Spanish Sahara

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Spanish Sahara:

see Western SaharaWestern Sahara,
territory (2015 est. pop. 526,000), 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.
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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Spanish Sahara


a territory in northwest Africa. In the west it is washed by the Atlantic Ocean. In the north it is bounded by Morocco and Algeria, in the east and south by Mauritania. The territory is a possession of Spain (an “overseas province”) and is administered by a governor-general appointed by the Spanish government. Since 1967 it has had an organ of local government, the so-called General Assembly with consultative functions. The Spanish Sahara has an area of 266,000 sq km and consists of two parts: the Southern Zone (Rio de Oro; 184,000 sq km) and the Northern Zone (Saguia el Hamra; 82,000 sq km). Population, 63,000 (1969, estimate). The principal administrative center is the city of El Aaiún.

Natural features. The surface is a plain, which is flat in the west and gently rolling in the east (the plateau Adrar Sotuf, with elevations of 300–350 m). The highest elevations are in the foothills of the Atlas Mountains (500–700 m) in the north-east. A dune-type of terrain characterizes the coastal lowland. In 1963 major deposits of phosphorites were discovered in Saguia el Hamra (especially in the Bukraa region, which has reserves of from 1.4 to 1.7 billion tons). The climate throughout most of the territory is tropical and desertlike. The average monthly temperatures range from 17°-20°C to 25°-30°C. The climate of the coastal lowland is moderated somewhat by the effect of the ocean and the cold Canary Current, which passes close to the shore. Precipitation amounts to between 50 and 200 mm annually. Rains are infrequent. (They occur in October and November and from March through May.) There are no permanent rivers. Only the Saguia el Hamra bears its waters to the ocean. Xerophytic shrubs and grasses predominate in the sierozem, reddish-brown, and yellowish-brown soils. The vegetation of palms, fig trees, and acacias is found only in the occasional oases and lower reaches of the Saguia el Hamra. The fauna consists of reptiles, small rodents, and similar animals. The coastal waters abound in fish (especially sardines).

Population. The basic population consists of Arabs, or Moors, as they are also called in the Spanish Sahara. They speak a local dialect of Arabic. The dominant religion is Islam. The Spanish Sahara is populated mainly by nomadic livestock breeders. Many of them (the Reguibat, Dalim, and other tribes, who roam over great distances) migrate into the neighboring countries for several months each year. The European population, primarily Spaniards (approximately 9,000), lives in the urban centers, the most important of which are El Aaiún (population, 18,200 in 1970) and Villa Cisneros (population, 6,100).

Historical survey. During the Middle Ages the Spanish Sahara was part of various states that existed on the northwest coast of Africa, including the state of Ghana (ninth through llth centuries) and the state of the Almoravides (llt h through 12th centuries). European expansion began during the 15th through 17th centuries and was linked with the establishment by the Portuguese on the coast of the Spanish Sahara (which they called Rio de Oro) of their own strong points, primarily for exporting black slaves and gold. During the 1880’s the Spaniards penetrated into the Spanish Sahara; they built a fishing base at Villa Cisneros (1885) and began to move into the country’s interior. In 1887, Spain declared the entire territory of Rio de Oro from Cape Blanc to Cape Bojador, including a 150-mile zone from the coast, to be its protectorate and placed it under the administration of the governor-general of the Canary Islands. The borders of Rio de Oro were determined by the Franco-Spanish agreement of 1900. In accordance with the Franco-Spanish agreements of 1904 and 1912 concerning the division of Northwest Africa, Spain annexed to Rio de Oro these territories north of Cape Bojador: Saguia el Hamra and the southern part of Morocco (so-called southern Spanish Morocco). However, the actual seizure of Spanish Sahara by Spain was carried out only by 1934. In 1958, Spain was compelled to agree to the reunification of southern Spanish Morocco with the independent country of Morocco. During the years 1958–61 the remaining portion of Spanish possessions in the Spanish Sahara was transformed into an “overseas province” of Spain. Since the late 1950’s the population of the Spanish Sahara has been actively struggling for liberation; since 1957 the Front for the Liberation of the Sahara has been active underground. A major mass action against the Spanish colonialists took place in El Aaiun in 1970, but it was harshly suppressed. The liberation of the Spanish Sahara is demanded by Morocco, Mauritania, Algeria, and many other countries. More than once (in 1966 and in 1970) the UN General Assembly has proposed that Spain create for the people of Spanish Sahara the necessary conditions for self-determination and that a referendum be organized for this purpose under UN supervision in consultation with the governments of Morocco, Mauritania, and Algeria. However, the government of Spain has hindered the implementation of these measures in every possible way. In 1970, Mauritania, Algeria, and Morocco agreed to create a committee to monitor the course of de-colonization in the Spanish Sahara.


Economy. Prior to the 1970’s the backward forms of a consumers’ economy, based primarily upon nomadic livestock raising, predominated. Camels were bred (58,000 head in 1969–70), as well as goats (49,000) and sheep (18,000). In the oases date palms were cultivated along with some crops of barley (1,000 hectares, with a harvest of 1,000 tons in 1970) and millet. Along the coast there is fishing (about 5,000 tons annually), spiny lobsters are caught, and seaweed and sponges are gathered. The exploitation of a vast phosphoritic deposit in the Bukraa region is bringing about important changes in the structure of the economy; this deposit is being worked by the Spanish state company Phosphates Bukraa with the participation of companies from the USA and the Federal Republic of Germany. Under construction in 1972 was a port near the city of El Aaiun (which will be able to handle ore freighters with a displacement of 100,000 gross registered tons) and a conveyor belt (more than 100 km long), which will deliver the phosphorites. Common salt is also being mined. The length of dirt roads is 5,200 km. The foreign trade of the Spanish Sahara, which is monopolized by Spain, is significant. Exports include livestock, hides, wool, and common salt. Imports consist of foodstuffs, petroleum products, and industrial goods.

The monetary unit is the Spanish peseta; as of October 1971, 68.7 Spanish pesetas equal US $1.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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