Frente Polisario – Historical background and foundation of Frente POLISARIO
umdraiga.com.- The socioeconomic changes that took place in the Spanish Sahara during the 60’s of the last century, led to the emergence of modern Sahrawi nationalism, based on national consciousness and not on tribalism; based on political arguments and not religious feelings.
In the first years of that decade, the nationalists formed diverse political groupings but none of them got to have decisive influence on the population. Only in 1967, an intellectual, Mohamed Sidi Ibrahim “Bassiri”, was able to gather around him a handful of supporters of independence and, the following year, he founded the Movement for the Liberation of the Sahara, (MLS).
In short, this clandestine organization already had hundreds of militants and began to influence the Saharawi population.
The MLS led by Bassiri promoted the peaceful demand for independence and won the support of various sectors of society: workers, officials of the colonial administration, students, non-commissioned officers and Saharawi soldiers framed in the colonial army, etc.
The nationalist activity began to manifest itself through strikes of workers, student mobilizations for the teaching of the Arabic language and through various acts of repudiation of the Spanish administration. Very soon the colonial intelligence service detected the existence of the movement so in 1969, the governor general of the Sahara decreed the curfew throughout the territory. Then there were many arrests of militants and supporters of MLS, some of which were expelled to neighboring countries
Spain facing the problem of decolonization
In November 1960, the UN General Assembly approved Resolution 1514 concerning the process of decolonization of the colonial enclaves that still existed in the world. The Special Committee in charge of applying said resolution, elaborated a list of territories to be decolonized, among which was the Spanish Sahara.
In 1966, the Special Committee asked Spain to hold a referendum so that the population of the Sahara could freely express their political future. The Francoist government formally accepted the request, but opted to gain time and carry forward the process of transforming the colony into a “province” of Spain.
The Special Committee warned of the delaying maneuver of the Franco regime and renewed its demands in favor of the decolonization of the Sahara. As a result, Spain lost credibility in the face of the General Assembly and this situation was taken advantage of by the King of Morocco, Hassan II, to take a stand on the issue, publicly showing his concern for the future of the Spanish colony and legitimizing himself as an interested party in the question of the Sahara.
In this way, the Franco regime rejected a good opportunity to provide the Sahrawis with a decent transition towards their political emancipation. Unfortunately, at that time the colonial policy of Spain depended on the will of Admiral Carrero Blanco (1) whose ultraconservative ideas prevailed over the criteria of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, more liberal, and prone to the independence of the Saharawi people.
As international pressures were felt on the government of Madrid, and particularly on the colony itself, the General Government of the Sahara organized a political activity in El Aaiún (2) for propaganda purposes, to show the world that the Saharawi population was happy to be part of the Spanish State. To that end, he invited numerous foreign journalists and observers to witness the political “party.” But also the Movement for the Liberation of the Sahara called its militants and supporters to a parallel demonstration to make the colonialist maneuver fail.
On June 17, 1970, it was the appointed day. That morning, small groups of Saharawi gathered in front of the headquarters of the Interior, while a crowd covered a large esplanade, far from the reduced official concentration.
The crowd chanted independence slogans and intoned patriotic songs, inadmissible for the representatives of the Franco regime. At dusk, a company of the Legion opened fire on the crowd causing dozens of casualties , dead and wounded.
That same night a hunt of leaders and members of the MLS was unleashed; hundreds were arrested; some disappeared, including the top nationalist leader, Bassiri.
The events of June 17 made a large part of the Saharawi population inclined towards the non-peaceful independence option.
The nationalist reorganization
Because of the repression, the nationalist militancy dispersed and many of its members took refuge in neighboring countries, where they found protection and support of the Saharawi communities established there.
In 1971, some independence groups began to be formed in the Moroccan cities of Rabat and Tantán, and in the Mauritanian city of Zuerat. It was in Rabat that a very active nucleus of university students emerged, among which was El Uali Mustafá Sayed. This group, along with others in exile, gave rise to the “Embryonic Movement for the Liberation of the Sahara” that throughout 1972 promoted clandestine meetings among the various Sahrawi groups scattered throughout Morocco, Algeria and Mauritania.
At the end of April 1973, a conference was begun whose sessions were held intermittently and in various parts of the desert to confuse the Francoist intelligence service. This conference decided to create a military political organization to fight for independence. On May 10, 1973, the conference culminated its activities founding the Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia El Hamra and Río de Oro – Frente POLISARIO. Uali Mustafa Sayed was appointed its General Secretary. (3)
The Frente POLISARIO: Political conception and line of action
The Frente POLISARIO is a national, democratic and anti-colonial liberation movement that includes the most progressive sectors and personalities of Saharawi society in the liberated zones, the exile camps in the territories under Moroccan occupation. Its main objectives are the total independence of Western Sahara and the construction of a modern State.
To know the purposes and the political profile of the founders of this organization, nothing better than resorting to the Frente POLISARIO documents themselves. The founding political manifesto declared:
“Once proven that colonialism wants to maintain its domination over our Arab people, trying to annihilate it by ignorance, misery, (…). Faced with the failure of all peaceful methods used, (…) the Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia El Hamra and Rio de Oro, was born as the sole expression of the masses, which opted for revolutionary violence and armed struggle as a means to that the Saharawi, Arab and African people can enjoy their total freedom and face the maneuvers of Spanish colonialism.
An integral part of the Arab revolution, it supports the struggle of the peoples against colonialism, racism and imperialism and condemns them for their tendency to put the Arab peoples under their domination either through direct colonialism or through the economic blockade
Considers that cooperation with the Algerian People’s Revolution is an essential element to face the maneuvers hatched against the Third World.
We invite all the peoples in struggle to unite to face the common enemy.
With the rifle we will conquer freedom! ”
The program of the 2nd Congress of the Frente POLISARIO, held in August 1974, enunciated the long-term objectives of the organization. Here are some of them:
– Liberate the nation from all forms of colonialism and achieve complete independence.
– Build a national republican regime with active and effective participation of the population.
– Build an authentic national unity.
– Create a national economy based on agricultural and industrial development, the nationalization of mining resources and the protection of marine resources.
– Guarantee the fundamental freedoms of citizens.
– Fair distribution of wealth and eliminate the imbalance between the countryside and cities.
– Cancel all forms of exploitation.
– Guarantee housing for all.
– Restore the social and political rights of women.
– Establish free and compulsory education at all levels and for the entire population.
– Combat diseases, build hospitals and offer free medical attention.
The war of national liberation
On May 20, 1973, ten days after its founding, F.POLISARIO carried out its first armed action against the colonial army. The attack, which aimed at a military post in the desert, marked the birth of the Sahrawi People’s Liberation Army (ELPS) and the beginning of a war that in a short time exceeded the control capacity of the Spanish administration. The actions of the ELPS, many of them for propaganda purposes, increased the prestige of F.POLISARIO among the civilian population and the native soldiers who served in the colonial ranks. At the end of 1973, the ELPS already had more than one hundred fighters and in the years 1974 and 1975 increased its activity, causing the Spanish army to retreat gradually towards the main coastal cities. During that last year, full patrols of Sahrawi military went to the ELPS, and as the year progressed, the Liberation Army took control of numerous towns abandoned by the Spaniards. When the Franco government handed over Spanish Sahara to Morocco and Mauritania through the Secret Agreements of Madrid, in November 1975, the Sahrawi nationalist forces already controlled most of the territory of the colony.
Today, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia El Hamra and Rio de Oro continues to lead the struggle for the full independence of Western Sahara and is recognized internationally as the only and legitimate representative of the Saharawi people.
It continues directing the construction of the republican State that it promised in his 4th Congress: the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, today recognized by 82 countries of the world, 28 of which are in Latin American.
(1) Admiral Luis Carrero Blanco was the right hand of the “Generalissimo” Francisco Franco. He died in December 1973 in an attack by the Basque nationalist organization, ETA.
(2) Founded by the Spaniards in 1938, El Aaiún is the capital of Western Sahara – currently under Moroccan occupation.
(3) Uali Mustafá Sayed, Saharaui national hero and first president of the SADR. He fell in combat on June 9, 1976, when he was 28 years old.