New York - In a few countries you can find people who have fought for the freedom and independence of their countries, are almost forgotten by their people and seldom, if any, talked about in the mainstream media.
New York – In a few countries you can find people who have fought for the freedom and independence of their countries, are almost forgotten by their people and seldom, if any, talked about in the mainstream media.
In countries like Egypt or Turkey, people, the media and cinema industry always celebrate their glorious past, as well as their national heroes, such as the case of Kamal Ataturk for Turkey and Jamal Abdennasser for Egypt.
Yet in Morocco this tradition does not exist. We barely see, if ever, any tv programs talking about Morocco’s glorious past, its critical role in safeguarding the presence of Islam in Al Andaluz until the end of the fifteenth century, its role in spreading Islam in Africa or the sacrifice made by our ancestors to fight for our county’s independence. The same neglect of our past applies to cinema, as there has been so far no movie or soap-opera produced by Morocco regarding our country’s past. We have to wait until Lebanese, Syrians or Egyptian produce a soap-opera about Al Andaluz for example, to be able to appraise the role played by our country in the spread of Islam in this area of Europe and in keeping it alive until the fall of Granada in 1492.
Unfortunately, the same oblivion affects one of the most emblematic heroes in Morocco’s history, namely Mohammed Ben Abdelkrim El Khattabi, the leader of the Rifain resistance against Spanish rule in northern Morocco.
Today July 22 marks the 91st anniversary of the Battle of Annoual, when Morocco’s resistant in the Rif region inflicted a historic lesson on the Spanish army. In this regard, it is worth recalling that this victory could not have been made possible without the perspicacity and flare of Mohammed Ben Abdelkrim, as well as his exemplary leadership.
With rudimentary means, Abdelkrim el Khattabi fiercely resisted Spanish colonialism and became a venerated figure in many countries that were subjected to colonialism. Through the guerrilla tactics he adopted, he set an example for resistance to colonial power and showed oppressed people in the colonies that it was possible to defeat the colonizers, or at least to inflict heavy losses on them. His guerrilla tactics are known to have influenced Ho Chi Minh, Mao Zedong, and Che Guevara.
Abdelkrim El Khattabi was born in 1882 in Ajdir in the Rif region in northern Morocco, where he received a traditional education. He subsequently studied in Teoutan, later finishing at the Qarawine University in Fez. Upon completion of his studies in 1906, he settled in Melilla (a Spanish enclave in northern Morocco) where he worked as a teacher and translator. He also worked as a journalist for the Spanish newspaper el Telegrama del Rif. He was fluent in Spanish and Arabic.
Before becoming the fiercest opponent of Spanish rule in northern Morocco, especially in the Rif area, Abdelkrim first worked closely and coexisted with the Spaniards until the end of World War I when he, his brother, and his father discovered the real colonialist and expansionist intention of Spanish rule in Morocco.
Alarmed by the Spaniard’s plans to subject Moroccans in the north to their unflinching will, Abdelkrim decided to stage an organized armed struggle in order to put an end to Spanish penetration in northern Morocco. In July 1921, Abdelkrim El Khattabi inflicted a historic defeat on the Spanish soldiers who were led by the arrogant General Manuel Fernandez Silvestre. The General never took the warning of Abdelkrim seriously and thought that he was going to crush his resistance in a matter of hours.
To the General’s dismay, and after he had successfully attacked a sizable number of Spanish outposts in late June, on July 22, 1921, Abdelkrim launched his assault on the Spanish outposts located at Annoual. After three weeks of fierce battles at Anoual, and thanks to their troops’ knowledge of the field and their unheard-of courage, 14,000 Spaniards perished in tragic conditions, while the rest of Spanish garrisons were forced to retreat to Melilla.
General Silvestre perished during the fighting, although the cause of his death has never been determined. Some say he died during the fighting and others say that he committed suicide.
After its crushing defeat, and up until 1926, Spain used lethal force several times against the defenseless population of the Rif. Many scholars, such as Sebastian Balfour and Maria Rosa de Madariaga, have concluded that Spain used chemical weapons and toxic gas against the Rifains, though chemical weapons were banned by the Treaty of Versailles of 1919, which Spain had signed.
In May 1926, after being subjected to heavy attacks for several months from Spanish and French forces with a combined total of 250,000 soldiers, Abdelkrim surrendered to the French, signaling the end of his heroic resistance.
Ben Abdelkrim was later deported to the island of La Reunion, where he lived until 1947. On his way to southern France, where he was due to spend the rest of his life, he took advantage of the stopover of his ship in Port Said in Egypt, where he managed to flee and seek asylum. He died in Egypt on February 6, 1963.
Samir Bennis is the co-founder and editor-in-chief of Morocco World News