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