Muhammad El Merid: The Man Who Became Qaid

Gestart door arriset, 29/01/2010 om 17:52:34


In 1921 the Spanish colonial rulers of northern Morocco were overwhelmed and decisively defeated at the battle of Anual by Rifian tribesman under the leadership of Abd al-Krim al-Khattabi. It was one of the greatest defeats a European army suffered by a colonized peopleâ€"the Spanish lost more than twenty thousand men in this one battle.

The war in the Rif was one of the last episodes in the bloody conquest of Morocco by Spain and France, who in 1912 divided Morocco between themselves and established separate protectorate governments. The Spanish zone extended from the Algerian frontier to Tangier along the Mediterranean coast and consisted mostly of the mountainous Rif and Jabala districts. Most of Morocco to the south came under the control of the French. Moroccans put up a fierce struggle against both the French and Spanish colonial regimes. The Rif war was one of the most glorious chapters in the history of Moroccan resistance. It ended in 1925, when Abd al-Krim was finally defeated by the combined armies of both France and Spain.

Unlike most Rifians, Muhammad El Merid, the subject of David Seddon's contribution, was not tempted to join Krim's "Ripublik." His story is that of a wily opportunist who, seeing the chance to exploit the ill-defined borders between the French and Spanish jurisdictions, pulled off a spectacular land grab at the expense of the rest of the Zaio community, among whom he lived, and got the Spanish colonial authorities to underwrite his ambitions. Individuals like El Merid certainly existed in goodly number not only in Morocco but throughout the region. Human nature being what it is, there is never a shortage of people willing to take advantage of misfortune. The colonial situation in this sense was no different from any other. Colonial regimes, despite their illegitimacy in the eyes of the local population, brought not only suffering and oppression but also economic opportunities and at times a more efficient, less corrupt government. Their seeming permanence and the fact that they also claimed implicitly to be on the side of progress led many Middle Easterners to try to make the best of a bad situation.