Video Source: Youtube
Flag Source: CIA World Factbook
The area known as Western Sahara was first inhabited by the farming Bafour tribe and later by Berber tribes and Arab migrants from Yemen. Islam arrived in the region in the eighth century, and with it trade began to increase across the Sahara. Western Sahara came under Spanish rule in 1884 and became a province of Spanish Morocco in 1934.
In the 1960s, the nomadic Sahrawi began to settle in the area, and a nationalist movement got under way. In 1973, the Polisario Front was created to represent the Sahrawi people.
In 1975, Spanish colonial rule of the region ended, and before Western Sahara could seize the opportunity to become independent, the territory was partitioned between Mauritania and Morocco. In 1976 the Polisario Front declared a Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) and elected as secretary-general its current president, Mohammed Abdelaziz.
In 1978, after a political coup shook the Mauritanian cap
ital of Nouakchott, Mauritania decided to hand over its territory to the Polisario Front. Soon afterward, Morocco began to invade and occupy Mauritania’s former territory and claimed it as its own. Many Sahrawi were forced from their homes and today continue to live as refugees in the Algerian town of Tindouf. The Polisario Front fought a guerilla war against Morocco’s occupation until 1991.
In 1991 the United Nations Mission for a Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) was established in the hopes of achieving peace in the area. The U.N. brokered a cease-fire between Morocco and the Polisario Front and planned to hold a referendum that would let the people of Western Sahara choose between independence and Moroccan rule. The plan was unsuccessful, owing to disagreement on both sides as to who should be able to vote in the referendum.
In 1997 and 2000 the U.N. special envoy James Baker brokered peace talks between Morocco and the Polisario Front with the goal of setting up another referendum, preceded by a transition period in which the SADR would have semi-autonomy. Neither side was able to agree on the terms, and Morocco and the Polisario Front remain in a deadlock today.
The Top 5: Local Advice
1. Western Sahara is located on the northwestern coast of Africa, between Mauritania and Morocco. It is separated into two sides: Moroccan authorities control the west, and the Polisario Front, also known as the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, controls the east.
2. Arabic is the official language of both Morocco and the Sahrawi Arab Republic. The Sahrawi people speak a dialect of Arabic known as Hassānīya.
3. The population of Western Sahara is 260,000. Most of the population is Sahrawi, of mixed Arab and Berber descent. Some Moroccans also settled in the territory in the 1970s.
4. Western Sahara is a predominantly Muslim territory, but because of the nomadic roots of the Sahrawi people, many observe their religion in a more informal manner, visiting mosques less frequently, drinking alcohol, and the like. That said, be as respectful as possible, especially when visiting sacred sites.
5. The currency most widely used in Western Sahara is the Moroccan dirham (MAD), though in some areas the Algerian dinar (DZD) and Mauritanian ouguiya (MRO) are used. We suggest having enough cash of all currencies with you before you cross into Western Sahara.