Western Sahara. Violence erupted on November 8 near
Western Sahara's largest city, El-Aaiún, when police stormed
the newly formed protest camp Gadaym Izik. According to the
Western Sahara Independence Movement Polisario, 36 people
were killed. According to Moroccan authorities, the number
was killed, of which ten were Moroccan soldiers. About
20,000 people lived in the camp, which was set up in protest
of difficult social conditions in the area. Polisario stated
that 163 of them were arrested in connection with the storm.
The human rights organization Human Rights Watch reported
that many of the arrested were battered, tortured and
threatened with rape. The storming was conducted the same
day as new talks between the parties began in New York.
Morocco was prepared to give Western Sahara a measure of
self-government, but Polisario wanted a referendum on the
issue of full independence.
Polisario and the refugee camps
Polisario was formed as a guerrilla group, but today also
functions as a political movement and exile government, with
ministers, courts and a legislative assembly that governs
tens of thousands of Sahrawis in the refugee camps.
Polisario's exile government controls the desert areas of
the eastern quarter of Western Sahara, but has its base
outside Tindouf in western Algeria, where tens of thousands
of Western Saharians have lived as refugees since 1975. The
climate in the Tindouf area is very inhospitable, and the
refugee camps are almost entirely dependent on the
international. Algeria, the UN and the international relief
agency contribute with food and commodity deliveries.
Several private support organizations also carry out
auxiliary activities in the camps, mainly from Spain, but
also, for example, Swedish Emmaus Björkå.
The refugee camps do not obey Algerian law, but are
controlled by Polisario. They are considered well organized.
The total of more than 20 smaller camps is divided into four
cohesive groups, which are called "provinces" (wilaya) and
are named after each western Saharan city: El Aaiún, Smara,
Dakhla and Aouserd. There are also a number of smaller camps
for administration, warehouses, school operations, and more.
During the 1975-91 war years, most of the Sahrawi men were
at the front, which meant that the women had primary
responsibility for the camps. After the ceasefire, women's
influence has again diminished, but regional measures have
The Saharan Arab Democratic Republic (SADR or RASD has
been most widely recognized by over 80 states, most in
Africa and Latin America. About 50 are adhering to its
recognition today. SADR has been a full member of the
African Union since 1984 (AU, formerly OAU), but not by any
Polisario considers itself a liberation front that will
gather the entire people as long as the struggle for
independence continues. No political parties are allowed in
the refugee camps, although the constitution of the SADR
promises multi-party systems in a future independent Western
Sahara. The general secretary / president is elected every
three or four years through the General People's Congress,
which brings together delegates from the refugee camps, the
military and various sub-organizations. It is usually held
in Tifariti in the Polisario-controlled parts of Western
Sahara. Congress also elects the National Secretariat, which
is Polisario's governing body, currently with 50 members.
There is also a SADR government, a parliament (Saharan
National Council), and several other institutions. The
government, or the Council of Ministers, was led in
2003–2018 by Prime Minister Abdelkader Taleb Ombar.
Polisario was led in 1976–2016 by Secretary General
Mohamed Abdelaziz, also President of SADR. At Polisario's
14th congress in December 2015, he was re-elected without
any other candidates. When Abdelaziz resigned six months
later, President of the National Council (see below) took
over Khatri Addouh as acting Secretary-General. In July
2016, Brahim Ghali was elected new Secretary-General and
thus President of SADR.
During the war years, Polisario ruled the refugee camps
with undemocratic and sometimes harsh methods. An internal
power struggle broke out in the fall of 1988, leading to the
termination of several senior members. After this and in
connection with the ceasefire in 1991, the political climate
in the refugee camps was significantly liberalized, and
information on abuse has become relatively rare. In
practice, however, power remained concentrated in the hands
of Mohamed Abdelaziz and a small group of veterans from the
early years of the movement.
Polisario / SADR run news agency SPS, a radio station and
a TV channel, and issues including the newspaper Al-Sahra
Al-Hurra since 1975. In 1999 started the so far only
independent magazine in the refugee camps, al-Mustaqbal
al-Sahrawi, who since then issued irregularly in small
circulation. Unlike the official media, it is sharply
critical of the Polisario leadership, which is accused of
imperfection and mismanagement of the independence struggle.
The Internet is accessible through public computers in some
of the refugee camps and appears to be uncensored, although
there are indications that radical Islamist sites have been
Polisario originally had a left-wing rhetoric but
abandoned it gradually during the 1980s and 1990s. In 2008,
Polisario joined as an observer member of the Socialist
International, which organizes social democratic parties.
During the war, Polisario's armed force (the Saharan
People's Liberation Army, ELPS) was estimated to be
approximately 20,000 men. Today it has been reduced to
perhaps 6,000 active soldiers. In recent years, the
Polisario has threatened to resume the armed struggle
against Morocco, including since King Mohammed said in a
speech that "Sahara remains part of Morocco to the end of
In the fall of 2014, Polisario threatened to resume the
armed struggle against Morocco, after King Mohammed said in
a speech that "Sahara remains part of Morocco to the end of