Brahim Ghali is reelected president of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic

With 69% of the votes in the 16th Congress of the Polisario Front, Ghali takes on a new three-year mandate, now in the midst of war

January 25, 2023 by Michele de Mello
Brahim Ghali assumes a third term as Secretary General of the Polisario Front and President of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic - AFP

The current president of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) and secretary general of the Polisario Front, Brahim Ghali, was re-elected to hold both offices for a new three-year term with 69% of support. After three days of extension, the 16th Congress approved the balance sheets of the last management, defined reforms to the Sahrawi Fundamental Law and chose the new 27-member board. Ghali won 1,253 votes against his opponent, Bachir Mustafa Sayed, who won 563 votes.

The Congress had 2,000 delegates, but only 1870 votes were registered. According to the Sahrawi Fundamental Law, a kind of statute of the Polisario Front, to be elected in the first round it is necessary to obtain two thirds of the valid votes, which Ghali achieved.

“Faced with Morocco’s unwillingness to negotiate, we are determined to continue the armed struggle,” Brahim Ghali said upon his re-election. Ghali, 73, is a war veteran and one of the founders of the Polisario Front. 

Ghali, born in Smara on August 19, 1949, was first elected secretary general of the Polisario Front in 2016 at an extraordinary Congress following the death of Mohamed Abdelaziz, who remained at the helm of the political organization for nearly 40 years. 

Before being head of the Polisario Front and SADR, Brahim Ghali was minister of the occupied territories from 1998 to 1999 and Polisario Front representative in Spain from 1999 to 2008. He will now have the next few weeks to announce who will be his prime minister, who will have to appoint a new cabinet. 

This was the first Congress held after the end of the more than 30-year ceasefire. In November 2020, Morocco again bombed the Sahrawi people in the region known as the “Guerguerat rift,” which connects the Sahara desert to the Atlantic Ocean, reigniting the war.

Faced with the resumption of armed conflict and with difficulties in supplying refugee camps due to the COVID-19 crisis and the war in Ukraine, Ghali called for unity and cohesion among the Saharan people. “The Polisario Front is the property of each and every Sahrawi wherever they are, because the Front is the soul of the Sahrawi people,” he said.

The organizations that make up the Polisario Front have elected 2,000 delegates to participate in the 16th Congress between January 13 and 20, in the Dajla camp, Algeria. Photo: Michele de Mello / Brasil de Fato


In the final declaration of the Congress, the Polisario Front condemns the change of position of the Spanish government and suggests that the Spanish Prime Minister, Pedro Sánchez, “invest in redressing the injustice, putting an end to the tragic ordeal of the Sahrawi people for which the Spanish state is responsible.”

Spain, which held Western Sahara as a colony until 1975, is still considered the administering power in the armed conflict between Sahrawis and Moroccans. With the rise of the Socialist Workers Party government under Sánchez, the expectation was that the Spanish government might be more favorable to the Sahrawi side, however Sánchez broke with neutrality and aligned himself with the Kingdom of Morocco.

The Morocco is Spain’s main trading partner outside the European Union, concentrating 45% of Spanish exports to the African continent.

All the participants of the Polisario Front Congress had to pass through a strong security system before entering the debate spaces / Michele de Mello / Brasil de Fato

For Brahim Ghali, this was the second betrayal by Spain, which, after losing the war of independence in the 1970s, signed an agreement with Morocco and Mauritania “ceding” the right over the territory of Western Sahara. 

“We do not meddle in the internal affairs of Spain (…) [The Spanish state] must rectify and align itself with international legality and with the historical, moral and legal responsibility to the Saharan cause,” the Polisario Front leader said. 

Already in October 1975, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled that there was no legal basis for the annexation of Western Sahara by Morocco and Mauritania, who had brought the case before the Hague Court.

Faced with defeat in the courts, King Hassan II of Morocco began the Green March on Western Sahara, sending 350,000 civilians and military personnel to invade and colonize the Saharan territory.

Expelled from their territory since 1975, the Sahrawis depend on humanitarian aid to live in the refugee camps erected in the region of the city of Tindouf, Algeria. Photo: Michele de Mello / Brasil de Fato

New attacks

The 16th Congress of the Polisario Front took place from January 13 to 20 in Dajla, one of the five Sahrawi refugee camps set up in the city of Tindouf, Algeria, under the slogan “intensify the armed struggle to expel the invader and achieve sovereignty.”

The approved policy took effect on the same day as the Congress adjourned. On January 20, the Sahrawi Popular Liberation Army (PLAE) reported that it bombarded Moroccan forces in the Al Mahbas region of Western Sahara. 

The Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguía el Hamra and Gold River (Polisario) was created in 1973, inspired by the Non Aligned Movement (NAM). Their goal was to unify Sahrawi political movements and parties into a single political instrument around the struggle for independence from Spain.

Proclaiming the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic on February 27, 1976, the Front installed a government-in-exile in the town of Tindouf in Algeria near the border with Mauritania and Western Sahara.

About 1/3 of the delegates of the 16th Congress of the Polisario Front were soldiers of the Sahrawi Liberation Army. Photo: Michele de Mello / Brasil de Fato

Already in the opening speech of the 16th Congress, held last week, SADR President Brahim Ghali made it clear that the priority for the next one is to strengthen the Army, reiterating that the Sahrawis are committed to peace, but war has been imposed on them.

“The priority function is to strengthen the Sahrawi People’s Liberation Army, to give it the necessary human and material resources. The occupying power uses the most advanced weapons in the world to attack Sahrawi civilians and neighboring countries,” he stated on January 13, referring to the defense and intelligence cooperation between Morocco and Israel, with the Israeli spy software Pegasus. 

In addition, the Kingdom of Morocco has built, with advice from Tel Aviv, a 2,700 km wall, with bases every 2km, guarded by more than 150,000 Moroccan soldiers. There are about 10 million landmines all around the construction to repel any approach to the border. Every year Sahrawis are killed and maimed by exploding Moroccan landmines within the liberated territory zone.

While Morocco receives tacit support from the United States, France, and Israel, the Sahrawi Republic has military backing from Algeria, South Africa, and Iran.

Last Saturday, US Under Secretary of State for International Organizations Michele Sison visited Algeria and Morocco for the first time. In a statement, the US State Department said that one of the goals of Sison’s trip is to work for the inclusion of the two nations in the UN Human Rights Council, and to that end, made clear Washington’s support for the United Nations Peacekeeping Mission to Assist the Sahrawi People (MINUSRO). The United States has stated that it supports Morocco’s proposal for the resolution of the Sahrawi conflict.

This article was originally published in Portuguese in Brasil de Fato.