Western Sahara History

By | December 16, 2022

The original inhabitants of the Western Sahara were Berber tribes who practiced cattle breeding. Arab wars of conquest reached the region in the 6th century. In the 8th–11th centuries it belonged to the Kingdom of Ghana and in the 11th–12th centuries to the Almoravid Empire. From the 11th century, the region Arabized and embraced Islam.

The Spanish and Portuguese tried to conquer the area from the 15th century, but ran into stubborn resistance from the local inhabitants. In the 1880s, Spain declared the riparian area of ​​the Río de Oro a protectorate. The area conquered by Spain came to be called the Spanish Sahara. Its borders were determined by treaties concluded between Spain and France in 1900, 1904 and 1912. By the mid-1930s, Spain also conquered the area of ​​Saguia el Hamra. The independence aspirations of the local population were suppressed between 1956 and 1958 with the help of French troops. In 1959, the Spanish Sahara was declared an overseas province of Spain. Check clothingexpress for information about Western Sahara.

The independence movement gained strength after the independence of Morocco, Mauritania and Algeria at the turn of the 1950s and 1960s. In 1965, the UN General Assembly urged Spain to give up the territory. The colonial rule was opposed in the 1970 riots in El Aaiún.

In May 1973, the Polisario National Front for the Liberation of Saguia el Hamra and Río de Oro, which demanded independence, was founded in the region. In 1974, Spain granted Western Sahara autonomy and announced plans to hold a referendum on independence. Morocco and Mauritania claim the area for themselves citing historical, geographical and national reasons. Contrary to the decisions of the UN and the International Court of Justice, in November 1975 Spain concluded an agreement according to which Saguia el Hamra was handed over to Morocco and the Río de Oro to Mauritania’s temporary control. Spanish troops withdrew from the area in December of the same year.

The Polisario declared its opposition to the division of the country and began military operations against Moroccan and Mauritanian forces. Part of the civilian population moved to a refugee camp in Algeria. On February 28, 1976, the Polisario announced the establishment of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic. Morocco and Mauritania severed diplomatic relations with Algeria, which recognized the republic. The military support given by the United States and France to Morocco and Mauritania further exacerbated the situation in the region.

In August 1979, Mauritania and the Polisario signed a peace agreement, according to which Mauritania withdrew its forces from Western Sahara. Right after this, Morocco occupied the Río de Oro region. The UN General Assembly and the Organization of African Unity called on Morocco on several occasions to withdraw its troops and resolve the dispute through a referendum.

In the 1980s, Morocco began building a wall that divides the Western Sahara in two. The so-called Moroccan wall is about 2,720 kilometers long. The Moroccan economy is burdened significantly by the ongoing war. Since 1991, a UN-supervised truce has prevailed in the region, and efforts have been made to find a solution in a referendum, such as was planned to be held already in 1992. However, the Polisario and Morocco have not reached an agreement on who should have the right to vote in the referendum. The process of identifying those entitled to vote was stopped in 1999. In 2003, Morocco rejected the peace plan drawn up by UN special envoy James Baker.

Morocco considers the Western Sahara region to be a historical part of it, but according to a report published by the International Court of Justice in The Hague in 1975, there is no historical evidence that Morocco ruled the region. As a result, the conquest of the area was against the 1960 declaration of the colonial powers’ right to self-determination. However, Morocco has received support for its activities from, among others, the United States, France, Spain, Egypt, Israel and Saudi Arabia. The conflict has resulted in more than 150,000 Western Saharan refugees living in refugee camps in Algeria since 1975. UN organizations assist around 90,000 refugees.

Peace negotiations between the Polisario and Morocco are taking place under the leadership of the UN. They stalled in 2008 and started again in August 2009. Rabat is ready for autonomy, Polisario demands a referendum, where one option would be full independence.

Western Sahara History