Western Sahara is last colony of Africa. In February
1975 Western Sahara was got freedom by Spain but Invaded by neighboring
countries after couple of weeks of Spain departure. Soon it became a subject of
rivalry between Morocco and Algeria and Western Sahara became state in crisis.
Both powers sought to establish their hegemony over the natural resources rich
territory of Western Sahara. Apart from Morocco and Algeria several other
states too have their interest lying in the Western Sahara. Despite of UN
proclaimed right to self determination the Sahrawi peoples have been struggling
for their liberation since 1975.
Western Sahara lies in North Africa, on the eastern coast of the Atlantic
Ocean. It is bordered by Morocco in
the north, Algeria in the east and Mauritania from the east and south. No
historical record of Western Sahara can be traced before 4th century
B.C. The Carthaginians were the first to record about the region followed by
Roman’s in the 1st century C.E. Polybies a Greek military historian
in the second century writes about the region. His account gives detail about
the trade relations then Western Sahara shared with the Romans. After the
decline of Roman Empire, Barbarians conquered the region for a while and it
soon fall under the Arab Muslims by the seventh century. Successive invasions
of the territory by the Arabs led to the gradually Islamisation and Arabisation
of the indigenous people. This process gave rise to an ethnic, linguistic,
religious and cultural symbiosis that gradually led to the formation of the
constitution of the Sahrawi people represented by the tribes and tribal
confederations that inhabited the area now known as Western Sahara.
Western Sahara fell under Spanish rule in 1884 and
became a Spanish province in 1934. Spain first occupied Rio de Oro the southern
coastal area of Western Sahara and later it also annexed interior Saguia
al-Hamra which culminated in the formation of Spanish Sahara in 1958. A gradual
increase in consciousness and anti-colonial sentiment during the subsequent
decades led to a guerrilla insurgency by the Sahrawis in the early 1970s.
Western Sahara has been in a state of political crisis since Spain granted the
territory to Morocco and Mauritania in 1975.
The International Court of Justice issued an advisory
over the legal status of Western Sahara that was ambiguous, and declined to
accept Morocco’s claim over the territory. In retaliation, Morocco’s King
Hassan II led “Green March” catalyzed the transfer of Spanish control
of the territory to Morocco and Mauritania, enshrined in the tripartite Madrid
Accords of 14 November 1975. Spain formally withdrew its claim from the
territory on 26 February, 1976. According to Madrid Accord, 1976, the territory
was divided between Morocco and Mauritania. Morocco established control on
two-third of northern Western Sahara, however, Mauritania controlled one-third
of southern part. The phosphate-rich territory has been under the control of
Morocco since 1976.
POLISARIO FRONT (Frente Popular de Liberacion de
Saguis el Hamra Y Rio de Oro or Popular Liberation Front for Western Sahara)
was officially created on 10 May, 1973 with the purpose of putting an end to
the Spanish occupation of the Western Sahara. The POLISARIO front launched an
armed struggle against the attachment of the territory to Morocco and Mauritania.
Soon POLISARIO compelled to Mauritania withdrawal from occupied territory of
Western Sahara. From the point of natural resources, Western Sahara is a rich
country. The phosphate deposits near Bu Crâ are among the world’s largest (2.2
billion tons) and, along with a lucrative fishing industry on the Atlantic
coast. On 27th February, 1976, the Saharawi people formed Saharawi
Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) in exile to prove their readiness for
independence and statehood which was recognized by many African countries
including Algeria and Libya, as well as Cuba, states supported by the Soviet
Union. Spain abdicated its legal responsibilities and relinquished its control
over the Western Sahara without organizing a referendum.
In 1982, the SADR became member of the Organization
of African Unity (OAU) in 1982. The OAU acknowledged SADR’s status as the
sovereign government of the Western Sahara. Over the years, more than 80
countries including Mexico and South Africa have recognized the SADR’s
sovereignty. Mohammed Sidi Ibrahim Bassiri who imbibed nationalist idea from
West Asian universities, returned to Morocco in 1966 and started a newspaper.
He moved to Western Sahara and joined as a Koranic teacher at Smara in 1967.
Bassiri founded the Harakat Tahrir Saguia el-Hamra wa Oued ed-Dahab (Organisation of the Liberation of Saguia
el-Hamra and Oued ed-Dahab) or simply Harakat Tahrir. A large number of
office employees joined Harakat Tahrir’s calls for reforms and progress towards
independence. The demands made by
Harakat Tahrir to the government were rejected. Some of the leaders including
Bassiri were arrested led to a riot in which many people died perhaps Bassiri
was also killed. The shattered Harakat Tahrir had reignited Sahrawi nationalism
that re-emerged barely three years later as POLISARIO. Opposition to eventual
Sahrawi independence, however, came from two powerful sides that tried to
sponsor alternative anti-colonial movements that would favour their interests.
Morocco and Mauritania wanted anti-colonial movements that would lead to
annexation, not independence.
El-Ouli Mustapha Sayed, a student at the Mohammed V
University at Rabat, Morocco was a one of the founder member of POLISARIO. He
was influenced by the revolutionaries such as Frantz Fanon and Che Guevara.
Later, El-Ouli Mustapha Sayed joined the leaders Mohammed Lamine Ould Ahmed,
Mohammed Ali Ould el-Ouali, Mohammed Salem Ould Salek, Mohammed Ould Sadati,
and Bashir Mustapha Sayed and they formed a network of Sahrawi students that
initially approached Moroccan opposition parties such as the Istiqlal Party.
Failing to get support in Morocco, they approached, the Sahrawi in Western
Sahara and established contacts with former supporters of the Harakat Tahrir to
strengthen an anti-colonial militant movement.
On 10 May 1973, POLISARIO (Popular Liberation Front
for Western Sahara) was founded in the frontier of Mauritania and Spanish
Sahara and declared that it opted “for revolutionary violence and the armed
struggle as a means by which the Saharawi Arab African people can recover total
liberty and foil the manoeuvers of Spanish colonialism” and started attracting
attention with attacks on Spanish installations in the territory. It appeared
to be more committed to the struggle than any other group and this increased
its popularity with the Sahrawi especially when in 1974 it clearly stated that
independence was its objective. Its successes in sabotaging infrastructure and
getting support of the Sahrawi people forced a re-evaluation of positions by
Spain and by other countries. Among those to change position on POLISARIO was
Algeria which became the guerrilla movement’s biggest supporter against Spain,
Morocco, and Mauritania.
Algeria had tried to coordinate on Western Sahara with Morocco in the
hope that Morocco would abandon claims
to Tindouf and other Algerian territories. It had refused to support POLISARIO,
to allow transit of weapons, and had even locked up its leaders. It had
reportedly funded Mauritanian activities and endorsed a secret deal between
Morocco and Mauritania to share Western Sahara. Algeria, however, changed
position when it felt its security interests were seriously threatened. This
happened when Morocco and Mauritania decided to frustrate a UN mandate
referendum and then excluded Algeria in a settlement with Spain over Western
Sahara. With its interests ignored and seemingly threatened, Algeria decided to
support POLISARIO in every way it could to defeat Mauritania and Morocco in
their expansionist designs.
The Sahrawi people have been struggling to get accepted in the community
of nations from 1976. Their identity was not clear whether they are Africans or
Arabs, as shown by two declarations in 1976 by POLISARIO leaders. On 27
February, 1976 they asserted that their territory was the Sahrawi Arab
Democratic Republic (SADR) was a free, independent, sovereign state ruled by an
Arab national democratic system of progressive unionist orientation and of
Islamic religion. Later, POLISARIO described that the Sahrawi as having “Arab,
African, and Islamic identity in opposition to imperialism, colonialism, and exploitation.