El-Aaiun, also known as Laayoune, with its population of around 183,450 (2021) is the largest city in the disputed territory of Western Sahara and is seen by the Polisario Front, a nationalist movement, as the capital of the as yet internationally unrecognised Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic. El Aaiun is currently the capital of Laayoune-Boujdour-Sakia El Hamra, one of sixteen regions of the Western Sahara administered from Morocco (under the supervision of the UN peacekeeping mission MINURSO) as it had been since 1939 during Spanish colonial rule.
El-Aaiun was founded by the Spanish in 1928 following an agreement with the French in 1900 that the Sahara would be French territory whilst the two regions of Rio de Oro (River of Gold ~ actually there was none) and Saquiet el Hamra would remain Spanish. However Spain had little interest in them and even by 1952 El-Aaiun was still a tiny settlement, though its interest in the area was rekindled when significant phosphate deposits were found south of the town in 1947. Over the next two decades Spain invested in mining facilities including a 74 mile 'conveyor belt' to transport the phosphates to the nearest port.
Morocco took control of El-Aaiun in 1975 from colonial Spain when Morocco's King Hassan II marched 300,000 Moroccans into the disputed territory and Spain, sidetracked by its own domestic issues, signed the Madrid Agreement, pulling out of the area. Its destiny remains in dispute despite a ruling by the International Court of Justice in 1975 that the local Saharawi population had a right to self determination. Today El-Aaiun, which is seen as an occupied city by the Polisario Front, houses a large Moroccan military garrison, a modern mosque, a bird sanctuary and, in the main square of Place du Mechouan, an exhibition remembering the Green March of 1975 that sparked the Western Sahara War of 1975-1991 between Morocco and the Polisario Front.
El Aaiun Profile: Volunteer in Western Sahara
El Aaiun Profile: El Aaiun City Map
El Aaiun Profile: Child Sponsor Western Sahara
El Aaiun Profile: Western Sahara Country Profile
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