The traditional forms of life were increasingly disintegrating, and so were the ties and relationships that had existed between different tribes, though the colonial administration maintained a latent division of them through its formal recognition of the tribal leaders (Shiujs) and prominent people. The personal identification system contributed to this, as the national identity documents clarified the tribe or tribe group to which the individual belonged. Nevertheless, a national identity was gradually formed over the original divisions.
In 1967, the people of Western Sahara formed the Al Muslim movement and a year later the Front to the Sahara Liberation. In 1973, the revolutionary leadership chose to switch to armed struggle, and POLISARIO was formed. It was led by Mastafá Seyid El Uali, who later died in battle. The war and the resolutions passed at the UN forced the Franco government to recognize the right to self-determination, but at the same time it formed a new party, the Sahara National Association Party (PUNS), not to lose control completely.
In 1974, the World Bank defined Western Sahara as the richest territory in the entire Maghreb area because of the richest fish banks in the world and because of the phosphate reserves. The latter rose to 1,700 million tonnes in the Bu-Craa area, but it is estimated that there may be an additional approx. 10,000 million tons in the region.
Western Sahara Economy
According to Countryaah, Western Sahara is one of the world’s most barren areas, but outside El Aaiún there are large phosphate deposits, fishing waters are rich, and several companies are looking for oil off the coast. At the same time, Morocco has invested large sums of money on housing programs, subsidies and infrastructure to consolidate its presence in the area, creating a kind of artificial economy linked to the state and the military.
The phosphate industry has mostly given work directly or indirectly to 30,000 people. The fish industry produces fishmeal and frozen fish. However, the question of foreign exploitation of natural resources such as fish and oil is controversial due to the disputed status of Western Sahara (see History and current politics and Morocco: Agriculture and fisheries).
Western Sahara has no permanent surface water and is vulnerable to drought. Most of all food must be imported, but Moroccan subsidies on many goods keep prices down. Morocco has invested heavily in roads, electricity grids, factories, ports, schools and hospitals, and subsidizes the cost of gasoline and other goods to attract settlers to the area. The construction industry and trade have grown in importance. Large quantities of sand have been sold to the beaches of the Canary Islands.
El Aaiún has an international airport and a deep harbor with the capacity to ship ten million tons of phosphate annually. Some investments have been made in tourism in El Aaiún and Dakhla.
In the Polisario controlled desert areas east of the ceasefire line there is basically no permanent population. A small local economy has emerged around the refugee camps in Tindouf, often with the help of capital sent home by Western Saharians working in Europe or various aid projects. The main local sources of income are nomadic livestock management and trade between the refugee camps and Mauritania.