How one Dutch pirate became the president of a republic of Moroccan pirates.
Rabat – Murad Rais was a pirate born in the Netherlands in 1575. He fought the Spanish Empire alongside his Dutch troops and, after his arrest in 1681 near the Canary Islands, joined the Ottoman pirate ships. He was transferred to prison in Algiers, the capital of the regional Ottoman Eyalet, or state, at the time. There he declared his conversion to Islam, thus becoming Murad Rais and joining another Dutch pirate, Suleiman Rais, who took him under his wing. The two worked together until the death of the latter in a battle in 1619.
Afterward, the city of Algiers signed peace agreements with several countries, declaring the end of piracy and all interception of civil and commercial European ships.
So far, the biography of Murad Rais is as ordinary as one of hundreds of European pirates who had willingly, or under duress, renounced Christianity. Thus, his biography does not include any distinction or major achievement that would change his life or the lives of those around him.
However, his arrival in the Moroccan city of Sale would be a turning point in his life. There, he would become the President of the Republic of Bouregreg, also known as the Republic of Pirates of Bouregreg between 1624 and 1627. This event honored him and inscribed his name in the history books as a non-Moroccan embraced by Morocco and given significant diplomatic status.
To understand the life of Murad Rais, it is necessary to tackle the historical features of his era, which contributed to the prominence of his leadership and negotiation qualities, his mastery of several languages, as well as the geography of many countries, whether in the Mediterranean or the Atlantic.
On the other hand, to the creation of a collective ruling system on the banks of the River of Bouregreg, in the so-called Republic of Bouregreg. In other words, there are many important factors relating to Murad Rais’ life, and to its political context.
On the personal level, it appears that Murad Rais converted to Islam by conviction, and contributed to the conversion of many of his fellow inmates during his imprisonment. We can see from several instances in his life that Rais was a sharp person, a quality that enabled him to develop a significant network of friends, especially in piracy, and negotiation for the release of captives.
As a result, a form of deployment was established throughout the Mediterranean, especially in Sicily, Sardinia, Corsica, the Balkans, Cyprus, Tunisia, and of course Algeria, in addition to the Netherlands and the eastern Iberian Peninsula, especially the Cartage region (Murcia region), home of his second wife who was a Morisco.
Concentrating on historical context, the era witnessed the mass exodus and mass migration of Andalusian Muslims in phases from the reign of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabel in 1492 to 1609, the year when King Philip III issued a royal decree whereby the final expulsion of Muslims from Andalusia was implemented.
This expulsion was an example of mass migration which was embraced by the Maghreb throughout its different regions and across its countries. This period also witnessed major historical events, such as the conflict between The Muluk Al Tawaif, The Fitna of al-Andalus, minor wars and major wars such as the Battle of Zallaqa / Sagrajas during the days of Yusuf bin Tashfin Almoravid.
The location of the city of Sale on the Atlantic Ocean and its difficult strait piqued the interest of the Hornachos, the Muslims of the Extremadura region, who were powerful in war and considerably wealthy. They brought their wealth with them to Morocco, preceding the Moriscos (inhabitants of Granada) who left all their money and belongings in Andalusia, hoping to return someday.
Upon the arrival of the Hornachos and the Moriscos to Sale, the face of the city, its architecture and residential neighborhoods changed, and new professions related to the maritime field such as shipbuilding, maintenance, furnaces, and baths were introduced. This made Salé a piece of Andalusia, both in terms of architecture and daily life as they established a collective ruling system composed of 14 Navy commanders who would elect an Admiral to become President of the Republic of Bouregreg. Ibrahim Vargas, a Hornachi Andalusian, was the first leader of this political entity until 1624.
The Hornachos had practiced piracy, especially against Spanish ships, as a form of revenge against those who had expelled them from their homes in Andalusia. They were joined by many European pirates, particularly the Dutch.
All these practices were with the blessing of the Saadi Sultan bin Zaidan, who was in conflict with his brother Sheikh Al-Ma’mun who, in turn, was involved with the Spanish in the so-called “Larache issue” and the resulting tension and insecurity. This dragged the country into a state of political, economic, and military weakness which was less extreme than the aftermath of Sultan Ahmad al-Mansur al-Sa’adi winner of the Battle of Oued al-Makhazin. So, the dispute of Ahmad al-Mansur’s sons over the throne and their conflict put the Saadi state on its deathbed paving the way for the birth of the Alaouite Sherifian State.
Sultan bin Zaidan al-Nasser used the Hornachos in his war against his brother, Sheikh Al-Ma’moun, allied with the Spanish, which contributed to the consolidation of the former’s power in the city and their independence from the central authority.
Here, the name of Murad Rais, the experienced pirate, smart negotiator and figure of a great history of naval jihad against the Spaniards and Portuguese, will arise. Murad would, thus, become a significant figure in an important historical period and an important political dynamo and diplomat, especially if the theory of his marriage to the daughter of Sultan Zaidan in 1642 is valid.
The validity of this marriage is strengthened by the fact that it coincided with his presidency of the Republic of Bouregreg 1624/1627, making Murad Rais a military ally, a deputy and a commander to the Sultan in the Republic of Salé, and the custodian of the collection of the tenth of the spoils of war for the treasury of the Saadi State.
Moreover, all of Murad Rais’ qualifications, including multilingualism, good conduct, and negotiation experience would qualify him for diplomatic missions and enable to bring about the Moroccan / French agreement of 1631 between Louis XIII and Abu Marwan Abd al-Malik II Saadi.
Murad Rais returned to piracy or naval jihad at the head of 18 small ships and reached Iceland, British Baltimore, Sardinia, and Corsica between 1631 and 1635, where he was arrested by the Knights of Malta and imprisoned for five years.
After that, Murad Rais returned to Morocco in 1640, a 70-year-old burdened by the experiences of many years, and was appointed by the Moroccan Sultan as governor of Al-walidia region and inhabited its castle. In October of the same year, the new consul of the Netherlands visited the Republic of Bouregreg, asking for Murad Rais bringing Jan Janis / Murad Rais a dear guest, his daughter Lisbeth born in 1596 of his Dutch first wife.
When Lisbeth entered, she found her father Murad Rais sitting on sofas and pillows of silk and surrounded by servants and all manifestations of wealth.
She left the castle of Al-walidia in August 1641 after her father chose to stay in Morocco, a country which embraced him, raised him to the highest ranks of the state, respected him in his later years and bestowed upon him all aspects of respect and loyalty. He simply chose to be Moroccan because the Moroccan culture is capable of assimilation due to its diversity and flexibility, which has made Morocco a home for international figures who have enriched the intellectual, political and artistic fields. There are also great international politicians and Western intellectuals who preferred to be buried in Morocco or to spend their last days there.
As an example, we recall the French Marshal Lyautey and the first resident-general in Morocco who requested to be buried in the country. His wish was respected until the year 1961 when his remains were transferred to France at the request of General De Gaulle.
Murad Rais is a striking example of how Morocco is a warm environment for those who resort to it or choose to be Moroccan, how it assimilates all those who wish to contribute to a decent living and social peace, and how the country not only exports Moroccan figures, such as Hassan al-Wazzan, Al Idrissi, Ibn Battuta, and others, to the world to influence it positively; but is also a great place made of hopes and dreams, and Murad Rais is not the first, and will not be the last traveler; to pass by or to settle in this welcoming place.