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Muhammad Ibn 'Abd El-Karim El-Khattabi
1880 – 1963 (aged 82–83)
Abd el-Krim.jpg
Abd el-Krim
Nickname Abd el-Krim or Abdelkrim
Place of birth Ajdir, Morocco
Place of death Cairo, Egypt
Allegiance Flag of the Republic of the Rif.svg Rif Republic
Rank Guerilla leader
Battles/wars Rif War
*Battle of Annual

Abd el-Krim (1880, Ajdir[1] –February 6, 1963, Cairo) (Mulay Abdelkrim, full name: Muhammad Ibn 'Abd El-Karim El-Khattabi , (Arabic: محمد بن عبد الكريم الخطابي‎) was the Berber leader of the Rif, a Berber area of northeastern Morocco. He became the leader of a wide scale armed resistance movement against French and Spanish colonial rule in North Africa. His guerilla tactics are known to have inspired Ho Chi Minh, Mao Zedong, and Che Guevara.[2]


Early life

Born in Ajdir, Morocco, to Abdelkrim El-Khattabi (Abd El-Karim El-Khattabi), a qadi (Islamic judge) of the Ait Yusuf clan of the Aith Uriaghel (or Waryaghar) tribe. Abd el-Krim was educated both in traditional zaouias and in Spanish Secondary education for attending Spanish High schools, continuing his education at the ancient University of Qarawiyin in Fez, possibly at the Attarine and Seffarine medersas[3]. His brother, M'Hammed, later on his partner in battle, received a Spanish education studying mine engineering in Malaga and Madrid.[4] Both spoke fluent Spanish. After his studies, in 1906, Abd El Krim was sent to Mellila 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

He entered the Spanish governmental structure, and was appointed chief qadi for Melilla in 1914. During the war Abd el-Krim was punished by the Spanish government for anticolonial activities (Conspiracy with the German consul Dr. Walter Zechlin (1879 - 1962)). He was imprisoned in Chefchaouen from 1916 to 1917. At the end of the war, Abd el-Krim briefly resumed his duties at the newspaper, but soon, fearful of extradition to the French for punishment, he returned to his home at Ajdir in January 1919. He was alarmed by the appearance of Spanish agents in Beni Waryaghil territory and was determined to fight for tribal independence. A more immediate provocation was the loss of his pension and his exclusion by the Spanish from an informal mining consortium. The following year, Abd el-Krim, together with his father and brother, began a war of rebellion against the Spanish.[5][6] His goal was now to unite the tribes of the Rif into an independent Republic of the Rif.

Guerrilla leadership

In 1921, as a by-product 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 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 to establish an outpost at the hills of Abarán. 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 Annual (Morocco) with great success — in three weeks 8,000 Spanish troops were killed, and the Spanish Army of 13,000 was forced to retreat to the coast by only 3,000 Rifains.[7] During the attack on Annual, General Silvestre either committed suicide or was killed defending the post. This colossal victory established Abd el-Krim as a genius of guerrilla warfare.[8]

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

By 1924, the Spanish had been forced to retreat to their possessions 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 after Abd el-Krim invaded French Morocco in April 1925, entered the fray. In 1925, a French force under Marshal Henri Philippe Pétain and a Spanish army, with a combined total of 250,000 soldiers, began operations against the Rif Republic. Intense combat persisted for ten months, but eventually the combined French and Spanish armies — using, among other weapons, mustard gas against the population — defeated the forces of Abd el-Krim. On May 26, 1926 Abd el-Krim surrendered to the French at his then headquarters of Targuist.[9][10]


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El Majdoub - Awzal
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Zafzaf - El Maleh
Chraîbi - Mernissi
Leo Africanus - Khaïr-Eddine

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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." Abd el-Krim was later given permission to live in the south of France, after being released for health concerns. However, he later succeeded in gaining asylum in Egypt.

Ahmed Belbachir Haskouri, the right-hand man of the caliph of Spanish Morocco, negotiated the last phase of Abdelkrim's exile in Egypt, an exile that the latter was previously looking forward to. Belbachir ensured that Abdelkrim received a stipend from the Arab League and that the latter was able to continue the struggle for independence for the Maghreb from Egypt. To provide Abdelkrim with a new base of operations, Belbachir successfully negotiated the former's new permanent residency in Egypt with King Farouq's chief of cabinet. It was in Egypt where Abd el Krim 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.[11]

See also

  • List of people on the cover of Time Magazine: 1920s


  1. ^ Chambers Biographical Dictionary, ISBN 0-550-18022-2, page 2
  2. ^ Castro, Fidel; Ignacio Ramonet, Andrew Hurley. Fidel Castro: My Life : a Spoken Autobiography (2008 ed.). Scribner. pp. 680. ISBN 1-4165-5328-2.  
  3. ^ J.Roger-Mathieu, Memoires d'Abd-el-Krim (Paris, 1927) p.56
  4. ^ Daid Montgomery Hart, The Aith Waryaghar of the Moroccan Rif (Tucson, Arizona, 1976) p.371
  5. ^ Carolyn P. Boyd , Praetorian Politics in Liberal Spain, p. 175
  6. ^ Modern Spain: 1875-1980 by Raymond Carr, Oxford University Press. Page 94
  7. ^ War in the Shadows: The Guerrilla in History by Robert B. Asprey, iUniverse Publishing. Page 267-274
  8. ^ The History of Spain by Peter Pierson, Greenwood Press. Page 126
  9. ^ The Reader's Companion to Military History by Robert Cowley and Geoffrey Parker, Houghton Mifflin. Page 1
  10. ^ Who's Who in Military History: From 1453 to the Present Day by John Keegan and Andrew Wheatcroft, Routledge Publishing. Page 2
  11. ^ The History of Spain by Peter Pierson, Greenwood Press. Page 127

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

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