The Moorish Wanderer

Glimpses of Morocco’s History Vol. 4

Posted in Moroccan History & Sociology, Morocco, Read & Heard, The Wanderer by Zouhair ABH on April 11, 2011

My first request, and on the 1727-1757 period! (Thank you Maroqui; The post might be a bit off-topic, though…)

As it happens, one of the latest issues of ‘Wijhat Nadar‘ (45-44, Summer 2010) dealt with the very interesting issue of killing in Morocco. Killing is a very approximate translation of the following: “التقتيل في المغرب عبر التاريخ” so perhaps it would be closer to the truth to denote it as a policy of killing, mainly because of its systematic, and more importantly, official features.

The violent nature of the Imperial regime cannot be stressed enough, as it represents an inextricable part of pre-1912 Moroccan political sociology: indeed, the modern state tries, whenever possible, to assert itself as the monopoly of symbolic and real violence. The Makhzen however, for all its modernist features (as A. Laroui defined them) did not hesitate in using extreme violence to assert its power.

Smail Ibn Ali Cherif (1672 - 1727)

The mid 18th century in Morocco was relatively stable compared to earlier rambles, not because there were fewer riots and insurrections, but because these -usually numerous in bad times as well as in good times- have been almost systematically put down by the imperial Harkas; In the Eastern desert Oasis region alone, cradle of the Alaouite dynasty, number of rebellions against Sultan Moulay Ismaïl counted, on a period from 1676 to 1692 average one every two years, and subsequent riots led to a waltz of local governors (or Caïds) two of which were related to the Imperial dynasty; Beforehand, we need the historical background prior to 1727: Moulay Smaïl took over from his brother, Moulay Mohammed after a successful uprising against him in 1665 (and eventually kills him).

Not only does his rebellion succeed, but he manages to bring back the pieces together: From his native Tafilelt, he manages to conquer Marrakesh, the High Atlas and the Touat region. He then moved westward and annexed the fertile Gharb plains, then conquered the northern regions of Rif. Morocco was for the first time since a long time ago, unified under one Sultan and one imperial authority. This unity however, came at a terrible human price: to force the Moroccan nations into submission, Moulay Smaïl had used a great deal of violence, much more than the standard levels to which denizens of the Imperial Maghrib grew accustomed to, which were already too barbaric even by these days’ standards (beheading, burying alive, whatever comes to mind when mediaeval torture and executions are concerned) and managed to exact heavy taxes compared to what previous Sultans extracted from the local tribes.

A colonial officer, A.G.P Martin reports an example of the taxes; in “Quatre Siècles d’Histoire Marocaine“, he reports in 1688 the following taxes on the Oasis regions, 4,583.5 Metkals, mainly paid for by Taçabit, Oudjlane, Oulad Sidi Hammou Belhaj, Mekkid, Titaouine Inzegmir and the Reggane region. Knowing that one Metkal-or was valued at 144 Francs (Martin computes on 1908 parity) revenues were about 660.000 francs, plus a personal ‘present’ to the Sultan from the local governor, Caïd Ahmed Roussi of about 30,000 francs. Such taxes were high enough for the governor to forgo collecting the “عاشور” (Aachoor) and taxes on water rights. The joint effect of high taxation and bloody repression did prompt the locals (in the Oasis regions and elsewhere) into rioting against the local Caïd or even directly against the Imperial emissaries too:

“[…] En 1690, un Caïd du nom d’Abdelaziz qui pressura les Ksour sans mesure et provoqua un mécontentement général; les gens de Timmimoun se révoltèrent et l’assiégèrent dans la Kasba […] [Les Caïds Messaoud et Mohamed Saffar] vinrent ensuite séjourner un mois à Telalet; ils attaquèrent aussi le Ksar de Ghyat qui avait suivi Timmimoun dans sa révolte. […] Les gens de Timmimoun s’étant enfermés dans leur Ksar, le Caïd […] Saffar vint les assiéger et les força à capituler; il détruisit les Ksour de l’Est (sic) et rasa leurs palmeraies” (Martin, Ed. 1923 p.68)

Indeed, as it was pointed out, a Jewish Demmi could walk across from Oujda to Oued-Noun virtually unharmed, and symbols of Imperial authority were uphold, but to an excessive price, and the constant pressure on the Moroccan people too high to bear, so, when the despotic Sultan died in 1727, his Sons rose and soon got into a civil war to seize the Imperial throne, unleashing yet another of these periodic civil wars in Morocco, exacerbated further by Smail’s sadistic tastes. To insure stability (and avoid any palace coup) the late Sultan divided up the Kingdom into command regions and appointed his sons. Though it made sense when reigning, it proved to be a deadly policy for the hard-earned unity: each son had a base with its resources, whether natural or military, and that made the ensuing civil war even more vicious.

As soon as the news of his death reached Touat, denizens rioted against the Makhzen (a Siba dissidence, in short) and dispersed the remaining local authority by killing Caïd Hamdoun (though version differ on his fate). The ensuing anarchy was not due to the fact that Moulay Smaïl did not nominate his Heir, but because, as A. Laroui rightfully pointed out, the late Sultan’s wishes are not scrupulously executed when they do not suit the Court’s own preferences. For all absolutist a monarch, the Moroccan Sultan didn’t have that much power: in the imperial court, his will was subordinated to the Court’s; And when it is time for power transmission, the consensus fades away with the Sultan’s death, and any relative with (real or faked)  Chorfa ascent can claim the throne and muster local support. The novelty Moulay Smaïl introduced was his attempt to modernise the Makhzen by introducing the idea of a regular army, his very own Black Guard, the Bokhari guards.

Morocco and its borders, by Jackson. 18th Century.

When the conquest of Morocco was (almost) completed, they turned into a Praetorian Guard, and inevitably meddle with Court politics. In this case, and even though the theoretical successor, Moulay Ahmed, was confirmed, another of Smaïl’s numerous offspring, Moulay Abdelmalek, Souss governor, was proclaimed a Sultan too. The ambitious pretender started to march off on Fès in 1728, and as early as 1729, other pretenders rose to claim the throne as well. For Abdelmalek to insure good support from the South (the one region that contributes ‘generous’ and stable receipts to the Makhzenian vaults) Abdelmalek first diverts forces to secure Caravan convoys (that has been under attack from the Tuareg) and, thanks to their support, Timmimoun oasis region was exempted from taxes and the local Caïds bribed to join the pretenders’ causes. The nominal Sultan, Moulay Abdellah, resided in a nominal Capital, controlling a nominal empire with no real armed forces to submit the rebellious tribes or suppress his Brothers’ uprising, though he would have done so (and tried in a couple of times)

The expedition’s aim -and that was not the first, or the only one- was simple enough: most of the constant receipts Makhzen authorities normally cash in do not come from local output, i.e. agriculture, but from desert caravans, and these resources were going to be much needed for the pretender to pay and arm conscripts (and bribe some local officials) for any serious pretender to seize the throne outright. Abdelmalek eventually disappeared, as he had quickly lost Bokharis‘ support. Though over the period one of Smaïl’s sons, Moulay Abdellah managed to maintain some sort of Makhzen order, his death in 1757 did close another stable reign: He had to wage a constant war against many of his brothers, and during the whole period, Morocco was closed to foreign influence, what came to be called “سياسة الإحتراز”, a state of vegetative diplomacy and virtually total autarky.

A peculiar observation though, it has been noted that when the Imperial authority is shaken, that of Zawyas‘ increases in wealth, power and influence: Zawya Darqawiya thrived during Abdellah’s reign: The Zawya provided shelter, food, education, knowledge and even for many, a fatherly figure in the person of the Master, all of which is non-existent in these troubled times.

[Credits to Dianabuja’s]

Glimpses of Morocco’s History Vol. 1

We need to go back to basics. No, I haven’t turn John Major yet (it’s only a matter of time before one can turn to a vegetable, right ?) but it seems, in the evils of wicked education policy pursued by some powerful lobbies for some three decades now- even well-educated internet-users are shockingly unaware of Morocco’s history.

And what makes matters worse, many that boast their undying patriotism can be put to shame for ignoring large scores of our history. It is usually understood that true patriots, so keen on loving their country, just like a lover, do their best to know their idol’s past history. It seems not.

I don’t claim to be historian. In fact I don’t claim to know that much about Morocco’s history too: some of High-school history lessons were so boring that I just skipped the teacher’s soliloquies on Moulay Ali Sherif, or the sub-Saharan expeditions Sultan Mansur Dâhbi sent raiding for gold and slaves. (I did however, rely on well-prepared notes, but, sadly, only for exam preparation. Some facts and dates managed to stick to mind, though) And as I grew older, with the hot political involvement of post-high school, I also discovered post-1956 history (the one that is strangely not taught at school, private or public)

So let me make it up to all of us: the agora around Morocco, patriotism, our ’12 centuries of History’, and other features of ill-informed doxa prompted me into changing course:  I’d like to leave politics aside for the time being, and start posting about history from time to time. I had this ambition many years ago, but time, and perhaps laziness prevented me from carrying out such a project. I shall now, to the best of my abilities, present some relatively unknown parts of our glorious history. I don’t claim to cover all of it from the Phoenicians up to the February 20th demonstrations, but rest assured, the random posts I’ll be tossing around will try to cover the widest possible chronological span.

I shall start with the High Atlas. I have developed a romantic streak for this place since I last visited it about 4 years ago; but still, the place has its history too. And instead of going for the all-too-celebrated imperial cities, let’s have a look at the rural areas, shall we? My accounts are usually drawn from books like ‘Saints Of the Atlas‘ (E. Gellner), ‘Lords Of the Atlas‘ (G. Maxwell) ‘Les Origines Sociales et Culturelles du Nationalisme Marocain‘ (A. Laroui) and other articles I’ll be citing along (with possible weblinks whenever available)

More specifically, I’ll be discussing the state (Makhzen) apparatus in the region: for all its fierce autonomy, local tribal democracy, and frequent clashes with the central power, the High Atlas, as the second-line border to the grand Sahara, has had some of the most ruthless governors (Caïds قيّاد), whose descendants had the unfortunate demise to be durably labelled as ‘collaborators’.

Consider the High Atlas: the plains and immediate surroundings of Marrakesh, one of the oldest Imperial cities (along Fès, Rabat and Meknès) are relatively safe, whether in times of asserted central authority or when the Makhzen has little grip over its territories. The mountains, on the other hand, are rebellious. contentious and frequently prone to challenge authority. A word of semantics here: Blad Siba does not mean anarchy. It does mean however that central power (which is going to be referred to as ‘Makhzen’ from now on) is non-existent, or rather, does not have the legitimate means of violence to coerce the rebellious subjects and force them into submission. These rebels are quite curious: they do not intend to break away from the Sultan’s authority; quite frequently, Friday prayers are established in His good name, and whenever possible, all kinds of respectful tribute are paid to the Imperial Sultan; the explanation is quite simple and resides in the Islamic obligation to be under a Ruler’s authority. What Blad Siba refuses is quite simply to pay the taxes. Not because of greed, but certainly, as we shall see later on, because of the way these taxes are literally extracted from the locals.

The plains are indeed usually docile (or, to put it more euphemistically, are less prone to riot and rebel against the local and central power) than their brethren in the mountains. The late Interior Minister, and Hassan II‘s factotum, Driss Basri, described it most emphatically: ‘we are [referring to Settat] plain and medowlands tribes, farmers. We always needed the Makhzen protection from mountain tribes’. When taxes were collected, plain tribes could afford -when harvest was good- to pay the Caïd and the Sultan. Tribes localized in mountainous and hostile regions, less so.

Let us take a leaf from Gavin Maxwell‘s account: “The […] rough geographical division […] covered the terms Blad Makhzen – the country under government control- and Blad Siba, Lawless Country, where force [for the Makhzen to prevail] was the only criterion- of the infinitely greater territories of un-subdued tribes. [Throughout the history of Morocco] it was from Blad Siba, and more especially the land of desert and palm oasis lying to the east of the Atlas, that almost every new dynasty of Sultans rose to conquer and replace the last […]” (p. 29-30)

handsome, […] and a most dignified bearing (G. Maxwell) “] […] In 1893, the reigning Alaouite Sultan, Mouley Hassan [1st], decided upon a tax-collecting expedition to the desert oases beyond the High Atlas, with its ultimate aim as the restoration of law and order at Tafilelt, the great palm oasis that had been the cradle of his dynasty, and which was now, as so often before, in a state of anarchy. […] It had always been the custom of the Alaouites to send home to Tafilelt unwanted members of their families […] as he majority [of these Alaouites] were unwamted, the descendants of the Prophet in Tafilelt were legion, it was an unusual state of affairs if there were not a few stirring up trouble“. (p. 33)


Here we are then: collecting taxes is not the main goal for these Harkas, far from it (and as it turns out, these expeditions cost way more than the effective collected tax receipts) but it is a bold symbol, of tribal submission and imperial authority. A Sultan like Hassan 1st, barely spent more than 6 months in one palace. For a Sultan to assert his power over his contentious subjects, He must be one whose “Imperial tents are never stored”.

Maxwell also describes the tax collecting: When the harka meets a tribe, no matter how obedient or rebellious it was, whether in peace or in a state of self-defence, they had to provide the food for the Imperial Juggernaut. The Sultan hardly travels alone, or only with a military outfit: The imperial retinue gathers numerous wives from the Harem, viziers and their families, courtesans, merchants looking for some fair bargains, and the usual rabble following a campaigning army: harlots, small trades, and any marginal seeking a meagre reward in sticking with the grasshopper army. Even when passing through a deserted and poor countryside, the Caïd and the tribe chiefs have, in addition to provide food and shelter, to stand before the Sultan, pay their respect and pledge allegiance (bey’a) and fill to their best, the Imperial Coffers. ‘Every Sultan, since the empire of Morocco first came under the dominion of the Arabs, had travelled in exactly the same manner…‘ Incidentally, the whole journey to Tafilelt, through the impregnable and dangerous mountain passes,  through the numerous skirmishes with rebellious mountain tribes, the frequent punishments (we shall describe in great details what it entailed) and then, the inevitable diseases and losses due to scarce water and food, bad if not non-existent field hygiene. Late 1893, Moulay Hassan arrived a dying man to Tafilelt. He was to die soon (summer 1894).

The Kasbah Of Telouet, A cardinal fortified strongpoint in the High Atlas (Picture. Virtual Tourist)

There was something very specific to the High Atlas tribes, far more complex than what have been recorded in Europe, and certainly with no similarities with Arab and plain-established tribes. Their leaders -usually elected, and seldom selected by central government to serve the Caidat position- lived in high-pitched castles (the formidable Kasbahs like Telouat) contumacious and very rebellious toward the Makhzen, against whom swords were crossed and muskets were fired only too frequently. Although fiercely Muslim, pageant rituals survived, with animist worship mixing into a very local Islam.

These feuds are not specific to the High Atlas, but they do provide, by the stalwart autonomy these tribes earned, a vivid illustration of the reprisals and punishments pro-Makhzen caids and Harkas exacted against the rebels and dissidents: Any captured prisoner, after horrendous torture, was beheaded, and the local Jews were paid to salt “literally thousands of heads” for public display on the nearest city’s wall (hence the ghetto the Moroccan Jewish community members were living in, The Mellah) The ringleaders, when captured, fared no better fate: they were stripped of their clothes, imprisoned in tiny cages, and at best, kept there until they die of starvation.

Next piece is going to be random. However, if anyone is interested in a particular history period, and to the best of my abilities and references, I shall post on it. Just send an email to tmkadet(at)gmail(dot)com

The Amazigh Local Democracy

Posted in Moroccan History & Sociology, Moroccanology, Polfiction, Read & Heard, The Wanderer by Zouhair ABH on November 2, 2010

In a hypothetical genuine democratic Morocco, I would have switched political loyalties to Amazigh regionalist groups. First because I have an irrational antipathy towards the representatives of the Master Race – a mafia-like group of families that just got by before, during and after the protectorate with minimal damage and an increased span of wealth, power and notoriety. And second, because it is high time we ditched the hegemonic pan-Arab ideology that disfigured our national identities (if those were really existing) and exerted a positively dangerous influence over the Moroccan minds, so that even blood-related Amazighs tend to ignore their roots and just get swayed by Western or Arabian alluring culture. And last, because I’d say I took a fancy on my forefathers’ origin, a high-pitched village in the eternal snows of the Atlas chain.

Kasbah-Fortress looking on the High-Atlas Chain (Kasbah du Toubkal)

And I would very much like their culture to be valued and accepted as an autonomous part of Morocco’s heritage.

I have less and less time for reading besides economics, but I occasionally sacrifice to good books. Especially to those that took interest in Moroccan society, and really  looked in depth for its structures and inner mechanisms. One of the most prestigious scholars that studied pre-modern Morocco was Ernest Gellner, who, in his famous -to those that like to discuss politics with pondered minds- book “Saints Of the Atlas” (1969). Ernest Gellner was a Professor of Sociology & Anthoropology at the London School of Economics and Political Sciences. His Moroccan studies are marginal compared to other fields he was interested in, but his book about the High-Atlas population is worth reading. (I personally got an ACLS Published-one-Demand book, so it is quite difficult to get a good edition) I will not go as far as reveiwing the whole book, partly because I am in the process of re-reading it, and I still have to catch up with a lot of material mentioned there, and also because I am more interested in hghliting a chapter I am keen to discuss.

It has been a general observation among those foreigners that started discovering Morocco in the late years of the 19th century, at a time when Morocco –Bled Siba and Makhzen alike- was at the center of growing interest from imperialst western powers. Anthropologists like De Foucauld, pointed out that the mountain tribes, those that were most likely to rebel against the Makhzen central authority (and occasionally referred to as Bled Siba) developed ruling mechanisms that were close to western democracies. Maxwell Gavin, in his account, mentioned a more liberal society in the high mountains than in the plains.

E. Gellner 1925-1995

There was much literature about possible European features in these regions and the subsequent more liberal institutions there compared to the despotic and arbitrary Sultan reign. Gellner actually describes these institutions, and they do strike the observer how different they are from the discretionary and Ivan the terrible-like manners in the Imperial court.

Amusingly enough, Gellner starts off by asking a core question: “What is a Berber?” as indeed he needed to define the areas where he should had focused his study, he then goes on defining the characteristics of such population: “From the outside, one can only define a Berber by his speech. Even then, one must exclude the Jewish, Negroid (sic) and the Ibadi Berber-speaker […] This however, leaves the overwhelming majority of Berber-speakers. How they see themselves. They are, without serious exceptions, either tribesmen, or men who are but recently tribalised. […] Hence, basically the Berber-speaker is a tribesman. This provides the crucial clue to his own vision of himself, the concepts available to him for identification with wider groups. He is, of course, a member of the nested series of kin units which constitute his tribe“. [p. 14-15] Why the tedious introduction? (and I have given but a digested excerpts of it) Because there was a need to specify the essential feature of the Amazigh -I shall use the modern word for Berber- is their tie to the tribe, i.e. the small society where they evolve. The fact  individuals are part of a specific tribes also raises the question of the nature of interactions between themselves, namely the question of equality.Before elaborating on that, Gellner goes on about the nature of segmentary societies, i.e. when families regulate their internal affairs either by means of autonomous self-regulated mechanisms or by using tribal arbitrage of tools to deal with different matters. Gellner summons E. Pritchard on tribal systems: “typical of segmentary structures everywhere, [the tribal system] is a system of balanced opposition … and there cannot therefore  be any single authority in a tribe. Authority is distributed at every point of the tribal structure and political leadership is limited to situations in which a tribe or segment acts corporately… There cannot obviously be any absolute authority vested in a single Shaikh of a tribe when the fundamental principle of tribal structure is opposition between segments ” (p. 59) This means that, even though complete equality is not achieved, nor considered as such, tribe segments -usually not individuals- are considered to be effective balancing powers to tribal leadership, and thus provide a relative plurality as well as effective barriers to absolute rules, something that tribes in the plains failed to implement against Makhzen-appointed Caids, Pachas and so on.

These are the starting points of Gellner’s account of the very specific “Mountain Democracy”: a conscious knowledge of space and/or population frame of reference, as well as intrinsic mechanisms preventing power monopoly by means of relative equality.

in Chapter 4: “Holy & Lay”, Gellner mentions the kind nature Igurramen (the Igurram fulfils the state or public duties. The position can only be defined through what it does, or rather, with the task it is given to fulfil) maintain with the ordinary tribesmen. Indeed, the various duties an Igurram is bound to undertake cannot be performed without the support of a substantial part of the tribe they are supposed to manage. It goes even further, on the way elections are held:  “Suppose a tribe to consist of 3 sub-clans, A, B and C. If this year it is the turn of Q to provide the chief for the tribe as a whole, then the electors will be the men of B and C. Next year, the chief will be chosen from B, and it will be A and C who provide the electors; and so on. You can be part of the pool of candidates, or have the vote, but not both. This is complementarity.” This is crucial, as indeed Chiefs-Igurramen are chosen by the tribesmen -on whatever fashion they fancy- and are not imposed by the central authority. In addition, Igurramen position does not carry with it special privileges or any perks of the office as one might say. Indeed, it is more of a status rather than sub-tribal belonging, and cannot therefore derive any further authority than what the tribe allows for. the Chief is therefore constrained by the wishes of the clans.  There is a sense of self-government that is actually very close to local democracy and decentralization of power, as well as a wide-base popular legitimacy. One wouldn’t go as far as boast about primitive democratic settings, but these are certainly and by far more liberal than the traditional institutions of imperial Makhzen. One could almost see a cardinal bifurcation of powers: on the one hand, a bureaucratic, centralizing Makhzen, and on the other, a popular, decentralizing local/tribal democracy. and both had the unfortunate demise of many conflicts throughout the ages, as indeed Makhzen tried with more or less success to establish their control over the mountain tribes (especially by means of enabling Glaoui and Gundafi families to extend their domination in the name of the imperial Sultan over the High Atlas)

I raised the Amazigh question some time before –about the Berber Dahir– and I had some doubts about the kind of relationship between Arabic heritage and Amazigh identities. While I do agree some Amazigh-born Moroccans rose to prominent places as Islamic scholars (such as Mokhtar Soussi) or writers in Arabic, I  cast much concerns about how hegemonic Arabic culture – using Islam as the uncontested shuttlecock to its aims- perverted pre-Islamic Amazigh culture and managed quite successfully to tone it down and effectively, suppressing it. Arabic is now the national language, our official history firmly tied us to the pan-Arab project (whether because of the regime’s stand or that of prominent opposition parties, like the USFP or the PJD) and much is made about or National Identity. Nonetheless, and despite encouraging signs, little is said about a heritage that has been confined to marginal places by a hegemonic part of the Moroccan identities. Morocco had good -albeit traditional and certainly flawed- local democratic institutions that were destroyed through a patient and vengeful process in the name of ‘imarat al mouminine (Commander of the Faithful) and the Islamic obligation to submit to the ruler of the land.

A couple of pleasant instance to point out how resistant my ancestors were to the Arab oppressors: In Tachelhit, Baghough describes the Fox. another way of refering the the animal is Aliou taleb, which is Ali Ibnou Abi Taleb, the well-known nephew of prophet Muhammad. As for the snake, the usual name is Hlima, a reference to the prophet’s wet-nurse. Who said Amazigh people did not have a good sense of humour?

Lake Ifni. Wonderful place to fish and bath in.

Course 4 : Communities in Morocco

Posted in American Minority Voices by Zouhair ABH on February 10, 2009

As a non-French, non-American citizen, I would rather discuss communities relations in Morocco, a situation that is, if I may say so, unique throughout the world, or shall we say, the north African region.

Moroccan communities (or Tribes that is their primitive shape) are a part of a complex and an ancient political system know as ‘Makhzen‘. The French word ‘Magasin‘ comes from Makhzen: مخزن (warehouse). Indeed, the main goal of the ruling institution was to gather taxes -that were paid in kind, usually crop and wheat. The Makhzen is actually a weak authority, in the sense that it got no real centralized or even federal power, but the one to attract different communities, based on religious ground : most if all the ruling dynasties used Islam as a way to claim power, whether these dynasties were Sharifian (i.e with blood ties to the prophet Muhammad) or presenting themselves as the rightful refomers (sort of Cromwells). Theses dynasties used the Makhzen machine bureaucracy to establish their authority over Morocco and other territories.

How could one link the Makhzen to the communities, and how could theses links interfere with the kind of ties the various communities established between themselves ?

There is a first division between rural and urban areas : Urban people -i.e, those with deep and ancient urban history that is- feel that since their are the guardians of a certain civilization (ways of behaviour, manners, a certain spoken language), they are superior to the people belonging to the  rural areas. In a sense, it is true urban people are more ‘western-like’ civilized, but then, they play a small part in the economic process : the wealthy of them do have farms and stuff outside the city (usually Rabat, Fès and Marrakesh and now Casablanca). Historically, during famine periods, they were the first to suffer -not all of them of course, but only those who did not prevent it by stockpiling or by owning a piece of land, but then again, only the wealthier ones could afford it-. the small part they played in the home economic process was though important : the urban elite had the monopoly of foreign trade, and controlled imports of rare goods. As Marxists and Structuralists would say, economic power was to determine social structures.
Same should apply to the rural elite : they were usually warriors, or/and civil servant. Civil service in Morocco -that was also a matter of constabulary and military- had three major purposes : to raise taxes, to ensure internal peace and levy soldier when wartime comes. The sultan would have to appoint warlords usually members of his family -one is less suspicious towards their own people-. These warlords though, are not 100% reliable; Whenever they feel that central authorities are weakening, they start a rebellion, mostly by refusing to pay the taxes. The sultan has then a variety of courses of actions, ranging from peaceful negotiation to the Harka (الحركة), a brutal punitive expedition that ends often into a bloodbath. pre-Protectorate Moroccan politics lies in a delicate balance of repressions and negotiations the sultan had to lead with a bunch of sporadic forces in order to keep the country more or less united.
Warlords might come from urban areas, but because of the omnipresent shadow of ‘Siba‘ or anarchy, though things are actually far from turning into anarchy : usually, dissidence in Morocco means that a certain region, a loose federation of warring tribes would still recognize the sultan as Allah’s representative, but would refuse to pay taxes.

Another way to look at communities in Morocco could be done through ethnographic studies : native Amazigh-speaking tribes, Arab-long established tribes, Jewish minorities, Turks, Europeans and Andalusians, and mixed relations between all of them.


Soussi dressed in local outfit and sporting a dagger

* Native Amazighs : considered as the native Moroccans, established a long ago. Some historians considered they came from Yemen and Arabic peninsula. It is true for some Amazighs, but not for all of them; indeed, there are three general linguistic and geographical gatherings : Ch’leuhs, Soussis and Riffis. Ch’leuhs and Riffis are believed to be a part of Indo-European lineage (strong genetic traces of Nordic characteristics)
* Arab tribes : the Muslim conquerors of the 7th century established in the area and started mixing with local population. Arab lineage could have

religious ties (“شريف” Sharif, that is a descent of the Prophet) or ‘normal’ Arab lineage.
* Jewish communities : an integrated part of the Moroccan society. protected by the Sultan (but not always, since little bloodless pogroms were organized once a while) Jewish Moroccans were mostly specialized in commerce, foreign or local trade, as well as in charge of the Sultan’s private finances.
* Andalusians : they came from Spain after the Reconquista kicked out the last moor kingdom in Granada. it is difficult to state whether they were Arabs, amazighs or spanish. It is though sure they have mixed roots and enriched considerably Moroccan culture. There was also an important Jewish community that escapes the Catholic inquisition.
* Other races : Turks, because of the shared borders with Algeria (that was a Ottoman stronghold till 1830). Europeans that were captured ans slaves during the 15th and 16th centuries (The famous Sale Pirates attacked European ships)


Gharnati-Andalusian orchestra

There is no denying that all those tribes or communities that claim to be ‘pure breed’ are actually more mixed than they think or expected, but strong core identity separate them in many issues, especially for the power struggling. This way of making politics is however in contradiction with the pursing of democracy, which implies a radical change in people’s minds, in order to promote meritocratic criterion in choosing national political leaders, rather than tribal schemes.


Fes, one of the 4 Imperial cities