Document Type



Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


International Relations

First Advisor's Name

John F. Clark

First Advisor's Committee Title

Committee chair

Second Advisor's Name

John F. Stack, Jr.

Second Advisor's Committee Title

Committee member

Third Advisor's Name

Mohiadin Messbahi

Third Advisor's Committee Title

Committee member

Fourth Advisor's Name

Oren Stier

Fourth Advisor's Committee Title

Committee member

Fifth Advisor's Name

Charles MacDonald

Fifth Advisor's Committee Title

Committee member


Western Sahara, Sahrawi, Identity, National Identity, Nation, Nationalism, Polisario, Morocco

Date of Defense



This work is a socio-historical study of the roots of Sahrawi national identity. The Sahrawi are a community of people who live in the Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony. Most of its territory has been occupied since 1975 by Morocco, which denies the existence of a distinctive population inhabiting the Western Sahara. In contrast, the POLISARIO Front, vanguard of the Sahrawi nationalist movement, argues that the Western Sahara belongs to the Sahrawi and seeks its full independence. It bases its claims on the notion of a distinctive history, language, and culture for the Sahrawi, separate from that of Moroccans.

The central question of this study asks, “What are the origins of Sahrawi national identity?” This study provides a detailed account of Sahrawi identity formation and how it has developed in intensity and scope. It renders a clear understanding of the Sahrawi phenomenon, useful to the international community in its deliberations on the validity of their nationalism. This study examines the foundation of Sahrawi identity through three different theoretical lenses, namely, primordialism, instrumentalism, and constructivism. The study analyzes arguments derived from each of these theoretical approaches, acknowledging the diversity of arguments about the sources of national identity. This study also demonstrates how a national identity can develop over a long period of time as a succession of layers. This study locates the final moment of Sahrawi identity formation in the twentieth century, but adds that this conclusion utilizes essential markers of differentiation that persist over time—the building blocks of any national identity.



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