Western Sahara

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Western Sahara,

territory (2005 est. pop. 273,000), 102,703 sq mi (266,000 sq km), NW Africa, occupied by Morocco. It borders on the Atlantic Ocean in the west, on Morocco in the north, on Algeria in the northeast, and on Mauritania in the east and south.

Land and People

The territory is divided into four districts: Laayoune, Essemara, Boujdour, and Oued Essemara. Part of the Sahara, it is extremely arid and is almost entirely covered with stones, gravel, or sand. Rocky highlands in the east reach c.1,500 ft (460 m). The main towns are Laayoune (formerly El Aaiún), Dakhla (formerly Villa Cisneros), Boujdour, and Essemara. The population is predominantly made up of Arabs and Berbers, both of Sahrawi (Western Saharan) and Moroccan origin; during the rainy season pastoral nomads migrate into the territory. Both Hasaniya Arabic and Moroccan Arabic are spoken; most of the population is Sunni Muslim.


The traditional economy is limited to the raising of goats, camels, and sheep, and the cultivation of date palms. There is coastal fishing. Large deposits of phosphates at Boukra (near Laayoune) were first exploited by a Spanish-controlled firm in the early 1970s; Morocco has since taken primary control of the firm. Potash and iron deposits exist at Agracha. There is a growing tourist industry. The region has a limited transportation network; the main seaports are Dakhla and Laayoune. Phosphates and dried fish are exported, while fuel and foodstuffs are the main imports.


There is evidence of trade between the Western Sahara and Europe by the 4th cent. B.C. Portuguese navigators reached Cape Bojador on the northern coast of present-day Western Sahara in 1434. However, there was little European contact with the region until the 19th cent. In 1884, Spain claimed a protectorate over the coast from Cape Bojador to Cap Blanc (at the present border with Mauritania). The boundaries of the protectorate were extended by Franco-Spanish agreements in 1900, 1904, and 1920. Essemara was not captured until 1934, and the Spanish had only slight contact with the interior until the 1950s. In 1957, a rebel movement ousted the Spanish, who regained control of the region with French help in Feb., 1958.

In Apr., 1958, Spain joined the previously separate districts of Saguia el Hamra (in the north) and Río de Oro (in the south) to form the province of Spanish Sahara. In the early 1970s, dissidents formed organizations seeking independence for the province. At the same time, neighboring nations (notably Mauritania, Morocco, and Algeria) pressured Spain to call a referendum on the area's future in accordance with UN resolutions. Continuing guerrilla warfare in the 1970s, and a march of over 300,000 Moroccans into the territory in 1975, led to Spain's withdrawal from the province in 1976, when it was renamed Western Sahara.

Upon Spain's withdrawal, Morocco and Mauritania divided the region, with Morocco controlling the northern two thirds and Mauritania the southern third. A nationalist group, the Polisario Front, waged guerrilla warfare against the two nations with support from Algeria, calling the territory the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic. In 1979, Mauritania withdrew from its portion, which was absorbed by Morocco. Polisario continued its attacks on Moroccan strongholds; the protracted warfare caused thousands of refugees to flee into neighboring Algeria, and eventually Morocco built a defensive sand berm around the much of the area, securing its control of about four fifths of the territory.

A UN-monitored cease-fire was implemented in 1991, and a referendum was to decide the territory's future. Disputes regarding who would be permitted to vote delayed the referendum in the following years, during which time the region was integrated administratively into Morocco. UN attempts to broker a peace agreement have been unsuccessful, with Morocco, which has spent significant sums on development since the 1990s, generally rejecting any plan that might end its sovereignty over the area. Beginning in 2007 both sides participated in UN-sponsored talks, but the intermittent negotiations produced no breakthrough. In Nov., 2010, violent clashes between Sahrawis and security forces broke out after government forces moved to clear a Sahrawi protest encampment outside Laayoune.


See J. Damis, Conflict in Northwest Africa (1983); T. Hodges, Western Sahara: The Roots of a Desert War (1983).

Western Sahara

a disputed region of NW Africa, on the Atlantic: mainly desert; rich phosphate deposits; a Spanish overseas province from 1958 to 1975; partitioned in 1976 between Morocco and Mauritania who faced growing resistance from the Polisario Front, an organization aiming for the independence of the region as the Democratic Saharan Arab Republic. Mauritania renounced its claim in 1979 and it was taken over by Morocco. Polisario agreed to a UN-brokered cease-fire in 1991 but attempts to settle the status of the region have failed. Pop.: 316 000 (2004 est.). Area: 266 000 sq. km (102 680 sq. miles)
References in periodicals archive ?
Faire du reglement de la question du Sahara occidental un prealable est devenu anachronique", a dit le porte-parole, soulignant la necessite aux yeux de M.
Alger qui a manifestement instrumentalise les Sahraouis a encore du chemin a faire, mais c'est pour Rabat qu'il sera le plus difficile d'evoluer: le statut du Sahara occidental constitue une question qui touche au prestige national et releve du seul palais.
L'Armee de Liberation Marocaine s'est alors distinguee en 1956, comme une instance representative d'une partie de la population marocaine, refusant categoriquement de deposer les armes, malgre le recouvrement de l'independance, tant que les presides espagnols de Sebta et Melilla sont encore occupes et tant que le sud marocain - Tarfaya, Sidi Ifni et Sahara occidental - demeurait sous le joug colonial.
N'etait-ce le soutien militaire, financier et logistique de la Libye au front Polisario en 1973 et plus tard de l'Algerie, jamais la question du Sahara occidental ne se serait posee pour le Maroc.
Dans son rapport du 13 avril 2007 relatif au Sahara occidental, le responsable onusien, tout en faisant reference a l'Initiative d'autonomie, a appele, le Maroc et le Front Polisario a [beaucoup moins que](.
Et d'ajouter : [beaucoup moins que] Le Maroc est entre en confrontation directe avec l'ensemble de la communaute internationale en refusant l'organisation du referendum d'autodetermination du peuple sahraoui, en empechant l'envoye personnel du secretaire general de l'ONU pour le Sahara occidental, Christopher Ross, de poursuivre ses efforts et en continuant a piller les richesses du Sahara occidental [beaucoup plus grand que].
beaucoup moins que] Ross a le droit de se rendre au Sahara occidental [beaucoup plus grand que], a affirme Nesirky, a l'issue d'un point de presse quotidien, en reponse a une question concernant les propos du chef de la diplomatie marocaine Salah-Eddine Mezouar affirmant que [beaucoup moins que] le Maroc ne pourrait accepter la visite de Ross au Sahara occidental [beaucoup plus grand que].
La capitale suedoise Stockholm a accueilli, hier, une conference sur [beaucoup moins que] le droit a l'autodetermination au Sahara occidental [beaucoup plus grand que], en marge du Forum annuel sur les droits de l'homme qui s'est tenu a Ga.
beaucoup moins que] L'UE soutient les efforts du secretaire general des Nations unies pour parvenir a un reglement juste, durable et mutuellement acceptable par les deux parties au conflit, prevoyant l'autodetermination du peuple du Sahara occidental dans le contexte d'accords conformes avec les principes et objectifs de la Charte des Nations unies [beaucoup plus grand que], a declare Mme Mogherini dans une reponse a l'eurodepute Paloma Lopez, a precise l'agence.
Le representant permanent de l'Algerie aupres des Nations unies, Sabri Boukadoum, a souligne que la question du Sahara occidental ne pourrait etre resolue qu'en garantissant au peuple sahraoui son droit [beaucoup moins que] fondamental [beaucoup plus grand que] a l'autodetermination.
Si le representant sud-africain Oyama Mgobozi a affirme que [beaucoup moins que] l'occupation marocaine du Sahara occidental est un defi aux principes de la Charte des Nations unies [beaucoup plus grand que], il est interessant de relever l'appel de la presidente d'EmmaE-s adresse a l'Union europeenne pour avoir une [beaucoup moins que] position claire [beaucoup plus grand que] sur la question de l'autodetermination et des violations systematiques marocaines des droits de l'homme.
L'entretien a porte notamment sur la situation au Mali, au Sahara occidental et en Libye, les changements climatiques et les COP-21, et la mise œuvre de l'Agenda post-2015.