In 1884, Spain was awarded the coastal area of present-day Western Sahara at the Berlin Conference, and began establishing trading posts and a military presence. The borders of the area were not clearly defined until treaties between Spain and France in the early 20th century.

Spanish Sahara was then created from the Spanish territories of Rio de Oro and Saguia el-Hamra in 1924. It was not part of, and administered separately from, the areas known as Spanish Morocco.

Ifni, 195. Colonial Stamp Day. Dromedaries. Sc. 85. Ifni, 195. Colonial Stamp Day. Dromedaries. Sc. 81

Entering the territory in 1884, Spain was immediately challenged by stiff resistance from the indigenous Sahrawi tribes. A 1904 rebellion led by the powerful Smara-based marabout, shaykh Ma al-Aynayn was put down by France in 1910, but it was followed by a wave of uprisings under Ma al-Aynayns sons, grandsons and other political leaders.

Ifni, 1957. Striped Hyena. Sc. 88-89, B43-44. FDC Nov. 23, Villa Cisneros,

Because of this, Spain proved unable to extend control to the interior parts of the country until 1934, when the French army joined in crushing a major Sahrawi rebellion. Unrest continued, however, and in 1957, rebels headed by the Moroccan-backed Army of Liberation nearly expelled the Spanish from the country in the 1957 Invasion of Spanish Sahara. The Spanish were able to re-establish control with the assistance of the French by 1958, and embarked on a harsh strategy of retaliation towards the countryside, forcibly settling many of the previously nomadic bedouins of Spanish Sahara and speeding up urbanization.

Ifni, 1969. Child Welfare. Dorcas Gazelle. Sc. 188. Ifni, 1969. Child Welfare. Doe and Fawn. Sc. 189. Ifni, 1969. Child Welfare.  Gazelle and Camel. Sc. 190. Ifni, 1969. Child Welfare. Leaping Gazelle. Sc. 191.

In 1967, the Spanish colonization was challenged by a peaceful protest movement, the Harakat Tahrir, which demanded independence. After its violent suppression in the 1970 Zemla Intifada, Sahrawi nationalism reverted to its militant origins, with the 1973 formation of the Polisario Front. The Front's guerilla army grew rapidly, and Spain had lost effective control over most of the countryside in early 1975.

Immediately before the death of the ageing Spanish dictator Francisco Franco in the winter of 1975, however, Spain was confronted with an aggressive campaign of territorial demands from Morocco (and to a lesser extent Mauritania), culminating in the Green March. Spain then withdrew its forces and settlers from the territory, after negotiating a secret agreement with Morocco and Mauritania, both of which promptly invaded the country.

Ifni, 1958. Child Welfare. Cervantes. Sc. 91-92, B48-49. FDC June 1, Villa Cisneros.

The United Nations considers the former Spanish Sahara a non-decolonized territory, with Spain as the formal administrative power. UN peace efforts have aimed at the organization of a referendum on independence among the Sahrawi population, but this has not yet taken place. The African Union and at least 44 governments consider the territory a sovereign, albeit occupied, state under the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), which an exile government backed by the Polisario Front. Source: Wikipedia

Credits: many thanks to Tracy Barber (USA) for some of FDC's scans.


Created: 10/19/02. Revised: 01/07/06
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