El-Ouali Mustapha Sayed : biography
El-Ouali Mustapha Sayed (also known as El Uali, El-Wali, Luali or Lulei) ( b. 1948 – June 9, 1976) was a Sahrawi nationalist leader, co-founder and second Secretary-General of the Polisario Front. He was also the first President of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic.
Exile, presidency and war
After the joint Moroccan–Mauritanian invasion of Western Sahara in late 1975, and the Moroccan air raids on Sahrawi refugees columns in the desert, El-Ouali escorted them 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 – 60,000 people in 1976, housed in the Tindouf refugee camps. At that point, the Polisario Front, backed by Algeria and Libya, reinforced a guerrilla war against Morocco and Mauritania, who had substantially larger forces and armament, mostly from French and Spanish origin. The usual tactic of the Polisario guerrillas consisted in raids (sometimes of hundreds of km) on military objectives like Moroccan military posts on Tarfaya, Amgala or Guelta Zemmur, or economic objectives, as the Bou Craa phosphate conveyor belt, the Zouerat iron mines and the Mauritania Railway.
By all accounts, El-Ouali was intensely charismatic, and often made public speeches in the refugee camps. 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.
Youth and background
El-Ouali was born in 1948 in a Sahrawi nomad encampment somewhere on the hammada desert plains in eastern Western Sahara or northern Mauritania; some sources give his place of birth as Bir Lehlou, a location that is symbolic for the Polisario Front, for being the place of the proclamation of the SADR. His parents were poor and his father handicapped, and with the sum of the severe drought on the Sahara that year, and the consequences of the Ifni War, the family had to abandon the traditional bedouin lifestyle of the Sahrawis, settling near Tan-Tan (nowadays southern Morocco) at the late 1950s. Some sources stated that Ouali’s family was deported among others to Morocco by Spanish authorities in 1960.
He went to Primary School in Tan-Tan in 1962, and then to the Islamic Institute in Taroudant in 1966 with impressive results, being awarded scholarships to attend university in Rabat in 1970. There he studied Laws & Political sciences, and met other young members of the Sahrawi diaspora, who like him were affected by the radicalism sweeping Moroccan universities in the early 1970s (heavily influenced by May 1968 in France). He was the first alumnus in the history of Moroccan universities on achieving a puntuation of 19 out of 20 in Constitutional law. He travelled to Europe for the only time in his life about this time, visiting Amsterdam in the Netherlands & Paris in France.
Death in combat
On June 9, 1976 El-Ouali was killed by a shrapnel piece through the head returning from a major Polisario raid on the Mauritanian capital, Nouakchott, in which they bombarded the Presidential palace. In the retreat, pursued by Mauritanian troops, armored vehicles and aviation, a group with Ouali separated from the principal column, going to Benichab (about 100 km. north of Nouakchott) with the intention of exploding the water pipeline that supplied the capital. Other sources claim that the subsequent combat take place 60 km. north of Akjoujt. They were surrounded and cornered by Mauritanian troops with Panhard AML’s and then annihilated. Ouali’s body was sent to Nouackchott and buried secretly in a military terrain (in 1996, 20 years after his death, the exact place of his rests was revealed),Alejandro García, Historias del Sáhara – El mejor y el peor de los mundos, Catarata, 2001, Pages 178-179 where still lays. 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.