Through an impressive piece of research, a US blogger this week forced a pro-Moroccan propaganda campaign down on its knees.
Published 28 October 2007
It all started with a press release from the little-known Together Foundation that claimed slaves are held in the Sahrawi refugee camps in Algeria. The release was based on allegations put forward by two Australian filmmakers.
The news surprised Western Sahara watchers, and not just because of the serious nature of its charges. But who was really behind the unknown US-based Together Foundation?
When I read the release, I was surprised because I had never heard of them, and neither had anyone I know who follows Western Sahara, US blogger Will Sommer (photo) said.
After a series of posts on his blog One Hump or Two?
, Summer not only revealed the organizations dubious character, but has now forced its entire board of advisors to resign.
The day after the Together Foundations press release came out, Sommer called the listed PR contact, Philippe Elghouayel, also the Foundations president. According to Sommer, Elghouayel was dismissive on the phone, and kept demanding to know where Sommer was calling from. He gave Sommer the Foundations website
, which listed the Foundations members and its board of advisors.
The next day, Sommer wrote a post on his blog about the Foundation and its press release. He wasnt able to find out much about the Foundation, which according to its website started in 2005. Then, he listed the board of advisors, a three member group that included the director of the Maghreb Center, a Washington-based North African think tank. Other than that, though, little was known about the board of advisors.
Sommer did, however, find more information about Elghouayel, the Foundations president. He was formerly in charge of the United Nation Development Programs Russian office, but resigned under a fraud investigation
. Later on, Western Sahara blogger Alle at Western Sahara Info
found a Russian UN document saying Elghouayel briefly was the head of MINURSO.
The day after Sommer is_is_published his post, another Western Sahara blogger, Chasli at Western Sahara Endgame
, noticed that two members of the board of advisors Emily Toll and Steve Pershing had disappeared from the website. Elghouayel insisted their resignations had nothing to do with the Foundations recent notoriety.
A couple of hours later Sommer talked on the phone with another member, who claimed he had never been asked to be on their board of advisors. He soon disappeared from the website as well, meaning the board of advisors was no more.
A couple of days later Philippe Elghouayel called me in a far different tone than when we spoke last, Sommer said. Elghouayel said the board of advisors had been scared off by the blog posts.
The Foundation even changed its stance, with Elghouayel saying he had doubts about the Australian filmmakers slavery claims. According to the Together Foundations website, theyre now working with the Polisario Front to send an investigative team to the refugee camps in Algeria.
Some questions still remain unanswered, according to Sommer.
Theres a Russian connection that I cant figure out, Sommer said. First, Elghouayel worked at the Russian UNDP office. Secondly, Temkin, the Foundations webdesigner, runs a company that prepares products for export to Russia. And thirdly, a Russian journalist named Ilia Baranikas has written articles using Together Foundations talking points.
The bigger question, though, is who backed the Together Foundation. Robert Holley, the director of the Moroccan lobbying group the Moroccan-American Center for Policy, denied a connection with the group.
Im not sure it was backed by the Moroccan government or Moroccan agents, Sommer said. I guess theyre more competent than this. Either way, I think its a victory both for the budding Western Sahara blogging scene and for anyone whos interested in accurate information about Western Sahara.