Former Pentagon official and current Resident Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) on the history and outlook of the ongoing Western Sahara dispute:
In recent decades the Middle East has been a region replete with conflicts. In the last four years alone civil war has erupted in Syria, Libya, and Yemen, contributing to the highest world refugee totals since World War II. Beyond the Arab-Israeli conflict, however, one of oldest and most intractable conflicts has been over possession of the Western Sahara, home to barely 500,000 people—equivalent to Fresno, California—spread over a 100,000 square mile patch of desert, an area the size of Colorado. It boasts only one town over 100,000 people. Indeed, if the Western Sahara were to be an independent country, it would compete with Mongolia as the least densely populated country on earth.
Origins of a Conflict
Nevertheless, this barren corner of Africa has been the center of conflict between Morocco and Algeria for four decades and the subject of contention between Morocco and various European powers for decades before that. In 1884 Spain, a late-comer to the colonial scramble for Africa, seized the coastal region that would become known as the Western Sahara (but which it initially divided into the southern Río de Oro and northern Saguia el-Hamra). Local tribes did not take colonial conquest easily and resisted Spanish administration for 50 years. While Spain largely pacified the area by 1934, quiet and acquiescence do not always correlate.
Morocco, meanwhile, never ceded its claims. Five of eight dynasties which have ruled Morocco since the ninth century AD—the Midrarids (823-977), the Almoravid (1062-1147), the Marinids (1217-1465), the Wattasids (1428-1549), and the Alaouites (1631-present)—controlled the Western Sahara, or at least its oasis towns; most actually trace their tribal roots to the territory. One additional dynasty—the Sadid Sharifs (1510-1659)—ignored the coast of the Western Sahara, but pushed Moroccan rule deep into what is now northern Mali. In short, Moroccan nationalists find no shortage of evidence to support their claims…[Read the original story here: http://fmso.leavenworth.army.mil/Current/current.pdf]