On the evening of October 16, 1975, King Hassan II called for 350,000 volunteers via radio and television, to occupy the Spanish Sahara. The biggest reason for the unrest in this area being the mineral deposits, particularly phosphates. Part of the reason for the unrest in this area, is the fact that only one of the borders is clearly and naturally defined, and the rest are just defined by the edge of Mauritania and Algeria. At this time, Morocco was the largest phosphate exporter and the third largest producer in the world. King Hassan however, claimed that the reason for the unrest was mostly because of their cultural roots, and less because of economic reasons, claiming “If I had to choose between the return of these territories to the motherland and the phosphates, I would willingly have abandoned the phosphates.” King Hassan was controversial himself in the way he came to power, and struggled with his legitimacy. From 1973-1974 King Hassan was amidst turmoil as there was an attempted coups d’état as well as an increase in guerrilla warfare. At the start of 1973, King Hassan began asserting their position in the Spanish Sahara, in an effort to help his popularity. At the same time, Spain was yielding to the UN as they pressured Spain to decolonize the area. This caused Hassan in increase his efforts. In September 1974, Morocco proposed to the UN that they seek another opinion regarding Spain’s territory. Soon after, Hassan ordered for 350,000 volunteers. This number wasn’t arbitrary, for it is the number of annual births in Morocco. 306,500 of the volunteers were to be general citizens, while the rest were to be government officials. This caused a lot of internal regional turmoil, as different regions provided different percentages of marchers. King Hassan appealed to his people in a religious aspect too, calling his people “holy warriors”. The marchers entered Spanish territory on November 6, 1975 holding flags. Spanish troops were ordered not to use force.
Middle East Journal
Vol. 33, No. 1 (Winter, 1979) , pp. 20-33