Spanish Sahara (Sahara Español in Spanish and الصحراء الإسبانية — As-Sahrā’a Al-Isbānīyah in Arabic), officially the Overseas Province of the Spanish Sahara (Provincia Ultramarina del Sahara Español and إقليم الصحراء الإسبانية ما وراء البحار), was the name used for the modern territory of Western Sahara when it was occupied and ruled as a territory by Spain between 1884 and 1975. It had been one of the most recent acquisitions of the Spanish Empire, as well as one of its last remaining holdings, which had once extended from the Americas to the Philippines and East Asia. located in Northern Africa bordering the North Atlantic Ocean, Spanish Sahara lay between Mauritania and Morocco and bordered Algeria to the northeast.
The region is some of the most arid and inhospitable on the planet. It is also one of the most sparsely populated territories in the world, mainly consisting of desert flatlands. Spanish Sahara had a total land area of 102,703 square miles (265999.549 square kilometers) and an estimated (1970) population of 76,425). The capital was located at El Aaiún.
Spain gave up its Saharan possession following Moroccan demands and international pressure, mainly from United Nations resolutions regarding decolonization. There was internal pressure from the native Sahrawi population and the claims of Morocco. Mauritania also claimed the territory for a number of years based on its history, and then dropped all claims. In 1975 Morocco occupied much of the territory, but the Polisario Front, promoting sovereignty of an independent Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), fought a guerrilla resistance for 16 years against Morocco. In 1991, the UN negotiated a ceasefire, and has tried to arrange negotiations and a referendum to let the population vote on its future. Morocco controls the entire Atlantic coast and most of the landmass, population, and natural resources of Western Sahara.
Before and during the Spanish occupation (1884–1975), the territory was inhabited by Saharan Arabs who lived in many oases and coastal villages. They worked mainly in fishing and camel herding. They speak the Hassaniya language, a Bedouin Arabic dialect. There is some dispute and ambiguity about whether the territory was under Moroccan royal sovereignty at the time when the Spanish claimed it in 1884.
During the Berlin Conference, where the European powers were establishing the rules for setting up zones of influence or protection in Africa, was ongoing, Spain declared “a protectorate of the African coast” from Cape Blanc to Cape Bojador on December 26, 1884. It officially informed the other powers in writing on January 14, 1885. It began establishing trading posts and a military presence. In July 1885, King Alfonso XII appointed Emilio Bonelli commissioner of the Río de Oro with civil and military authority. On April 6, 1887, it was incorporated into the Captaincy General of the Canary Islands for military purposes.
In the summer of 1886, under the sponsorship of the Spanish Society of Commercial Geography (Sociedad Española de Geografía Comercial), Julio Cervera Baviera, Felipe Rizzo and Francisco Quiroga traversed the colony, which was called Río de Oro, and made topographical and astronomical observations. At the time, geographers had not mapped the territory and its features were not widely known. Their trek is considered the first scientific expedition in that part of the Sahara.
In 1886, Spain signed the Treaty of Idjil by which the Emirate of Adrar ceded the land of the colony to Spain. This treaty was of no legal value, since the Emir of Adrar had no claim to the territory, but since Morocco had no claim either (at least since the Hispano-Moroccan Treaty of 1767), the Spanish “invented” a claim which Adrar could, with no harm to itself, immediately cede away.
The borders of the territory were not clearly defined until treaties between Spain and France in the early 20th century. Spanish Sahara was created from the Spanish territories of Río de Oro and Saguia el-Hamra in 1924. It was not part of the areas known as Spanish Morocco and was administered separately from them.
On entering the territory in 1884, Spain was immediately challenged by stiff resistance from the indigenous Sahrawi tribes. A 1904 rebellion led by the powerful Smara-based marabout, Shaykh Ma al-‘Aynayn, was put down by France in 1910, which ruled neighboring Algeria. This was followed by a wave of uprisings under Ma al-Aynayn’s sons, grandsons and other political leaders.
Tribal uprisings meant that Spain found it difficult to control parts of the territory’s large hinterland until 1934. After gaining independence in 1956, Morocco laid claim on Spanish Sahara as part of its historic pre-colonial territory. In 1957, the Moroccan Army of Liberation nearly occupied the small territory of Ifni, north of Spanish Sahara, during the Ifni War. The Spanish sent a regiment of paratroopers from the nearby Canary Islands and were able to repel the attacks. With the assistance of the French, Spain soon re-established control in the area through Operaciones Teide-Ecoubillon.
It tried to suppress resistance politically. It forced some of the previously nomadic inhabitants of Spanish Sahara to settle in certain areas, and the rate of urbanization was increased. In 1958, Spain united the territories of Saguia el Hamra and Río de Oro to form the overseas province of Spanish Sahara, while ceding the province of the Cape Juby Strip (which included Villa Bens) in the same year to Morocco.
In the 1960s, Morocco continued to claim Spanish Sahara. It gained agreement by the United Nations to add the territory to the list of territories to be decolonized. In 1969, Spain returned Ifni to Morocco, but continued to retain Spanish Sahara.
In 1967, Spanish rule was challenged by the Harakat Tahrir, a protest movement secretly organized by the Royal Moroccan Government. Spain suppressed the 1970 Zemla Intifada. In 1973, the Polisario Front was formed in a revival of militant Sahrawi nationalism. The Front’s guerrilla army grew rapidly, and Spain lost effective control over most of the territory by early 1975.
Its effort to found a political rival, the Partido de Unión Nacional Saharaui (PUNS), met with little success. Spain proceeded to co-opt tribal leaders by setting up the Djema’a, a political institution loosely based on traditional Sahrawi tribal leaders. The Djema’a members were hand-picked by the authorities, but given privileges in return for rubber-stamping Madrid’s decisions.
In the winter of 1975, just before the death of its long-time leader Generalissimo Francisco Franco, Spain was confronted with an intensive campaign of territorial demands from Morocco and, to a lesser extent, from Mauritania, that culminated in the Marcha Verde (‘Green March’). After negotiating the Madrid Accords with Morocco and Mauritania on November 14, 1975, Spain withdrew its forces and settlers from the territory. The Overseas Province of Spanish Sahara was disestablished on February 26, 1976.
Morocco and Mauritania took control of the region. Mauritania later surrendered its claim after fighting an unsuccessful war against the Polisario Front. Morocco began fighting against the Polisario Front; after sixteen years, the UN negotiated a cease-fire in 1991. Today, the sovereignty of the territory remains under dispute. Morocco has resisted allowing a referendum to be held, and has continued to offer its people jobs in controlled territory.
The United Nations considers the former Spanish Sahara a non-self-governing territory, with Spain as the former administrative power and, since the 1970s, Morocco as the current administrative power.
UN peace efforts have been directed at holding a referendum on independence among the Sahrawi population, but this has not yet taken place. The African Union (AU) and more than 80 governments consider the territory to be the sovereign (albeit occupied) state of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), with a government-in-exile backed by the Polisario Front.
The first stamps for Spanish Sahara were issued in 1924 — a set of definitives inscribed Posesiones Español del Sahara Occidental. Between 1926 and 1941, all stamps issued were provisionals. In 1943, a further set of definitives was issued inscribed Sahara Español as were subsequent issues. In the 1950’s and 1960’s, Spanish Sahara issues resembled the contemporary issues in Spain and other Spanish possessions. From 1960, the issues were inscribed España in a larger font and Sahara in a smaller font. The last stamps of Spanish Sahara are issued in 1975.
The stamps of Spanish Sahara were used in the Spanish protectorate of Cape Juby from 1950 to 1958. From 1949 to 1952, stamps issued by Spanish West Africa were used in Spanish Sahara concurrently with the issues of Spanish Sahara. The stamps of Spanish Sahara were superseded by those of Morocco. Stamps have appeared inscribed Republica Saharaui, Sahara Occidental and Sahara Occ. R.A.S.D. presumably issued by the SADR government in exile. These are not listed in the catalogs.
Scott #B18 was released on November 23, 1951, part of a set of three semi-postals issued to mark Colonial Stamp Day. The 60-centavo stamp with 15-centavo surcharge was printed by the ph0togravure process and perforated 13 x 12½. Olive brown in color, it features a dromedary (one-humped camel) and its calf. Camels are even-toed ungulates within the genus Camelus, bearing distinctive fatty deposits known as “humps” on its back. The three surviving species of camel are the dromedary (C. dromedarius), which inhabits the Middle East and the Horn of Africa; the Bactrian, or two-humped camel (C. bactrianus), which inhabits Central Asia; and the critically endangered wild Bactrian camel (C. ferus) that has limited populations in remote areas of northwest China and Mongolia. Bactrian camels take their name from the historical Bactria region of Central Asia. Additionally one other species of camel in the separate genus Camelops, C. hesternus lived in western North America and became extinct when humans entered the continent at the end of the Pleistocene.
Both the dromedary and the Bactrian camels have been domesticated; they provide milk, meat, hair for textiles or goods such as felted pouches, and are working animals with tasks ranging from human transport to bearing loads.
The term camel is derived via Latin and Greek (camelus in Latin, κάμηλος — kamēlos in Greek) from Hebrew or Phoenician gāmāl.
Today, most of the world’s camels are dromedaries (94%) while Bactrian camels and wild Bactrian camels make up only 6% of the total camel population. “Camel” may also be used more broadly to describe any of the seven camel-like mammals in the family Camelidae: the three true camels and the four New World camelids (the llama, alpaca, guanaco, and vicuña).