Western Sahara

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Overview

Western Sahara, a territory in Northwest Africa, is a desert land locked in conflict between Morocco, the kingdom to the north that claims it as its own, and the Polisario Front, a pro-independence movement whose government in exile is recognized by about 45 governments. This conflict seems unlikely to resolve soon, as the latest talks broke down in 2007. Covered mainly by desert, Western Sahara is not a tourist destination, but it is rich in natural resources. 

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Basic Information

Lay of the Land : Unlike the other places listed on AllGov, Western Sahara is not an independent country; instead, it is a territory in North Africa. The control of this territory is disputed by Morocco and the Polisario Front/Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic; the flag of the latter organization is depicted alongside that of the U.S. in the sidebar to the right of the text. In actual fact Morocco controls about 85% of Western Sahara. With an area of 103,000 square miles (about the size of Colorado), Western Sahara is bordered by Morocco to the north, Algeria to the northeast, Mauritania to the east and south, and the Atlantic Ocean to the west. Although it is one of the most sparsely populated territories in the world, consisting largely of desert flatlands, Western Sahara is a wealthy country. Off its shores are excellent fishing grounds, while beneath its deserts lie 1.7 billion tons of phosphate ore and untapped deposits of iron and oil. The largest city is El Aaiún (Laâyoune), which is home to over half of the territory’s 393,000 inhabitants. El Aaiún would also be the territory’s capital, if the Polisario Front achieved its independence. 

 
Population: 393,831
 
Religions: Muslim 99.4%, Christian 0.2%, non-religious 0.4%.
 
Ethnic Groups: Arab, Berber.
 
Languages: Hassaniya Arabic, Moroccan Arabic.
 

 

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History
The earliest recorded inhabitants of the Western Sahara in historical times were agriculturalists called Bafour. They were later replaced or absorbed by Berber-speaking populations, who themselves eventually merged with migrating Arab tribes. The arrival of Islam in the eighth century played a critical role in the development of relationships between the Saharan areas that later became the modern countries of Morocco, Western Sahara, Mauritania and Algeria, and neighboring regions. From the 11th through the 19th centuries, Western Sahara represented a link between Sub-Saharan Africa and areas to the north. Trans-Saharan trade also flourished as Western Sahara became a strategic passage for caravans between Timbuktu in Mali and Marrakech in Morocco. 
 
The European scramble for African colonies hit Western Sahara in 1884, when Spain was awarded the territory, which became known as Spanish Sahara. After decades of nearly uninterrupted agitation for independence, Spain withdrew in November 1975. Although both Morocco and Mauritania claimed the territory, the United Nations International Court of Justice ruled on October 16, 1975, that neither had a proper claim to sovereignty over Western Sahara, which the court determined should be allowed to choose its own destiny. Nevertheless, Spain entered into negotiations with Morocco and Mauritania, from which the nationalist Polisario Front (Popular Front for the Liberation of the Saguia el Hamra and Rio de Oro) was excluded. The three countries signed a treaty to divide the territory between Morocco and Mauritania, though Mauritania subsequently relinquished its claim under military pressure from Polisario. Supported by Algeria and Mauritania, Polisario also proclaimed in 1976 the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, which at present is recognized by about 45 governments as the legitimate government of Western Sahara. Western Sahara remains a disputed territory between Morocco and Polisario, which waged a guerilla war from 1975 until a truce in 1991. Negotiations between the two have not yet borne fruit, despite UN attempts to broker a truce. 
 
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Western Sahara's Newspapers
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History of U.S. Relations with Western Sahara

The US has never had formal relations with Western Sahara. Though the US has a long history of friendship with Morocco, the US has not taken a firm position on whether Morocco should control Western Sahara, preferring to back some sort of future referendum on the subject. 

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Current U.S. Relations with Western Sahara

The US has no formal relations with Western Sahara. 

Since 2002, less than 10 Sahrawis have visited the U.S. annually

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Where Does the Money Flow

Trade between the US and Western Sahara is minute and tilted toward the US. In 2008, US exports to Western Sahara totaled $91,000, led by vehicle parts and accessories ($36,000 or 39.5%), finished metal shapes ($20,000 or 21.9%), business machines and equipment ($14,000 or 15.3%) and industrial engines ($13,000 or 14.2%). Imports for the same year were a mere $4,000 of telecommunications equipment. 

 
The U.S. does not give security assistance or foreign aid to Western Sahara.
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Controversies
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Human Rights

Morocco considers the Western Sahara to be an integral part of the kingdom, hence the exercise of civil liberties and political rights in the 85% of the territory it controls are conditioned by the same laws and structures which apply in the kingdom. Accordingly, ultimate authority rests with King Mohammed VI, and human rights conditions in the territory tend to converge with those in the kingdom. Amnesty International reports from early 2009 allege that Morocco has unlawfully detained Sahrawi human rights activist Chekib El-Khiari and prevented Sahrawi activists from meeting European Parliament representatives during a January 2009 fact finding mission to Morocco and Western Sahara. Human Rights Watch has also protested El-Khiari’s detention. Further, according to a December 2008 Human Rights Watch (HRW) report, Morocco uses a combination of repressive laws, police violence, and unfair trials to punish Sahrawis who advocate peacefully in favor of independence or full self-determination for the territory. In addition, there is impunity for police abuses. Numerous victims of human rights abuses have repeatedly accused specific police or security officials of arbitrarily arresting demonstrators, including children, and beating them. These victims were then forced to sign statements against their will that they were prevented from reading. According to HRW, authorities dismiss the overwhelming majority of complaints without collecting evidence beyond the police’s own version of events. Finally, a March 2009 draft European Parliament report calls for the UN mandate in Western Sahara to include human rights monitoring. 

 
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Debate

Polisario

Neutral or Balanced:
Unlocking the Conflict in Western Sahara (by Jacob Mundy, Foreign Policy in Focus)
Western Sahara: Is there light at the end of the tunnel? (by Issaka K. Souaré, Institute for Security Studies)
Western Sahara: Understanding the roots of the conflict and suggesting a way out (by Issaka K. Souaré, Abdelhamid El Ouali, and Mhamed Khadad, Institute for Security Studies)
 
Anti-Polisario:
The Polisario Front: A Destabilizing Force in the Region that is Still Active (by Claude Moniquet, European Strategic Intelligence & Security Center)
 
Anti-Morocco:
How the US and Morocco seized the Spanish Sahara (by Jacob Mundy, Le Monde Diplomatique)
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Past Ambassadors
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Western Sahara's Ambassador to the U.S.
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Western Sahara's Embassy Web Site in the U.S.
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Comments

Sijad 2 years ago
Western Sahara is moroccan as New Mexico is american
Med 2 years ago
Dear Sir, In contarst of the allegations of Morocco,Western Sahara was known a non governed territory,colonized by Spain and ceded by it in 1976 to both Morocco And Mauritania and at this moment is occupied by Morocco. the UN was urging from 1963 to give the sahrawis their right to self determination,so Morrocco maintain the occupation of this land inspite that thereis any state around the world recognize the moroccan sovereignty on Western Shara the sahrawis have their flag and they gave many martyrs defending their legal cause and recognizing by more than 80 countries around the world,the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic is a full and effective member in the African Union and one of the main African Union founders.
Ahmed Salem Amr Khaddad 6 years ago
Dear Sir or Madam, I am sending to you this message to correct some wrong information above. Western Sahara is a territory and not a sovereign country. It has no official flag except the actual administrative authority one : the flag of Morocco. Associating Western Sahara to the flag of Polisario Front, the separatist faction backed in Tindouf south of Algeria, is a big mistake. It misleads Internet readers on the situation on the ground. The Polisario Front is taking place in th...

Leave a comment

Bookmark and Share
News
more less
Overview

Western Sahara, a territory in Northwest Africa, is a desert land locked in conflict between Morocco, the kingdom to the north that claims it as its own, and the Polisario Front, a pro-independence movement whose government in exile is recognized by about 45 governments. This conflict seems unlikely to resolve soon, as the latest talks broke down in 2007. Covered mainly by desert, Western Sahara is not a tourist destination, but it is rich in natural resources. 

more less
Basic Information

Lay of the Land : Unlike the other places listed on AllGov, Western Sahara is not an independent country; instead, it is a territory in North Africa. The control of this territory is disputed by Morocco and the Polisario Front/Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic; the flag of the latter organization is depicted alongside that of the U.S. in the sidebar to the right of the text. In actual fact Morocco controls about 85% of Western Sahara. With an area of 103,000 square miles (about the size of Colorado), Western Sahara is bordered by Morocco to the north, Algeria to the northeast, Mauritania to the east and south, and the Atlantic Ocean to the west. Although it is one of the most sparsely populated territories in the world, consisting largely of desert flatlands, Western Sahara is a wealthy country. Off its shores are excellent fishing grounds, while beneath its deserts lie 1.7 billion tons of phosphate ore and untapped deposits of iron and oil. The largest city is El Aaiún (Laâyoune), which is home to over half of the territory’s 393,000 inhabitants. El Aaiún would also be the territory’s capital, if the Polisario Front achieved its independence. 

 
Population: 393,831
 
Religions: Muslim 99.4%, Christian 0.2%, non-religious 0.4%.
 
Ethnic Groups: Arab, Berber.
 
Languages: Hassaniya Arabic, Moroccan Arabic.
 

 

more less
History
The earliest recorded inhabitants of the Western Sahara in historical times were agriculturalists called Bafour. They were later replaced or absorbed by Berber-speaking populations, who themselves eventually merged with migrating Arab tribes. The arrival of Islam in the eighth century played a critical role in the development of relationships between the Saharan areas that later became the modern countries of Morocco, Western Sahara, Mauritania and Algeria, and neighboring regions. From the 11th through the 19th centuries, Western Sahara represented a link between Sub-Saharan Africa and areas to the north. Trans-Saharan trade also flourished as Western Sahara became a strategic passage for caravans between Timbuktu in Mali and Marrakech in Morocco. 
 
The European scramble for African colonies hit Western Sahara in 1884, when Spain was awarded the territory, which became known as Spanish Sahara. After decades of nearly uninterrupted agitation for independence, Spain withdrew in November 1975. Although both Morocco and Mauritania claimed the territory, the United Nations International Court of Justice ruled on October 16, 1975, that neither had a proper claim to sovereignty over Western Sahara, which the court determined should be allowed to choose its own destiny. Nevertheless, Spain entered into negotiations with Morocco and Mauritania, from which the nationalist Polisario Front (Popular Front for the Liberation of the Saguia el Hamra and Rio de Oro) was excluded. The three countries signed a treaty to divide the territory between Morocco and Mauritania, though Mauritania subsequently relinquished its claim under military pressure from Polisario. Supported by Algeria and Mauritania, Polisario also proclaimed in 1976 the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, which at present is recognized by about 45 governments as the legitimate government of Western Sahara. Western Sahara remains a disputed territory between Morocco and Polisario, which waged a guerilla war from 1975 until a truce in 1991. Negotiations between the two have not yet borne fruit, despite UN attempts to broker a truce. 
 
more less
Western Sahara's Newspapers
more less
History of U.S. Relations with Western Sahara

The US has never had formal relations with Western Sahara. Though the US has a long history of friendship with Morocco, the US has not taken a firm position on whether Morocco should control Western Sahara, preferring to back some sort of future referendum on the subject. 

more less
Current U.S. Relations with Western Sahara

The US has no formal relations with Western Sahara. 

Since 2002, less than 10 Sahrawis have visited the U.S. annually

more less
Where Does the Money Flow

Trade between the US and Western Sahara is minute and tilted toward the US. In 2008, US exports to Western Sahara totaled $91,000, led by vehicle parts and accessories ($36,000 or 39.5%), finished metal shapes ($20,000 or 21.9%), business machines and equipment ($14,000 or 15.3%) and industrial engines ($13,000 or 14.2%). Imports for the same year were a mere $4,000 of telecommunications equipment. 

 
The U.S. does not give security assistance or foreign aid to Western Sahara.
more less
Controversies
more less
Human Rights

Morocco considers the Western Sahara to be an integral part of the kingdom, hence the exercise of civil liberties and political rights in the 85% of the territory it controls are conditioned by the same laws and structures which apply in the kingdom. Accordingly, ultimate authority rests with King Mohammed VI, and human rights conditions in the territory tend to converge with those in the kingdom. Amnesty International reports from early 2009 allege that Morocco has unlawfully detained Sahrawi human rights activist Chekib El-Khiari and prevented Sahrawi activists from meeting European Parliament representatives during a January 2009 fact finding mission to Morocco and Western Sahara. Human Rights Watch has also protested El-Khiari’s detention. Further, according to a December 2008 Human Rights Watch (HRW) report, Morocco uses a combination of repressive laws, police violence, and unfair trials to punish Sahrawis who advocate peacefully in favor of independence or full self-determination for the territory. In addition, there is impunity for police abuses. Numerous victims of human rights abuses have repeatedly accused specific police or security officials of arbitrarily arresting demonstrators, including children, and beating them. These victims were then forced to sign statements against their will that they were prevented from reading. According to HRW, authorities dismiss the overwhelming majority of complaints without collecting evidence beyond the police’s own version of events. Finally, a March 2009 draft European Parliament report calls for the UN mandate in Western Sahara to include human rights monitoring. 

 
more less
Debate

Polisario

Neutral or Balanced:
Unlocking the Conflict in Western Sahara (by Jacob Mundy, Foreign Policy in Focus)
Western Sahara: Is there light at the end of the tunnel? (by Issaka K. Souaré, Institute for Security Studies)
Western Sahara: Understanding the roots of the conflict and suggesting a way out (by Issaka K. Souaré, Abdelhamid El Ouali, and Mhamed Khadad, Institute for Security Studies)
 
Anti-Polisario:
The Polisario Front: A Destabilizing Force in the Region that is Still Active (by Claude Moniquet, European Strategic Intelligence & Security Center)
 
Anti-Morocco:
How the US and Morocco seized the Spanish Sahara (by Jacob Mundy, Le Monde Diplomatique)
more less
Past Ambassadors
more less
Western Sahara's Ambassador to the U.S.
more less
Western Sahara's Embassy Web Site in the U.S.
more less

Comments

Sijad 2 years ago
Western Sahara is moroccan as New Mexico is american
Med 2 years ago
Dear Sir, In contarst of the allegations of Morocco,Western Sahara was known a non governed territory,colonized by Spain and ceded by it in 1976 to both Morocco And Mauritania and at this moment is occupied by Morocco. the UN was urging from 1963 to give the sahrawis their right to self determination,so Morrocco maintain the occupation of this land inspite that thereis any state around the world recognize the moroccan sovereignty on Western Shara the sahrawis have their flag and they gave many martyrs defending their legal cause and recognizing by more than 80 countries around the world,the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic is a full and effective member in the African Union and one of the main African Union founders.
Ahmed Salem Amr Khaddad 6 years ago
Dear Sir or Madam, I am sending to you this message to correct some wrong information above. Western Sahara is a territory and not a sovereign country. It has no official flag except the actual administrative authority one : the flag of Morocco. Associating Western Sahara to the flag of Polisario Front, the separatist faction backed in Tindouf south of Algeria, is a big mistake. It misleads Internet readers on the situation on the ground. The Polisario Front is taking place in th...

Leave a comment