Western Sahara, which consists almost entirely of desert,
is extremely sparsely populated. Data on the size and
structure of the population are uncertain due to past
conflicts and since almost half of the indigenous population
since 1976 have moved to mainly Algeria, where they live in
refugee camps. By the time the Moroccan occupation began, at
least 270,000 Moroccans had immigrated by 2010. In the same
year, population growth was 3.2%.
The residents of Western Sahara call themselves Sahrawis
('desert residents') and are predominantly Arabs and
Arabized Berbers who speak Hassaniya Arabic dialects.
However, Berber languages are still spoken by northern
tribal groups. Traditionally, the tribally organized
Sahrawis have fed themselves as nomadic herdsmen.
Islam is the second most dominant (just over 99% in 2010)
religion in Western Sahara. The majority are Sunnis and
belong to the Malikite legal tradition. One feature of Islam
in Western Sahara is Marabutism. means the worship of
Islamic saints and the graves they are believed to lie in.
The area was quickly Islamized by trade from the mid-700s
onwards. The Christian presence is weak. The oldest
Christian church is the Catholic, which was established in
the country in 1476 and today has just under 800 people as
The following Islamic days are national holidays: Prophet
Muhammad's birth, Id al-fitr, Id al-adha and the Islamic New
Western Sahara Geography
Western Sahara is a phosphate-rich desert area in western
Africa that since 1975 has been largely occupied by Morocco.
About a quarter of the former Spanish Sahara is controlled
by the Western Sahara Liberation Movement Polisario. A
ceasefire was concluded in 1991 and supervised by the UN
force Minurso. The referendum on the future of Western
Sahara that has been planned since then has not gone away.
Western Sahara, which is on the north west coast of
Africa, consists for the most part of flat and barren rock
and sand desert. It is one of the world's most sparsely
populated areas: on a surface slightly larger than Norrland,
just over half a million people live. Western Sahara borders
Morocco, which occupies parts of the territory, as well as
Algeria and Mauritania.
The capital of El Aaiún (or Laâyoune) near the coast in
the northwest is located only a few miles from the Canary
Closer to the Atlantic coast, the sterile desert
landscape turns into semi-savannah with grass, shrubs,
pre-shrunk acacia trees and occasional pines. Fog sometimes
drifting in from the sea provides much needed moisture. The
climate differences between summer and winter, and day and
night, are leveled the closer you get to the coast.
Since the 1980s, the area from north to south has been
divided by a 270 km long system of Moroccan fortifications.
The Western Sahara Liberation Movement Polisario controls
the virtually unpopulated areas east of the Moroccan
positions, about a quarter of the entire territory. Large
parts of Western Sahara have been heavily mined since the