Western Sahara

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Facts & figures

  • Territory: Western Sahara
  • Status: Disputed territory claimed by Morocco and Saharawis seeking self-determination
  • Population: 567,000 (UN, 2012)
  • Main town: Laayoune
  • Area: 252,120 sq km (97,344 sq miles)
  • Major language: Arabic
  • Major religion: Islam
  • Life expectancy: 66 years (men), 70 years (women) (UN)
  • Economic resources: Phosphate deposits, fishing, possibly oil
  • Currency in use: Moroccan dirham
  • GNI per capita: n/a

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The Polisario Front proclaimed the Saharan Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) in 1976, with a government in exile headed by Mohamed Abdelaziz.

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Visa & travel advice

Western Sahara is always hot and dry, though temperatures do tend to be higher in Northern Hemisphere “summer” months. Remember, you will be in a desert: nights can be very cold, so prepare accordingly.


Because Western Sahara is so sparsely populated, and because both Morocco and the Polisario are in control, there is no Western Saharan police force or emergency services. There is an obvious Moroccan military presence in the Moroccan-controlled territory. Beware of minefields is these areas.

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Occupied by Spain since the late 19th century, the Western Sahara has been on the United Nations list of non-self-governing territories since 1963 after a Moroccan demand. It is the most populous territory on that list, and by far the largest in area. In 1965, the UN General Assembly adopted its first resolution on Western Sahara, asking Spain to decolonise the territory. One year later, a new resolution was passed by the General Assembly requesting that a referendum be held by Spain on self-determination.

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 The Western Sahara has an established music tradition. Many of the well-known from the country musicians have settled in Dakar, where they mingled further with musicians from West Africa.Sahrawi music shares much in common with neighbouring musical traditions such as those of Mauritania and southern Morocco. The Tbal is the basic instrument of percussion, though the traditional string instrument called Tidinit, has largely been replaced by electric guitar.The first Sahrawi music LP, entitled Polisario vencerá, was recorded live in Barcelona, in 1982 by the band Shahid El Uali.Some performers are tribespeople who have lived a nomadic existence, which is true of Mariem Hassan.



Western Saharan literature in Spanish is a small body of writing which has emerged in contemporary times mainly in the form of lyrics written by singers who have chosen the Spanish language as their medium.

Film industry:

The Sahara International Film Festival, also known as FiSahara, is an annual event which takes place in the Sahrawi refugee camps, at the South West corner of Algeria, near the border with Western Sahara. It is the only film festival in the world taking place in a refugee camp. The first three years the festival was held alternately in the Wilaya of Smara, Wilaya of Ausserd and Wilaya of El Aaiun, but since 2007 the FiSahara had stayed in the Wilaya of Dakhla. The event is backed by the Polisario Front, but largely organised and funded by donors from Spain, the former colonial power in Western Sahara, attracting support from Spanish film celebrities as Penélope Cruz and Pedro Almodóvar.

Famous monuments :

In the western cultural imagination, Timbuktu is more than a place – its very name invokes enigma, exoticism and a sense of the remote.Sitting on the southern edge of the Sahara in Mali, the city is one of Africa’s most ancient urban centres. A historic seat of learning, it is also home to a series of extraordinary Islamic mosques, tombs and shrines fashioned from the mud of the desert.

The barren Western Sahara with its unclear political status is not a tourist hotspot, and also not too rich with natural and man-made heritage.


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