sahrawi culture, resistance, and expressions of pro-independence sentiment. This article examines the absence of violence and draws lessons from Western Sahara: why some populations resort to violent resistance and others do not, and how best to frame and to study politically charged subjects such as insurgency, terrorism, and sovereignty. In addition to advancing theories of nonviolence, this article makes a methodological contribution to the study of resistance movements and improves our understanding of the conflict through fieldwork that included approximately 60 interviews with Sahrawi activists conducted in Morocco and Western Sahara. Western Sahara is difficult to study for a number of reasons, including its remoteness, relative international obscurity, and Moroccan suppression of dissenting research.
Matthew Porges and Christian Leuprecht