The history of Western Sahara
can be traced back to the times of Carthaginian
explorer Hanno the Navigator
on the 5th century BCE. Though little historical records are left from that period, Western Sahara
's modern history has its roots linked to some nomadic groups living under Berber tribal rule such as the Sanhaja
group and the introduction of Islam
and the Arabic language
beginning from the 8th century CE.
For centuries, from the 11th to the 19th, Western Sahara represented a link between Sub-Sahara and North Africa regions. Around mid-11th century, the Sanhaja confederation allied with the Lamtuna tribe to found the Almohads dynasty. Conquests of Almohads,made acost to almoravid, extended over most parts of present-day Morocco, Tlemcen and the Iberian peninsula to the north and Mauritania, Senegal and Mali to the south reaching the Ghana Empire. By the 16th century, the Arab Saadi dynasty conquered the Songhai Empire based around the Niger River. Trans-Saharan trade also flourished as Western Sahara becomes a strategic passage for caravans between Timbuktu in Mali and Marrakech. In the 17th and 18th centuries, slave trade became common.
The scramble for Africa hit the region in the late 19th century when Spain was awarded the region at the 1884 Berlin Conference. As a result, Western Sahara became known as Spanish Sahara. On November 6, 1975 Morocco organized the Green March, a mass demonstration of 350,000 unarmed citizens who travelled from all parts of Morocco to the region which became known later as the Southern Provinces. As a result, Spain withdrew in November 18 and signed the Madrid Accords with Morocco and Mauritania, who divided the region.
Western Sahara remains a disputed territory between Morocco and the nationalist Polisario Front since the 1975. Morocco claims sovereignty based on historical ties with the region while the Polisario Front claims it is an occupied territory and seeks independence. This dispute is
pending resolution through 2007 Manhasset negotiations.
Western Sahara is mainly inhabited by Saharawis who speak Hassaniya (a dialect of Arabic) along with a northern minority who speak Tachelhit (a Berber language).
Berber tribal rule
area has never formed a state
in the modern sense of the word. Phoenician
colonies established or reinforced by Hanno the Navigator
in the 5th century BC have vanished with virtually no trace. The desertification
of the Sahara
during the "transitional arid phase" ca. 300 BC - 300 AD made contact with some parts with the outside world very difficult before the introduction of the camel
into these areas, from the third century of the Christian era on. The camel was primarily used as a beast of burden. People walked beside them. Also camel's meat, milk and skin were important. The horse, not the camel was the animal that was used in warfare in the period 1000-1500 AD ("the period of horse warriors and conquest states").
Before Islam arrived in the 8th century AD a Berber population inhabited the western part of the Sahara, with the population consisting of nomads (mainly of the Sanhaja tribal confederation) in the plains and sedentary populations in river valleys, in oases and in towns like Awdaghust Tichitt, Oualata, Taghaza, Timbuktu, Awlil, Azuki and Tamdult. The Islamic faith quickly expanded, brought by Arab immigrants, who initially only blended superficially with the population, mostly confining themselves to the cities of present-day Morocco and Spain.
The Berbers increasingly used the traditional trade routes of the Sahara. Caravans transported salt, gold and slaves between North Africa and West Africa, and the control of trade routes became a major ingredient in the constant power struggle between various tribes. On more than one occasion, the Berber tribes of the Western Sahara would unite behind religious leaders to sweep the ruling leaders from power, sometimes founding dynasties of their own. This was the case with the Almoravids of Morocco and Al-Andalus, and was also the case with the jihad of Nasir al-Din in the 17th century and the later Qadiriyyah movement of the Kunta in the 18th century.
The Almoravids and the Zawiyas
The movement of the Almoravids
(1061-1147) in the western part of the Sahara was the expression and the beginning of a complete change of society. An important role in this process was played by the zawiyas
. As centres of Islamic
education under the supervision of an Islamic scholar, the 'saih', they became centres of new communities. In many tribal groups we see a split when a part of their members distanced themselves from the traditional leading group and formed a zawiya, following the Islamic example. These newly-formed communities separated themselves from traditional, military society. Until then matrilinear ancestry had been important. They stressed the importance of patrilinear ancestry in which they tried to show their descent from the Islamic prophet Muhammad
), his tribe (the Quraysh
) or his companions (Ansar
). They put spiritual ideals higher than the ideals of battle. They preferred religious influence over military pressure, equal membership over dependency. They were in favour of giving alms and lending cattle to people in need and were vehemently opposed to plunder and extortion. They declared cattle-raids and random taxing to be unlawful. Although they were opposed to non-religious warfare, they were strong enough to defend themselves against military attacks. These zawiya tribes became the tribes of the teachers, specialists of religion, law and education.
Arabization of the mujahideen (13th and 14th century)
In the time of the Almoravids professional warriors had fought as 'mujahideen' in their holy war. Just like the people who had united in zawyas, the mujahideen began to form tribes based on their specific occupation. This development was accelerated by the arrival of Maqil Arab tribes. In the 13th and 14th century, these tribes migrated westwards along the northern border of the Sahara to settle in the Fezzan (Libya), Ifriqiya (Tunisia), Tlemcen (Algeria), Jebel Saghro (Morocco), and Saguia el-Hamra, (Western Sahara). When the Maqil Arabs arrived in the western part of the Sahara the muyahidin were most prone to Arabization. While the zawiya tribes retained many of their Berber characteristics, the warrior tribes tried to 'Arabize' as much as possible. They constructed genealogies of the ancestors of their tribes, connecting them to members of the Maqil and Arabizing their ethnonyms. Thus the Nyarzig, for instance, became the Ouled Rizg. However, this right to call yourself 'Arab' was only restricted to some tribes. These tribes, the Banu Hassan or simply Hassan, were to function as a warrior class in the next centuries.
The Arabized Berber tribes controlled key oasis settlements of the Sahara and played an important role in the trans-Saharan slave trade. They already used to impose heavy taxation on any traffic through their lands, while also furnishing protection, supplies, and camels. When trans-Saharan trade intensified, they developed departure and arrival centers with slave depots and intermediary secure caravan stops. In these centers, they oversaw the traffic from sub-Saharan regions to Egypt, Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco. Timbuktu (Mali) was a central crossroad to all four routes. Ouadane, Idjil (near Atar), Azougui, Araouane, Taoudenni and later Tindouf were important stopping-places. At the same time the number of slaves kept in Western Sahara itself increased drastically.
The Maqil tribes, who entered the domains of the Sanhaja Berber tribe, sometimes intermarried with the Berber population. The Arabo-Berber people of the region is now known as Saharawi. An exonym sometimes used to describe the Banu Hassan tribes of present-day of the region was Moors. The Arabic dialect, Hassaniya became the dominant mother-tongue of the Western Sahara and Mauritania. Berber vocabulary and cultural traits remain common, despite the fact that many Saharawi people today claim Arab ancestry.
The Saadi dynasty (16th and 17th century)
After the fall of the Almoravid
empire in 1147 the new Moroccan empires (Almohads
) retained sovereignty over the western part of the Sahara
but the effectiveness of it depended largely on the sultan that ruled. It was only with the coming to power of the Saadi Dynasty
that the sovereignty of Morocco over the western part of the Sahara became complete again: The Portuguese
colonisers were expelled from Cape Bojador
and from Cap Blanc
and the borders of Morocco
were moved up to the Senegal River
in the south-west and to the Niger River
in the south-east (see: Battle of Tondibi
in 1591). The following (and current) Moroccan dynasty, the Alaouite Dynasty
which came to power in 1659, appears to have continued to exercise some degree of sovereignty over the modern western Sahara, although the slow collapse of central authority through the 19th century, which ended in European colonial rule, no doubt attenuated that.
The Colonial Era (19th and 20th century)
In the second half of the 19th century several European powers tried to get a foothold in Africa. France occupied Tunisia and Great Britain Ottoman Egypt. Italy took possession of parts of Eritrea, while Germany declared Togo, Cameroon and South West Africa to be under its protection. At the invitation of Germany 14 countries attended the Berlin Conference in 1884-1885 to come to an agreement amongst them about the division of the territories.
At the time of the conference, 80% of Africa was still under traditional African control. What resulted of the conference was a new map with geometric, often arbitrary, boundaries of fifty new countries. Morocco was cut up between Spain and France. Morocco's oases of Tuat in the south-east went to the immense territory of the French Sahara. Northern Morocco went to Spain as did a large part of the western Sahara that had been part of Morocco until then. What was left of Morocco's sovereignty would be appropriated by France a few years later.
Upon regaining its independence, Morocco also reassert its claims over the still colonized Western Sahara. The Moroccan King Mohammed V (formerly Sultan) called in an address at El Ghizlan in 1958 for a renewal of an "everlasting" allegiance Saharan tribes had pledged to Moulay Hassan I and promised Morocco would mobilize to see the Western Sahara decolonized under Moroccan rule.
The Sahrawi tribes
The modern ethnic group
is thus an Arabized
Berber people inhabiting the westernmost Sahara desert
, in the area of modern Mauritania
and most notably the Western Sahara
, with some tribes
traditionally migrating into northern Mali
. As with most Saharan
peoples, the tribes reflect a highly mixed heritage, combining Arab
, Berber, and other influences, including black African
ethnic and cultural characteristics.
In pre-colonial times, the tribal areas of the Sahara desert was generally considered bled es-Siba or "the land of dissidence" by the authorities of the established Islamic states of North Africa, such as the Sultan of Morocco and the Deys of Algeria. The Islamic governments of the pre-colonial sub-Saharan empires of Mali and Songhai appear to have had a similar relationship with these territories, which were at once the home of undisciplined raiding tribes and the main trade route for the Saharan caravan trade. Central governments had little control over the region, although the Hassaniya tribes would occasionally extended "beya" or allegiance to prestigious neighbouring rulers, to gain their political backing or, in some cases, as a religious ceremony.
Best reference on Sahrawui population ethnography in the Spanish colonial era is the work of Spanish anthropologist Julio Caro Baroja, who in 1952-53 spent several months among native tribes all along the then Spanish Sahara.
Spanish Sahara (1884-1975)
In 1884, Spain claimed a protectorate over the coast from Cape Bojador to Cap Blanc. Later, the Spanish extended their area of control. In 1958 Spain joined the previously separate districts of Saguia el-Hamra (in the north) and Río de Oro (in the south) to form the province of Spanish Sahara.
Raids and rebellions by the Sahrawi population kept the Spanish forces out of much of the territory for a long time. Ma al-Aynayn started an uprising against the French in the 1910s, at a time when France had expanded its influence and control in North-West Africa. French forces finally beat him when he tried to conquer Marrakesh, but his sons and followers figured prominently in several rebellions which followed. Not until the second destruction of Smara in 1934, by joint Spanish and French forces, did the territory finally become subdued. Another uprising in 1956 - 1958, initiated by the Moroccan-backed Army of Liberation, led to heavy fighting, but eventually the Spanish forces regained control - again with French aid. However, unrest simmered, and in 1967 the Harakat Tahrir arose to challenge Spanish rule peacefully. After the events of the Zemla Intifada in 1970, when Spanish police destroyed the organization and "disappeared" its founder, Muhammad Bassiri, anti-Spanish feeling or Sahrawi nationalism again took a militant turn.
From 1973 the colonizers gradually lost control over the countryside to the armed guerrillas
of the Polisario Front
, a nationalist
organization. Successive Spanish attempts to form loyal Sahrawi political institutions (such as the Djema'a
-many members of the Yemaa are today in Polisario Movement- and the PUNS party
) to support its rule, and draw activists away from the radical nationalists, failed. As the health of the Spanish leader Francisco Franco
deteriorated, the Madrid
government slipped into disarray, and sought a way out of the Sahara conflict. The fall in 1974 of the Portuguese Estado Novo-government
after unpopular wars in its own African provinces
seems to have hastened the decision to pull out.
Negotiations on withdrawal
In late 1975, Spain held meetings with Polisario leader El-Ouali
, to negotiate the terms for a handover of power. But at the same time, Morocco
began to put pressure on the Franco government: both countries argued that Spanish Sahara
formed an historical part of their own territories. The United Nations became involved after Morocco asked for an opinion on the legality of its demands from the International Court of Justice
(ICJ), and the UN also sent a visiting mission
to examine the wishes of the population. The visiting mission returned its report on October 15, announcing "an overwhelming consensus" in favor of independence
(as opposed to integration with Morocco or with Mauritania, or continued rule by Spain). The mission, headed by Simeon Aké
, also declared that the Polisario Front seemed the main Sahrawi organization of the territory - the only rival arrangements to what the mission described as Polisario's "mass demonstrations" came from the PUNS
, which by this time also advocated independence. Polisario then made further diplomatic gains by ensuring the backing of the main Sahrawi tribes and of a number of formerly pro-Spanish Djema'a
elders at the Ain Ben Tili
conference of October 12.
On October 16, the ICJ delivered its verdict. To the dismay of both the Rabat and Nouakchott governments, the court found with a clear majority, that the historical ties of these countries to Spanish Sahara did not grant them the right to the territory. Furthermore, the Court declared that the concept of terra nullius (un-owned land) did not apply to the territory. The Court declared that the Sahrawi population, as the true owners of the land, held a right of self-determination. In other words, any proposed solution to the situation (independence, integration etc), had to receive the explicit acceptance of the population in order to gain any legal standing. Neither Morocco nor Mauritania accepted this, and on October 31, 1975, Morocco sent its army into Western Sahara to attack Polisario positions. The public diplomacy between Spain and Morocco continued, however, with Morocco demanding bilateral negotiations over the fate of the territory.
On November 6, 1975 Morocco launched the Green March into Western Sahara. About 350,000 unarmed Moroccans converged on the city of Tarfaya in southern Morocco and waited for a signal from King Hassan II of Morocco to cross into Western Sahara. As a result, Spain acceded to Moroccan demands, and entered bilateral negotiations. This led to the Madrid Agreement, a treaty that divided the territory between Morocco and Mauritania, in return for phosphate and fishing concessions to Spain. Spain and Morocco did not consult the Sahrawi population, and the Polisario violently opposed the treaty.
The developments chance in the region until the 90s were strongly influenced by the power struggle of the Cold war. Algeria, Libya and Mali were allied to the Eastern bloc. Morocco was the only African country in the region that could afford to be a constant allied to the West, (and in dificult economic and strategic moments there weren't new allies for a spare) in part by his obeyes position (14.4 km only separation intercontinental, is the only state never in The African Union, and has requested to enter in European Union eu, before than Turkey, Libano or Israel, and his semi-constitucional monarchy was protected, specially to the Spanish Area of the Protectorado (for created a restored Court on the Aly Bey Marruecos (ar. Marrakech), with many pretenders, to avoid nationalist independentist revolts on the north mountains by berbers, underpining and a stable nation on the North-Strategic zone. After the mad expansionist politics of the extremism General Ben Mizzian, saw enemies in other parts, and planning invasion on many territories with colonizations (by arab moroccans colons) like in Western Shara, and supported similar berber rebelions on Algeria, claiming the unusual "irredentist" far (in feelings and Identity), Sant-Louis in Senegal at the South, East Lybia, etc. But algeria has a plan and give many help to the new variant of the traditional and at the moment pacific, and in part colaborationaist Movimiento de Liberacion del Sahara, that in in finals 1960's and first 1970 a section of new split youngs, the majoritary Saharaui People supported his patriotic actions and indentifies with them, becames with the name of Polisario, and gradually had more misunderstanding with the Autonomous and Central Government of the Metropoli for the signs of a vacilante fame feable exterior politic, made by gerontocratic and timid Generals that had the la "última palabra" latest order, feeling a possible traition of the andalusi almohade-ravide Motherland.
After of this, many menaged feared countries, supported the Patriotic movement (with Different National Ethnographic caracteristics) in some moment by foreign friend Nations like Mauritania, Algeria, Canary Island (Spain), Portugal, etc. Or Regional Middle potences (at the moment or at the present) of seond order, like the briefly emerged surface Lybia of the 1980's.
China didn't formal support, Russia (urrss more or less) North America (USA and Canda were strictely neutral not intervention, but at the momnt and yet were the first allie and the second (Canada friendly country relation treaty)
The end of Spanish occupation of the Western Sahara
On November 14th, 1975, Spain, Morocco and Mauritania signed the Madrid Accords, hence setting up a timetable for the retrieval of Spanish forces and ending Spanish Occupation on the Western Sahara. These accords were signed by the three parties in accordance with all international standards. In these accords, Morocco was set to annex back 2/3 of the northern part of the western whereas the lower third would be annexed to Mauritania. Polisario, establish their own Saharaui Democratic Republic, and cobined guerrilla, with his conventional popular Independentist patriotic National Army (APLS).
On February 26th 1976 Spain's formal mandate over the territory ended when it handed administrative power on to Morocco in a ceremony in Laayoune. The day after, the Polisario proclaimed in Bir Lehlou the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) as a government in exile. Mauritania in its turn renamed the southern parts of Río de Oro as Tiris al-Gharbiyya, but proved unable to maintain control over the territory. Polisario made the weak Mauritanian army its main target, and after an audacious and bolds raids couregously on the Mauritanian capital Nouakchott (where a gunshot killed El-Ouali, the first president of the SADR), Mauritania succumbed on internal unrest. The presence of a large number of Sahrawi nationalists among the country's dominant Moorish population made the Mauritanian government's position yet more fragile, and thousands of Mauritanian Sahrawis defected to Polisario. In 1978 the army seized control of the Mauritanian government and Polisario declared a cease-fire, on the assumption that Mauritania would withdraw unconditionally. This eventually occurred in 1979, as Mauritania's new rulers agreed to surrender all claims and to recognize the SADR. Following Mauritania's withdrawal, however, Morocco extended its control to the rest of the territory, and the war continued.
Through the 1980s, the war stalemated through the construction of a desert sand berm referred by Polisario as the Moroccan Wall. Sporadic fighting continued, and Morocco faced heavy burdens due to the economic costs of its massive troop deployments along the Wall. To some extent aid sent by Saudi Arabia and by the USA relieved the situation in Morocco, but matters gradually became unsustainable for all parties involved.
In 1991 Morocco and the Polisario Front agreed on a UN
in the Settlement Plan
. This plan, its further detail fleshed out in the 1997 Houston Agreement
, hinged upon Morocco's agreement to a referendum
or unification with Morocco voted by the Sahrawi population. The plan intended this referendum to constitute their exercise of self-determination, thereby completing the territory's yet unfinished process of decolonization
. The UN dispatched a peace-keeping mission
, the MINURSO
, to oversee the cease-fire and make arrangements for the vote. Initially scheduled for 1992, the referendum has not taken place, due to the conflict over who has the right to vote. A second United Nations
attempt to solve the conflict, James Baker
's 2003 peace plan
, though accepted by the Polisario, met rejection out-of-hand from Morocco, which had by then reneged on its promise to hold a referendum, declaring it "unnecessary".
The prolonged cease-fire has held without major disturbances, but Polisario has repeatedly threatened to resume fighting if no break-through occurs. Morocco's withdrawal from both the terms of the original Settlement Plan and the Baker Plan negotiations in 2003 left the peace-keeping mission without a political agenda: this further increased the risks of renewed war. Meanwhile, the gradual liberalization of political life in Morocco during the 1990s belatedly reached Western Sahara around 2000. This spurred political protest, as former "disappeared" and other human rights-campaigners began holding illegal demonstrations against Moroccan rule. The subsequent crackdowns and arrests drew media attention to the Moroccan occupation, and Sahrawi nationalists seized on the opportunity: in May 2005, a wave of demonstrations subsequently dubbed by the Independence Intifada by Polisario supporters, broke out. These demonstrations, which continued into the following year, were the most intense in years, and engendered a new wave of interest in the conflict - as well as new fears of instability. Polisario demanded international intervention, but declared that it could not stand idly by if the "escalation of repression" continues.
In 2007 Morocco requested U.N. action against a congress to be held by the Polisario Front in Tifariti from December 14th to December 16th. Morocco claims Tifariti is part of a buffer zone and the holding the congress there violates a ceasefire between the two parties. In addition, the Polisario Front has been reported as planning a vote on a proposal for making preparations for war. If passed it would be the first time in 16 years preparations for war have been part of the Polisario's strategy.
The Polisario maintains a protection to traditional desert Tuaregs values of the Blue People but combined with the other black Beduins of Arab, and the República Arabe-reber- Sahrwi Democrática/Saharaui Arab-erebere- Democratic Republic (rasd/SADR), protect mystical religious costumes and other rites. The constitution protects the right of foreign citizens, and establishes an strict separation of religion/state (government decisions).
The role of Algeria in the Western Sahara conflict
Algeria sees itself as "important actor" in the conflict , although in its official position the country claims to be a simple defender of the rights of nations to self-determination. The efforts invested by Algeria in the Western Sahara conflict, especially at level of its international relations, are comparable to the ones of an involved party such as Morocco.
Morocco's position is that Algeria is part of the conflict and uses the Sahara issue for geopolitical interests that date from the Cold War, claiming that this country in its official communication to the United Nations "presents itself sometimes as 'a concerned party,' other times as an 'important actor,' or as a 'party' in the settlement of the dispute" . The United Nations has only ever considered Morocco and the Polisario Front parties to the conflict.
The refugee camps are located in Algeria and the country has armed, trained, and financed the Polisario for more than thirty years . It has allowed more than two thousand Moroccan prisoners of war to be detained on its soil in the Polisario’s camps, most of them for twenty years, but there are no longer Moroccan POW's in the conflict.
In response to the Green March Algeria has expropriated the property of, and then forcibly expelled, tens of thousands of Moroccan civilians out of the country. Recently the Algerian authorities refused entry visa to a French artist with Moroccan origins for having expressed a pro-Moroccan position in the conflict.
Although the United Nations officially considers Morocco and the Polisario Front as the main parties to the conflict, former UN Secretary-General Mr. Kofi Annan views Algeria as a stakeholder in the Western Sahara conflict and has invited Algeria, "to engage as a party in these discussions and to negotiate, under the auspices of my [Kofi Annan’s] Personal Envoy. In an interview with the Public Broadcasting Service, in August 2004, James Baker, former personal envoy of the United Nations Secretary to Western Sahara, identified Morocco and Algeria as being both the "two chief protagonists" of the conflict. Some third parties have called for both Morocco and Algeria to negotiate directly in order to find a solution for the conflict.
Even though Algeria has no official claim to Western Sahara, some experts see that the Sahara conflict represents a domestic political issue for the country . Stressing the role played by Algerian officers in allegedly interrogating and torturing the Moroccan POWs, France Libertés states in its report on The Conditions of Detentions of the Moroccan POWs Detained in Tindouf (Algeria) that "the involvement of Algeria in the conflict is well known" . In March 2003 Khaled Nezzar, an Algerian retired general, referred to the conflict as being an issue only between Morocco and Algeria .
According to France Libertés there were direct battles between the armies of these two countries in January and February 1976, in Amgala and Morocco claims to have captured "dozens of Algerian officers and non-commissioned officers and soldiers" during these confrontations, but has released them to Algerian authorities..
The Algerian media pay just as much attention to the conflict as the media of Morocco, and typically defend the positions of the Algerian state propaganda while attacking Morocco's positions.
- 1884 - November 28 Three representatives of the Oulad Bou Sbaa tribe and Emilio Bonelli - representing the Sociedad de Africanistas y Colonistas (Society of Africanists and Colonists) - sign a treaty which formed the basis of Spain's legal conquest of the Sahara.
- 1885 - December Spanish government places Río de Oro, Angra de Cintra, and Bay of the West under its protection.
- 1887 - April 6 Spanish jurisdiction extended 150 miles into the interior.
- 1900 - June 27 Spain and France sign a convention which defines the borders between Spanish Sahara and the area which will become French-controlled Mauritania.
- 1904 - October 3 Franco-Spanish convention extends Spanish control into southern Morocco (see Ifni and Tarfaya Strip).
- 1912 - November 12 Final convention defining Spanish and French zones in West Africa.
- 1934 - May 15 Final pacification of Sahrawi in Spanish Sahara. Spanish garrison installed at Smara.
- 1944 - January Moroccan Nationalist Istiqlal party formed.
- 1946 - July 20 A decree separates Spanish Sahara from the Spanish protectorate in Morocco.
- 1947 - Discovery of phosphate reserves in the Sahara.
- 1953 - Nationalist Moroccan King Mohammed V deposed by the French.
- 1954 - November 16 King Mohammed V returns to Morocco from exile in Madagascar.
- 1956 - March 3 Beginning of Army of Liberation insurrection.
- March 27 Allal al-Fassi delivers a speech calling for unification of Greater Morocco.
- April 7 Spain recognizes Morocco's full sovereignty.
- May Forces Armées Royales established.
- July 7 Map of Greater Morocco first appears in Istiqlal's daily newspaper Al-Alam.
- August Istiqlal endorses al-Fassi's claims at its first post-independence congress.
- 1957 - July 1 Mokhtar Ould Daddah first stakes the Mauritanian claim to the Western Sahara area.
- November 12 Morocco officially lays claim to Spanish Sahara, Ifni, and Mauritania at the United Nations. (see Spanish West Africa).
- 1958 - January 10 Spanish Sahara and Ifni become Spanish provinces, rather than colonies; El Ayoun becomes an administrative center.
- February 10 Beginning of fortnight-long Opération Ouragan, a joint Franco-Spanish offensive against Moroccan irregulars of the Army of Liberation operating in Spanish Sahara and in neighbouring French colonies.
- February 25 At M'hamid, Mohammed V first publicly endorses the Moroccan claim to the Sahara.
- April 1 Spain agrees to return Spanish Southern Morocco to Rabat.
- 1960 - August 28 The Arab League announces support for Morocco's claim of sovereignty over Mauritania.
- November 28 Mauritania becomes independent from France.
- December 14 UN General Assembly Resolution 1514 (XV) signed. (Declaration on the granting of independence to colonial countries and peoples).
- 1961 - King Hassan II becomes Moroccan sovereign.
- October 27 United Nations General Assembly votes to admit Mauritania, thus frustrating Morocco's claim.
- 1962 - July Algeria achieves its independence from France.
- July-October Morocco attempts to occupy disputed border areas of Algeria by force.
- October 9 Algeria drives Moroccan forces from Tindouf.
- 1963 - May First provincial elections held in Spanish Sahara.
- July 15 Three representatives of the Sahara take their seats at the Cortes Generales.
- October 1 Morocco again attempts to occupy Algerian border posts.
- November 4 The Organization of African Unity brokers a cease-fire that comes into effect between Morocco and Algeria.
- 1964 - October The UN urges Spain to decolonize the Sahara.
- 1965 - The second round of elections take place.
- Spain publicly announces the scale of Bou Craa phosphate deposits.
- December 16 The UN General Assembly first calls on Spain to decolonize the Sahara.
- 1966 - Referendum held in which Saharawi endorse the Spanish occupation.
- December 20 UN General Assembly Resolution 2229 calls on Spain to hold a referendum on the future of the Sahara.
- 1967 - Sahara's number of seats in the Cortes increases from three to six.
- May Djema'a set up with 82 members.
- July 14 - August 20 First elections to Djema'a.
- September 11 Djema'a inaugurated in El Ayoun.
- 1968 - October 12 Spain's last remaining African colony other than the Sahara, Equatorial Guinea, achieves independence.
- 1969 - Morocco recognizes Mauritanian independence.
- June 30 Ifni ceded to Morocco.
- 1970 - June 8 Morocco and Mauritania sign a treaty in Casablanca, normalizing relations.
- 1971 - Western powers recognize self-determination as a legal right and its denial as a violation of the United Nations Charter.
- January Second round of elections for the Djema'a take place.
- July 10 Attempted military coup in Morocco.
- 1972 - June Colonel Muammar al-Gaddafi of Libya announces he would back a war of liberation in the Sahara.
- June 5-19 At a session in Rabat the OAU echoes UN calls for a referendum.
- June 15 Morocco and Algeria sign a joint declaration of friendship, as border disputes settle.
- August 16 Second attempt at a military coup.
- 1973 - May 10 Polisario Front founded.
- May 20 First Polisario attacks against the Spanish army.
- September 5-9 The Non-Aligned Movement, meeting in Algiers, endorses the UN resolutions.
- September 21 Francisco Franco announces that Spain will prepare the Sahara for internal autonomy.
- December 20 Assassination of Luis Carrero Blanco, Franco's successor-apparent, by ETA.
- 1974 - Spanish census, including the Saharan region.
- January 26 Spanish forces capture their first Polisario prisoners in an engagement at Guelb Lahmar.
- April Portuguese dictatorship overthrown following colonial wars.
- June 21-25 The fifth Islamic Summit endorses UN resolutions at a meeting in Kuala Lumpur.
- August 20 Spain announces it will hold a referendum in the first six months of 1975.
- August 25-31 Polisario announces the goal of full independence at its second congress.
- September 17 King Hassan announces that the Sahara question should go before the International Court of Justice.
- October 20 Polisario disable the Fosbucraa conveyor belt.
- October 26-29 Algerian premier Houari Boumédienne declares support for a Moroccan-Mauritanian partition plan.
- December Morocco convinces Spain to delay referendum until after the International Court of Justice ruling.
- December 13 The United Nations General Assembly approves a Moroccan resolution urging postponement of the planned referendum and requesting an International Court of Justice advisory opinion.
- December 17 Five Spanish soldiers killed in combat against Polisario.
- 1975 - Algeria begins to oppose Moroccan policy on the Sahara.
- January 16 Spain announces that it will suspend the referendum and give evidence to the International Court of Justice.
- January 27 King Hassan asks the UN to examine the status of Ceuta and Melilla.
- February Algeria begins to train Polisario guerrillas.
- February 16 The pro-Spanish Saharawi party, Partido de Unión Nacional Saharaui (PUNS) officially registers.
- March First Polisario deaths in combat.
- May 10-11 Several Saharawi troops of the Tropas Nómadas (the Spanish-founded Saharawi paramilitary police force) desert to the Polisario.
- May 12-19 A UN mission of inquiry visits Sahara, Spain, Algeria, Mauritania, and Morocco.
- October 15 The mission publishes a report stating that an "overwhelming" majority of Saharawi favor independence, and that Polisario is by far the most important political movement of the territory.
- October 16 International Court of Justice Advisory Opinion on Western Sahara published. It contradicts Moroccan and Mauritanian claims to sovereignty over the Sahara and rejects the view of the territory as terra nullius (territory belonging to no-one) upon colonization; rather it belonged its inhabitants - the Sahrawis.
- October 28 Spanish end Entente with Polisario; Saharawi tropps dismissed from Spanish army.
- October 31 Moroccan Forces Armées Royales (FAR) forces occupy outposts evacuated by Spain.
- November 2 Prince Juan Carlos vows to defend the Sahara from Moroccan invasion.
- November 6 Green March crosses border from Morocco; condemned by Algeria.
- November 9 Algeria excluded from tripartite talks.
- November 12 Resumption of tripartite talks.
- November 13 Last of Green Marchers return to Morocco, FAR forces remain.
- November 14 Tripartite Agreement (also known as Madrid Accords) signed by Spain, Morocco, and Mauritania.
- November 15 Polisario declares agreement null and void.
- November 19 Algeria also declares agreement null and void.
- November 20 Franco dies.
- November 25 King Hassan of Morocco announces that Morocco will freeze its claims to the Spanish-controlled enclaves until Spain recovers Gibraltar; Moroccan troops arrive in El Aiun.
- December 11 Polisario attacks conveyor belt for the first time since the accords.
- December 17 Mauritanian troops occupy Lagouira.
- 1976 - January 21 First loss of a Moroccan plane in the conflict.
- January 29 A Moroccan attack on Amgala, inside Western Sahara, kills dozens of Algerian soldiers.
- January Conveyor belt put out of action for six years.
- February French President Valéry Giscard d'Estaing declares opposition to "microstates".
- February 26 Spanish troops complete withdrawal from the Sahara, two days early.
- February 27 Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) declared by Polisario, flag of Western Sahara raised.
- February 28 Madagascar becomes the first state to recognize the SADR.
- February-April Morocco uses napalm on refugees during bombing raids, refugees move into Algeria.
- March 6 SADR recognized by Algeria; Morocco and Mauritania break off relations with Algeria.
- April 14 Moroccan-Mauritanian partition treaty signed in Fés.
- April 19 Polisario's first attack on the Nouadhibou-Zouerate railway line inside Mauritania. Morocco captures Guelta Zemmour, the final Spanish outpost.
- April Polisario focuses efforts on Mauritania.
- June 9 Polisario Secretary-General El-Ouali Mustapha Sayed dies in attack on Nouakchott.
- August 26 Mohammed Abdelaziz elected Secretary-General during Polisario's third congress.
- September New Franco-Mauritanian military agreement signed.
- 1977 February 17 Spanish-Moroccan fishing agreement signed; beginning of Polisario attacks on Spanish fishing vessels.
- May 1 Polisario attacked and held in Zouerate for over two hours, forcing French to evacuate and mining to come to a halt. Two French citizens killed.
- May 13 Mauritania signs a mutual defense pact with Morocco.
- July 3 Nouakchott attacked again, few Polisario casualties.
- July Moroccan troops airlifted into Zouerate to reinforce Mauritanians.
- October 25 Two French nationals seized during raid on railway.
- October 27 Giscard d'Estaing orders preparations for military action (Opération Lamantin) to begin.
- November 19 Talks for release of French citizens held by Polisario break down.
- December 2 First French airstrikes against Polisario columns in Mauritania.
- December 12 French aircraft use napalm on Polisario units and their Mauritanian prisoners after attack on railway.
- December 14 Spain announces an end to arms shipments to Morocco and Mauritania.
- December 18 Jaguar aircraft bomb Polisario column after attack on railway, killing 74 of 82 Mauritanian prisoners.
- December 23 French prisoners arrive back in Paris after Polisario released them to the UN.
- 1978 January Beginning of continuous attacks on Complexe Minier du Nord (COMINOR) railway.
- May 3-5 French Jaguars attack Polisario in Zouerate.
- July 10 Military coup in Mauritania ends Moktar Ould Daddah's regime.
- July 12 The coup leader announces that the military will negotiate an end to conflict; Polisario announces a temporary halt to military operations in Mauritania.
- August Beginning of series of Polisario attacks against targets in southern Morocco.
- 1979 January 28 Polisario attack Tan-Tan, hold it for four hours.
- May 1-5 OAU committee visits parties.
- May The U.S. State Department gives the U.S. company Northrop Page Communications the go-ahead to build a $200-million electronic detection-system to help Morocco detect Polisario fighters.
- July OAU Wise Men's Committee adopts the idea of a referendum.
- July 12 Polisario ends its year-long ceasefire with Mauritania, attacking Tichla in Tiris el-Gharbia.
- August 3 Beginning of peace-talks between Mauritania and Polisario.
- August 5 Mauritania and Polisario sign peace agreement in Algiers.
- August 14 Tiris el-Gharbia declared a Moroccan province.
- August 24 Polisario's most devastating attack on FAR, at Lebouirnate in southern Morocco. Nearly one thousand die; Polisario hold the town for over a year.
- October 9 Most northerly Polisario attack at M'Hamid in Draa valley.
- December 26 Last Moroccan troops leave Mauritania.
- December 27 Houari Boumédienne dies.
- 1980 April Libya recognizes the SADR.
- May 22 Polisario resumes attacks on Spanish boats fishing in Saharan waters.
- July 29 Moroccan aircraft attack Boulanour, Mauritania, in response to a Polisario attack on Guelta Zemmour.
- 1981 January Spain withdraws boats from Saharawi waters due to Polisario attacks.
- March 2 First stretch of defensive wall (or berm) completed between Smara and the Zini Mountains.
- May 11 Berm extended to Bou Craa.
- June 20 Riots in Casablanca, between 66 and 637 killed by FAR.
- June 26 King Hassan of Morocco announces his willingness to co-operate with the OAU's plan for a referendum.
- August 31 SADR admitted to OAU.
- October-December FAR virtually paralyze Polisario after introducing ground-to-air missiles.
- November 7 FAR evacuate Guelta Zemmour, the largest garrison outside the berm.
- November 9 Evacuation of Bir Enxaren, the last garrison outside the so-called "useful triangle" (the region of Western Sahara with the most resources and infrastructure); Polisario hold five-sixths of Western Sahara.
- December 1 Following the election of François Mitterrand as President of France, Polisario open an office in Paris, .
- 1982 - Over 130 U.S. military advisors work with the FAR, several of them seen in Western Sahara.
- January FAR begin to go on the offensive.
- May Berm reaches Atlantic Ocean.
- May 11 United States House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee prohibit U.S. military advisors from working in Western Sahara.
- October Partido Socialista Obrero Español (or PSOE, English: Socialist Workers Party of Spain), a Polisario-sympathetic party, win elections.
- 1983 - Spanish-Moroccan fishing disputes settled by treaty.
- January 25 General Ahmed Dlimi, commander of Moroccan forces in the Sahara, dies in a mysterious car-accident after numerous rumors circulate of a coup attempt.
- February 26 Summit of Akid Lotfi, the first meeting of Algerian and Moroccan leaders since the start of the conflict.
- June New peace-plan launched by the OAU in a meeting in Addis Ababa.
- October 31 Deadline set by OAU for implementation of peace plan.
- 1984 - August 13 Treaty of Oujda signed by Morocco and Libya.
- November 12 Admission of SADR to OAU after several stalled attempts; Morocco withdraws.
- 1985 - September Start of revitalized UN role in Sahara.
- October 23 Morocco offers a cease-fire and a referendum under UN auspices.
- November 12 Morocco withdraws its offer of a referendum.
- December UN General Assembly Resolution 40/50 endorses the OAU's referendum plan.
- 1986 - July King Hassan II of Morocco and United Nations Secretary-General Javier Pérez de Cuéllar meet in Rabat, with no resolution.
- August Treaty of Oujda abrogated.
- October 31 UN General Assembly Resolution 41/60 asks Pérez de Cuéllar to examine the idea of a referendum, with a view to implementing it.
- 1987] - April 16 The Moroccan Armed Forces finish constructing the sixth section of the berm.
- May 4 Moroccan and Algerian leaders meet again at Akid Lotfi.
- November-December A UN-OAU tenchnical mission visits the region.
- 1988 - January Polisario announce a temporary truce to facilitate the UN's work.
- May 4 Morocco and Algeria re-establish diplomatic relations.
- June Spain and Morocco sign a framework agreement covering commercial ties.
- July 12 - 22 Talks held between Moroccan and Saharawi delegates in Saudi Arabia.
- August 11 Pérez de Cuéllar proposes his Settlement Plan.
- August 30 Peace-Plan accepted by both sides.
- September 16 Polisario launch a heavy offensive against the FAR at Oum Dreiga.
- October The United Nations Committee on Decolonization passes a resolution calling for direct talks between Morocco and Polisario.
- November 20 The UN General Assembly passes a similar resolution.
- December King Hassan II announces that he would meet Saharawi nationalists for discussions.
- 1989 - January 4-5 Kiung Hassan II meets Polisario leaders for the first time.
- January Polisario allowed to re-open an office in Madrid, improving ties with Spain. Later, Polisario announces that it will cease military actions in February.
- February Maghreb Arab Union (UMA) founded without SADR participation.
- May Morocco ratifies the 1972 Treaty of Ifrane, ending its border dispute with Algeria.
- September 21 King Hassan II declares no need for further discussion with Polisario.
- Autumn Conflict intensifies.
- September 24 Polisario launches a major new offensive against Moroccan positions.
- October-November Polisario attacks Guelta Zemmour, the Hawza section of the berm, and Amgala, causing heavy losses to FAR.
- 1990 - Spring Moroccan-Algerian relations cool.
- March The independence of Namibia increases the UN's involvement with decolonization issues.
- Summer France becomes heavily involved with UN attempts to bring about negotiations.
- June 18 UN Peace-Plan made public, detailed plan presented.
- June 27 The Security Council calls on both sides to co-operate with UN attempts to resolve the conflict, unanimously supporting the Secretary-General.
- June UN-sponsored meeting of Saharawi tribal leaders in Geneva, Switzerland. Meanwhile, the Islamic Salvation Front wins local Algerian elections.
- July A UN technical team visits the region to lay grounds for referendum.
- August Morocco sends troops to fight against Iraq in the Gulf War.
- 1991 - April The UN General Assembly approves the Secretary-General's referendum plan, establishing Mission des Nations unies pour l'Organisation d'un Référendum au Sahara Occidental (MINURSO) with a budget of $177 million.
- April 29 UN Security Council Resolution 690 approves the establishment of MINURSO.
- September 6 Provisional date for cease-fire.
- December 19 Pérez de Cuéllar proposes changes to voter criteria, viewed as a capitulation to Moroccan demands.
- 1992 - January Provisional date for referendum.
- 1993 - May MINURSO's Voter Identification Committee established.
- July Direct talks held between Morocco and Polisario.
- 1994 - April Identification Committee begins to process voters.
- 1995 - Morocco and the European Union sign a Partnership agreement.
- 1996 - May Identification process suspended, most civilian staff withdrawn from MINURSO.
- 1997 - March 17 American James Baker III installed as United Nations Special Representative in Western Sahara.
- June 11-12 Baker holds first talks with both sides separately in London.
- June 23-25 First official face-to-face talks held between Morocco and Polisario in Lisbon.
- September Houston Accords apparently break impasse.
- December Identification process re-started.
- 1998 - September 3 Voter identification nearly completed, except for three contested tribes.
- November 7-15 UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan visits Maghrebi countries in a search for a solution.
- 1999 - June 15 Identification Committee begins to look at contested tribes.
- July Death of King Hassan II. His son King Mohammed VI succeeds to the throne.
- July 15 Beginning of appeals process for voters.
- November Driss Basri sacked as Minister of the Interior of Morocco.
- December Completion of voter lists.
- 2000 - May 14 Baker introduces "Third Way" Framework Agreement plan as an alternative to the referendum process.
- June 28 Further talks in London end without agreement.
- July Talks in Geneva break down.
- December 22 Polisario threatens to resume the war if the Paris Dakar Rally crosses Saharan territory from Morocco without applying for permission from the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic.
- 2001 - March Talks aimed at setting a date for the first meeting of heads of state of UMA countries since 1995 break down after arguments between Algerian and Moroccan diplomats over the Sahara.
- May 16 Morocco announces that it had presented a plan for Saharan autonomy to the UN.
- June 22 The UN presents the Framework Agreement for autonomy.
- December 2 French President Jacques Chirac of France describes the Sahara as Morocco's Southern Provinces.
- 2002 - February 19 Kofi Annan presents the Security Council with four options to break the impasse in the Sahara: referendum, autonomy, partition, or complete withdrawal.
- March MINURSO's total expenditure exceeds $500 million.
- July The Security Council votes to extend the mandate of MINURSO.
- 2003 - January James Baker announces the "new Baker Plan", the Peace Plan for Self-Determination of the People of Western Sahara. It describes a proposed Western Sahara Authority to administer the territory autonomously until the holding of a referendum in 2007 or in 2008. In a surprise move, the Polisario accepts the document as a basis of negotiations; Morocco stalls for several months, but eventually rejects the plan, stating that the kingdom will no longer accept independence as one of the ballot options.
- July UN Security Council Resolution 1495 announces support for Baker's latest plan, and extends the mandate of MINURSO to January 31 2004.
- 2004 - January MINURSO extended until April.
- April The UN extends MINURSO's mandate for another year.
- June 11 James Baker resigns: Peruvian Alvari de Soto takes his place.
- August Miguel Ángel Moratinos, Foreign Minister of Spain, vows that Spain will support the Baker Plan.
- September 15 South Africa recognizes the SADR.
- 2005 - April 22 Foreign Minister of South Africa Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma visits the SADR on official business.
- May 25 An intifada (or uprising) begins in the cities of El Aiun and Smara, and student uprisings occur in Moroccan universities. Reports circulate of police brutality and of the kidnapping of peaceful demonstrators.
- June 25 Kenya gives full recognition to the SADR.
- July 27 Dutch ambassador Peter Van Walsum confirmed as James Baker's replacement.
- August 17 Announcement that the SADR will release all 404 of the Moroccan prisoners-of-war.
- December 27 Sudan becomes the first state to support Moroccan sovereignty over the Western Sahara.
- October 2005 to February 2006 Peter van Walsum consulted Polisario Algeria, Morocco and other countries. On April 19 his report was published. No agreement was reached.
- December 28 Uruguay recognizes the SADR.
- The UN Security Council has prolonged the mandate of the MINURSO-mission until 31 October 2006.
(The above text derives in part from the unpublished paper The Western Sahara: A Case Study by John Carthy, written for the University of Portsmouth, with permission.)
- Mercer, J. Spanish Sahara. London: George Allen & Unwin, 1976
- Diego Aguirre, José Ramón. Historia del Sahara Español. La verdad de una traición, Kaydeda, Madrid, 1987.
- Chronology of Spanish Sahara
- Thematic bibliography: general: The question of Western Sahara
- Western Sahara: A Comprehensive Bibliography, Sipe Lynn F., Garland Publ., N.Y., 1984
- Endgame in the Western Sahara: What Future for Africa's Last Colony? by Toby Shelley (ISBN 1-84277-341-0)
- Western Sahara: Anatomy of a Stalemate by Erik Jensen (ISBN 1-58826-305-3)
- Western Sahara: Roots of a Desert War by Tony Hodges (ISBN 0-88208-152-7)
- The Western Sahara: A Case Study by John Carthy, University of Portsmouth (unpublished thesis paper)
- Skeletons on the Zahara: A True Story of Survival by Dean King (ISBN 978-0316835145)
Pro Moroccan government sites
Pro Polisario sites