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Muhammad Ibn 'Abd El-Karim El-Khattabi
File:Abd el-Krim khattabi - from Commons.jpg
Nickname Abd el-Krim or Abdelkrim
Born 1882
Died (aged 80)[1]
Place of birth Ajdir, Morocco[1]
Place of death Cairo, Egypt[1]
Allegiance Republic of the Rif
Rank Emir
Battles/wars Rif War
Battle of Annual

Abd el-Krim (1882–83, Ajdir[2] – February 6, 1963, Cairo)[1] (full name: Muhammad Ibn 'Abd al-Karim al-Khattabi, Arabic language: محمد بن عبد الكريم الخطابي‎, Berber name: Muḥend n Ɛabd Krim Lxeṭṭabi or Moulay Muḥend) was a Riffian political and military leader. Together with his brother Mhemmed, he led a large-scale revolt by a broad coalition of major Rif tribes against French and Spanish colonial occupation of the Rif, a large Berber-speaking area in northern Morocco, culminating in the establishment of the short-lived Republic of the Rif. His guerrilla tactics are known to have influenced Ho Chi Minh, Mao Zedong, and Che Guevara.[3]

Early life

Abd el-Krim was born in Ajdir, Morocco, the son of Abd al-Karim al-Khattabi, a qadi (Islamic judge) of the Aith Yusuf clan of the Aith Uriaghel (or Waryaghar) tribe.[4] Abd el-Krim received a traditional education at a mosque school in Ajdir, followed by a period at a religious institute at Tetouan.[5] At the age of twenty, it appears he studied for two years in Fez at the Attarine and Seffarine medersas, in order to prepare to enter the famous Qaraouiyine university.[6] Both he and his brother, M'Hammad received a Spanish education,[1] with his brother studying mine engineering in Malaga and Madrid.[4] Both spoke fluent Spanish and Riffian. After his studies, in 1906, Abd el-Krim was sent to Melilla by his father. He worked there as a teacher and translator (until 1913), working for the OCTAI – the Spanish 'native affairs' office – and became a journalist for the Spanish newspaper Telegrama del Rif (1906–1915).

First World War

Abd el-Krim entered the Spanish governmental structure, and was first assigned as a secretary in the Bureau of Native Affairs, then he was appointed chief qadi (Muslim judge) for Melilla in 1915.[1] He taught at a Hispano-Arabic school and was an editor for a the Arab section of the newspaper, El Telegrama del Rif.[1]

During the war Abd el-Krim was punished by the Spanish government for anticolonial activities including an alleged conspiracy with the German consul Dr. Walter Zechlin (1879–1962). He was imprisoned in Chaouen from 1916 to 1917, and escaped in 1918.[1] After escaping he regained his job as a judge in Melilla. At the end of the war, Abd el-Krim briefly resumed publishing in a Spanish-language newspaper, but soon, fearful of extradition to the French for punishment, he returned to his home at Ajdir in January 1919.[1] He was alarmed by the appearance of Spanish agents in Ayt Weryaghel tribal territory and was determined to fight for his tribe's independence. The following year, Abd el-Krim, together with his brother, began a war of rebellion against the Spanish incursions.[7][8] His goal was now to unite the tribes of the Rif into an independent Republic of the Rif to undermine the entire French-Spanish colonial project in Morocco.

Guerrilla leadership

Flag of the Republic of the Rif

In 1921, as a byproduct of their efforts to destroy the power of a local brigand, Raisuli, Spanish troops approached the unoccupied areas of the Rif. Abd-el-Krim sent their commander, General Manuel Fernández Silvestre, a warning that if they crossed the Ameqqran 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 to establish an outpost at the hills of Abarran mountains. In June 1921 a sizable Riffian force attacked this post killing 179 Spanish troops of the estimated 250. Soon afterwards, Abd el-Krim directed his forces to attack the Spanish lines at Anwal with great success. In three weeks of fierce battles, 8,000 Spanish troops were killed, and by July, the Spanish army of 13,000 was forced to flee to the coast, and into Melilla,[1] defeated by an army of 3,000 Rifian fighters.[9] During the attack on Anwal, General Silvestre either committed suicide or was killed defending the post. This colossal victory established Abd el-Krim as a master and pioneer of guerrilla warfare,[10] and the president of the Republic of the Rif.[1]

The embarrassing defeat of the Spanish forces at Anwal created a political earthquake in Spain that subsequently led to General Miguel Primo de Rivera's coup d'état of September 13, 1923, the installation of a military dictatorship in Spain (1923–1930), and the eventual collapse of the Spanish Monarchy in April 1931.

Territory of Spanish Morocco under control of the Rif Republic (outlined in red)[citation needed]

By 1924, the Spanish had been forced to retreat, due to more defeats at the hands of al-Khattabi,[1] to their two isolated enclaves 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 the native Berbers would set a great threat to their controlled territories, and after Abd el-Krim invaded French-occupied Morocco in April 1925, and made it as far as Fes,[1] grew concerned. The French, in 1925, after conferencing with the Spanish in Madrid, sent a massive French force under Marshal Henri Philippe Pétain and a Spanish army, with a combined total of 250,000+ soldiers supported with large numbers of aircraft and artillery, began operations against the Rif Republic. Intense combat persisted for ten months, but eventually the combined French and Spanish armies — using, among other weapons, chemical bombs against the population — defeated the forces of Abd el-Krim and inflicted extensive damage on the local Berber population. On May 26, 1926[1][11] Abd el-Krim surrendered to the French at his then headquarters of Targuist (Targist).[12][13]


Abd el-Krim boarding a train in Fes on his way to exile

As a consequence, he was exiled to the island of Réunion (a French territory in the Indian Ocean) from 1926 to 1947, where he was "given a comfortable estate and generous annual subsidiary".[10] It is in this exile that he continued his fierce anti-Western rhetoric, and the push to keep western trends from encroaching on Moroccan culture. He is quoted as saying "The tie is the white man's noose upon society, so let them hang themselves, not us." In 1947, Abd el-Krim was given permission to live in the south of France, after being released for health concerns, he however succeeded in gaining asylum in Egypt instead, where he presided over the Liberation Committee of the Arab West.[1] After Morocco gained independence, Mohammed V of Morocco invited him back to Morocco. He refused as long as French forces were on North African soil.[1] He died in 1963, just after seeing his hopes of a Maghreb independent of colonial powers completed by the independence of Algeria.[10]


  1. 1.00 1.01 1.02 1.03 1.04 1.05 1.06 1.07 1.08 1.09 1.10 1.11 1.12 1.13 1.14 1.15 "Abd el-Krim". Encyclopedia Britannica. I: A-Ak - Bayes (15th ed.). Chicago, IL: Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc.. 2010. pp. 18. ISBN 978-1-59339-837-8. 
  2. M. Tahtah, Entre pragmatisme, reformisme et modernisme: Le role politico-religieux des Khattabi dans le Rif (Maroc) jusqu'a 1926 (Leuven: Peeters, 1999), p.143. Several authors (including Azarqan, Amzyan, Ayache) have given 1882 as the date of bin 'Abd al-Karim's birth. Tahtah suggests it took place between mid-1882 and mid-1883, based on a comparison of the available data.
  3. Castro, Fidel; Ignacio Ramonet; Andrew Hurley (2008). Fidel Castro: My Life : a Spoken Autobiography. Scribner. p. 680. ISBN 978-1-4165-5328-1. 
  4. 4.0 4.1 Hart, David M. (1976) The Aith Waryaghar of the Moroccan Rif (Tucson, Arizona) ISBN 978-0816504527 pp 370-371
  5. J.Roger-Mathieu, Memoires d'Abd-el-Krim (Paris, 1927) p.56; M. Tahtah, Entre pragmatisme, reformisme et modernisme: Le role politico-religieux des Khattabi dans le Rif (Maroc) jusqu'a 1926 (Leuven: Peeters, 1999), p.144
  6. J.Roger-Mathieu, Memoires d'Abd-el-Krim (Paris, 1927) p.56
  7. Carolyn P. Boyd , Praetorian Politics in Liberal Spain, p. 175
  8. Modern Spain: 1875-1980 by Raymond Carr, Oxford University Press. p. 94
  9. War in the Shadows: The Guerrilla in History by Robert B. Asprey, iUniverse Publishing. pp 267-274
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 Pierson, Peter. (1999) The History of Spain. Greenwood Press. ISBN 978-0-313-30272-5 pp 126-127
  11. The date of surrender is in dispute as some sources say either May 26 or 27.
  12. The Reader's Companion to Military History by Robert Cowley and Geoffrey Parker, Houghton Mifflin. p. 1
  13. Who's Who in Military History: From 1453 to the Present Day by John Keegan and Andrew Wheatcroft, Routledge Publishing. p. 2

Further reading

  • David S. Woolman, Rebels in the Rif: Abd el Krim and the Rif Rebellion, 1968
  • Charles Richard Pennell, A Country with a Government and a Flag: The Rif War in Morocco, 1921-1926, 1986
  • Abdelkrim, Mémoires d'Abd el Krim / recueillis par J. Roger-Mathieu, Paris, Librairie des Champs Elysées, 1927
  • Abdelkrim, Mémoires II, la Crise franco-marocaine, 1955—1956, Paris, Plon, 1984
  • F. Tamburini, I gas nella guerra del Rif, in "Storia Militare", n.145, a.XIII, settembre 2005
  • David Bensoussan, Il était une fois le Maroc : témoignages du passé judéo-marocain, éd. du Lys,, Montréal, 2010 (ISBN 2-922505-14-6); Second edition :, Bloomington, IN, 2012, ISBN 978-1-4759-2608-8, 620p. ISBN 978-1-4759-2609-5 (ebook);

External links

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