Western Sahara. Representatives of the Western Saharan
organization Polisario, who are fighting for independence
from Morocco, and for the Moroccan government held direct
talks on May 14 in London. No concrete progress was made at
the meeting, which was followed by a similar one on May 28.
In October, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan demanded that
Morocco hand over some powers to local Western Saharan
bodies. He threatened that the UN would otherwise carry out
a planned referendum on the future status of V without
taking into account the Moroccan requirements that even
immigrant Moroccans should have the right to vote. Polisario
demands that only the indigenous people are allowed to vote.
Western Sahara: The Moroccan-occupied areas
The Moroccan-occupied parts of Western Sahara have
changed a lot since 1975, thanks to large state investments.
Nowadays, Western Sahara is a minority in their own country,
as most residents are Moroccans who moved in after the
invasion. Security forces are progressing much harder in
Western Sahara than in actual Morocco, but protests continue
to flare up irregularly.
Western Sahara has been divided since the 1980s by a
mined sand embankment that runs throughout the territory
from north to south. Morocco controls the three-quarters of
the territory to the west of the wall, including the entire
coast and all cities, but continues to claim the entire
Western Sahara is considered part of southern Morocco and
is managed under Moroccan law, with a governor as the
highest government representative. In practice, the area is
under close supervision from the security services and the
military, due to the importance of the Western Sahara
conflict to the country. Western Sahara has been divided
into three regions, two of which also cover areas in
southern Morocco. The boundary line was changed with the
major regionalization reform launched by the king in 2010
(see Morocco: Modern History).
The majority of the population today consists of
Moroccans who have moved in since 1975. According to 2004
Moroccan population figures, the proportion of native
speakers of Hassania (the Saharan dialect of Arabic) is not
higher than 40 percent in any of the provinces that include
Western Sahara. In the southern half of the territory, the
figure is as low as 21 percent. It is also apparent that
about 15 percent of Western Sahara residents now speak some
Moroccan Berber language, mainly tashelhit.
Thus, most Moroccan immigrants are non-Saharan, both Arab
and Berber. They have generally been attracted to the area
by generous subsidies, government jobs, business
opportunities or military missions. Following the ceasefire
in 1991, the government also moved tens of thousands of
ethnic Saharans from southern Morocco to Western Sahara,
hoping to present them as voters in a possible referendum on
The Moroccan-controlled parts of Western Sahara are now
open for tourism and transit, but remain under strict
military and police control. The transparency of the world
is limited. Several foreign journalists have been expelled
from the area and Moroccan journalists reporting on Western
Sahara are badly offended if they do not support the
government's line. In November 2009, Morocco expelled a
Swedish diplomat, accused of violating his powers through
contacts with Police Sympathizers. Swedish Foreign Ministry
The initial Moroccan invasion of 1975 was very brutal.
During the war years, a large number of Saharans were killed
or "disappeared", sometimes even families and relatives of
suspected Polisario supporters. Hundreds of cases of such
"disappearances" are still unresolved, despite the fact that
the state acknowledged some cases after Mohammed VI's 1999
power take-over. Yet it remains far more dangerous to be
politically active in Western Sahara than in actual Morocco,
and Western Saharan human rights groups are denied
permission to work from the authorities.
There are no specifically Saharan political parties. By
contrast, Moroccan political parties have local branches in
Western Sahara, often linked to local potentates who support
Morocco. Parliamentary and local elections are held in the
area despite Polisario's protests, and Moroccan authorities
generally report a significantly higher turnout in Western
Sahara than in actual Morocco.
During the 2000s, Morocco has taken the initiative to
preserve the Hassani dialect and other Saharan customs,
which were previously viewed with some suspicion. Among
other things, a local TV station has been started in El
Aaiún, which reports on Saharan culture and local issues,
while also propagating for the area's Moroccan identity.
The Moroccan-controlled parts of Western Sahara receive
extensive financial support from the central government,
which has greatly raised the standard of living. For
example, Western Saharan students receive free travel and
other benefits at Moroccan universities, as part of their
efforts to integrate the people of Morocco.