March 2, 2011

An old friend

The Sultan Abderrahmane by Delacroix

On March 2, 1956, Morocco tore up the Treaty of Fez and declared its independence from France.

It had been a long time coming – France had been given rights over the country in 1912 and for more than fifty years French colonials had been building enclaves that Moroccans were not permitted to enter, had deprived the natives of free speech, education – except for a small elite group – and most civil rights.  But it was that small sliver of educated Moroccans that eventually created the nationalist movement that overthrew the French.

Before France, there had been Spanish incursions into the country. As the map shows, only the straits of Gibraltrar separate them – in fact, when the Moors were driven out of Spain, many landed in the Rif, a small mountainous area on the coast between Tangiers and Melilla.

The Rif is known for seven sub-groups of Barbary macaques, the honeybee and as the source of nearly half the world’s supply of hashish.

Map by Williamborg.

The Rif was the home of one of Morocco’s earliest and most successful independence movements. It started in 1920 as a rebellion against the Spanish (sharing a joint policing policy with the French), led by a legendary guerilla fighter called Muhammad Ibn ‘Abd al-Karim al-Khattabi.  Abd el-Karim declared the Republic of the Rif. When Spanish troops neared the Rif in search of a notorious bandit, Abd el-Karim warned them not to cross the river that bordered his republic.  The Spanish general laughed and set up camp on the Rif side of the river.  Abd el-Karim’s fighters attacked and killed more than half the troop.  Not long after, he attacked the Spanish lines and drove them to the coast.  His army of 3,000 Riffians killed 8,000 Spanish and sent the remaining 13,000 in retreat.

Reportedly, Abd el-Karim’s methods were studied by other revolutionaries – Ho Chi Minh, Mao and Che Guevara among them.

Abd el-Karim

Eventually, the French and Spanish combined to defeat Abd el-Karim.  He was sent into exile in 1925, but lived long enough to see his country gain its independence.

Morocco, btw, was the first country to recognize American independence.  And, when diplomat Thomas Barclay arrived in 1786, he received a warm welcome from Sultan Muhammad III.  The Sultan and Barclay concluded the Moroccan-American Treaty of Friendship, ultimately signed by Jefferson and Adams.  It was our very first international treaty as the United States.



  1. Very exciting reporting thank you Jean


    Comment by avery — March 2, 2011 @ 1:33 pm | Reply

  2. Where did you get the Abdelkrim photo?
    I would appreciate the reply as I’m trying retrace the history of that particular photo


    Comment by Amin — July 22, 2011 @ 1:20 pm | Reply

    • sorry – don’t remember exactly, but there are quite a few versions floating around the web – there is one here:
      also, check google images for ‘Abd al-Karim al-Khattabi’


      Comment by jchatoff — July 22, 2011 @ 2:53 pm | Reply

      • I already did, tried the Spanish and Arabic spelling as well, but couldn’t find a history of the picture. Yours intrigued me because of its quality & resolution, that’s why i asked.
        I suspect it’s an edited version of a passport or some official document’s photo somewhere around 1912 of him or his brother.
        Anyway thanks for your reply!


        Comment by Amin — July 22, 2011 @ 3:08 pm

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