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The Democratic Arab Republic of Sahara is located in Northwest Africa and borders Morocco to the north, Algeria to the northeast, Mauritania to the east and south, and the Atlantic Ocean to the west. The international legal status of the republic has not been clarified, but the UN and the Organization of African States (OAU) recognize the republic’s sovereignty. The territory has been occupied by Morocco since 1975. The area is 252 120 km².

The republic occupies the most northwestern part of the Sahara. Occasionally mountains rise on heights up to approx. 700 m. In north-south direction some larger wadis run in the interior, the existing rivers lead only occasionally water. The capital El Aaiún is located in the north and with 180 000 inhabitants it is also the biggest city of the country.

Population

The population of the Democratic Arab Republic of Sahara consists mainly of descendants of Berbers and Arabs, so-called Saharauis. An estimated 80,000 Saharawis live today in refugee camps on the territory of Western Algeria, including members of the government in exile. After Morocco annexed the country in 1975, Moroccans were specifically settled in the occupied territories. In addition, nomadic Berber tribes live in the Sahara, but they are not limited to the national territory. In total, there are an estimated 250,000 people in the republic today. Almost all people profess Sunni Islam; the official language is Arabic. There are no figures on population growth, literacy or life expectancy.

Political System

The international legal status of the Democratic Arab Republic of Sahara (DARS) cannot be clarified unequivocally. Independence was proclaimed in 1976, but the territory was partially annexed by Morocco in 1976 and almost completely in 1979, and is still occupied today. Some 50 states recognize the autonomy of the DARS. The 1976 constitution provides for a republic with Islamic law (Sharia).

The government in exile is based in Algeria. The head of state of the Democratic Arab Republic of Sahara is the president (Mohammed Abdel Asis, secretary general of POLISARIO since 1982). Abdelkader Taleb Oumar has been head of government since 2003.

Economy

About 80 % of the national territory is annexed by Morocco. Trade and administration are in Moroccan hands. The backbone of the economy is the mining of phosphate and iron ore. Agriculture and livestock breeding are largely used for self-sufficiency. The waters off the Atlantic coast are very rich in fish and are very important for the supply of the population. Food must also be imported. Exact economic figures do not exist, but employment, income and living standards are far below the Moroccan average. Phosphates are exported, food and fuel are imported.

Only the coastal region is accessible by road; there are about 6,200 km of roads available, of which about 1,350 km are asphalted. The most important ports are El Aaiun, Cabo Bojador and Ad Dakhla.

The official currency is the Saharaui peseta (= 100 Céntimos), but the common currency is the Moroccan dirham (= 100 Centimes).