Northern Cyprus and Western Sahara

written by A. L. Hart Havens on April 15, 2022

On the topic of second citizenship, it would simply be insincere to claim that the passports of Islamic countries enjoy the same demand as do the passports of countries in other world regions.

Westerners interested in offshore diversification typically see far greater appeal in establishing civic ties with an easygoing Spanish-speaking Latin American country than with a deeply religious Islamic country featuring an unfamiliar language and ultraconservative social norms.

And although there is certainly nothing inherently unreasonable about wishing to avoid this part of the world altogether, it should nonetheless be emphasized that some the world’s 51 Muslim-majority countries boast high standards of living, extremely low crime, virtually no taxes, and a strong aversion to woke western culture.

Further, while the vast majority of the world’s 21 Spanish-speaking countries are firmly within the US/NATO sphere of influence (with Cuba and Venezuela being the most notable exceptions), this is not the case with Islamic countries.

Thus, when it comes to obtaining a second passport, Latin America allows for political diversification across national borders, which is unquestionably a major step forward in establishing protection against the ill-effects of severe government overreach. However, the Muslim world offers options for westerners wishing to go above and beyond this approach, i.e., those who seek to achieve diversification across geopolitical spheres of influence.

With this in mind, the savviest of US, Canadian, Australian, and other western citizens pursuing maximum protection against their home governments’ increasingly destructive policies will look straight past the stigma associated with the Muslim world and astutely discern the value of adding an Islamic passport to their repertoires of offshore resources.

Two months ago, Liberated Services covered the passports of three obscure South American jurisdictions. Today’s article takes a step further in this direction by exploring the passports issued by two very interesting and even more obscure jurisdictions — the semi-recognized Muslim countries of Northern Cyprus and Western Sahara.

Northern Cyprus

The far-eastern Mediterranean island of Cyprus has served as the unpleasant scene of intense and recurring ethnic violence over the past century that has prompted military interventions by both the Greek and Turkish governments. The bad blood stemming from the bitter territorial dispute between the island’s ethnic Greek and Turkish communities remains unresolved and persists to this very day.

The 1914 declaration of Cyprus as a British colony, which coincided with Britain and the Ottoman Empire entering World War 1 on opposite sides, was initially welcomed by the island’s majority ethnic Greek population, which hoped that the British occupation would show itself to be sympathetic to the Greek goal of Enosis, a union of the entire island with Greece. This aim stood in stark contrast to the ethnic Turkish population’s goal of Taksim, a partition of the island.

The British were not particularly interested in taking sides, however, and the eventual independence of the Republic of Cyprus in 1960 that came as Britain was busy dismantling its once great empire would light the fuse to the powder keg of unresolved ethnic tensions. And the fact that neither the Greek nor the Turkish community occupied a contiguous territory, and were instead scattered across the island, only served to compound the decades of violence and displacement to come.

The intercommunal civilian hostilities began in earnest in 1955 and eventually spilled over into widespread indiscriminate violence, looting, and vandalism targeting religious sites in a 1963 incident resulting in over 500 deaths. Tensions flared up again in 1967 when a military dictatorship took power in Greece that prioritized the goal of a Greek annexation of the entire island.

With relations further deteriorating and the Greek and Turkish governments beginning to take a more active and aggressive role, the conflict escalated into all-out war in 1974 with a Turkish invasion of the island and the Greek army sending mainland reinforcements. In the 29 days of combat, the Turkish military succeeded in occupying more than one third of the island.

When a UN-brokered ceasefire established a buffer zone, the war stopped but the ethnic violence did not. Ethnic Greeks were expelled from the Turkish-held northeastern territory and ethnic Turks from the Greek-held southwestern territory, resulting in a quarter of a million displaced persons. The Cypriots who found themselves on the wrong side of the island were subjected to continued violence and property destruction while migrating to the other side of the island’s newly created partition.

The demilitarized UN buffer zone that was established in 1974 remains in place today. Interestingly, it cuts through the center of the island’s largest city of Nicosia with a partition featuring a mixture of concrete walls and barbed-wire fences that divide the city into two separate sectors in a way that is eerily reminiscent of the Berlin Wall.

While the city is home to the seat of both governments, Northern Cyprus calls its capital North Nicosia, while the Republic of Cyprus (which claims the entire island) uses the designations Cyprus and Nicosia (and never Southern Cyprus or South Nicosia). The island is also home to very small communities of Armenian and Lebanese (Maronite) Cypriots, who live among the island’s ethnic Greeks.

The Greek side comprises roughly 58% of the island’s territory with a population of 950,000, while the Turkish side covers 35% with a population of 325,000. The UN buffer zone and two British military bases account for the remaining 7%. These military bases are very unpopular among the local Cypriot population, which views their presence as a symbol of continued British imperialism.

The Turkish side of Cyprus, which encompasses the island’s comparatively flatter northeastern corner, proclaimed its independence in 1983 as the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. However, the newly independent nation was not officially recognized as a sovereign jurisdiction by any UN member country other than Turkey, which is still the case today.

While the US, EU, and UN consider it to be an illegal occupation, many other countries simply have never stated their position on the recognition of Northern Cyprus, a jurisdiction that maintains a sizeable Turkish military presence on its territory and uses the Turkish lira as its currency. Despite its lack of recognition under international law, Northern Cyprus is widely accepted as a de facto country. And although the European Union considers the entire island to be part of its territory, Northern Cyprus does not receive any financial aid or other benefits from the EU.

In light of these challenges, the dark-red Northern Cyprus passport has very limited international recognition, and holders of this passport are not afforded visa-free entry to any country other than Turkey. However, Northern Cypriots are reportedly permitted to enter the US, UK, UAE, France, Australia, Qatar, Pakistan, Syria, and Tanzania with a prearranged visa, although the specifics of these countries’ actual policies are difficult to verify.

By contrast, the passport issued by the Republic of Cyprus, which controls the more rugged southwestern section of the island, scores #37 in the 2022 rankings of the world’s 199 passports, which is unsurprising given its status as a European Union and Eurozone member country. Until quite recently, the Republic of Cyprus passport was available for purchase for a very large monetary sum and was a clear favorite among billionaires seeking to quickly acquire a second citizenship.

It is also the Republic of Cyprus, and not the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, that carried out a surprise 2013 bail-in which saw a confiscation (or levy, in the government’s words) of a certain percentage of many bank depositors’ savings in the face of a nationwide financial crisis, marking a move that garnered lavish praise from the European Union and other western governments.

Western Sahara

Anyone who has taken a closer look at a map of Africa may have noticed an odd country along the continent’s western coast with its northern border marked by a dotted rather than a solid line. This is the disputed territory of Western Sahara, which is claimed by Morocco as well as the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), a semi-recognized country representing the indigenous Sahrawi ethnic group. SADR is not associated with Sadr City, Iraq, a city that saw intense fighting between Islamic insurgents and the US-led occupation in the years following the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

The chaos caused in 1975 by the Spanish relinquishment of what was then known as Spanish Sahara — which happened to coincide with the death of Spain’s long-time fascist head of state Francisco Franco — ignited a 16-year war between the Moroccan military and Sahrawi guerillas (which fought under the banner of the Polisario Front, the militarized wing of the Sahrawi liberation movement). The Moroccans were primarily backed by Saudi Arabia and the United States, while the Sahrawi forces received support from Algeria and Libya.

The fighting ended after a 1991 ceasefire that resulted in Moroccan forces controlling and administering 75% of the territory of Western Sahara, including nearly the entire Atlantic coastline and the vast majority of natural resources. The Sahrawis averted a decisive defeat, however, and managed to retain control of the remaining 25% consisting of Western Sahara’s far-eastern inland desert regions along the thousand-mile Mauritanian border.

Following the establishment of the de facto areas of control in Western Sahara, Moroccan forces wasted no time in constructing a 10-foot-high barrier along the entire 1,700-mile border (3 meters high and 2,700 kilometers long). This wall, which is known as the Moroccan Berm, consists mainly of sand and stone and is fortified with fences and minefields. The wall runs dangerously close to the protruding northwestern corner of Mauritania, leaving only an extremely narrow corridor connecting the northern and southern sections of SADR-controlled territory as a contiguous political jurisdiction.

Morocco refers to the 75% of Western Sahara under its control as the Southern Provinces, while the Sahrawis refer to the 25% of Western Sahara under their control as the Free Zone. The Free Zone (east of the Moroccan Berm) has a resident population of around only 35,000, while over 500,000 people live in the Southern Provinces (west of the Moroccan Berm).

The Moroccan dirham is used as the official currency of the Southern Provinces. By contrast, the Sahrawi peseta is the official currency of the Free Zone, although the Algerian dinar and the Mauritanian ouguiya are also used. Arabic and Spanish are widely spoken throughout the SADR-controlled territory of Western Sahara.

The officially declared capital of SADR is Western Sahara’s largest city of Laayoune, but this is widely viewed to be a political statement since Laayoune is located in the Moroccan-controlled zone. The designated capital within Sahrawi-controlled territory is Tifariti, a desert oasis town with a population of only 3,000. However, the de facto seat of government is a Sahrawi refugee camp across the Algerian border near the town of Tindouf.

The Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic continues to claim the entirety of Western Sahara and laments what it views as an illegal Moroccan occupation. SADR is currently recognized as a sovereign country by 41 of the 193 UN member countries — predominantly those outside the US/NATO sphere of influence like Iran, Syria, North Korea, Cuba, and Venezuela, although a number of African countries as well as Latin American countries like Mexico, Peru, and Uruguay have also granted recognition.

The Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic has also been accepted as a full member of the 55-country African Union, a pan-African organization modeled on the European Union that was featured in the Liberated Services article entitled The African Union Passport.

In December 2020, then-president Donald Trump affirmed the United States’ position that Western Sahara belongs entirely to Morocco, a country that had already been officially declared a major non-NATO ally (MNNA) by George W. Bush in 2004. In March 2022, Joe Biden reaffirmed the United States’ wholehearted support for the Moroccan government in this dispute.

It is worth pointing out here that relations between Morocco and Algeria are extremely poor. This can be seen in a decades-long closure of the land border, a severing of diplomatic relations in 2021, Algeria’s continued support for SADR, Morocco’s pursuit of closer ties with the US and Israel, and Algeria’s pursuit of closer ties with Russia and China. In view of the strained relations, it would not take much for Moroccan-Algerian tensions to boil over into military combat. Morocco and Algeria each have a population of approximately 40 million, while Mauritania, which has largely sought to maintain a neutral stance in this conflict, is home to a population of only 4 million.

Strangely, there do not appear to be any countries which officially recognize the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic as a sovereign country with its current de facto borders, meaning that countries either view the entire territory of Western Sahara as belonging to SADR or as belonging to Morocco.

Although one in five UN member countries recognizes the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic as a sovereign country, it is unclear how many actually accept the Sahrawi passport, which opens to the right and conspicuously features two large rifles, a crescent moon, and Arabic script on a dark-blue cover.

By the way, the neighboring country of Mauritania, which curiously only criminalized the institution of slavery in the year 2007, operates an iron ore train that has become somewhat of an obscure tourist attraction in recent times. The tracks of the Mauritania Railway connect the iron ore deposits in the country’s desert interior with the Mauritanian Atlantic coastline, running flush along the border of much of Western Sahara and even cutting through a section of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic.

Although the trains are generally ill-suited for passenger travel, it is not uncommon for people to climb into the open-top wagons filled with iron ore for a trip lasting up to 20 hours. The ride is extremely loud, bumpy, and uncomfortable and subjects the freeloading passengers to unhealthy levels of dust inhalation, extreme sun exposure during the day and pitch darkness at night, and the risk of falling to their deaths. The Mauritania Railway nevertheless serves as a convenient and gratuitous means of long-distance transportation for impoverished desert inhabitants and has also provided memorable experiences for a number of quirky globetrotters and travelogue authors.

Poor Man’s Second Passport

While there is certainly some value in holding the passport of a semi-recognized Islamic country, it should not come as a surprise that the governments of these jurisdictions don’t simply hand out citizenship to anyone who requests it. In view of this, the limited benefits of these passports are typically reserved exclusively for people who were born and raised in these jurisdictions and/or who are deemed to have the proper ancestry or ethnicity.

But fret not, as there are a few non-Islamic passports out there that are indeed broadly available to foreigners. And one of these passports also enjoys official recognition as a valid international travel document by a handful of UN member countries and unofficial recognition by many more.

In fact, this passport can be obtained within a few short months and costs well under $200 USD, and no travel whatsoever is required to obtain or renew it. The issuer is not an Islamic jurisdiction or any government at all, but instead one that falls into the category of passport-issuing micronations and private organizations.

And although developed western countries generally do not recognize it as a valid international travel document, this passport is frequently accepted in developing regions of the world, particularly Central America, Southeast Asia, and West Africa.

In spite of the limited recognition, it should be emphasized that this is a legitimate passport which can serve as a valuable emergency backup option especially for holders of only one citizenship. This is particularly true in today’s day and age, which has seen western governments threatening to cancel or refuse to renew the national passports of unvaccinated or otherwise politically undesirable citizens.