El-Ouali Mustapha Sayed

El-Ouali Mustapha Sayed

El-Ouali Mustapha Sayed (or "El-Wali Mustapha Sayed") (c.1948-1976) was a Sahrawi nationalist leader.

Youth and background

El-Ouali (also El Uali) was born circa 1948 in a Sahrawi nomad encampment somewhere on the "hammada" desert plains in eastern Western Sahara or Algeria; some sources give his place of birth as Bir Lehlou, a location that is symbolic for PolisarioFact|date=July 2007. His parents were poor and his father handicapped, so the family had to abandon the traditional bedouin lifestyle of the Sahrawis, settling near Tan-Tan in southern Morocco.Fact|date=July 2007

He went to school in Morocco, with impressive results, and was awarded scholarships to attend university in Rabat. There he studied law, and met other young members of the Sahrawi diaspora, who like him were affected by the radicalism sweeping Moroccan universities in the early 1970s. He travelled to Europe for the first and only time in his life about this time, visiting Amsterdam in the Netherlands.

Polisario Front

El-Ouali grew increasingly disturbed by the oppressive Spanish colonial rule over what was then known as Spanish Sahara, and although never involved with the Harakat Tahrir, news of the Zemla Intifada made a deep impression on himFact|date=July 2007. In 1971, he began organizing a group called the "Embryonic Movement for the Liberation of Saguia el-Hamra and Río de Oro" [cite web |url=http://www.westernsaharaonline.net/misc/saharacolumns_desc.cfm?ItemID=5701J64240589C541 |title=Secret story of the Polisario Front |accessdate=2008-08-09|author=Kader El Maati Ahmed|publisher=WesternSaharaOnline.net] , which in 1973 reconstituted itself as the Polisario FrontFact|date=July 2007. After being elected the movement's first Secretary-General on May 10, 1973, El-Ouali led a group of six poorly armed guerrillas in the May 20 El-Khanga raid. El-Ouali and one of his fighters were briefly captured, but they managed to escape prison as the remaining patrol overran the ill-prepared Spanish troopsFact|date=July 2007. The Khanga strike was to be followed by similar attacks on isolated targets, in which the Polisario gathered weapons and equipment, until they were finally able to enter into full-scale guerrilla warfareFact|date=July 2007. In 1974-75 the Polisario Front slowly seized control over the desert countryside, and quickly became the most important nationalist organization in the countryFact|date=July 2007. By 1975 Spain had been forced to retreat into the major coastal citiesFact|date=July 2007, and reluctantly accepted negotiations on the surrender of power [cite web |url=http://www.afapredesa.org/index.php?Itemid=29&id=14&option=com_content&task=view&lang=en |title=History and Facts |accessdate=2008-08-09|date=2007-05-29|publisher=Association for the Families of Saharawi Prisoners and the Disappeared] . At this point, the Polisario remained a relatively small organization of perhaps 800 fighters and activists, although supported by a vastly larger network of sympathizersFact|date=July 2007.

According to Mehdi Bennouna, in "Heros Sans Gloire" El-Ouali was the son of a member of the Moroccan Army of Liberation. He was member of Union National des Étudiants Marocains (UNEM), the students union in Morocco and was recruited by Mohamed Bennouna to join the "Tanzim" (The Organisation or the Structure), an Arabic nationalist and socialist organization which was created overthrow the monarchy under Hassan II and obtained support from Syria, Libya, and Algeria. El-Ouali was trained in Libya and his mentor was a man named "Nemri." Bennouna claims the death of Mahmoud and Nemri, as well as the fluctuating relationship between Tanzim and Algeria led the creation of the Polisario Front. Bennouna views this as part of the armed revolution in Morocco and of the political dissidence against the Moroccan regime [ [http://www.yassar.freesurf.fr/makhzen/bal082.html Quand la gauche voulait abattre Hassan II - "Le Journal"] ] .

Exile then presidency

After the joint Moroccan-Mauritanian invasion of Western Sahara in late 1975, El-Ouali followed refugee Sahrawis into exile in the refugee camps of Tindouf, Algeria. From there, he presided over the establishing of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, becoming its first president. The Sahrawi republic effectively became the government of some 50,000 people, housed in the Tindouf refugee camps, and Polisario, backed by Algeria and Libya, engaged Morocco and Mauritania with substantially larger forces from this point on.

Death in combat

By all accounts, El-Ouali was intensely charismatic, and often made public speeches in the refugee campsFact|date=July 2007. He frequently met with foreign journalists visiting the camps, acknowledging the importance of publicizing the Sahrawi struggle. He was widely respected by his compatriots for his habit of fighting at the front line with his troops, although this would ultimately prove a fatal choice.

On June 9, 1976, at the age of 28, El-Ouali was killed by a gunshot through the head during a major Polisario raid on the Mauritanian capital of Nouakchott in 1976Fact|date=July 2007. His position as Secretary-General was briefly assumed in an interim capacity by Mahfoud Ali Beiba, who was then replaced by Mohammed Abdelaziz at the Polisario's III General Popular Congress in August 1976.

El-Ouali is revered as a Father of the Nation by the Sahrawi refugee populationFact|date=July 2007, and there is a simple stone monument built to his honour in the desert. The day of his death, June 9, has been declared "The Day of the Martyrs", a holiday of the republic that honors all Sahrawi victims in the war for independence.


ee also

*Front Polisario Khat al-Shahid
*Politics of Western Sahara

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