The Polisario Front was born on May 10, 1973. Fifty years later, the report is terrible: the question of Western Sahara is still not settled and the international community has turned away from the dossier.
Half a century ago to the day, the Polisario Front was founded. On May 10, 1973, this organization - abbreviated as the Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia el Hamra and Rio de Oro - succeeded the peaceful movement for the liberation of Seguia el-Hamra and Oued ed-Dahab of Mohammed Bassiri, "Harakat at-tahrir Saqiat al-hamra wa wadi-addahab”. Western Sahara was then under Spanish occupation. Bassiri had led several demonstrations, notably in June 1970, which had been repressed by the Tercio Africanos, the forces of order put in place by the Spaniards. On June 18, 1970, while demonstrators were mourning their dead, Bassiri was arrested and disappeared forever.
A few days after its official foundation, the Polisario Front enters into armed struggle. The first action of the independence organization will be the occupation of a Spanish military post in Khanga. Then similar actions take place in Tifariti and Bir Lahlou. A fight which will have an international echo: in March 1975, the United Nations (UN) will require the dispatch of a mission to Western Sahara and neighboring countries to make its first proposals.
From Spanish to Moroccan occupation
The years 1975 and 1976 were decisive for the Polisario Front. On October 16, 1975, ten years after the UN first called for the decolonization of Spanish Sahara, the International Court of Justice ruled, in an advisory opinion on Western Sahara, that there was no "link of sovereignty territory between the territory of Western Sahara on the one hand, the Kingdom of Morocco or the whole of Mauritania on the other hand".
A week later, the UN is once again interested in the case. On October 22, the Security Council votes resolution 377 which asks the Secretary General of the body "to initiate immediate consultations with the parties concerned and interested and to report as soon as possible to the Security Council on the results of his consultations with a view to enabling the Council to adopt the appropriate measures to deal with the present situation concerning Western Sahara". Stakeholders are also recommended to “show restraint and moderation”.
And while Hassan II is preparing to consolidate his presence in Western Sahara by repelling the Spanish occupier, the UN urges him to reconsider his desire for a “declared march in Western Sahara”. Without success: in November of the same year, the UN Security Council was obliged to “ask Morocco to immediately withdraw from the territory of Western Sahara all the participants in the march”. A march which allows the departure of the Spaniards, but which also leads to the division of the territory between Morocco and Mauritania, which will eventually withdraw.
Self-determination, the condition of the Polisario Front
A series of events that will mark a little more the history of the Polisario Front. If the legitimacy of the movement has, since its creation, been in fact recognized by the UN mission, it will be necessary to wait until the end of 1979 for a resolution to recognize the Polisario Front as “representative of the people of Western Sahara”.
But the main fight of the organization remains, over the years, the self-determination of the Saharawi people. The UN has repeatedly recalled that its resolution 1514 (XV) of 1960, concerning the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples, applies to Western Sahara.
In 1976, the Polisario Front announced the creation of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR). From the army, the struggle becomes eminently political. In 1982, the SADR became a member of the Organization of African Unity (OAU), then of the African Union. Several dozen countries now recognize this republic presided over by Brahim Ghali.
But 50 years after its creation, Ghali's Polisario Front is not done with its struggle. A struggle that bears the brunt of alliances — between Spain and Morocco, for example — but also of a status quo which does not seem to disturb the international community, despite the successive resolutions passed by the UN Security Council. The international community probably does not have enough interests in Western Sahara to put pressure on the parties to the embroiled conflict.
Internal struggles and diplomatic failures
The Polisario Front, by privileging dialogue, has itself provoked this status quo. But nothing says that this war will remain "cold": at the beginning of 2021, the permanent representative of the Polisario Front at the UN, Omar Sidi Mohamed, regretted having "given all (his) confidence in the international community". Following decades of "broken promises, procrastination and untenable waiting", he said he was "ready to negotiate" but assured that he wanted to "maintain the armed struggle on the basis of past experience".
Half a century after its birth, the Polisario Front is far from having achieved its objectives. The movement suffered, at first, many diplomatic failures, several countries having decided to line up behind Morocco, while other historical allies, such as Russia, now prefer to remain neutral by relying on the UN. . On the other hand, the Polisario Front is plagued by internal struggles: on the one hand, several people close to the organization believe that the older generation does not leave enough room for young people; on the other, supporters of the armed struggle and supporters of diplomacy oppose each other.