Western Sahara: What You Need To Know
Western Sahara Profile
Which country is Western Sahara?
Western Sahara is a sparsely-populated area of mostly desert situated on the northwest coast of Africa.
A former Spanish colony, it was annexed by Morocco in 1975. Since then it has been the subject of a long-running territorial dispute between Morocco and its indigenous Saharawi people, led by the Polisario Front.
A 16-year-long insurgency ended with a UN-brokered truce in 1991 and the promise of a referendum on independence which has yet to take place.
A buffer strip, or “berm” with landmines and fortifications, stretches the length of the disputed territory and separates the Moroccan-administered western portion from the eastern area controlled by the Polisario Front.
The Saharan Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), declared by the Polisario Front in 1976, is now recognised by many governments and is a full member of the African Union.
Home to phosphate reserves and rich fishing grounds off its coast, Western Sahara is also believed to have as yet untapped offshore oil deposits.
Is Western Sahara occupied by Morocco?
Western Sahara War. The Western Sahara War was an armed conflict, lasting from 1975 to 1991, fought primarily between the Polisario Front and Morocco. … In 1979, Mauritania withdrew its forces from the disputed territory, and the Polisario Front and Morocco reached a ceasefire agreement in 1991.
Who is the Polisario?
The Polisario Front is composed largely of the indigenous nomadic inhabitants of the Western Sahara region, the Saharawis. The Polisario Front began in May 1973 as an insurgency (based in neighbouring Mauritania) against Spanish control of Western Sahara.
What does the Western Sahara flag mean?
The Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, commonly known as Western Sahara, uses a national flag consisting of a black, white and green horizontal tricolor charged with a red star and crescent in the center stripe and a red triangle at the hoist. … This flag is commonly referred to as the “flag of Western Sahara”.
Where is the Sahara desert situated?
At 3.6 million square miles (9.4 million square kilometers), the Sahara, which is Arabic for “The Great Desert,” engulfs most of North Africa. The desert covers large sections of Algeria, Chad, Egypt, Libya, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, Niger, Western Sahara, Sudan and Tunisia.
Western Sahara: The Disputed territory claimed by Morocco and Saharawis seeking self-determination
- Population 567,000
- Main town Laayoune
- Area 252,120 sq km (97,344 sq miles)
- Main language Arabic
- Main religion Islam
- Life expectancy 66 years (men), 70 years (women)
UN, World Bank (Report)
President of the Saharan Arab Democratic Republic: Brahim Ghali
The Polisario Front proclaimed the Saharan Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) in 1976, with a government in exile in Algeria.
Brahim Ghali was elected leader of the Polisario Front and president of the Saharan Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) in July 2016 following the death of long-term president Mohamed Abdelaziz Ezzedine.
A seasoned military leader, described both as a “hard-line supporter” and “historic figure”, he was one of Polisario’s founding members in 1973 and led the first raids against the occupying Spanish forces that sparked the armed struggle for Western Saharan independence.
In 2008 he left his post as ambassador to Spain with unresolved charges against him alleging inhumane treatment and the torture of Saharan prisoners, and became the ambassador to Algeria.
Some key dates in the history of Western Sahara:
- 1884 – Spain colonises Western Sahara, an area formerly populated by Berber tribes.
- 1934 – Becomes a Spanish province known as Spanish Sahara.
- 1957 – Newly-independent Morocco lays centuries-old claim to Western Sahara.
- 1965 – The UN calls for the decolonisation of Western Sahara.
- 1973 – Polisario Front, the indigenous Saharawi independence movement, is founded.
- 1975 – Morocco’s King Hassan defies a Hague ruling in favour of Saharawi rights to self-determination and stages the “Green March” of 350,000 Moroccans into Western Sahara. Spain withdraws.
- 1975-91 – Polisario Front fights a 16-year-long guerrilla war against Moroccan forces, which ends with a UN-brokered cease-fire.
- 1975-76 – Morocco annexes two-thirds of Western Sahara after colonial power Spain withdraws. Polisario guerrillas declare the Saharan Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), with a government-in-exile in Algeria. Thousands of Sahrawi refugees flee to western Algeria to set up camps near the town of Tindouf.
- 1979 – Mauritania withdraws, leaving Morocco to annex its share of the territory.
- 1991-2000s – UN brokered cease-fire ends war but Morocco has yet to hold an agreed referendum on independence. Numerous UN-sponsored talks have failed to yield a breakthrough.
- 2016 – Long-term leader Mohamed Abdelaziz Ezzedine dies.