On this day February 26, 1976

The rebel movement Polisario Front proclaimed the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (Arabic: ‘الجمهورية العربية الصحراوية الديمقراطية‎) in Western Sahara.

The SADR is a partially recognised state which claims sovereignty over the entire territory of Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony.

The SADR government currently controls about 20% of the territory it claims. It calls the territories under its control the “Liberated Territories” or “Free Zone.” Morocco controls and administers the rest of the disputed territory and calls these lands its Southern Provinces.

The SADR government considers the Moroccan held territory “Occupied Territory” while Morocco considers the much smaller SADR held territory to be a “Buffer Zone.”

Following the Spanish evacuation of Spanish Sahara, Spain, Morocco, and Mauritania signed the Madrid Accords, leading to both Morocco and Mauritania moving in to annex it. Neither state gained international recognition and war ensued with the independence-seeking Polisario Front, claiming to represent the Sahrawi people.

The creation of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic was announced in Bir Lehlou in Western Sahara on February 27, 1976, as the Polisario declared the need for a new entity to fill what they considered a political void left by the departing Spanish colonizers.

Bir Lehlou remained in Polisario-held territory under the 1991 cease-fire and has remained the government in exile’s symbolic capital of the exiled republic, while Polisario continues to claim the Moroccan held city of El Aaiún, as the capital of a would-be independent Western Sahara.

Day-to-day business is, however, conducted in the Tindouf refugee camps in Algeria, which house most of the Sahrawi exile community.

The Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic is currently recognized as a sovereign representative of Western Sahara by forty-three states, mostly African and other governments in the developing world. Twenty-two states have withdrawn their former recognition, and twelve have “frozen” their diplomatic relations with the republic pending the outcome of the UN referendum.

Sahrawi embassies exist in thirteen states. On the other hand, Moroccan territorial integrity, apparently meaning including Western Sahara, is explicitly recognized by the Arab League and by twenty-five states.

Although it has no representation at the United Nations, the republic has been a full member of the African Union (AU, formerly the Organization of African Unity, OAU) since 1984. Morocco withdrew from the OAU in protest and remains the only African nation not within the AU since South Africa’s admittance in 1994.

The SADR is also a member of the Asian-African Strategic Partnership formed at the 2005 Asian-African Conference[9], over Moroccan objections to SADR participation.

In 2006, the SADR participated in a conference of the Permanent Conference of Political Parties of the Latin American and the Caribbean (COPPAL)[11].

The SADR is not a member of the Arab League, nor of the Arab Maghreb Union, both of which include Morocco as a full member.


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