Sami Kolaib: Welcome viewers to a new show of the program “Special Visit.” We are now in Rabat, Morocco, and our guest of today could have become an officer for the Spanish colonization or maybe a governor for the Sahara region. Today, however, he is the most distinguished advocator of self rule for the Sahara under the sovereignty of the Moroccan kingdom. Between colonization and self rule there is the story of a lifetime, discussions, negotiations and wars, related to us by Khalli Henna Ould Errachid, President of the Royal Consultative Council for Saharan Affairs. When I arrived at the house of Khalli Henna Ould Errachid, President of the Royal Consultative Council for Saharan Affairs, I marveled at the house’s elegance and thought about the difference between it and the tents that I had visited two years earlier in the Tindouf Sahraoui camps, the Polisario front’s headquarters. Is this opulence meant to attract those still clinging to the Saharan independence to join the Kingdom of Morocco? That is why I asked our guest how he has got his wealth and riches.
Khalli Henna Ould Errachid: This is God’s bounty.
Sami Kolaib: How so?
Khalli Henna Ould Errachid: in other words, this is the fruit of my personal efforts.
Sami Kolaib: Are you in commerce, for example
Khalli Henna Ould Errachid: No.
Sami Kolaib: Besides your work, a man who came from Spain to the Kingdom of Morocco and became a minister and a Member of Parliament could not have amassed this wealth. In other words, where have you got this wealth from?
Khalli Henna Ould Errachid: No, I don’t have any wealth. Don’t consider my house as wealth; this is my residence after long years of work. I am not a wealthy man.
Sami Kolaib: The Royal Consultative Council has a budget. I know that in the past when it was first established twenty years ago, it had only a small budget. The king then increased its budget. This time do you receive salaries and yourself as the President, for instance?
Khalli Henna Ould Errachid: The members are not volunteers.
Sami Kolaib: Sir, I have read you actually belong to a big tribe in the Sahara region, Reguibats, as they are called, or Rghibats in the local dialect. How big is this tribe? Are there any statistics as to the number of its inhabitants? Does it have any special status? Do its traditions have any special characteristics that distinguish it from other tribes?
Khalli Henna Ould Errachid: Probably the Reguibats tribe, like all other tribes, is of the same number of inhabitants as all the others. It is like the other Sahara tribes; that means….
Sami Kolaib: Historically, where did they come from?
Khalli Henna Ould Errachid: This is a tribe of descendents of Moulay Driss, the founder of the Moroccan state. Reguibats, like other Saharan tribes, are Idrissides, like Laaroussiyine, Cheikh Maa Al Ainin, Toulbalk, and Foulala. They are all Idrisside tribes, descendents of Moulay Idriss, founder of the Moroccan state, especially the Reguibat ancestor who is buried in the province of Tan Tan.
Sami Kolaib: As a tribe, you have historical ties with the Kingdom.
Khalli Henna Ould Errachid: Naturally, our grandfather is Moulay Idriss, that is the founder of the State of Morocco; we are among the founders of the Moroccan state.
Sami Kolaib: Khalli Henna is convinced of these historical and filial ties that go, according to stories, back to Imam Ali Ibn Abi Talib, our lady Fatima Zahra and to Hassan and Houssein. He is, like all other Sahraouis, an ardent follower of the Moroccan Throne. They always mention this lineage to confirm the Moroccan root of the Sahara, which is still at the heart of the conflict between the two sides and which also was the root cause of deadly wars between the Polisario and the Kingdom of Morocco. In reading about you, I came across the following: At the time the Spanish General Salazar, who was the General Governor of Spanish Sahara, Spain wanted to make you governor for the region after its departure, and subsequently you were chosen to become President of the Sahraoui National Union Party. Isn’t this true?
Khalli Henna Ould Errachid: True, but not at the level of Governor Salazar. Naturally, the Spanish Government, rather, wanted me to be president of a state project.
Sami Kolaib: Why did Spain chose you in particular and not anybody else; was it because they trusted you?
Khalli Henna Ould Errachid: It was not a question of trust, but a matter of competence. That is to say a matter of….I am not sure really of the reasons that made them choose me for this purpose. Undoubtedly, it was because I was among those pioneers who were seeking political change in the region.
Sami Kolaib: What were you doing at that time?
Khalli Henna Ould Errachid: Back then I used to work in the private sector in a company in Spain, Land Rover, Tana Land Rover.
Sami Kolaib: And you started getting interested in political affairs?
Khalli Henna Ould Errachid: Naturally, I have been greatly interested in political affairs since my young age. The beginning of my political activities was with Mr. Mohamed Bassiri when he came to the Sahara in 1968.
Sami Kolaib: From Spain Mr. Khalli Henna Ould Errachid decided to join the Kingdom of Morocco. Spain used to colonize the Sahara, but the late King Hassan II led in the mid-eighties the famous march, known as the Green March. His plan to remove the Spanish colonizer from that land succeeded. However, After the Sahara had shed the burden of colonization, it plunger in a secessionist war of independence. The Polisario Front calls for its independence; while the Moroccan Government accuses it of separatist tendencies and claims its natural right to it. Our guest, Khalli Henna Ould Errachid, decided back then to move from Spain to Morocco to join what he considers the mother country; and in this change, he decided to drop the idea of an independent entity for the Sahara, despite the fact that he was among the leading militants for independence.
Khalli Henna Ould Errachid: When I had decided to give up the idea of an independent entity in the Sahara, there were contacts between me and His Majesty the King, the late Hassan II.
Sami Klib: I apologize for interrupting, Mr. Ould Errachid. In the beginning you were militating for the Sahara independence at a specific period up until the time of a speech of yours which I believe was in 1974 or 1975.
Khalli Henna Ould Errachid: Yes, 1975.
Sami Kolaib: You were in fact calling for independence for the Sahara. What made you drop this idea and join the Kingdom of Morocco?
Khalli Henna Ould Errachid: My exercising of political activities, when I constituted the National Sahraoui Party, was what made me give up the idea of secession, for our Sahraoui society is a tribal one and also because, in all sincerity and objectivity, I did not see any future for a state with only few inhabitants dispersed over tens of tribes with ancient conflicts. After some deep thinking, I eventually chose unity over secession, and that is why I decided to join Morocco.
Sami Kolaib: Did you meet with any difficulties or were there any conditions in this movement from Spain to Morocco?
Khalli Henna Ould Errachid: No, there were no conditions set. Still, from a psychological stance, it was a difficult change. True, I came to a country where I did not study and where I did not know anybody, or at least the high officials who were running the country. I eventually took this decision despite all the psychological difficulties that I had encountered.
Sami Kolaib: When exactly did that take place?
Khalli Henna Ould Errachid: It took place in the middle of May 1975.
Sami Kolaib: This date was followed by at least two dates that witnessed two coups d’etat against the King. Then He started becoming more extreme in his hold on the Kingdom. Did you approve of Hassan II at that time? Did you have a positive idea of him while you were in Spain?
Khalli Henna Ould Errachid: When I was in Spain, all Sahraouis were naturally against the coup attempts.
Sami Kolaib: But what about the question of the person of the King?
Khalli Henna Ould Errachid: Yes, of course, despite the fact that Spanish media used to show the image of His Majesty the King and the Moroccans and the Arabs in general….
Sami Kolaib: That is why I ask…
Khalli Henna Ould Errachid: … A negative image; yet, I did not subscribe to it and that was one of the reasons that made me join the Kingdom.
Sami Kolaib: When did you meet King Hassan II for the first time?
Khalli Henna Ould Errachid: The first time I had contacted His Majesty the King was by phone.
Sami Kolaib When you arrived?
Khalli Henna Ould Errachid: No, before I arrived.
Sami Kolaib: From Spain?
Khalli Henna Ould Errachid: No, it was not from Spain.
Sami Kolaib: From where then? Let us talk about history.
Khalli Henna Ould Errachid: From Switzerland; then I met His Majesty on May 19.
Sami Kolaib: On your first contact with King Hassan II, what did you tell him?
Khalli Henna Ould Errachid: I told him that I was coming to present my allegiance to him and to drop secession.
Sami Kolaib: What did he tell you?
Khalli Henna Ould Errachid: He greatly welcomed the idea
Sami Kolaib: Did you remember what he said exactly?
Khalli Henna Ould Errachid: He told me: “Welcome to your own country.”
Sami Kolaib: When did you meet him for the first time?
Khalli Henna Ould Errachid: I met him for the first time on May 19, 1975 in the palace of Fes.
Sami Kolaib: What happened then?
Khalli Henna Ould Errachid: He had the flu at that time; however, he received me.
Sami Kolaib: Was it a warm welcome?
Khalli Henna Ould Errachid: Very warm and very friendly. I presented to him my faithful allegiance and he responded with a beautiful, historical speech in which he talked about Sahraoui people and their ties to the throne and his ties to them. That was my first meeting with him. He was as I had imagined him a great king.
Sami Kolaib: On first contact, did you kiss his hand?
Khalli Henna Ould Errachid: Yes, I kissed his hand and shoulder.
Sami Kolaib: Especially that Sahraouis do not observe this custom.
Khalli Henna Ould Errachid: we got used to it; that is we did not have any protocol rituals, but we got used to them very quickly.
Sami Kolaib: What did you decide upon in your first meeting with the late king?
Khalli Henna Ould Errachid: It was a very pleasant meeting.
Sami Kolaib: It was undoubtedly pleasurable, but what decisions did you reach?
Khalli Henna Ould Errachid: We agreed on the method of regaining the Sahara.
Sami Kolaib: How so? Militarily, peacefully, or by convincing Sahraoui people?
Khalli Henna Ould Errachid: Peacefully.
Sami Kolaib: What were the first steps that you agreed on?
Khalli Henna Ould Errachid: His Majesty prepared a program and I presented to him some suggestions and visions to implement that program. Then, we embarked upon it till it was achieved.
Sami Kolaib: Mr. Khalli Henna Ould Errachid has assumed many responsibilities in the Kingdom of Morocco since he joined it. This Sahraoui, who was born in 1951 and who belongs to the ancient Reguibats tribe, became a State Minister or Secretary of State, as he is called in the Arab Maghreb, affiliated to the Prime Minister, as well as a Member of Parliament representing Laayoune Region. Khalli Henna, whose mother had given him this named so that God would protect him for her, had constituted in his youth the Independent National Rallying Party. Since 1983, he became President of the city council of Laayoune, and he came into political attention when he vehemently criticized the well known leftist leader Mehdi Benbarka and his party. Subsequently he also had radical differences with the former Interior Minister, the powerful Driss Basri.
Khalli Henna Ould Errachid: It meant I drew attention for one month during the no-confidence motion in Parliament. I did not accuse anybody of anything, but I defended the government as any member of the government was supposed to do at that time, in different ways of course.
Sami Kolaib: From what I have read, you said that you had accused the Socialists of conspiracy and you mentioned Mehdi Benbarka by name, didn’t you?
Khalli Henna Ould Errachid: No, first, I did not accuse anybody of anything, but I defended….
Sami Kolaib [interrupting]: ardently.
Khalli Henna Ould Errachid: As a member of the government, [I defended] ardently the government’s stance on the basis of what I had heard concerning the accusations that were advanced at that time. I did not mention any names, with the exception of Mehdi Benbarka, of course. I defended the opposition’s response to the accusations presented. It was a natural attitude within the framework of the non-confidence motion in Parliament.
Sami Kolaib: We will not dwell long on accusations and direct accusations. This is not the core of the subject. There was a man with whom you had tumultuous relations in your career; he is the former Interior Minister, the powerful Driss Basri. I understand that in 1992 you accused him directly of rigging the elections. I believe that this matter was a turning point in your experience. To what extent is this true?
Khalli Henna Ould Errachid: Driss Basri was a government colleague of mine for a long time, 17 years to be exact. This took place at a time when we were in the government; that is why I don’t see any purpose in talking about this colleague who is no longer in power.
Sami Kolaib: Our purpose is to introduce you to the viewers and shed light on the main stages. I wanted to know if in fact you had accused him of rigging the elections.
Khalli Henna Ould Errachid: Probably, we had some deep differences.
Sami Kolaib What were the reasons behind them?
Khalli Henna Ould Errachid: The elections, among other things.
Sami Kolaib: The Sahara issue was also another reason, because it was no secret that Driss Basri wanted to control all the dossiers himself, and you, too, wanted to work on the Sahara issue or Saharan affairs, independently of the Ministry of the Interior, or least you wanted to work on equal footing with, and not as a follower of, Driss Basri. I understand there were a lot of differences on this subject, to the extent that in 1999 you accused him of mismanaging Saharan affairs. That is why I am dwelling on this issue. Did his action impact you? And was he the reason you were eclipsed from power and political positions that concerned you on matters of official Saharan affairs—not only in the Laayoune region?
Khalli Henna Ould Errachid: No, First of all, I naturally did not follow the Interior Ministry or Driss Basri, or anybody else for that matter at any moment. I always followed His Majesty the King…
Sami Kolaib: He used to show special concern for you, out of some particular recommendation?
Khalli Henna Ould Errachid: No, it was His Majesty the King that did that. Obviously, there were differences within or outside the government as to the way matters should be run, especially the Sahara issue. So, the differences had to do with the choice of policies to be adopted. Naturally, his policies were dominant at some moments.
Sami Kolaib: What were the reasons for that? He managed in his own way to influence the King’s decisions?
Khalli Henna Ould Errachid: Maybe, he had at his disposal all the devices of influence.
Sami Kolaib: The financial, the political and the security ones?
Khalli Henna Ould Errachid: Maybe.
Sami Kolaib: Could you define for us the nature of differences between you and Driss Basri on the Sahara issue?
Khalli Henna Ould Errachid: The differences were related to the handling of the issue in general.
Sami Kolaib: How so, for instance?
Khalli Henna Ould Errachid: I did not at any moment agree on the policies adopted internally, externally and on all fronts.
Sami Kolaib: At any rate, on many occasions your voice was loud and clear.
Khalli Henna Ould Errachid: That was true.
Sami Kolaib: When official delegations visited Laayoune region, the newspapers, or at least those that dared to speak, would actually publish your open and vocal, sometimes even harsh, criticism against those delegations.
Khalli Henna Ould Errachid: But rarely did the press speak, because…
Sami Kolaib: True.
Khalli Henna Ould Errachid: Very rarely.
Sami Kolaib: Why? Was it because they were under the control of Driss Basri?
Khalli Henna Ould Errachid: Maybe they feared him or they did not agree with what I dared to say I inside or outside the government, even at a time when I was a member of the government. I used to express my opinion freely, and history shows quite clearly that the policies were not wise ones.
Sami Kolaib: The President of the Royal Consultative Council for Saharan Affairs, Mr. Khalli Henna Ould Errachid, enumerates the numerous mistakes committed in managing the Sahara crisis and issue. This is a matter that was subject to internal controversies for over a quarter of a century in the Kingdom of Morocco. Most of it stayed outside the limelight. The rallying of the Moroccan throne, political parties and popular forces around the recovery of the Sahara was not free from internal problems for those who managed the Sahara issue, especially that Sahraouis living in the Kingdom of Morocco were at some period removed from participating in the handling of this issue. What were the mistakes committed that stand out the most?
Khalli Henna Ould Errachid: The Houston Agreement
Sami Kolaib: What was wrong about it?
Khalli Henna Ould Errachid: Ignorance of the dossier
Sami Kolaib : Was that the only problem?
Khalli Henna Ould Errachid: That was not the only problem. There were also internal policies for the region, such as excluding Sahraouis from decision making, the widening mistrust between the administration and the Sahraouis and the clear lack of seriousness on the field that affected negatively Morocco’s victory. A lot of serious mistakes were committed.
Sami Kolaib: At some moment you also talked about real discrimination against Sahraouis, even in Laayoune region. In many of your interviews you talked about discrimination, more particularly after the press became freer and began publishing those interviews.
Khalli Henna Ould Errachid: No, not discrimination.
Sami Kolaib: You would avoid the word “racism,” but you used to talk about discrimination.
Khalli Henna Ould Errachid: No, I talked about exclusion
Sami Kolaib: No mention of “discrimination” in your interviews?
Khalli Henna Ould Errachid: True, but in the sense of exclusion; as the Sahraouis were excluded from the issue, the latter would plunge into crisis.
Sami Kolaib: For instance you used to say that a person from the northern part of Morocco would come to the region and would be granted advantages the following day better than one who is a native to Laayoune region and who has been living there for a long time.
Khalli Henna Ould Errachid: It was not a matter of individuals. Rather, the adopted policies used to exclude Sahraouis from the state and from the administration which even worsened the mistrust between them. In other words, whenever they excluded Sahraouis, the crisis intensified for many reasons.
Sami Kolaib: King Mohamed VI’s last visit to the Sahara was very controversial. Some saw it as a response to what the Polisario had done at the borders; some considered it as a message to Algeria; while others linked it to the proposition made to the Security Council concerning the Sahara issue. King Mohamed VI, however, took a number of steps, that were deemed important, wherein he announced from the heart of the famous Sahraoui city of Laayoune the constitution of the Royal Consultative Council for Saharan Affairs which includes about forty tribes; it was from there that he also announced the idea of self rule.
Khalli Henna Ould Errachid: The designation of the members of the Royal Consultative Council was a Royal decision by which His Majesty the King chose the process of designation rather than that of election. It was quite natural to do so, because this was, after all, a Royal Council, not a legislative one or anything else.
Sami Kolaib: Yes, but it is supposed to represent people?
Khalli Henna Ould Errachid: It represents all people; when we talk about Sahraoui society, it is a tribal society wherein all tribes are represented in the Council.
Sami Kolaib: Good, but how do you explain some of the oppositions to that, then?
Khalli Henna Ould Errachid: There was no opposition; rather, there were some applications to join the Council, and everyone wanted to be a member of it. Naturally, 141 seats cannot include all Sahraouis.
Sami Kolaib: Good, I have heard for instances that two members are dead.
Khalli Henna Ould Errachid: that’s not true.
Sami Kolaib: What do you mean “not true”?
Khalli Henna Ould Errachid: This is based on false information. Tribal representation gives rise to conflicts as to who is worthy of representing the tribe. To solve this recurrent problem, we set up this Council which rightfully represents all Sahraoui tribes, but not all Sahraoui people.
Sami Kolaib: I am sorry, but from what I have read in the documents related to the Council’s formation about the criticism leveled, we find that some people say the following and I am going to summarize to you what a writer or critic from Laayoune stated. He said that the Council is made up of major entrepreneurs from the Sahara, those who have special interests with the state, and the majority of whom represent the Makhzen Bourgeoisie. The official Moroccan establishment has made of them local leaders who side with it in return for gifts and privileges. Of course, you are going to refute these arguments by defending the opposite point of view. In your opinion, who is behind these accusations?
Khalli Henna Ould Errachid: No, It is not because I defend the state’s view that I am refuting these accusations. Rather, I defend objectivity. These accusations are baseless. First of all, only very few entrepreneurs are on the Council; while many others are not. The majority of the members of the Royal Council are regular young people. It is a lie to say that the Royal Council is made up of the bourgeoisie. This is far from truth, because the Sahara bourgeoisie is not that significant in terms of numbers. The accusations are, then, without foundations.
Sami Kolaib: Whatever was said about the Kingdom of Morocco’s Royal Consultative Council for Saharan Affairs, the truth is that by establishing it, King Mohamed VI wanted to revive the trust between the throne and the Sahraouis, especially that Laayoune region and other places within the Kingdom of Morocco had witnessed before some uprisings where Polisario flags were hoisted in protest against the conditions there or out of feelings of discrimination against them. And when King Mohamed VI made his famous visit to Laayoune region, he announced the idea of self rule which some saw as a historical event in terms of granting Sahraouis more decentralization; while others saw in it reinforcement of the idea of regionalism of which the late King Hassan II had spoken before.
Khalli Henna Ould Errachid: This means that self rule is the only possible solution that can be implemented.
Sami Kolaib: Do you think so?
Khalli Henna Ould Errachid: No, it is not a question whether I think so or not; this is an objective view of the issue. This means that the war failed, and a referendum based on identity determination is impossible. There is nothing left but a consensual solution, what the United Nations calls a political solution.
Sami Kolaib: Good, how can it be consensual, then? Can this proposition be amended?
Khalli Henna Ould Errachid: Its content can be studied.
Sami Kolaib: And not to be amended as a proposition?
Khalli Henna Ould Errachid: No, not in the sense of an option other than self rule. Self rule is the content and the Polisario can participate in the formulation of its content.
Sami Kolaib: True, you once said that you would maybe help make Mohamed Abdelaaziz the first President of the self rule authority, which means that the self rule proposition is not to be amended and even not to be discussed as a principle, but only as details of implementation.
Khalli Henna Ould Errachid: True.
Sami Kolaib: How will you try to present to a party, with whom you are in a state of war, and even at a time of truce, a proposition that cannot be amended?
Khalli Henna Ould Errachid: I am not presenting a solution that cannot be amended, but all of its content can be studied, negotiated and discussed, that is to say the content not the principle. This means the principle that self rule would be a final solution to the Sahara conflict, that is to say that the Sahara will have a self rule authority wherein people will themselves run their own political, social, economic and cultural affairs under Moroccan sovereignty.
Sami Kolaib: That means such ministries as Foreign Affairs and Defense are in the hands of the King.
Khalli Henna Ould Errachid: No, it means that everything that has to do with sovereignty will remain the prerogative of the state’s central authority.
Sami Kolaib: King Mohamed VI addressed himself to the Polisario, of course without naming it, saying, “you will find us all ears as to your suggestions and views.” Till now, we have not heard of any propositions on the part of the Polisario or Algeria. There was outright rejection of those suggestions. Has anything we don’t know about happened? Have you for instance gone into contacts with parties close to or within the Polisario? Have you, with your Sahraoui background, managed to understand anything other than what is being said?
Khalli Henna Ould Errachid: We have to understand that self rule is addressed to all Sahraouis regardless of their political affiliation. True, it is also addressed to the Polisario, but if it turns out that the Polisario Front, this political, military organization, does not understand anything in realism and does not show any care about Sahraouis’ interests…
Sami Kolaib: What will you do then?
Khalli Henna Ould Errachid: Naturally, it means no Sahraouis will ever accept that.
Sami Kolaib: What is the solution then?
Khalli Henna Ould Errachid: …Including those in the camps and that is why we are in contact with all Sahraouis including members of the Polisario.
Sami Kolaib: How so?
Khalli Henna Ould Errachid: Direct contact. That means they contact me and I contact them.
Sami Kolaib: Are there any contacts with the Polisario group now?
Khalli Henna Ould Errachid: Of course.
Sami Kolaib: With an official decision from the Polisario.
Khalli Henna Ould Errachid: No, not with an official decision from the Polisario, because the Polisario’s decision is not a democratic one. The Polisario is a dogmatic group.
Sami Kolaib: Obviously, Khalli Henna Ould Errachid would describe the Polisario Front as dogmatic and undemocratic. He is diametrically opposed to them, and the Kingdom of Morocco’s differences with the Polisario Front have quite often set the Sahara on the flames of war which have not solved any problem for over a quarter of a century. Algeria has always accused by Morocco for being behind the Polisario’s intransigence, and when self rule was announced some Algerians rejected it and considered it as a preemptive act.
Khalli Henna Ould Errachid: I can understand the Polisario’s initial rejection; however, what gives Algeria the right to reject or accept it when it is not party to the conflict?
Sami Kolaib: I don’t know, but they said it was a preemptive act, that is it was a reaction on their part.
Khalli Henna Ould Errachid: I don’t accept this attitude from a country that has always claimed it is not a party to the Sahara conflict. It should, therefore, leave the Polisario alone.
Sami Kolaib: How about you? Do you deal with it as a party to the conflict?
Khalli Henna Ould Errachid: No, I don’t deal with Algeria on the basis of what it claims. I am not a party to the Sahara conflict; I have nothing to do with the Sahara issue. The Sahara issue is between Morocco and the Polisario. Hence, it is impossible for me to accept any Algerian attitude, especially that it says it is not party to the conflict.
Sami Kolaib: The Polisario has always rejected the offer, and if it continues doing so, will you go ahead and implement self rule over the regions that are not controlled by the Polisario?
Khalli Henna Ould Errachid: I am not sure about this rejection, because I am certain that when the project is finalized and becomes a reality, the Sahraoui people will subscribe to it, including the Polisario Sahraouis.
Sami Kolaib: Let us assume that the rejection continues. What will you do?
Khalli Henna Ould Errachid: Do you mean the Polisario’s rejection?
Sami Kolaib: Yes.
Khalli Henna Ould Errachid: The Polisario’s rejection is not the same as the Sahraouis’ rejection.
Sami Kolaib: what will you do then?
Khalli Henna Ould Errachid: At this moment it is His Majesty the King who will decide what to do.
Sami Klib: Around a year and a half ago I invited to this show the former Algerian Defense Minister, Khalid Nizar. He said before millions of viewers that at a given moment he had had some differences with the Polisario delegation and asked them to leave his office, telling them that they could not continue fighting forever from Algerian soil. At a given moment we started feeling some shift in the Algerian attitude towards the Polisario and even some kind of reconciliation with the Kingdom of Morocco on this issue. What information do you have regarding the actual Algerian attitude? Is there any possibility that the Moroccan proposition be accepted even at later date, especially that you were diplomatic when you talked about the brother Abdelaaziz Bouteflika and his diplomacy background. You also said that Algeria would also be a winner, because it would rid itself of this Sahraoui burden, as you described it, which has cost it a great deal. However, the persistent question that we ask now is whether there has been any shift in the Algerian attitude?
Khalli Henna Ould Errachid: No, it means that Algeria is our sister country, our neighbor, who is very important to us.
Sami Kolaib: Excellent.
Khalli Henna Ould Errachid: It says that it is not party to the Sahara conflict. Of course, it is concerned because the Sahara conflict takes place on its borders, but it is not party to it.
Sami Kolaib: Do you yourself consider it a party to the conflict?
Khalli Henna Ould Errachid: Algeria had a glorious revolution; Algeria is a great nation. So I believe what it says.
Sami Kolaib So do you agree with the fact that it is not a party to the conflict?
Khalli Henna Ould Errachid: It is not a party to it. The Sahara issue is an internal Moroccan one that has taken on international dimensions for reasons that are known to all. But when Algeria says that it is not a party to the conflict, I believe it a hundred percent, that is why I ask Algeria not to be an obstacle to a solution that is satisfactory to everyone’s interests: to Algeria’s interests first, to Morocco’s and to the Sahraouis’, that is within Morocco. Algeria says to everyone and to all organizations including the United Nations that it is not a party to the conflict, and I believe it.
Sami Kolaib: Good, you have truly been lavishing praise on Algeria. Have you received any positive response from Abdelaaziz Bouteflika?
Khalli Henna Ould Errachid: I hope this will be an investment for the future; I hope that the issue will be dissipated and that, God willing, His Majesty the King’s proposal of a final solution will be to the satisfaction of all parties concerned, including Algeria.
Sami Kolaib: But have you received any positive response yet?
Khalli Henna Ould Errachid: I will never lose hope of a response.
Sami Kolaib: You have not received any yet?
Khalli Henna Ould Errachid: Not yet, because as I said there are psychological obstacles set up between us and Algeria that we need to surmount. And we need to hold a frank dialogue.
Sami Kolaib: You said that you will ask His Majesty King Mohamed VI’s for his permission to go to Algeria to discuss the situation and even go to the Sahraoui regions that are under the Polisario control. Why haven’t you done so?
Khalli Henna Ould Errachid: Because I need to wait until the psychological climate is propitious.
Sami Kolaib: How?
Khalli Henna Ould Errachid: When the project enters the deliberations’ realm and everyone sees that we are working within a real project and not just political maneuvers
Sami Kolaib: The United Nations’ Secretary General, Kofi Anan, said in his last report that he supports a negotiable settlement and he said that the reason for the continuation of this issue is that many countries take into account the interests of Algeria and Morocco, which means there can be no solution without Morocco and Algeria agreeing to it. Everybody is waiting for an agreement and we don’t know whether it will happen or not. Here I would like to ask you when you say that it is in Algeria’s interests to accept self rule and that it has other vested interests in the region, in the Sahara; some even talk about its access to the Atlantic Ocean and to sources of wealth in the region, what new arguments would you use today to convince Algeria?
Khalli Henna Ould Errachid: Two things: first, self rule will make the Sahraouis highly appreciate Algeria, for it has defended them until they have got their rights; that is all of us, not just some Sahraouis, all of the Sahraoui people will feel the same…
Sami Kolaib: What will happen to its interests then?
Khalli Henna Ould Errachid: all parties’ interests are guaranteed within the Arab Maghreb framework, not only the sea or Ocean in its southern part which will become property of Algeria, but all the Atlantic Ocean, because within the framework of the Arab Maghreb all of Morocco will become part of Algeria and Algeria will become part of Morocco. With a satisfactory solution, Algeria will come out of this a dignified winner.
Sami Kolaib: You have talked about two reasons, the first being that Algeria will be highly appreciated by Sahraouis, what about the second one?
Khalli Henna Ould Errachid: the second one is that the Arab Maghreb has been the great historical dream of Algerian, Moroccan, Mauritanian, Tunisian and Libyan peoples, the dream that we have not been able to fulfill yet. It will come true within the framework of consensus without going back to the past; it will be a tabula rasa for everyone, for Algeria and for Morocco. It will be the solution that will satisfy all the parties in a win-win situation.
Sami Kolaib: It is because everyone refuses to lose in the Sahara conflict that the Sahara issue has become more and more complex over a quarter of a century. Neither does the Kingdom of Morocco want to make concessions, nor would the Polisario back down, despite the cracks within its ranks, and nor would Algeria stop backing the Polisario. The Sahara is an important card in the Moroccan Algerian relationships, especially after Mauritania had withdrawn. And in spite of all crises and wars, King Hassan II had many times received Sahraoui delegations for negotiations, and it was the second man in the Polisario Front, Bachir Mustapha Assaid, who led most of those delegations. What does Mr. Khalli Henna Ould Errachid know about those negotiations?
Khalli Henna Ould Errachid: The most important negotiations were those of Marrakech in 1988 when His Majesty the King sincerely received members of the Polisario Front.
Sami Kolaib: That was after the meeting that took place with the Algerian President Chadli Benjdid?
Khalli Henna Ould Errachid: Yes, it was in Algeria.
Sami Kolaib: In Marrakech…
Khalli Henna Ould Errachid: It was the Arab Summit that took place in Algeria. The Marrakech meeting was a cordial meeting that was expected to lead to a final solution, but they did not eventually decide to go ahead with it.
Sami Kolaib: who did not decide?
Khalli Henna Ould Errachid: the Polisario Front.
Sami Kolaib: From what I heard from them concerning what had happened, they too said that they went to His Majesty with an open mind and he received them warmly and cordially, saying in the first or second meeting, “we won the war, but we haven’t won the hearts of Sahraoui people and we will open a new chapter.” They said they were ready, but it was the Interior Minister, Driss Basri, who wrecked the negotiations, especially after the meeting with the then Crown Prince, the present King Mohamed VI. It seems, from what Bachir Mustapha Assaid said, that in one meeting the Crown Prince reprimanded Driss Basri for addressing the Polisario delegation in bad terms. Did you know anything about this?
Khalli Henna Ould Errachid: No, I was in the government, and King Hassan II consulted me on the subject. I was aware of the details of the 1988 meeting. It was the Polisario Front which did not take any decision on the issue.
Sami Kolaib: How so?
Khalli Henna Ould Errachid: They did not respond reasonably to the King. Their claims went beyond the required ceiling. Concerning 1996…
Sami Kolaib: Excuse me, before 1996; if you allow me, Mr. Ould Errachid, you said that the King had let you in on the climate of the negotiations, could you elaborate on what had happened?
Khalli Henna Ould Errachid: The King had back then a genuine will to solve the conflict, but the Polisario Front did not make up their mind by taking a decision regarding regionalism, that is what was then called regionalism within self rule…
Sami Kolaib: According to the Polisario Front, His Majesty the King, May God rest his soul, made then two suggestions: first a ceasefire and then negotiations, that is to say there was no ceiling set for the negotiations.
Khalli Henna Ould Errachid: No, there was a ceiling set for them.
Sami Kolaib: What was that ceiling?
Khalli Henna Ould Errachid: it was dropping secession which was the main requirement. It was the same requirement in 1966.
Sami Kolaib: In return for what?
Khalli Henna Ould Errachid: In return for giving Sahraoui people prerogatives within an expanded regionalism. At that time there was no talk of self rule. The first condition was to relinquish secession before going ahead with the negotiations. The Polisario Front did not take any decision neither in 1988, nor in 1996, and this is the Polisario Front’s problem: it does not take any stance concerning historical decisions.
Sami Kolaib: Let us leave accusations aside and let us talk about facts.
Khalli Henna Ould Errachid: These are not accusations, but historical facts.
Sami Kolaib: You said 1966. What happened in 1966?
Khalli Henna Ould Errachid: No, in 1966 I was not in the government, but from what I know, the Polisario backed down during the first day of negotiations. I was not directly concerned with the matter.
Sami Kolaib: It is strange that in 1966 you were not directly concerned with the issue, despite the fact that you were at the heart of the Sahraoui decision. Why was that? Was it because of your differences with Basri?
Khalli Henna Ould Errachid: Maybe, at any rate, I was excluded from the political arena.
Sami Kolaib: Were you aware of the details of the negotiations or just the general aspect?
Khalli Henna Ould Errachid: I was aware of some of the details.
Sami Kolaib: What about those details. We, for instance, know only the Sahraouis’ point of view that states that it was the King or the Kingdom which actually backed down.
Khalli Henna Ould Errachid: No, not at all, this is not true. In 1966 the Polisario had come with a negotiation determination which it changed the following day for one reason or another.
Sami Kolaib: What was that reason?
Khalli Henna Ould Errachid: I don’t know. Did they receive an order or an orientation on the matter? There are many things we don’t know. It was clear that they had some differences, that is to say they showed some extremism on the last day of negotiations.
Sami Kolaib: How so? What are the facts?
Khalli Henna Ould Errachid: Concerning the ceiling? I don’t know.
Sami Kolaib: You said you are ready to negotiate with the Polisario?
Khalli Henna Ould Errachid: Yes.
Sami Kolaib: Tomorrow morning, there is no doubt about it as long as they accept the principle and show signs of their acceptance of self rule.
Khalli Henna Ould Errachid: Or signs for negotiations.
Sami Kolaib: Or signs for negotiations without defining self rule, etc.
Khalli Henna Ould Errachid: For negotiations…
Sami Kolaib: Good, the Moroccan Government’ Spokesman, Mr. Benabdellah, said that negotiations with the Polisario are an option.
Khalli Henna Ould Errachid: I am speaking on behalf of the Royal Consultative Council for Saharan Affairs; we as Sahraouis are ready to hold talks with each other.
Sami Kolaib: How do you explain this contradiction, then?
Khalli Henna Ould Errachid: There is no contradiction to speak of. I said we will negotiate within the framework of brotherhood and historical reconciliations between us. I am ready to negotiate with the Polisario Front today and anywhere they want and to put forward to them the issue of self rule as a serious solution, one that I personally trust to be a historical solution that would put an end to the historical conflict in our country.
Sami Klib: Very good, it means if…
Khalli Henna Ould Errachid: The Morocco of the seventies that pushed them to constitute the Polisario Front is no longer the same today.
Sami Kolaib: If tomorrow morning the Polisario Front says it is ready to negotiate without setting any conditions, are you ready to meet the Polisario representative in Algeria for instance?
Khalli Henna Ould Errachid: Yes, that’s true.
Sami Kolaib Or in any other country?
Khalli Henna Ould Errachid: Or in Tindouf.
Sami Kolaib: Or to go to Tindouf.
Khalli Henna Ould Errachid: Yes.
Sami Kolaib: Is war still an option?
Khalli Henna Ould Errachid: I don’t believe so.
Sami Kolaib: What would be the reason?
Khalli Henna Ould Errachid: Because war was calamitous, especially for us Sahraouis. A decision in this regard would be a crime or a suicide. War was not a solution in the past, nor will it be one in the future. That is why I believe that war remains a very remote probability unless those calling for it are suicidal.
Sami Kolaib: War is ruled out and the political solution is difficult as long as each party sticks to his opposition. Everyone says that they hope for a settlement; the question is how and when; what prevents borders from being opened so that people from the same family would meet instead of continuing in homelessness, disputes, war and futile fighting? Aren’t there in Laayoune region relatives of those living in regions under the Polisario control? Aren’t there in Tindouf relatives of those living in Laayoune? There are many questions of this kind that are traced in the Sahara sand and erased by time; while the crisis goes on. Will self rule be the beginning of a solution? How can our guest, Khalli Henna Ould Errachid, convince a citizen from Tindouf to regain the Kingdom of Morocco?
Khalli Henna Ould Errachid: I will convince him that self rule that we are planning to set up, on the orders of His Majesty King Mohamed VI will provide all the necessary conditions for a decent, free and dignified life in a tolerant nation and that this self rule, which will be respected by all, will allow us to manage our political, economic and social affairs and to preserve our identity.
Sami Klib: When I took my leave of our guest, Khalli Henna Ould Errachid, President of the Royal Consultative Council for Sahara Affairs, he was in the middle of a conversation with his Sahraoui friend and colleague on the Council, Dr. Maa Al Ainain, on the details of self rule project; while the sun was setting on the Sahara’ sand and sea near Laayoune region. It was as if the people of the two fighting Sahraoui regions were dreaming that their region would one day become a comfortable tourist resort, instead of conflicts and wars, but when and how will this be achieved?