It’s hard in Laayoune to ignore the military presence. Every corner produces another military kiosk, and every time you cross the road you have to watch out for another artillery-loaded truck roaring round the corner. Wandering under schoolyard murals of the Moroccan army or portraits of King Mohammed, you can feel the weight of a city living under the heavy cloak of oppression. But in many ways, it’s the most innocuous details that are most telling: the empty teahouses, the lack of young men loitering about, the uncracked roads, the huge public squares with their squat palm trees and bougainvillea, gaudily sprayed about like an uninvited guest’s faltering attempt at charm. And occasionally, more specific signs of the political situation seep through – from the heavily gated compounds of the rich Moroccans who’ve made their fortunes off Western Sahara’s resources to the pink Lux minivans, their back windows taped with signs for the UNHCR “Saharawi Family Visits Programme” – underlining the population displacement caused by the Moroccan invasion of 1975.
|A house in Laayoune, Nick Jubber|
On a hot street of orangey-pink hardware stores and tailors’ workshops, where the bench outside the local eatery was full of men in workmen’s overalls and the air pulsed to the beat of jackhammering, I met a group of Saharawi activists.
‘You chose the right day,’ said one of them, called Ahmed. ‘There’s a demonstration this afternoon.’ He looked at his friends, before adding with a dark grin: ‘but it would be the same if we met you tomorrow. Most days, there’s a demonstration.’
|School murals in Laayoune showing the Green March |
and the Moroccan invasion, Nick Jubber
This one took place on Avenue Smara, one of the longest roads in the city. Wearing a white djellaba, Ahmed sat beside me in the back of a car. Beside him was Salaam, a young woman in a midnight blue milfha, who carefully folded a pair of gloves over her hands and tightened her head covering so she wouldn’t be easy to identify.
|A schoolyard in Laayoune with the Moroccan flag, Nick Jubber|