For more than forty years, the population of Western Sahara has been divided between the territories 
occupied by Morocco and those controlled by the Polisario Front,an eastern strip of the Western Sahara 
(the so-called "liberated territories"). In 1975 tens of thousands of people fled to the Sahrawi refugee 
camps in Algeria, near the city of Tindouf, where the infrastructure of the Sahrawi state-the Sahrawi 
Arab Democratic Republic (SADR)-is located. In these camps, a revolutionary process of national-building 
has taken place, having, as one of its objectives, the ambition to put an end to “tribalism” among the 
Sahrawi. The main goal of the CAPSAHARA project in this location was to understand how legal and religious
 practices have changed during this process
The public display of historical narratives 
occupies center stage in the refugee camps, 
and is at the heart of the national liberation 

Although the camps are run by the Polisario Front, 
they are largely dependent on international aid
The refugee camps are located in the hamada, a 
particularly hostile part of the Sahara desert
This vaulted structure in Tifarit (dating probably 
from the late 1960's) is part of a hispano-arabe 
style of architecture, inspired by the so-called 
"Smara buildings." Some of the first constructions 
developed by the Polisario resorted to this model
The camps around Tindouf are located in areas with
available underground water, and have been known 
and used by nomadic populations for centuries


The Sahrawi state has an infrastructure in the 
camps which includes its own television station
The building of mosques is a recent phenomenon, 
nevertheless, these mounds marking the qibla 
—the direction required for Islamic prayer 
have been used for prayer and might be described 
as “open air mosques”

© Enrique Tirado for CAPSAHARA, 2020