Academic journal article The Middle East Journal

WESTERN-The Ideal Refugees: Gender, Islam, and the Sahrawi Politics of Survival

Academic journal article The Middle East Journal

WESTERN-The Ideal Refugees: Gender, Islam, and the Sahrawi Politics of Survival

Article excerpt

The Ideal Refugees: Gender, Islam, and the Sahrawi Politics of Survival, by Elena Fiddian-Qasmiyeh. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 2014. 329 pages. $39.95.

Elena Fiddian-Qasmiyeh's portrayal of the Sahrawi refugee camps in southern Al- geria centers on her analysis that efforts of the Sahrawi/Polisario leadership are aimed at demonstrating that the camps are secular, democratic, and non-patriarchal, if not ma- triarchal, in order to continue to receive po- litical and economic support from Western partners, in particular, Spain. She character- izes this portrayal as the "ideal refugees" by Sahrawi officials as being at variance with the actual beliefs and practices of the con- temporary camp populations but notes that many of her infonnants echo the language of the leadership to describe their reality.

Fiddian-Qasmiyeh relied upon many sources to develop her thesis: visits to the camps and interviews (sometimes with inter- preters) of a number of women in the camps or in leadership positions; interviews of in- dividual Sahrawi students in Cuba, Syria, Spain, and Algeria; a review of Sahrawi docmnents; and other material. In a very ex- tensive bibliography, Fiddian-Qasmiyeh also cites a nmnber of her own published and un- published studies of refugee camps, displace- ment, identity, and violence against women. She bases her thesis in part on her interviews of non-Sahrawi citizens, asylmn seekers and refugees in and from the Middle East and North Africa over the past 12 years.1

To understand the context, the camps around Tindouf, Algeria are a result of the Moroccan Green March into the Spanish Sahara prior to the death of Francisco Fran- co in 1975, before this last European colony achieved independence. This was followed by war with Morocco and Mauritania. An earlier independence movement in the West- ern Sahara led by Muhammad Bassiri until his disappearance/death in 1970 and then by El Ouali Mustapha Sayed from 1972 to 1976 when he was killed in battle, is con- tinued in the Polisario state established on February 27, 1976. In the 1970s and 1980s, the desert area of Western Sahara was under the control of the Polisario, although small towns were destroyed by Moroccan napalm and bombs, and the desert was gradually seeded with land mines by Morocco and a wall built to stop Polisario attacks. Since 1975 the Sahrawis have attempted to exer- cise their right to self-detennination, recog- nized by the International Court of Justice and the United Nations. …

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