Western Sahara

(redirected from Moroccan Sahara)
Also found in: Dictionary, Thesaurus.
Related to Moroccan Sahara: Saharan Provinces

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 ?
With the same resolve and steadfastness, Morocco will also face up to all attempts that seek to cast doubts on the legal status of the Moroccan Sahara or question our country's right to exercise its powers and prerogatives fully on its land, in the southern provinces, just as it does in the northern part of the country.
Our lives aren't perfect, but we have rights, we are Moroccans, and we are moving forward," said Hajbouha Zoubir , founding member of AmFED (Moroccan Association of Women's Development) in Laayoune and currently working on the CESE (Economic, Social & Environmental Council), a consultative project with the people in Moroccan Sahara to address social, economic and other development issues to improve quality of life.
Mohamid Bouzid lives in the town of Zagora, a settlement of several thousand people at the edge of the Moroccan Sahara.
Boukili recalled that Algiers has been involved, since 1975, militarily, politically, diplomatically and financially in this artificial dispute, noting that "its rhetoric on human rights in the Moroccan Sahara is fundamentally political.
The UAC is ready to bring its support and collaboration to all initiatives meant to promote better knowledge about this issue, stressing it is time to end the artificial conflict around the Moroccan Sahara and the plight of the victims forcibly held in the Tindouf camps.
Underlining the direct involvement of Algeria in this dispute notably through "generous and sustained financial, military and logistical support to the Polisario, Mezouar said Algeria's positions and behavior since the outbreak of the Moroccan Sahara issue, "have made it, indeed, the main party in this regional dispute.
The Moroccan Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation considered that Algeria's determination to link between its position on the issue of the Moroccan Sahara and the development of bilateral relations was 'the most dangerous condition.
We reiterate our historical and unwavering position of principle of solidarity with the brotherly Kingdom of Morocco and our full support to the autonomy initiative for the Moroccan Sahara under Morocco's sovereignty and territorial integrity, Bahraini Foreign Minister Sheikh Khalid Bin Ahmed Bin Mohamed Al Khalifa said before the 193 members States of the UN General Assembly.
bat - Following the adoption by the UN Security Council of the resolution on the Moroccan Sahara, the spokesman of the Royal palace, Mr Abdelhak Lamrini, read out on Thursday the following statement:
Security Council members, of the resolution 2044 on the Moroccan Sahara issue.
The release said Morocco "does not, in any way, feel concerned by this unilateral decision", and denied to the AU any "legal ground nor a political base or moral legitimacy to intervene, in any way, in this issue", stressing that the quest of a final political settlement to the regional dispute over the Moroccan Sahara "is the exclusive domain of the United Nations".
The meeting of the Moroccan delegation with the Russian minister discussed the latest developments of the Moroccan Sahara, he said, recalling that the Russian official "supports the negotiation process within the criteria set by the Security Council and the UN General Secretary.