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Encyclopedia > Abd el Krim
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Time Magazine, August 17, 1925

Abd el-Krim (c. 1882-1963) (Tamazight Muray Abdekrim, full name: Muhammad Ibn 'Abd al-Karim Al-Khattabi محمد بن عبد الكريم الخطابي) was the Berber leader of the Rif, a Morocco. He became the leader of a resistance movement against French and Spanish colonial rule in North Africa.


Born in Ajdir, Morocco to a qadi (Islamic judge) of the Ait Yusuf clan of the Beni Ouriaghel (or Waryaghar) tribe, Abd el-Krim was educated both in traditional zaouias and in Spanish schools, ultimately his education in the ancient university of Qarawiyin in Fez, and then spending three years in Spain studying mining and military engineering. He entered the Spanish governmental structure, and was appointed chief qadi for Melilla in 1915, as well as editing the Arabic section of the newspaper El Telegrama del Rif.


In his time there, he came to oppose Spanish domination, and was imprisoned in 1917 for saying that Spain should not expand beyond her current dominions (which in practice excluded most of the effectively ungoverned Rif) and expressing sympathy for the German cause in World War I. Soon after escaping, he returned to Ajdir in 1919 and, with his brother, began to unite the tribes of the Rif into an independent Republic of the Rif. In this cause, he tried to end existing inter-tribal feuds and to restore orthodoxy in the local practice of Islam by ending practices such as the eating of pork.


In 1921, as a spinoff of their efforts to destroy the power of a local brigand, Raisuni, Spanish troops approached the unoccupied areas of the Rif. Abd-el-Krim sent their General Manuel Fernández Silvestre a warning that if they crossed the Amekran River he would consider it an act of war. Silvestre is said to have laughed, and shortly afterwards set up a military post across the river at Abarrán. By mid-afternoon of the same day a thousand Rifis had surrounded it; 179 Spanish troops were killed, forcing the remainder to retreat. Soon afterwards, Abd el-Krim directed his forces to attack the Spanish lines, with great success - in three weeks, 8,000 Spanish troops were killed, and at Annual an army of 13,000 was forced to retreat by only 3,000 Rifis. (See Disaster of Annual.)


By 1924, the Spanish were forced to retreat to their holdings along the Moroccan coast. France, which in any case laid claim to territory in the southern Rif, realized that allowing another North African colonial power to be defeated by natives would set a dangerous precedent for their own territories, and entered the fray. In 1925, a French force under Marshal Henri Philippe Pétain and a Spanish army, with a total of 250,000 soldiers, began operations against the Rif Republic. Intense combat persisted for a year, but eventually the combined French and Spanish armies - using, among other weapons, mustard gas - defeated the forces of Abd el-Krim. El-Krim was exiled to Réunion Island (a French territory) from 1926 to 1947, when he was given permission to live in the south of France, but succeeded in gaining asylum in Egypt instead, where he presided over the Liberation Committee for the Arab Maghreb, and where he died in 1963, just after seeing his hopes of a Maghreb independent of colonial powers completed by the independence of Algeria.

  • Chronology of the Rif War (http://www.balagan.org.uk/war/1909/)







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