The Green March – A Campaign for Reunification

Moroccans will enjoy a public holiday on 6th November 2007 as they take time to commemorate an event known as “The Green March”. What is ‘The Green March’ and what prompted this historical event?

In October 1975 Spain initiated negotiations with the Sahrawi rebel leaders who were behind the guerrilla war which was challenging Spanish control of the Sahara and had rocked the area since 1973. Morocco, situated north of Western Sahara, was of the opinion that this territory was fundamentally part of Morocco due to historical ties. Mauritania, to the south of the area, argued that Western Sahara should be incorporated into their region. The matter was taken to the International Court of Justice, which, after investigating the situation, found that there were historical ties between the Sultan of Morocco and some, but not all, of the Sahrawi tribes. However, the same could be said for Mauritania.

The International Court of Justice also found no ties of territorial sovereignty between the territory under dispute and either Mauritania or Morocco at the time of the colonization of the area by Spain. Certainly there were insufficient ties with both Mauritania and Morocco to support either country-laying claim to Western Sahara. It was argued by the court that the Sahrawis, being the indigenous population, were the owners of the land. That being the case, the Sahrawis had the right to decide whether they wanted to be integrated into Mauritania, be a part of Morocco, have the area divided to possibly satisfy both the disputing parties, or become independent. The United Nations, after visiting the area, concluded that there was overwhelming support for independence. On October 16, 1975 the International Court of Justice released its verdict.

The immediate response of Hassan II of Morocco to the verdict of the International Court of Justice, was to put a plan into action to reunite Western Sahara with the “motherland”. Hassan II made no reference to the court’s ruling on the right to self-determination of the Sahrawis, instead he used the previous ties between Sahrawis and Morocco as justification for his actions. In a very short space of time, Hassan II set about organizing a march into Western Sahara, enlisting the support of more than 300,000 Moroccans. The March was named “The Green March” after the holy color of Islam. Unarmed marchers carried portraits of the king, Moroccan flags and copies of Islam’s holy book the Koran. Approximately 50,000 Moroccans crossed the border on the first day of the March, bringing condemnation from the Sahrawis, who appealed to Spain to defend the territory. Spain, however, wanted to go ahead with holding a referendum in Western Sahara with the aim of establishing independence.

On November 5th, 1975 Hassan ordered marchers to cross the border. On November 6th of the same year, the United Nations Security Council ordered Hassan to withdraw the marchers. Hassan defied this order and used the 160,000 marchers already inside Western Sahara as a bargaining tool to get Spain to engage in negotiations directly with Morocco. Spain relented and the marchers were withdrawn from the area.

As a result of negotiations between Mauritania, Morocco and Spain, the “Madrid Agreement” (otherwise known as the Tripartite Agreement) was signed in Madrid on November 14, 1975. The Madrid Agreement released Western Sahara from Spanish rule and established governing terms to the benefit of all three regions.

The Moroccan people proudly remember ‘The Green March‘ as an epic event leading to Morocco’s reunification.