.eh dispute – Morocco or Frente Polisario? ICANN to decide

A debate over whether Western Sahara is part of Morocco or is independent in its own right is somewhat contentious geographically, but in the world of ccTLDs it’s also significant according to an article in DomainesInfo.The country code for .eh has been left unassigned, one of the very few in this situation. Quoting Wikipedia, DomainesInfo notes, “This ‘territory of northwestern Africa, bordered by Morocco to the north, Algeria in the northeast, Mauritania to the east and south, and the Atlantic Ocean on the west is one of the most sparsely populated territories in the world, mainly consisting of desert flatlands.”This dispute has been ongoing for quite some time and has been the subject of recent negotiations involving the United Nations. The UN has been sponsoring talks on the disputed Western Sahara, with recent talks ending “with the parties, Morocco and Frente Polisario, in agreement that the status quo is unacceptable and the process of negotiations will continue” according to the UN. However the reports are making slow, if any progress.These negotiations over land have also spilled over into cyberspace, with and Morocco both having very different takes on the dispute.Speaking to DomainesInfo, Saharawi MINURSO coordinator and POLISARIO executive Mhamed Khadad said “Since November 2006, we’ve answered all ICANN’s requests for clarification or further information.” Further, “We’ve talked to both IANA staff and members of the ICANN board and .EH has been discussed at two board meetings, in January and April 2007. We also sponsored the San Juan ICANN meeting to show the Internet community the effort going into the .EH delegation project. And now we are told that Morocco has put in a request. It is obvious Marocco’s real intention in also requesting the .EH domain is to block the delegation process.”DomainesInfo points out that “[n]ot surprisingly, Morocco’s view is somewhat different. ‘The Western Sahara territory is administered by Morocco,'” according to Morocco’s national telecommunications regulator ANRT’s Hamida BENLEMLIH. Further, “ANRT has sent ICANN a request for delegation of .EH with the support of the Moroccan government, Western Sahara’s people (through several local organisations), civil society and the private sector. The aim of the request sent by ANRT to IANA is to consolidate the Saharawi people’s access to the Internet and to preserve their interests.”It’s a complicated question, and DomainesInfo points out “Ultimately, the question ICANN should have to answer in choosing a sponsor for .EH is simply: who can best serve the needs of the local population by managing .EH?”Herein also lies the ICANN dilemma. Although in theory a technical regulator only, ICANN has always been called upon to take political decisions as well. And the .EH question is obviously highly political.”To read more on this dispute, see DomainesInfo – http://domainesinfo.fr/english/095/desert-storm.phpThere is also an article in French:

Tempête du désert

A qui appartient le Sahara occidental ? La question, posée bien avant Internet, revient à l’ordre du jour par le biais du .EH, l’une des dernières extensions nationales non encore gérée.

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