Western Sahara in 10 questions

This is the title of the new book by French historian Bernard Lugan, which explains Morocco's historical ties with Western Sahara
Campamento de refugiados saharauis de Smara, en Tindouf, Argelia - REUTERS/BORJA SUÁREZ
Sahrawi refugee camp in Smara, Tindouf, Algeria - REUTERS/BORJA SUÁREZ
  1. The historical Moroccan nature of the Sahara
  2. A narrative from several perspectives

With Western Sahara as a hot topic in Moroccan foreign policy, the French historian Bernard Lugan has published a work that aims to explain the situation in this region from a historical perspective. "Western Sahara in 10 Questions" recounts from different perspectives the origins of a region that, on the basis of history, enjoys a Moroccan character that more and more countries are choosing to recognise.

The historical Moroccan nature of the Sahara

The book, narrated in ten chapters, starts from a key premise, namely a French printed document from 1891, in which "the Sahara was, in its entirety, Moroccan territory". The book's documentation, as well as testimonies and interviews, are a constant throughout the text, which aims to shed light on a subject that has become one of the keys to diplomatic relations in North Africa.

With chapters entitled "Is there a 'Sahrawi people'?", or even "Was there a state called 'Western Sahara' in the past?", Lugan takes a historical look at the changes that this region has undergone. He also includes some fifteen maps showing how the Sahara has been considered Moroccan by the French authorities for more than a century.


A narrative from several perspectives

Despite being a historian and basing the work on a historical perspective of what Western Sahara is and represents, it also offers an explanation of this folder from other perspectives. Geopolitics and ethnography are two of the pillars that also support a work that defends, on the basis of solid arguments, that Western Sahara is "a territory taken from Morocco by colonisation".

The importance of the work lies in large part in the lack of knowledge of much of the information that has been included to relate the evolution of authority over the Sahara. It also points to the important responsibility of France and Spain for the loss of Moroccan territory. Morocco has preferred to fight to regain what was historically its own rather than blame what Bernard Lugan describes in the book as "perpetrators who dispossessed it of entire regions".

"Western Sahara is only a part of the Saharan whole that colonisation wrested from Morocco”. Bernard Lugan

Lugan points to Western Sahara as "the matrix of the Moroccan nation", and how Morocco's "dismemberment" of its part of the Atlantic Sahara was conditioned by French Algeria's annexation of vast territories to the east of the Alawite kingdom. A movement that was originally driven by a Saharan train project that caused the Algerian authorities to target the Moroccan territories of Tourara and Touat.

One of the key regions today, Tindouf, where the refugee camp is located, was not attached to Algeria until 1934. The book notes that "the Moroccan administration has always been exercised in the Tindouf valley, which depended on the caliph of Tafilalet, its caids being appointed by the dahirs of the Sultan of Morocco". It was just before Moroccan independence that "the delineation of the border between Algeria and Morocco was unilaterally and urgently regulated".

At that time, "a solution favourable to French Algeria was proposed", which deprived Morocco of Tindouf. Even the waving of the Moroccan flag by the people of Tindouf itself did not prevent harsh repression by the Algerian army. All these factors eventually created a narrative that does not prevent more and more countries from recognising Western Sahara as Moroccan, because that is how it has been historically.