Western Sahara – formerly known as the Spanish Sahara

Western Sahara

This article is about the region; for a partially recognized state, see: Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic.

Synopsis by n17t01

Western Sahara (Spanish: Sahara Occidental ; formerly Spanish Sahara , historical names: Wadi Zahab (Rio de Oro) and Segiet el Hamra, “Golden River and Red Creek”) is a region in North Africa.

The area is about 252,120 km². It is bordered by Morocco to the north, Algeria to the northeast, and Mauritania to the east and south; the Atlantic Ocean washes it from the west.

The region was a Spanish possession (“African province”) of Rio de Oro and Seguiet el-Hamra from 1958 to 1976, when it was divided between Mauritania and Morocco. In 1979 Western Sahara was fully occupied by Morocco.

Western Sahara is not suited to sedentary agriculture because of its hot, arid climate and stony, sandy soil. Nevertheless, nomadic herders raise sheep, goats, and camels. There are rich deposits of phosphate in Western Sahara, especially in Bu Kraa. Mining began in the early 1970s. Population – 513,000 (2009 estimate), mostly Berbers and Arabs (Saharawi).

February 27, 1976, the Polisario Front, waging a guerrilla war against Moroccan forces with the support of Algeria, declared Western Sahara an independent state called the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR). The SADR is recognized by 51 states of the world. The Republic has been a member of the African Union (former Organization of African Unity) since 1984. The president of the SADR, Secretary General of the Polisario Front (since 1976) is Mohammed Abdelaziz.

Demanding a referendum on the fate of the territory, the UN refuses both to accept Morocco’s occupation annexation of Western Sahara and to recognize the self-declared SADR with acceptance into its membership.


The country is divided into two historic districts: Seguiet el-Hamra (in the north) and Rio de Oro (in the south). The Atlantic coast of Western Sahara is occupied by the accumulative coastal lowlands, which in the east turn into elevated plains with ridge massifs. To the northeast, the spurs of the stepped plateau of Draa, up to 823 m high, come in. The scattered sands and dunes occupy significant areas in Western Sahara. The most important minerals are phosphorites, as well as iron ores and oil on the shelf.

The climate is tropical desert, hot inland (25-30°C) and milder on the coast due to the influence of the cold Canary Current (17-20°C). Occasional rainfall occurs in spring and autumn (50-200 mm per year). Strong winds regularly raise dust storms. There are no permanent rivers in Western Sahara, and temporary watercourses are numerous during the rains (Sabalera, Saghia el-Hamra, El Fush).

Poor sparse vegetation cover is represented by desert vegetation – halophytes (saltwort, sarsazan…) and creeping cereals, and on the coast by thistles. In the oases and lower Uedes, which occupy 3.8% of the territory, grow palms and acacias, and grow cereals (wheat, millet, barley), fruits, vegetables, dates. Nomadic tribes breed over 300,000 head of cattle (goats, sheep, camels), which have almost wiped out the already scarce vegetation, resulting in the disappearance of several species of gazelle, Addax antelope and other wild animals. Among ungulates, the gazelle Dorcas, jackal, hyena and fenek fox are still found. On the coast there are large colonies of migratory sandpipers and resting places of pink flamingos. About 5 thousand tons of fish are caught annually in coastal waters.

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The history of Western Sahara can be traced back to the fifth century BC, when it was visited by the Carthaginian traveler Gannon.

The recent history of Western Sahara dates back to nomadic tribes, such as the Sanhaji, who lived within the sphere of Berber influence. In the eighth century these tribes adopted Islam and then the Arabic language.

From the eleventh to the nineteenth century, Western Sahara was the link between Sub-Saharan Africa and North Africa. In the mid-11th century, the Sanhaji formed an alliance with the Lemtuns and founded the Almoravid dynasty. The Almoravids expanded their state into virtually all of modern Morocco, Tlemcen and the Iberian Peninsula to the north, the territory of Mauritania, Senegal and Mali to the south, coming into contact with the empire of Ghana. By the 16th century, the Moroccan Saadite dynasty had conquered the Songai empire along the Niger River. The main routes of the Trans-Saharan trade passed through the Western Sahara, connecting Timbuktu (Mali) and Marrakech (Morocco). The slave trade developed in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

At the end of the 19th century, during the colonial division of Africa, the region became part of Spain, which was confirmed at the Berlin Conference in 1884. After that, Western Sahara was known as the “Spanish Sahara. After independence, Morocco continually asserted territorial claims to the Western Sahara. In 1958, the Spanish Sahara received the status of a Spanish province. In 1967, the Spanish authorities created a local governing body, the General Assembly of Western Sahara (Jamaa). On November 6, 1975 Morocco organized the so-called Green March, a mass demonstration of 350,000 unarmed people from all parts of Morocco entering Western Sahara. On November 18, Spain withdrew its administration and signed the Madrid Accords, after which Morocco and Mauritania divided the territory between them. Mauritania later withdrew its troops from Western Sahara and renounced its territorial claim to it.

On February 27, 1976, the Polisario Front, fighting a guerrilla war against Moroccan forces with the support of Algeria, declared Western Sahara an independent state called the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR). The SADR has been recognized by 51 states of the world. The Republic has been a member of the African Union (former Organization of African Unity) since 1984.

Western Sahara remains a disputed territory between Morocco, which administers the territory, and the Polisario Front, which represents the indigenous population of Western Sahara and advocates for its independence. Numerous attempts to establish a peace process and resolve the conflict, most recently the Manhasset Negotiations of 2007-2008, have so far resulted only in a ceasefire but not a political resolution of the situation.

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In 2010-2011, there were popular protests against Morocco’s policies. Academics Noam Chomsky and Bernabe Lopez Garcia noted these events as the starting point for unrest, protests and uprisings in the Arab world in 2010-2011.

See also


  • Western Sahara. Betrayed Independence. Regnum, 2007. ISBN 5-91150-015-9


  • Find and footnote references to authoritative sources that support what is written.
  • Make more precise references to the sources in the form of footnotes.

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Western Sahara

Western Sahara is a disputed territory in northwestern Africa contested by Morocco and the partially recognized Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR). The largest city in Western Sahara, which SADR considers its capital, is Morocco-controlled Laayoune. The de facto capital of SADR is currently the small town of Tifariti. Western Sahara has an area of 266,000 km2 (50,000 of which is controlled by SADR) and is populated by just over 266,000 people (40,000 of whom live on SADR-controlled land). The people of Western Sahara are commonly referred to as Saharawi.

The northern neighbor of Western Sahara is the claiming Morocco. To the northeast is Algeria, which, on the contrary, supports the SADR in its quest for independence. To the south and east of Western Sahara is Mauritania, which once tried to share its lands with Morocco, but now takes a neutral position. Finally, to the west, Western Sahara is washed by the waters of the Atlantic Ocean. Arabic and Berber are the official languages in the territories under Moroccan control, while Arabic and Spanish are the official languages of the SADR. The local population speaks mostly different dialects of Arabic, mostly a Hassaniyya dialect. Spanish is also spoken. Almost all Saharawi belong to Sunni Islam.

Regions and Resorts

From the point of view of Morocco, the Western Sahara is one of the regions of Morocco – El Ayun – Boujdour – Seguiet El Hamra, which in turn is divided into 3 provinces:

SADR in turn allocates in Western Sahara the so-called “Free Zone” – the part that SADR actually controls, while the rest of Western Sahara is considered occupied by Morocco. Physically, the SADR and Morocco control zones are separated by a defensive line known as the Moroccan Wall.

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Resorts of Western Sahara:

  • El Ayun.
  • Dakhla.
  • Tarfaya village.

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Time difference

  • Kaliningrad – 2 -1
  • Moscow – 3 – 2
  • Samara – 4 – 3
  • Yekaterinburg -5 -4
  • Omsk -6 -5
  • Krasnoyarsk -7 -6
  • Irkutsk -8 -7
  • Yakutsk -9 -8
  • Vladivostok -10 -9
  • Magadan 11 -10
  • Kamchatka -12 -11


The climate in Western Sahara is dry and hot all year round. During the day the air can get hotter than 60 ° C, and at night the temperature drops severely to zero. The hottest months are June, July and August, and the coldest are December, January and February. The annual precipitation is no more than 200 mm, although winds from the ocean sometimes bring fog and cold dew. The so-called rainy season lasts here from August to November, although it may rain once a month. Sandstorms and tornadoes are not uncommon, especially between May and August, when the winds are stronger. Therefore, a trip to the Western Sahara is better planned from September to May, when the winds are not so strong and the daytime heat is a little weaker.

Visa and customs

Most of Western Sahara (about 80%), including airports and the ocean coast, is actually controlled by Morocco. Therefore, entry into the Moroccan part of Western Sahara is subject to Moroccan rules and requirements. Russians planning to visit Western Sahara for less than three months will not need a visa to Morocco. When entering must present a valid passport and fill out a migration card. There is no consular fee. In Morocco, and therefore in Western Sahara prohibits the importation of information materials that contradict the norms of Islam, military weapons and drugs. Importation of professional photo and video equipment is also restricted. Imported currency in excess of 15,000 Moroccan dirhams (approximately $1,500) must be declared.

Passing through customs and passport control can be very time-consuming, but be patient, since the violation of customs regulations are punishable by deportation, which is often accompanied by a lifetime ban on entry. When entering Western Sahara from Morocco, there may be additional passport control. Those wishing to visit the part of Western Sahara controlled by SADR are likely to have to enter through Algeria or Mauritania, as Moroccan authorities often do not allow tourists through the Moroccan wall. However, Russians need a visa to enter both Algeria and Mauritania, and the procedure for obtaining a transit visa for both countries is the same as for their entry visas. Obtaining an entry visa for both Algeria and Mauritania is a long process, the positive result of which is not guaranteed, as both countries have quite strict visa regime with most of the non-Arab countries of the world. Visas are processed at the embassies of these countries in Russia, and their customs rules are standard for the Arab world. Crossing the SADR border with Mauritania and Algeria is also problematic because the territory is partially mined and the checkpoints are often closed.

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How to get there

There is no direct flight connection between Russia and Western Sahara. So, in any case, you have to change flights. The easiest way to get to the Moroccan-controlled part of Western Sahara is from the territory of Morocco, namely Casablanca. However, Casablanca itself is not accessible without a connection. The most popular flights are Turkish Airlines transferring from Istanbul, Iberia transferring from Madrid, Alitalia transferring from Rome, and Ryanair transferring from London. You can also fly Aeroflot to Milan and change to a regular flight to Morocco. Once in Casablanca, you can take a Royal Air Maroc flight to Dakhla or Laayoune. The flight to Dakhla from Casablanca takes about 2 hours and will cost about a hundred dollars. Instead of air transport you can take a bus twice a day from Casablanca to Laayoune. If you are interested in the SADR-controlled territories of Western Sahara, you must first go to Algeria or Mauritania. You can fly to Algeria with Air Algerie from Moscow to Algiers. To Mauritania, however, you must fly with a change of plane, or even two. Once in Algeria or Mauritania one must seek transport to Western Sahara.



  • City tour of Laayoune.
  • City tour of Dakhla.
  • Village Tarfaya.
  • Naila nature reserve.
  • The city of Dechira.
  • City of Smara.


The system of public transport in Western Sahara is practically absent. Travel within the cities can only be by cab. In the Moroccan-controlled part of Western Sahara there is a Moroccan official operator Petit taxi (blue cars). All cars are equipped with a meter, and payment is made according to a flat rate, which is $1.6 per car and $1.7 per kilometer. To travel between cities in the Moroccan part of Western Sahara you can use the few and irregular buses, which tickets can only be bought directly from the conductor. A better way to travel between towns in the Moroccan-controlled part of Western Sahara would therefore be by cab or a special local form of cab, the Grand Taxi. A Grand Taxi is something in between a regular cab and a minibus – most often it is a six-seater car with a fixed charge for each seat. That is, if you need to get from one city to another by Grand Taxi, you can either wait for hitchhikers or buy free seats and go right away.

At the same time they are relatively inexpensive – a half-hour trip will cost just over 200 rubles for all 6 seats. Since from the point of view of Morocco, Western Sahara is an ordinary (albeit turbulent) province of the state, you can easily use a car rented in Morocco in the Moroccan-controlled part. On average, car rental costs from 20 euros per day. This price includes mileage, local taxes and charges, insurance, and technical support from the Lessor. The rented car is given with a full tank of petrol and must be returned in the same condition. To rent a car you will need an international driver’s license and a credit card with one to three thousand euros as a deposit. It is also possible to rent a car directly in El Aaiun, but due to the general underdevelopment of the region there are fewer rental bureaus. One of them, namely Ensemblecar, can be contacted at +212 670-704500. Rental conditions are about the same as in Morocco. The SADR-controlled part of Western Sahara was badly damaged during the war and is now quite deserted and sparsely populated. Therefore, all possible urban and intercity transport is represented by a small number of private cabs, with the drivers of which the price must be negotiated individually.

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Communications and Wi-Fi

The communications infrastructure in Western Sahara is fairly poorly developed. Only Moroccan mobile operators are present all over the country, but guaranteed reception is expected only in Dakhla and Laayoune, while in the desert and SADR-controlled territory, there is no hope of a stable signal. The main Moroccan mobile operators are Inwi, Maroc Telecom and Orange Morocco (formerly Meditel). SIM-cards of these operators can be bought in shops in cities in Western Sahara or in advance in Morocco. A starter pack with 45 pre-paid minutes of talk time and 30 MB of mobile Internet for a week will cost about $1. You can find free Wi-Fi in cafes, restaurants and hotels in major cities in Moroccan-controlled territory, but don’t expect high speeds. Internet is almost nowhere to be found in the desert and SADR-controlled territory.


The only official currency in the Moroccan-controlled part of Western Sahara is the Moroccan dirham (its international designation MAD, usually denoted by Moroccans themselves as Dh). All payments must be made exclusively in Moroccan dirham, other currencies must be exchanged for it. Taking dirhams out of Morocco is prohibited, and at the end of the trip, the remainder should be exchanged back, and not more than 50% of the amount declared at entry. The official exchange rate of the Moroccan dirham on 18.12.2017 is: 1 MAD = 6.21 Russian rubles = 0.105 US dollars. Currency can be exchanged into dirhams and back in Laayoune or on Moroccan territory. Official currency in the SADR area is the peseta (official abbreviation is EHP, local is Pts). In addition to the peseta, the Algerian dinar and the Mauritanian Ougia are also in use. The peseta is pegged to the euro, with 1 euro = 166.386 EPD. Since the Moroccan occupation of Western Sahara is not recognized by the international community and the SADR controlled areas are devastated by war, it is almost impossible to use credit cards in Western Sahara, so it is worth cashing your currency before you travel.

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