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Thrust into the debate, the State Department has opted to thread the needle by focusing its efforts on democracy-building. In a letter explaining its approach to the congressional mandate, Assistant Secretary of State for Legislative Affairs Julia Frifield made clear that the $1 million grant “does not reflect a change” in the Obama administration’s policy of supporting a “peaceful, sustainable and mutually agreed solution to the conflict.”
"This program will address the legitimate needs of the people of the Western Sahara,” Frifield wrote in a Dec. 23 letter to Rep. Joseph Pitts, R-Pa., the co-chairman of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission and the top Sahrawi advocate in Congress. “It will seek to strengthen civil society organizations and local representative bodies to bolster the ability of citizens to play an active role in making decisions that affect their lives.”
Mouloud Said, the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic’s US envoy, said Moroccan lobbyists have been trying to legitimize Rabat’s administration of the region ever since the 2004 trade deal with the United States excluded the Western Sahara. With the new program, he said, they’re one step closer to that goal.
“This sort of program is very welcome once we find a solution to the conflict. But this is not the right moment,” Said told Al-Monitor in a phone interview. “It’s not a good idea because the real Sahrawi civil society is not going to be a part of it. They understand that this is a game by Moroccans to try to legitimize their occupation by getting the US involved through what appears to be an innocent and genuine program — which is everything but genuine or innocent.”
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While it could help strengthen Western Sahara groups, he said there’s also a risk that it could end up legitimizing unrepresentative, pro-government organizations on the ground.
Scott Atran, Director of Research in Anthropology at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique in Paris and Senior Research Fellow at Oxford University, told Tunisia Live, “The core strategy outlined in the ISIS playbook, The Management of Chaos-Savagery, (Idarat at-Tawahoush), (required reading for every ISIS political, religious and military leader, or amir), is to fill the void wherever chaos already exists, as in much of the Sahel and Sahara, and create chaos that can be filled as in Europe.”
In achieving this, Daesh must eliminate the “gray zone,” the area of society they regard most Muslim emigrants as inhabiting. The “Brussels attacks represented just the latest, ever more effective, instalment for fomenting chaos in Europe and thereby ‘Extinguish[ing] the Grey Zone,’” Atran said.
In a 12-page editorial in the February 2015 edition of Dabiq, Daesh’s online magazine, titled, “The Extinction of the Gray Zone.” specific mention is given to the kind of division that yesterday’s attack was intended to provoke and broaden. “The editorial quotes Osama bin Laden, for whom ISIS is the true heir,” Atran told Tunisia Live. “’The world today is divided. Bush [former US President George W. Bush] spoke the truth when he said, “Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists,”’ with the actual ‘terrorist’ being the Western Crusaders. Now, ‘the time had come for another event to… bring division to the world and destroy the Gray zone.’”
“Motivate the masses to fly to regions that we manage, by eliminating the ‘Gray Zone’ between the true believer and the infidel, which most people, including most Muslims, currently inhabit. Use so-called ‘terror attacks’ to help Muslims realize that non-Muslims hate Islam and want to harm all who practice it, to show that peacefulness gains Muslims nothing but pain.”