In 1895, sheik Ma al-Aini founded the fortress Smara, and from there until 1910 he fought the Spanish-French presence with the support of the Sultan of Morocco. But this one bowed to European pressure and ceased support for the rebels, who then expanded their area of operation to include Morocco. They reached as far as to threaten Marakesh. The French counter-attack consisted in increasing activity in the «Spanish» territory as well as in the conquest of Smara in 1913. However, resistance continued until 1920.
- COUNTRYAAH.COM: Provides latest population data about Western Sahara. Lists by Year from 1950 to 2020. Also includes major cities by population.
The French put pressure on Spain to increase control of the area, and in 1932 the city of Aaiún was founded. In 1933, Ma al-Aini’s cousin, Mohamed al Mamún, who was the emir of Adrad, prevailed, and this forced the colonialists to change tactics. The French occupied one of the rebels’ bases, the Tindouf oasis; they advanced toward Algeria, Mauritania and Morocco, while Spanish troops captured Smara and overcame the rebels in 1934.
When the French deposed Sultan Mohammed V, the National Liberation Army (ALN), whose southern division had close cooperation with the people of Western Sahara, was created in Morocco. After Morocco became independent in 1956 and the southern division was dissolved, Western Sahara faced Spain and the French Air Force alone, which in 1958 forced the resistance to retreat.
From this point on, the exploitation of the phosphate deposits that had been discovered in Bu-Craa began. Transnational capital interests, with the French government’s consent, invested more than $ 160 million, thus changing the country’s population distribution. In 1959, al-Aiún had 6,000 inhabitants. By 1974, the figure had risen to 28,000, while nomads’ share of the total population fell from 90% to 16% over the same period.