Initially an important Arabic zawiya or religious tribe with a semi-sedentary lifestyle, the Reguibat gradually turned during the 18th century towards camel-rearing, raiding and nomadism, in response attacks from neighbouring tribes which provoked them into taking up arms and leaving the subordinate position they had previously held. This started a process of rapid expansion, and set the Reguibat on the course towards total transformation into a traditional warrior tribe - a domain until then reserved for the Maqil or Hassane Arab tribes. In the late 19th century, they had become well-established as the largest Sahrawi tribe, and were recognized as the most powerful warrior tribe of the area. In the process they had adopted some cultural features from the dominant Arab warrior tribes of the area, which were now rapidly sidelined by the emerging Reguibat, and sometimes absorbed into it through marriage or tribal pacts.
The grazing lands of the Reguibat fractions extended from Western Sahara into the northern half of Mauritania, the edges of southern Morocco and northern Mali, and large swaths of western Algeria (where they captured the town of Tindouf from the Tajakant tribe in 1895, and turned into an important Reguibat encampment). The Reguibat were known for their skill as warriors, as well as for an uncompromising tribal independence, and dominated large areas of the Sahara desert through both trade and use of arms.
Reguibat Sahrawis were very prominent in the resistance to French and Spanish colonization in the 19th and 20th century, and could not be subdued in the Spanish Sahara until 1934, almost 50 years after the area was first colonized by Spain. Since the 1970s, many Reguibat have been active in the Polisario Front's resistance to Moroccan rule over the still non-sovereign Western Sahara territory. Polisario leader Mohamed Abdelaziz is Reguibi, as is the Moroccan CORCAS leader Khalihenna Ould Errachid.