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Document file Dossier : Conflict Transformation

Grenoble, May 2009

The Western Sahara Conflict

Report on Ali Omar YARA’s book « L’insurrection Sahraouie de la guerre à l’Etat 1973-2003 ».

Keywords: | | | | | | | | | To analyse conflicts from a social point of view | To analyse conflicts from a politic point of view | | | | | | Spain | Morocco | Algeria | Mauritania

Ref.: Ali Omar YARA, « L’insurrection Sahraouie de la guerre à l’Etat 1973-2003 », Editions l’Harmattan.

Languages: French

Document type:  Book

In his book « L’insurrection Sahraouie de la guerre à l’Etat 1973-2003 », Ali Omar Yara analyses the evolution of the political organization of the Sahraouis in their 30 year fight for recognition and legitimacy.

A note about the author

Ali Omar Yara, a Sahraoui borned in Tantan in 1950, is a conflict sociologist. He completed a PhD in political science 1991 about the Sahraoui issue and the strategic mutation in the Maghreb region. He also published a study in 2001 about the Sahraoui society and the creation of a political framework. Ali Omar YARA’s book merits interest because he is a Sahraoui author, with an experience with the conflict which he uses for his analysis.

This file does not give a detailed account of the insurrection as has been developed in the book, but focuses on the changes that the conflict has triggered within the society as the mobilization of the entire population for the war has been the source of many social transformation in the Sahraoui society.

Social transformation as a result of conflict

First of all, the tribal organization has mutated in a unity of tribes, and the old conflicts between tribes lost their importance. The notion of nation emerged and contributed to the unity of Sahraoui people, particularly with the proclamation of the Sahraoui Arab Democratic Republic (SARD) in 1976. In this conflict, the de-tribalization led to a new socialization, which means a construction of a new social organization accepted by all. In the Sahraoui case, the war situation did not create a new tribal organization with new conflicts of interest, which could have resulted in the destruction of social relations. The sahraoui society was also fighting for its own recognition in its building process and did not split or suffer from antagonism.

The other major social change linked with the conflict is about the Sahraoui women. In the traditional Sahraoui society, women lived according to the Islamic traditions and their main activity was to take care of households and children. The Sahraoui insurrection gave a new role to women. At the beginning, women had an important underground activity of mobilization and preparation for conflict. Then, during the war, when men were fighting far away from home, women were charged to protect and administrate the camps and at the same time they actively participate to the Republic institutions building process.

Background to the conflict

In Western Sahara, the Sahraoui insurrection started in 1973 and the conflict has not been resolved from that time. The evolution of this conflict has lead to considerable changes in the Sahraoui society. The reason of the insurrection was to liberate the Western Sahara territory from Spanish occupation. However, when Spain retired from its colony, Morocco and Mauritania launched their claim on the land and entered in war with the Sahraouis.

The conflict resulted in a Moroccan occupation of more than 70 % of Sahraoui’s land. Mauritania renounced to its land claim in 1979. A cease-fire was concluded in 1991 between Morocco and the Sahraoui army. Since then, a referendum for self-determination of Sahraoui people in the occupied territories was planned but it has never been hold, in spite of the UN mission MINURSO whose goal is to promote the referendum.

Today, Morocco still occupies and administrates most of Western Sahara and a wall separates the Moroccan part with the small Sahraoui Arab Democratic Republic (SARD), which government is based in Tindouf, in Algeria.


The book is no easy reading, and the overload of details can be confusing for a newcomer to the conflict. Moreover, the large quantity of acronyms requires some personal research. The book also presents various words or expressions in Arabic without translations. The reader has to bear in mind that the author insightful but not objective and it can therefore not be a unique source to get informed about the Sahraoui conflict.


  • The author of this file is Félix Tournier, student at the Master « Cooperation Internationale et communication Multilingue » at the Université de Stendhal à Grenoble. The file was written as an assignment: reading literature to understand conflict and its transformation.

  • The idea behind the assignment is that “some things we only see with the heart” as the Saint Exupéry’s Little Prince said. At the same time as learning analytical tools to understand conflict, we should get an idea the complexity of conflict. Claske Dijkema would like students to experience that conflicts have many the layers and as you dig, you discover another one each time. Fiction is often a better tool to describe and communicate the reality of conflict than analytical reports.

  • Those interested in a detailed overview of the conflict as explained in detail in the book can contact Félix Tournier directly at: