Western Sahara History

According to Cachedhealth, Western Sahara  (Arabic: الصحراء الغربية; Romaniz: Aṣ-Ṣaḥrā’ al-Gharbīyah; Spanish: Sahara Occidental; Berber: Taneẓroft Tutrimt) is a territory in North Africa, bordered on the north by Morocco, on the east by Algeria, on the east and south byMauritania and to the west by the Atlantic Ocean, where it forms a maritime border with the Spanish autonomous region of the Canary Islands. Its surface area is 266,000 km² and it is one of the most sparsely populated territories in the world, consisting mainly of desert plains. The population is estimated at just over 500,000 inhabitants, of which nearly 40% live in El Aiune, the capital and largest city in Western Sahara. Control of the territory is disputed by the Kingdom of Morocco and the independent movement Frente Polisario.

Occupied by Spain until 1975, Western Sahara has been on the United Nations list of non-autonomous territories since 1963, following a Moroccan demand. It is the most populous territory on the list and by far the largest by area. In 1965, the United Nations General Assembly adopted its first resolution on Western Sahara, calling on Spain to decolonize the territory.A year later, a new resolution was passed by the General Assembly requesting that a referendum be held by Spain on self-determination. ]In 1975, Spain ceded administrative control of the territory to a joint administration of Morocco – which had formally claimed the territory since 1957 – and Mauritania. A war broke out between these countries and a Sahrawi nationalist movement, the Polisario Front, proclaimed the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) with a government-in-exile in Tindouf, Algeria. Mauritania withdrew its claims in 1979 and Morocco eventually secured de facto control of most of the territory, including all major cities and natural resources. The United Nations considers the Polisario Front to be the legitimate representative of the Sahrawi people and affirms that Sahrawis have the right to self -determination.

Since a United Nations-sponsored ceasefire agreement in 1991, two-thirds of the territory (including most of the Atlantic coast) has been administered by the Moroccan government, with tacit support from France and the United States. The rest of the territory is administered by SADR, supported by Algeria. The two regions are separated by the Sahara Wall. Internationally, most countries have taken a generally ambiguous and neutral position on each side’s claims and are pressing both parties to agree on a peaceful resolution. Morocco and SADR have sought to boost their claims by accumulating formal recognition, especially from African, Asian and Latin American countries in the developing world. The Polisario Front gained formal recognition for SADR from 46 states and membership in the African Union was extended. Morocco gained support for its domination from several African governments and most of the Muslim world and the Arab League. In both cases, recognitions have been, in the last two decades, extended and withdrawn from one side to the other, depending on the development of relations with Morocco.

Until 2017, no other member state of the United Nations had officially recognized Moroccan sovereignty over parts of Western Sahara.In 2020, the United States recognized Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara in exchange for Moroccan normalization of relations with Israel.


When, in 1975, Spain abandoned its former colony, it left behind a country without any infrastructure, with a population that was completely illiterate and deprived of everything. The void created by Spain was taken advantage of by Mauritania (which owns a third of the territory) and by Morocco (which holds the rest) which, invoking historical rights, invaded the territory.

The government-in-exile of Western Sahara is called the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR). It was proclaimed by the Polisario Front on February 27, 1976. The first SADR government was formed on March 4 of that year.

The Saharawis had founded the Polisario Front, which would expel the small Mauritanian army from the south, forcing the country to abdicate its rights over the territory in 1979. Face to face, in the desert sands, would be the guerrillas of the Polisario Front and Hassan II ‘s Moroccans. The Moroccan army withdrew to a restricted area of ​​the desert, closer to its border and constituting the so-called “security triangle”, comprising the only two coastal cities and the phosphate zone. There, military engineering built an immense reinforced concrete wall, behind which Moroccan soldiers live entrenched, protecting the ore extraction.

Since then, the war, seen from the side of the Polisario Front, boils down to a series of sporadic attacks on the phosphate zone trying to interrupt its flow.

In 1987, a UN mission visited the region to investigate the possibility of holding a referendum on the future of the territory. A difficult initiative, given that a large part of the population is nomadic. Morocco and the Polisario Front seal a ceasefire in 1988. A plebiscite is scheduled for 1992, but it does not happen because there is no agreement on who has the right to vote: Morocco wants the entire population residing in Western Sahara to be, but the Polisario Front it only accepts that they are the inhabitants counted in the 1974 census. This would prevent Moroccans who emigrated to the disputed region from voting after 1974. Until 1993, it was impossible to hold a referendum. In 2001, South Africa becomes the sixtieth country to recognize the independence of Western Sahara. Morocco protests.

With the aim of debating a common statute for the Sahara, Morocco and the Polisario Front restarted talks in 2007, with UN sponsorship, despite Morocco insisting that the Polisario Front is not a legitimate interlocutor for talks and negotiations.

Western Sahara History

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