Western Sahara Demography and Politics

By | November 12, 2021



The population of Western Sahara for the most part is of Arab and Berber origin, there is also a small minority of Spanish or European descent, and of black race. According to abbreviationfinder, the country of Western Sahara is mostly occupied by Moroccan settlers who arrived after 1975 and by the Army.

Morocco continues to encourage the settlement of Moroccans with a view to a referendum on independence, most of them are ethnic Sahrawis from southern Morocco. Experts estimate that the newly arrived population currently exceeds the indigenous population, although data on the number and composition of the population are subject to political controversy. However, a large part of the original Sahrawi population has been exiled in camps in Tindouf since 1975. See population of Western Sahara.

The headquarters of the Polisario Front are the refugee camps of Tindouf, in Algeria. Approximately 165,000 Sahrawi refugees live in them according to the latest calculation carried out by the United Nations. However, the Moroccan authorities do not agree with this figure, saying that it is lower and that many of the refugees are non-Sahrawi Africans who benefit from international aid. A large part of the areas controlled by the Polisario are desert and have no resident population, although some groups of Sahrawis who drive camels cross them to go and return between the Tindouf area and Mauritania. The presence of mines throughout the territory makes it a dangerous way of life.


The official language is Arabic, although the dialect known as Hasanía is fluently spoken. This dialect is also spoken in Mauritania but with very few differences that can only be detected by Bidhan (the residents of the Sahara and Mauritania).

Spanish is also spoken, as the second most important language in the territory, particularly by those who grew up under the Spanish presence.


The nomads were refractory to successive attempts at Islamization, until the preacher was one of them. The cultural zone of Mediterranean Africa and the Senegalese-Mauritanian region soon received the new faith, however, Western Sahara remained for four centuries with its own beliefs, which means that currently 100% of the Saharawi population is Islamic.

In the eleventh century an austere brotherhood of Almoravid warrior monks was founded and spread with astonishing rapidity among the nomadic Berbers; It was created by a holy man who had made the pilgrimage to Mecca. These warriors pounce on Morocco, Algeria, Mauritania, Mali and even Spain.

Saguia el Hamra towards the 16th century is inhabited by mystics who seek sanctification through prayer and solitude. Some of them, endowed with extraordinary faith, invade North Africa in waves. Since then known as the Land of Saints by all the Muslims of North West Africa.

A new social order is created after the civil war of Chaad Bubba in the seventeenth century, which would last until colonization: at the top the Chorfa, descendants of the Prophet. Below were both the Arab (warriors) and the Zuaia (people of books dedicated to religious study and meditation, residents of the Tiris). The third step would be made up of Znaga (tributaries, artisans and others, descendants of Jews, freedmen, slaves, etc).

Religion is a fundamental link within Sahrawi society. Two ways of seeing and practicing Islam coexist in the Sahara, as in the rest of the Maghreb countries:

  • The orthodox knowledge from which Islamic theology and law derive.
  • Popular beliefs, mystics and brotherhoods.

Among the Saharawi population the use of amulets for different purposes is also known.

Other aspects related to traditional popular religiosity are ritual and magical practices, food taboos, evil eyes, the actions of spirits and different types of wonders.

Politic and government

The government is called the Presidential Republic, led by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia el Hamra and Río de Oro (Polisario Front). In practice, not recognized by all countries or by the UN.

Formerly it was divided into Saguia el Hamra (Capital: El Aaiún) and Río de Oro (Capital: Dakhla, former Villa Cisneros). Other important towns are Smara or La Güera (or La Agüera).

Morocco has divided Western Sahara into four provinces: Bojador, El Aaiún, Smara and Río de Oro. After the reorganization of 1997, the territory of Western Sahara belongs to three Moroccan regions (Oued Ed-Dahab – Lagouira, Laâyoune – Boujdour – Sakia El Hamra and Guelmin – Es-Semara). The last two also include Moroccan territory (a small portion of Cape Juby that and a large portion of southern Morocco this).

Since its proclamation, the SADR has had a modern, democratic structure, in which popular aspirations and the interests and values ​​of the nation are above all other considerations. The popular will is expressed directly through the grassroots and local popular Congresses, where all the decisions of the People’s Power originate.

The General People’s Congress is the highest instance of the Polisario Front. Its National Committee constitutes the body of political power. While the Government and the National Council form respectively, the Executive Power and the Legislative Power. By constitutional principle, the SADR proclaims Non-Alignment as a State principle. The war with Morocco forced the development of an agile and simple but effective political-administrative organization scheme, by reducing bureaucracy as much as possible and offering quick responses to each situation.

From 1976 until 2016, it was its president, Mohamed Abdelaziz, who passed away on May 31, 2016.

Western Sahara Politics