Opinion

Mythos in the Maghreb

The families of our Armed Forces wait with baited breath for the return of loved ones. From Afghanistan, Iraq, every dangerous place on earth where the commander-in-chief orders their presence necessary. The nightly news is filled with stories of children who miss their daddies, or mommies. Wives and husbands longing for just one more chance to say “I love you” or “I’m sorry.” Babies are born to fathers in combat, their beautiful faces only discovered via email, Facebook or webcam. Love and family ties are preserved while these remarkable people dedicate their lives to service. They are free to vote. Free being the key word.

Emergency responders, police officers and firemen bear similar burdens — even if they are not separated by thousands of miles. But again…they are free. They also enjoy the confidence of their fellow citizens and the respect of patriots who served before them.

All men are created equal. Upon that foundation, our nation blossomed. Though our garden is sorely in need of a landscape architect, we are fortunate to experience equality, opportunity and the freedoms laid out in the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights as well as the rest of the Constitution. Our values are shared with friends in the United Kingdom, France, Germany and across Europe. Our ties with Israel are unbreakable, intrinsic to the Judeo-Christian ethics and values that make us who we are. We are allied with countries all across the globe. But the first nation to recognize us, to accept us on our own terms diplomatically, is Morocco.

In fact, our relationship with Morocco began during the Revolutionary War. In 1783, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams negotiated the Treaty of Friendship. Both men were the official signatories when the treaty was finalized in 1786. Our friendship with Morocco is the longest unbroken diplomatic relationship in American history. While every nation has their imperfections, it is our common values and goals that lift up our people.

When a friend is in need, we answer the call. Morocco has been a faithful, assertive partner in fighting the War on Terror. It has rooted out extremist groups and expelled them from the country, or prosecuted them where appropriate. The complex situation with its protectorate, the Western Sahara, weighs on the minds of many, myself included. Given Morocco’s record of openness and straightforward assistance to our nation, I am willing to listen to both sides of the story. I am a student of history and have fresh eyes on this situation in particular. I want more information, more context. Research leads to more research, to placing calls and being thrilled when experts patiently answer my questions.

I have spoken with personal friends who have expat family members living there, colleagues who worked tirelessly during the Bush administration in the State Department or the Department of Defense, and Moroccan officials. Think-tanks, lobbyists and human rights experts have all contributed knowledge. Off the record, on the record. My own reading and investigation led me to a conversation in which concern was expressed for a man who was speaking out in support of the autonomy plan put forward by Moroccan authorities to end the dispute over the Western Sahara with the Polisario Front, an organization closely tied to Algeria. His name is Mustapha Salma Sidi Mouloud. He was a police chief for the Polisario. There were concerns that his public support for the plan would lead to retaliation.

Unfortunately, the man who spoke out for freedom — the desire to see his people return to their native lands, rather than subsist in refugee camps in Tindouf, Algeria — has been arrested. The Polisario has charged him with “espionage” and “treason.” Information about him — and the entire situation — is scant. The friends and advisers I mentioned above offered insight and some specifics. When I reached out to those who reportedly visited the camps, I was afforded silence.

I contacted the office of Congressman Frank Wolf (R-VA) for comment, or guidance. Knowing that he is mostly concerned with the plight of some 100+ Evangelical Protestant missionaries and their associates who were expelled from Morocco for violating the country’s ban on proselytizing, I was not certain I would receive a response. But Wolf has long been a staunch defender of human rights and so I hoped for at least a little guidance. Unfortunately, no answers were forthcoming. Not even a courtesy “no comment.”

This replayed itself when I contacted the offices of other members of Congress who sent staff on the same trip to Tindouf. Silence from Congressman Joe Pitts, Chris Smith, Gus Bilirakis as well as the Tom Lantos Human Rights Committee staff and Wolf’s Democratic Co-Chair, Mr. McGovern.

Sidi Mouloud is a policeman. He is a man with a wife who gave birth a few days ago to Lalla Amina, their beautiful daughter, their fifth child together. Like our brave fighting men and women, he is a father who wanted to lead his child — and his people — to freedom. There is no email, no Facebook, no webcam for him. Algeria and the Polisario have not provided any details about his detention, or the conditions under which he is being held. Mouloud’s whereabouts are unknown. Internationally respected human rights organizations have stepped into the breach, releasing statements calling for justice.

“Amnesty International believes that peaceful support for the autonomy of Western Sahara should not,” it emphasized, “justify restrictions to the right to freedom of expression.” Amnesty International sent a letter to Polisario leader Mohamed Abdelaziz urging him to “ensure that Mustapha Salma Sidi Mouloud is protected from arbitrary detention or any other retaliatory measures due to his public stance in support of the autonomy of Western Sahara under Moroccan sovereignty.”

Human Rights Watch also released a statement from Middle East and North Africa Director Sarah Leah Whitson. She said Sidi Mouloud had “publicly praised Morocco’s solution to the conflict and said he would return to Tindouf to defend it, which is his right. If the Polisario Front wants to show that they are not persecuting [him] for his views, it should free him immediately or ensure that he receives a fair and transparent trial on credible charges.”

Both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch called on the Polisario to disclose Sidi Mouloud’s precise location and ensure his immediate access to his family, legal counsel, and any medical attention he might require. Notably, the United Nations High Commission on Refugees’ Johnnes Van Der Klaauw spoke to media in Rabat, Morocco, about the circumstances the refugees face in the Tindouf camps. He expressed “deep concern” about the detention of Sidi Mouloud and said the UNHCR was “closely” following the situation.

This man just wants to see his wife and newborn child — and for his people to be able to return home to their native lands with autonomy and freedom. Whatever the political complications may be for some members of Congress, we must remember that upholding equality and justice for all is what we do as Americans. Congressmen Lincoln Diaz-Balart (R-FL) and Jim Moran (D-VA) joined forces to write a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that said in part: “We urge the State Department to work to secure the immediate release of Mr. Sidi Mouloud. He, and everyone in the refugee camps, should be allowed the right to movement, freedom of speech, and liberty.”

Yes, they should.

Elizabeth Blackney is best known as a media & communications strategist to private sector clients, US Senate & gubernatorial campaigns, as a political emissary, confidante and commentator.