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Western Sahara

Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic

Last modified: 2024-02-17 by rob raeside
Keywords: western sahara | sahara | sahrawi arab democratic republic | sadr | crescent: points to fly (red) | crescent: points up (red) | pan-arab colours | polisario front | different reverse | map | puns | el ouali |
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Flag of Western Sahara
image by Željko Heimer, 01 Jan 2004 | two-sided sinister

See also:

* Editorial note: The Moroccan government considers Western Sahara as a part of its own territory. This page does not necessarily imply any partiality on the territorial issue in question, as also doesn’t the existence of our page about the flags of Moroccan administrative divisions, among which Western Sahara is included.

About the flag

Significance and origin

Flag adopted 27 February 1976, state emblem adopted 1976, modified June 1991.
Nozomi Kariyasu, 2001

The flag (designed by the Frente Polisario) is inverted in nature. The black (on top) represents death, the green represents life, the white represents peace.
Brent Overton, 24 January 2000

The flag of the SADR follows the pan-Arab colours and is similar to the PLO flag [now the flag of the Palestine Authority, ed.], with the addition of a crescent and star on the white stripe.
Stuart Notholt, 09 FFebruary eb 1996

POLISARIO was originally closely aligned with the Algerian regime. So it is quite likely that the SADR flag’s star and crescent would be like that of the Algerian flag.
Stuart Notholt, 09 February 1996

The POLISARIO flag and the SADR flag are the same. When Polisario proclaimed the SADR their own flag was hoisted.
Jaume Ollé, 23 August 1998

I have recently read three books on West Sahara written by Japanese journalists and found the article mentioning the national flag of SADR was designed by El Ouali (1948-1976) founder of Frente Popular para la Liberación de Saguía el Hamura y Río de Oro (Polisario) prepared for its independence proclamation on Feb 27 1976. He respected PLO and added red star and crescent to the flag. The book shows flags but the shape is similar to Turkish star and crescent and there are both flags with left and right hoists. The green stands for wealth, red for martyr’s blood, white for hope, black for colonialism and suppression, red star and crescent for Islam.
Nozomi Kariyasu, 20 October 2007


Flag constr. of Western Sahara
image by Željko Heimer, 01 Jan 2004 | two-sided sinister

The proportions are 1:2. The height of the triangle is equal to 1/3 the length of the flag. The centre of the circle which creates the outer arc of the crescent is in the exact centre of the flag. The diameter of the circles which create the outer and inner arcs of the crescent are equal to 5/7 the width of the central stripe. The centre point of the circle containing the star is to be found on an imaginary line connecting the horns of the crescent, and has a diameter equal to 4/5 the distance between the horns of the crescent. The centre points of the circles which create the crescent and place the star are equidistant along the horizontal meridian. (From a document issued by the Protocol Section of the Office of the President of the Republic in June 1987. The image above is my interpretation of the official figures for Western Sahara, although flags in practice almost certainly don’t follow them.)
Christopher Southworth, 01 January 2004

This does not quite define the distance between the two circles determining the crescent, but from the sketches he sent me together with the above, it seems obvious that the distance is 1/6 of the diameter of each of the circles. (The center of the circle defining the star is, by virtue of construction requists that it lays on the same line as the hrons of the crescent, exactly at the midpoint between the two circles defining the crescent.)
Željko Heimer, 01 January 2004

The design of the flag of Western Sahara is credited to the founder of  POLISARIO, El Ouali (full name, Ouali Sayed) - above. Another founding member of POLISARIO, Mahjoub Salek, presents a different history in an interview given to Yabiladi, 7 May 2018.

Salek claims to have been member of the committee in charge of the elaboration of the POLISARIO's emblems and principles during the movement's second congress, held in 1974. "I was not inspired by the Palestinian flag, which I did not know at the time. The flag of POLISARIO reflects our revolutionary ideals. Red represents blood, black evokes the colonization period, white highlights our revolution, and green personifies the values of edification. The star and crescent means our Arab character and our Muslim identity."
Salek further explains that "other members of the committee proposed a yellow flag charged in the middle with a crescent, a star and a camel".
Following the presentation of the two proposals, the congress eventually selected Salek's design.
Yabiladi, 7 May 2018

Mahjoub Salek founded in 2004 a dissident movement, Khat Achahid. He believes that the POLISARIO became a puppet in the hands of the Algerian government, which blocks any negotiation and maintain the status quo for political reasons. He adds that this would never had happened if Ouali Sayed had not been killed during a raid against Nouakchott (Mauritania). Accordingly, Salek remains faithful to Sayed and there is no reason to believe that his claims on the authorship are illegitimate. It could be that Sayed, as the head of POLISARIO, eventually validated Salek's design.
Ivan Sache, 18 July 2018

History of the Western Sahara

Before Spanish Sahara was a unified province it was divided in two provinces, the Saguiat el-Hamra (the "SA" of "polisario"… and the "EH" of the ISO country code) and Rio de Oro (the "RIO"). The "POLI" means "por la liberación" ("for the liberation"). Spanish Sahara was also known as Spanish West Africa, but that one included other bits like Ifni (to Morocco in 1969), Cape Juby (the southernmost part of Morocco not including WS) and La Aguera.
Joàn-Francés Blanc, 16 November 1999

When the Spanish pulled out of this territory in 1976, it was partitioned between Morocco, which took the larger part, and Mauritania. Local nationalists of the POLISARIO movement proclaimed the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic on 27 February 1976.
Stuart Notholt, 09 February 1996

  • November 1975: Moroccan annexation of the northern part of the Western Sahara. An administrative reform in Morocco was carried out in 1976. [Flags and arms were created.] in Western Sahara 3 wilayas: Boujdour, Es Smara and Laayoune.
  • August 1979: Moroccan annexation of the southern (former mauretanian) part of the Western Sahara. In Western Sahara 4 wilayas since 1983: Ad Dakhla, Boujdour, Es Smara and Laayoune.
  • From beginning of the 1990ies to 1997, after internal borders changed: in Western Sahara 5 wilayas: Ad Dakhla, Boujdour, Es Smara, Laayoune and Oued ed Dahab.
Jens Pattke, 24 June 2001 and 28 June 2001

Since 1997, after internal borders changed: regional flags unknown; in Western Sahara 2 almost complete regions and part of a third:

  • Région Oued Eddahab-Lagouira,
  • (most of) Région Laâyoune-Boujdour-Sakia El Hamra and
  • (part of) Région Guelmim-Es Smara
António Martins, 03 June 2005

The Polisario Flag was at first a party flag. When Spanish troops yielded control of the country to Morroco (Marcha verde), Polisario proclaimed the SADR on 27 February and hoisted same flag (like FLNA and Algeria). At that time the SADR would be a single party country and logically the identification between party symbol and state symbol was total. More than half of Africa (and many others countries in the world) recognized SADR and it was accepted in the African Union Organization. The SADR-POLISARIO flag was very popular and no change was ever proposed.
Jaume Ollé , 20 November 1999

The United Nations now seem to accept a new plan concerning the political future of Western Sahara. Since Morocco and POLISARIO have not been able to reach an accord on a self-determination referendum (the problem is who is allowed to vote in this predominantly nomadic region), UN will prefer to postpone the decision, form an autonomous region within Morocco, and (maybe) organize the referendum in five years.
Jan Zrzavy, 26 June 2001

Legal issues

From the Association de soutien à un référendum libre et régulier au Sahara Occidental (Western Sahara) newsletter:

On the eve of the anniversary of the Polisario Front, threats and intimidations against Saharawi activists increased in the occupied territories and southern Morocco, the police looking for leaflets and Saharawi flags.

An example:

20.05.03 - An emissary of the pacha of El Ayoun paid a visit to a Saharawi defender of human rights, Lidri Elhoucine, to ask him to go to the office of the pacha, which Lidri refused because there was no official summons. The same evening the pacha himself, who was following Lidri in his car, told him he knew about his “separatist” activities. The pacha threatened him with arrest if the Polisario flags, which he was accused of possessing, were distributed. Lidri is a professor of philosophy, a member of the former executive of the Forum for Truth and Justice in El Ayoun, his name figures on the list of 18 Saharawis accused in the case concerning the dissolution of the FVJ Sahara section.

Zane Whitehorn, 24 May 2003

Different reverse?

Rev. of flag of Western Sahara
image by Željko Heimer, 01 Jan 2004 | two-sided reverse sinister

I saw a Western Sahara flag that had the crescent and star only on [what we might at first call] the reverse. Of course this may be interpreted as:

  • the flag was hoisted upside down; or
  • the flag was a sinister-hoist version (which I guess is the correct one, this being an Arab country), whereby the “main” side is what is considered the reverse in western countries.
Santiago Dotor, 07 September 2000

"Obverse" means "main side" (and thus "reverse" means "secondary side"), usually the side shown in construction sheets and other flag depictions, the side where inscriptions or emblems are applied (when these are applied on one side only), the side turned outwards when the flag is arranged for indoor limp display, etc. Usually, in left to right cultures the obverse is the side with the hoist at the viewer’s left hand ("dexter hoisted"), and in right to left cultures the obverse is the side with the hoist at the viewer’s right hand ("sinister hoisted").

This being so, and considering that the flag spotted by Santiago looked like this

o________    ________o
|\_______|  |_______/|
| )______|  |__*)__( |
|/_______|  |_______\|
|                    |
|                    |
then the flag is indeed sinister hoisted and has a different reverse (no emblem). The obverse is the side showing the emblem — because it shows the emblem.
António Martins, 07 September 2000

Future (?) flag, after independence

Flag of Western Sahara
image by Željko Heimer, 01 Jan 2004 | two-sided sinister

When the Polisario gain independence after a referendum and are recognized as a “true country” the green will go on top and the black will go to the bottom.
Brent Overton, 24 January 2000

Alternative depictions

map for emblem

Flag of Western Sahara
image by António Martins, 12 July 2004,
based on report by Jaume Ollé, 20 Nov 1999 | two-sided sinister

I believe the flag with a map of the Western Sahara in the center is fictional.
Jaume Ollé, 20 November 1999

What was this flag? Some non-islamic Saharawi fraction or supporter movement?
António Martins, 12 July 2004


with lettering

flag with lettering image by Eugene Ipavec, 19 February 2010

In a Yahoo News photo of street protesters in Spain from last year (ephemeral url, but detail here), a variant of the EH flag can be seen. (The protests were against Morocco’s expulsion of Western Sahara independence activist Aminatou Haidar to Spain, where she had started a hunger strike at Lanzarote Airport.)
Eugene Ipavec, 19 February 2010

The French text in white capital letters, "SAHARA" (in the black stripe) / "LIBRE" (in the green stripe), reads "free Sahara".
Ivan Sache, 20 February 2010

Military(?) Flag with Arms/Emblem

  images located by BlinxCat, 20 May 2022

A flag belonging to the disputed SADR in Western Sahara, This flag is a square white flag with fringe carried in front of a group of soldiers(?) carrying the national flag behind.
BlinxCat, 20 May 2022