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Protesters hold portraits of Morocco's King Mohammed VI and the Moroccan flag during a rally, Rabat, Morocco, March 13, 2016 (AP photo by Abdeljalil Bounhar).

Western Sahara Complicates Morocco’s Bid to Rejoin the African Union

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

On July 18, Morocco made a request to reintegrate into the African Union, more than three decades after it withdrew from the organization over its controversial claims to Western Sahara.

The dispute over Western Sahara, which Morocco annexed in 1975 following Spain’s withdrawal, has lingered for decades and been a thorn in Morocco’s regional and foreign relations, particularly with neighboring Algeria. In 1984, the African Union recognized an independent Western Sahara as the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic, known by its French acronym, RASD, and granted it membership, prompting Morocco to leave the supranational body. The Polisario Front, a liberation movement representing the Saharawi people that is backed by Algeria, claims sovereignty over the entire territory of Western Sahara, but only controls a small strip—about 25 percent—and considers Morocco’s authority over the rest illegitimate. The issue has been at the forefront of tensions between Algiers and Rabat, two major regional powers in terms of security and economic heft. ...

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