Since assuming control of the former Spanish Sahara in 1976, Morocco has encouraged between 200 000 and 300 000 of its citizens to settle there. As a result of this settlement campaign, combined with the mass exodus of nearly half of the indigenous Sahrawi population in the immediate aftermath of Rabat's 1975 invasion, Moroccan settlers now constitute the majority population in occupied Western Sahara. Moroccan-occupied Western Sahara continually posts some of the highest voter turnouts in Moroccan elections; however, Rabat rejected a 2003 UN peace proposal that would have allowed both Moroccan settlers and native Western Saharans to vote for independence or formal union with Morocco in a final status referendum. The Western Saharan independence movement's acceptance of this proposal and, more importantly, Morocco's rejection of it, despite the clear demographic hegemony of Moroccan settlers in the territory, has led observers to speculate as to the rationale that drove Morocco to reject the UN plan. This article argues that a possible factor—largely unknown elsewhere, but likely very well understood by Moroccan authorities—is the ethnic composition of the settler population, which may be predominantly Sahrawi. To establish this as a tenable hypothesis, the author first backgrounds the Western Sahara conflict and the basic parameters of its ethno-political geography, then sketches the broad patterns of Moroccan settlement in occupied Western Sahara and pays closer attention to the ethnic aspects of Rabat's settlement drive. Finally, the article examines the role of Moroccan settlers in the Western Sahara peace process during the 1990s and after, leading up to Morocco's rejection of the 2003 UN plan.

Depuis sa prise de contrôle du Sahara espagnol en 1976, le Maroc a encouragé environ 200 000 à 300 000 de ses ressortissants à s'y installer. Grâce à cette campagne, ajoutée à l'exode massif de près de la moitié population sahraouie locale immédiatement après l'invasion marocaine de 1975, les colons marocains constituent aujourd'hui la majorité de la population du Sahara occidental occupé. La région affiche le taux de participation électorale le plus élevé aux élections marocaines. Néanmoins, Rabat a rejeté la proposition de paix présentée par les Nations Unies en 2003 qui aurait permis aux colons marocains ainsi qu'aux Sahraouis d'origine de se prononcer lors d'un référendum pour l'indépendance ou pour l'union avec le Maroc. Le fait que le Polisario ait accepté cette proposition et plus encore que le Maroc l'ait rejetée en dépit de la nette supériorité démographique des colons marocains, a amené les observateurs à s'interroger sur les raisons de Rabat à rejeter le plan de l'ONU. Cet article montre qu'un facteur probable — largement passé sous silence, mais bien compris par les autorités marocaines — est la composition ethnique des nouveaux arrivants, qui sont surtout des Sahraouis. Pour démontrer cette hypothèse, l'auteur présente d'abord le conflit du Sahara occidental et les paramètres essentiels de sa géographie ethno-politique. Il esquisse ensuite les grandes lignes de la colonisation marocaine du Sahara occidental occupé et souligne les aspects ethniques de la politique de colonisation mené par Rabat. Enfin, il examine le rôle des colons marocains dans le processus de paix au Sahara occidental pendant et après les années quatre-vingt-dix, celles qui ont précédé le rejet marocain du plan de l'ONU de 2003.

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