Provinces of Western Sahara

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Currently, Western Sahara's status is still disputed. Maps published by the CIA and by the U.N. Cartographic Division  both show 27°40' N. (roughly) as the border between Western Sahara and Morocco. ISO still maintains a country code for Western Sahara, but has withdrawn the subdivision codes for any subdivisions of Western Sahara. The ISO codes shown in the table below are historic. Since the country does not now have a functioning sovereign government of its own, other than that of Morocco, the subdivisions listed below are conjectural; it would be safer to refer only to the Moroccan regions, Dakhla-Oued Ed-Dahab and Laâyoune-Sakia al Hamra.

Morocco went on daylight saving time starting in 2008. The tz database currently supposes that this DST does not extend to Western Sahara, but there is no clear evidence either way.

Country overview: 

ISO codeEH
LanguageArabic (ar)
Time zone+0 ~
CapitalEl Aaiún


In 1900, Spanish West Africa was a Spanish possession. It comprised four districts on the west coast of Africa: Ifni, Río de Oro, Saguia el Hamra, and Southern Protectorate of Morocco. Río de Oro was the area from Cape Blanco and about latitude 21°20' north to latitude 26°; Saguia el Hamra reached from there to about latitude 27°40' north (Cape Juby); and the Southern Protectorate of Morocco extended from there to Oued Draa, the border with French Morocco. Ifni was a coastal enclave around the town of Sidi Ifni. Spanish Sahara referred to Río de Oro and Saguia el Hamra. (In fact, the different names were used somewhat indiscriminately. Río de Oro was often applied to the whole colony, excluding Ifni.) In 1976, Spain relinquished Spanish Sahara. Mauritania and Morocco promptly divided it between them. However, Mauritania ceded its portion to Morocco three years later. Morocco has administered the region since then. The former Southern Protectorate is fully integrated into Morocco. As for Spanish Sahara, now known as Western Sahara, other governments have withheld recognition of Morocco's sovereignty pending a referendum.

Also in 1976, the Polisario Front proclaimed a Sarahwi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR). Morocco built a military berm enclosing about 80% of the territory. Since a cease-fire effective on 1991-09-06, Morocco has exercised control of the western side of the berm, while the SADR has governed the rest.

Other names of country: 

  1. Danish: Vestsahara
  2. Dutch: Westelijke Sahara, Democratische Arabische Republiek Sahara (disputed)
  3. English: Spanish Sahara (obsolete), Spanish West Africa (obsolete), Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic (disputed)
  4. French: Sahara m occidental
  5. German: Westliche Sahara, Westsahara n
  6. Italian: Sahara Occidentale
  7. Norwegian: Vest-Sahara
  8. Portuguese: Saara Ocidental, Sahara Ocidental, Sara Ocidental, República f Democrática Árabe do Sahara m (disputed)
  9. Russian: Сахарская Арабская Демократическая Республика (formal)
  10. Spanish: Sahara m Occidental, Africa f Occidental Española (obsolete), Sahara Español (obsolete)
  11. Swedish: Väst-Sahara
  12. Turkish: Batı Sahra

Origin of name: 

Descriptive: located at the west end of the Sahara Desert (Arabic sahara: desert)

Primary subdivisions: 

Note: Western Sahara is also listed as part of Morocco.

Western Sahara is divided into four wilayas (provinces).

Es SemaraEH.ESESM20,48061,76023,850
Oued el DahabEH.ODOUD21,49650,88019,640

Territorial extent: 

The UN LOCODE page  for Western Sahara lists locations in the country, some of them with their latitudes and longitudes, some with their ISO 3166-2 codes for their subdivisions. This information can be put together to approximate the territorial extent of subdivisions.

Origins of names: 

  1. Laayoune: Arabic el aaiún: the springs
  2. Río de Oro: Spanish for river of gold, referring to the bay on which Dakhla lies.

Change history: 

La Agüera was a district in southern Río de Oro during the 1920s. Cape Juby was a district in the Southern Protectorate of Morocco from 1916 to ~1948. The districts during the colonial period, with their capitals, were Ifni (Sidi Ifni), Río de Oro (Villa Cisneros, renamed Dakhla in 1976), Saguia el Hamra (El Aaiún), and Southern Protectorate of Morocco (Villa Bens, renamed Tarfaya in 1958).

  1. 1956-04-07: When Morocco became independent, it resumed control of the Southern Protectorate of Morocco.
  2. 1969-06-30: Ifni restored to Morocco by Spain.
  3. 1976-02-20: Spain relinquished Spanish Sahara (now consisting of Río de Oro and Saguia el Hamra). Mauritania and Morocco partitioned it, the southern half of Río de Oro going to Mauritania. The Moroccan sector was reorganized into the provinces of Boujdour, Laayoune, and Es Semara. The Mauritanian sector became the region of Tiris el Gharbia.
  4. 1979-08-14: Mauritania ceded Tiris el Gharbia to Morocco, which renamed it Oued el Dahab province.

Other names of subdivisions: 

Names are originally written in the Arabic alphabet, so they may be transliterated in various ways.

  1. Río de Oro: Zona Meridional, Sur (obsolete)
  2. Saguia el Hamra: Saguiet el Hamra, Sekia el Hamra, Zona Central, Norte (obsolete)
  3. Southern Protectorate of Morocco: Zona Septentrional (obsolete)
  4. Boujdour: Bojador (variant)
  5. Es Semara: Smara (variant)
  6. Laayoune: El Aaiún, La'youn (variant)
  7. Oued el Dahab: Ed Dakhla (obsolete); Oued Eddahab (variant)
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