Abd El-Krim and the War in Africa

THE Moroccan question, the spoiled child of European diplomacy up to 1914, has been little more than a stepson of the chancelleries since the Treaty of Versailles. Europe has given serious attention to only two, or perhaps three, great problems: the settlement of the Rhine question, the problem of economic readjustment, and possibly— though in less whole-hearted fashion — the racial problem in Asia. Morocco, after suffering from an overdose of high-powered diplomatic attention from 1901 to 1914, has been allowed to struggle along without occupying the consecutive thought of any first-rate European statesman, unless it be the exiled Kaiser at Doorn or the recently rehabilitated M. Caillaux.

The problem presents itself now under an entirely new aspect as the result of the war’s rearrangements, and the international instruments which control its development are entirely outmoded, as are all the books which ever tried to consider it. The new factors are, first and foremost, the developing Islamic consciousness in the whole Shereefian Empire; second, the total disappearance of Germany from the political surface of the conflict; third, the victory of France against the halfhearted, half-ashamed, but fairly consistent opposition of England, Spain, and Italy. The student now finds himself confronted with a de facto situation of sharp, well-defined conflict, the effort of a superior European civilization to impose its empire on a backward but profoundly alien people; a situation obscured sometimes, but never really affected, by the complicated fabric of outworn treaties which, from 1901 to 1912, sought to regularize the relations of all parties to the North African struggle.


‘Spanish’ Morocco, as it has been currently called since 1912, is a country strongly reminiscent of our own northern New Mexico, mountainous and sparsely settled. The rim of the Spanish zone — along the coast from Melilla to Tetuan, and around the Straits to Tangier and Larache — has long been bait to Europeans, especially Portuguese and Spanish adventurers. ElKsar-el-Kbir (‘The Great Village,’ Spanishified into Alcazar-Quivir) was the scene of the final disaster to the Portuguese empire in Africa four hundred years ago; with such an example before them, the Spanish in the nineteenth century made no attempt to do more than govern and defend the two north coast cities, Ceuta and Melilla, the ‘presidios.’

After the proclamation of the Protectorate in 1912, Spain endeavored to bring under her rule, and to administer after a fashion, all of the territory shown on school maps as ‘Spanish Morocco. ‘ Garcia Prieto, marquis of Alhucemas (the same who presided over the last constitutional government of Spain before Primo de Rivera’s revolution), ordered the occupation of Larache and El-Ksar in 1911; the movement thus initiated continued steadily until the disaster of 1921. Spanish troops occupied and held Arzila, Sheshuan, Zinat, Dar ben Karish, Wad Lau, and a string of posts down the coast to the island city of Alhucemas in the bay of Alhucemas, and on to Melilla. General Berenguer accomplished the most difficult of the occupations, in the Djebala, with great success under the last government of the Conde de Romanones. The year 1920 was Spain’s zenith in Morocco; the greatest success was the victorious march on Sheshuan and the virtual subjugation of the Rharb (el-Rharb or el-Gharb, the generic name for the Angara, Djebala, and Rhomarra countries). The bandit prince, Mulay Hamid ben Absalom ber Raisul, known to the Western world as Raisuli, aided considerably both with men and with influence in the conquest of western Morocco; and in 1920 his allowance from the High Commissariat in Tetuan had reached the staggering total of sixteen million pesetas yearly, I was told by responsible authorities in Madrid.

Spanish Morocco contains three distinct divisions besides the northernmost tip, the Angera country. The western division, called the Djebala and taking in the Atlas Mountain country, can loosely be described as the hinterland of Tangier; it extends from the Atlantic to the river Lau, south of Tetuan, and to a line parallel to the Atlantic drawn from the Wad Lau. From Wad Lau on eastward to the western horn of the bay of Alhucemas is the lower country called the Rhomarra (or Ghomarra — Europeans transliterate the Arab guttural rh sometimes as rh, sometimes as gh). At the point where the western horn of the land bounding the bay of Alhucemas begins is the frontier of the Riff.

The Riff is a small, thinly populated region with much higher mountains than those of the Rhomarra, and much less vegetation. It is peopled by eleven tribes from the Berber race, or a race akin to the Berbers, speaking a variant of the Berber language, the Shillhah tongue. The Riffis are indubitably Hamitic in race, and betray it in their physical type: many of them are red-haired and blue-eyed, and they have a real contempt for the Semitic Arabs. Nevertheless the Riff has had an Arab civilization imposed on it. since the twelfth century; and although nobody since the Emir Abdallah has been able to conquer the country, the Koran has vanquished where the sword has failed: the Riff is as simply and primitively Mohammedan as the oases of Nejd in Arabia.

It is difficult to explain the origins of the Riffi race, or the philology of Shillhah; there is very little available scientific evidence, and most of it reposes, after all, on some original conjecture. Mr. Cunninghame Graham, after his imprisonment among the Berber tribes of the Sus (the Mogaclor hinterland) in 1902, made some studies which are the only accessible popular material on the subject. They are in his book called El-Moghreb, and he has been thoughtful enough to add a good bibliography. But the Riff itself has had little attention from scientists — so little that the wildest conjecture is currently accepted by half-educated people to explain the existence of the race of Riffi Berbers. For instance, Abd elKrim’s brother-in-law, Mohammed bel Hadj Hitmi, told me last January that the Riffis were descended from Norsemen who landed on the coast of Alhucemas in the twelfth century. An American ethnologist, who studied the race only in stray examples found in peaceful French Morocco, told me the cranial indices of the Riffi were the same as those of the Nordic races.

Whether that is true or not, the fatal error of almost all the statesmen who have tried to settle the Moroccan problem has been their unwillingness to recognize the racial distinction of the Riffis and their unquestioned superiority to the Arabs in the arts of peace or war. If Garcia Prieto, Romanones, Sanchez Guerra, and the rest of them had had any conception of it, they could never have embarked Spain upon this terrible adventure in northern Morocco.

The administration of the Spanish zone, as installed in the Djebala, the Rhomarra, and the Riff immediately after military occupation, is quite simple and very bad. The school system, except in Ceuta and Melilla, is left to the Arabs; except in the cases of the sons of powerful or wealthy chiefs, Spain does not consider the Arabs worth educating. The boys still recite the Koran at the top of their voices three or four hours a day, all at the same time, in little rooms in the Arab towns of Larache, Arzila, El-Ksar; but they would be doing it whether the Spanish were there or not.

In Ceuta and Melilla there are schools for all children, and since these two cities are legally Spanish the ‘compulsory education’ law technically applies; but it is enforced even less than in Spain. The subjects on the curriculum of the primary schools are sacred history (Bible stories and legends of the saints), catechism, the elements of arithmetic, and the Castilian language. Only about one third of the children of Ceuta and Melilla, of all races, go to school at all. In the rest of Spanish Morocco no educational system has been attempted by the Protectorate.

As to railroads, ports, bridges, culverts, and other public works the Spanish administration has been equally slack and incapable. So long as the Spanish Protectorate was only a cloak for German penetration there was some chance for a civilizing influence; the Germans made the beginnings in the years 1906-1914, but nothing has been done since. The port of Larache, constructed by the Germans in 1912, could be one of the most important in western Africa; when the war came and destroyed Germany’s activity there, the Spanish did nothing. The port plans have never been completed, and trade is at a standstill. The important river at Larache is still covered by a pontoon bridge; since 1912 Spain has done nothing toward giving the town a modern bridge.

There are only two small railroads in all Spanish Morocco. One is the military road from Ceuta to Tctuan, a distance of about fourteen miles. It is a bad road, with narrow-gauge track and only three available engines for civilian service. The other is a comparatively good German-built road from Larache to El-Ksar, on which the German prewar vans are still used. Work on the Tangier-Fez railway, running through the Larache zone, has been almost at a standstill for years, so far as the Spanish are concerned; the French have long since practically completed their end of it, but Spain has dawdled.

There is no telephone or telegraph system except the line from Tangier to Larache and the military field telephones. There has never been a reliable postal service except between Larache and Tangier, and no civilian police has ever been established, outside the political secret service. There is no sanitary service or public-health service, and there is not a public hospital in the whole country. There is no inspection of food materials, no veterinary service, no regulation of the hasheesh traffic, no clinical or dispensary service of any sort for the abysmally ignorant and disease-ridden inhabitants. There are even no sewers in the whole country, except in the Spanish officers’ club and hotel at Larache, the private estate of a French royal princess near there, and the few Spanish residences in Tetuan.

The one remaining index of a civilizing movement is by far the most important — good roads. The Spanish since 1907 have built only two roads; one is from Tetuan to Sheshuan (Berenguer’s work — a good road, built in 1920), and the other, a branch of the first, leads to Raisuli’s old stronghold, Tazarut, in the Beni Arous country.

There are only two other European roads in all Spanish Morocco, for neither of which the Spanish can claim credit. One is the international road from Tetuan to Tangier, which the Spanish are supposed to maintain, but keep hopelessly out of repair; when I crossed it in December and January it was nothing better in spots than a bog trail, and it is so narrow that two Ford cars cannot pass on some of its turnings. The other road is the Germanbuilt road from Tangier to Larache, which runs into the French road to Rabat. This is, in fact, the only good road in the zone. It is fairly well maintained; but one road can hardly be held to constitute an obra civilizadora.

The failure — or, indeed, nonexistence — of Spanish civil administration in Morocco is surpassed in gravity only by the tyranny and incompetence of military rule. The axiom of the High Commissariat has always been that empires exist for the good of their military commanders, and the fortunes made by extortion from the native have bolstered up for many years Spain’s military oligarchy in its demand for empire. Except perhaps Riquelme, the brilliant commander at Larache, none of the Spanish generals has exhibited any serious effort to learn how Arab populations should be handled; some of them, indeed, have shown — like Aizpuru — really colossal ignorance. The only one I have ever met, out of about sixteen, who speaks Arabic is Riquelme; most of them have no idea of the rudiments of an Islamic civilization. As a result the Oficina Indigena at Melilla, the military bureau for natives, has become a brutal institution for the extortion of money, information, and property from the very Arabs it was designed to help and govern.

Primo de Rivera, the unlucky heir to the Moroccan debacle Romanones and Alhucemas created, has never attempted to offer an explanation of this total failure of Spanish civil rule. At Tetuan last December I asked him once what good he expected the Protectorate to do either the Spaniards or the Moors. He shrugged his shoulders, spread out his hands, and answered with incredible naïveté: ‘We want to do them good, but they won’t let us!’

When I repeated this remark a month later in the Riff to Hamid Boudra, Abd el-Krim’s war minister, that gruff Moslem answered it for me: ‘They should conquer or get out. ‘

Therein is the discouraging upshot of the available wisdom on Spain’s problem in Morocco: Miguel Primo declares — against his personal judgment, evidently, as he was always an opponent of the Moroccan adventure before he assumed power — that the civil administration wishes to help the Arabs, but cannot; the Arabs and Riffis declare they do not want Spain’s help. Spain can only conquer or get out; the logic of imperialism does not permit such shabby expedients as Primo’s present system, an administration that administers nothing and a protectorate that does not protect. II

In French Morocco the spectacle is quite different. Marshal Lyautey, as Resident General at Rabat, has established what is probably the most effective and benevolent despotism of modern times. Since 1917 he has established schools, built roads, founded hospitals, clinics, and civic services which would do credit to France itself; and wherever the French road-builders have gone they have brought the full development of civilization in their wake. One doubts if any imperialism since Rome has brought such miraculous results; certainly neither the British in Egypt nor the Americans in the Philippines, in spite of an extravagance of energy, have ever accomplished so much in such a short space of time.

Lyautey had no unified military resistance to overcome; the guerrillas of the Sus and the northern frontiers were easily handled. Road-building, the groundwork of empire, was in full tide by 1917. No observer could see the network of good roads the French have thrown over Morocco without a thrill of delight. The roads are unquestionably the best highways in the Eastern Hemisphere, taken as a whole system; only the special automobile-roads on Long Island and the Corniche road on the Riviera are better in the whole world, I believe. The work was accomplished with endless difficulty. When the building began, the Arabs used to descend at night and destroy all the work done during the day, killing the watchmen; some instinct told them that these broad highways of commerce would be the seal of France’s dominion over them; but Lyautey only strengthened the road guard and pushed on with the work.

The contrast between the slovenly and ill-maintained Spanish roads, taken at their very best, and the broad, hard highway from the Spanish frontier to Rabat is like the contrast between the Spanish and French administrations in general. The network of good roads now covers the whole country as far north as Taza and Taourirt; the Chaouia, Casablanca, Rabat, Fez, Marrakesh, Taza, Oudjda, Meknès, all the principal cities of the empire, are connected by the rapid motor-car services of the subsidized Compagnie Genérale Transatlantique, over a route so extraordinarily beautiful that it is steadily becoming a greater favorite with those who travel for pleasure.

Lyautey’s system of education — imposed not only without a demand from the Arabs, but against the will of almost all the French statesmen and functionaries — gives universal compulsory education in the primary schools, free facultative instruction in secondary schools, and a large number of free scholarships for university education. The curriculum is strictly secular; even in the private schools run by the nuns Lyautey has forbidden any interference with the religious beliefs of the pupils, and missionary activity is never forced upon the people.

In the secondary schools at Fez I stumbled upon a curious exhibition of liberalism: the Arab boys — all sons of better-class men in the medina — were being taught English by a cheerful little Frenchwoman, the wife of the local inspector of meat materials. Neither the Germans nor the English, to my knowledge, ever taught a rival nation’s language in the secondary schools of a subject people; but Lyautey has adopted as his principle the idea that the Arabs must be educated as Europeans are educated, and as fully as possible.

The wisdom of the policy would seem to be apparent, but it is violently opposed by many of the French colonial authorities and most of the press. The movement here indicated is the same as that of the English Die-Hards against civil-service reform in India; the imperialists fear that the educated Arabs will seize the power when there comes to be a sufficient number of them. Large sections of French colonial opinion would limit popular education to the rudiments, supplemented by vocational training, and would abolish specialized technical and classical education altogether; but Lyautey’s prestige and authority have always downed all opposition so far.

The sanitary service in French Morocco has reached an equally high stage of development since 1917. Lyautey has spared no effort in the direction of public health, and the progress made in the service has been phenomenal considering the niggardliness and political ill-will the Marshal has often encountered in Paris. Fez alone has five free public clinics, seven hospitals, and three free public dispensaries. Mme. Lyautey, a woman of extraordinary energy, has founded maternity hospitals with private charity funds in all the principal cities, and personally directs the excellent one in Rabat. The Institute there makes serious and important studies in endemic diseases, and has taken great strides toward the cure of the so-called Moroccan fever, paludisme.

Social disease, of course, is the plague; in 1920 more than ninety per cent of the Arab children in the schools were syphilitic. This evil is being fought tooth and nail — a long, disheartening, terrible fight against the appalling ignorance of a superstitious people. The only parallel to this heroic struggle, in our time, is the American fight against leprosy in the Philippine Islands; but even leprosy, unless it is universal, can be no worse than syphilis which has become for centuries ingrained in a race. One sees dreadful sights in the streets of Rabat or Fez or Marrakesh even now; but progress has been made, and is being made every day.

Sewage systems, water supply, public sanitation services, and food inspection have been thoroughly organized all over French Morocco. Live stock is very carefully inspected, and every piece of meat put on the market in the cities has to be certified as from a healthy animal; for unfortunately disease, particularly tuberculosis, is almost as universal among the animals as it is among the Arabs themselves.

An indigenous civil police force — the Sultan’s — is maintained with French officers; military service is not compulsory, as it is in Algeria; the ports of Rabat and Casablanca, particularly the former, have brought out the best efforts of some of the best engineers France possesses; and every evidence of ordinary life shows the hand of an organizing genius. The streets of even the labyrinthine Arab quarter of Rabat, for instance, arc cleaner than those of Naples or Lisbon or Seville.

This is success in civil administration. It has been achieved by Lyautey and his chosen staff almost alone; the politicians in Paris have never helped and they have often hindered. M. Herriot, for instance, would probably have been glad to yield to the clamors of the Socialists and dismiss Lyautey from the Residency; but such a move has steadily become more impossible since 1917. The personal prestige of Lyautey is unique; nobody could hazard a guess as to what would happen in Morocco if he were to disappear, and it is a general opinion even in Paris that he is the one man France can never replace.

And therein lies the great weakness of France’s political position to-day in the Shereefian Empire; it reposes to an astonishing extent on the personal authority of Lyautey. At times this has been an inestimable gain in economy of effort, in the efficiency of administration; but one must remember that Lyautey is seventy-two years old and will not live forever. His prestige among the Arabs is tremendous; he maintains it intact because he understands their character so well. No morning comes when Lyautey is not up at six o’clock and on horseback; if he were not, some of the legend of his personality would be dissipated in Arab minds. He has infinite delicacy with infinite force; he campaigns mercilessly against the enemy, but once they are subdued he does everything to help them live better, more cleanly, and more happily. The great feudal princes of southern Morocco have more local autonomy with greater security than they could ever hope for from a lesser man; but they never take advantage of it because they fear Lyautey as much as they respect and, sometimes, love him. When the great market-place at Fez was destroyed by fire two years ago, Lyautey caused it to be replaced by an exact — though much cleaner! — replica, with all the shrines precisely as they were. His extraordinary delicacy in restoring shrines and maintaining Mohammedan religious monuments throughout the country has endeared him to large sections of the unthinking Arab people; he has always been almost feminine in his instinct for pleasing his critics, and knows how to ride in a fantasia as well as he knows how to conduct a successful campaign in mountain or desert.

Lyautey’s absolute power, and much of his consequent success, are due to the fact that he speaks in the name of the Sultan, who is legally absolute monarch of all Morocco without constitutional check or any form of hindrance. No administrative decree of Lyautey’s could be openly questioned even at Paris without great difficulty. The Sultan Mulay Hafid, whom Lyautey deposed and exiled to Spain for his proGerman activities, has been succeeded by his younger brother, Mulay Yussef; and, in the name of Mulay Yussef, Lyautey is now virtual sovereign. Even an opponent of the imperialist and absolutist principles must see that here they have reached their perfection; it is late in the game for it, of course, but Lyautey has made a real Pax Romana inside his frontiers. He has had sense enough to see that with forty thousand Frenchmen, most of them his own functionaries, he cannot colonize Morocco; he can only govern it. But he does govern; that alone is one of the conspicuous achievements of this century.


The beautiful shores of the bay of Alhucemas are peopled by a tribe called the Beni Warriagel — a race of blueeyed, strong-limbed men and sturdy, unveiled women, the purest Riffis of the whole Riff. This tribe has produced the Mahdi of the present war, the redoubtable Mohammed ben Abd el-Krim, called by Europeans by his father’s name, Abd el-Krim.

Mohammed was born in Melilla about forty-two years ago, as nearly as he knows himself. His father, Abd elKrim, was cadi for the Arabs in Melilla; Mohammed was educated as a Moorish lawyer. He also received Spanish instruction in Melilla, and visited Spain; his younger brother, M’hammed (there is only a slight difference in their names), was sent to Madrid to be educated as an engineer and mineralogist. The leader we call Abd el-Krim used to do some work for the Oficina Indigena in Melilla, and actually drew up some of the material for the study of concessionaires to the iron mines about Midhar, those he has since declared the property of his state.

After some supposed seditious intrigue against the Spanish, Mohammed ben Abd el-Krim was imprisoned at Melilla; he escaped, but injured his left leg so badly in doing so that he has been a minor cripple ever since. He took to the hills of the Beni Warriagel, his own tribe; this must have been, I believe, in 1918, although neither he nor the Spanish seem to be sure of the year (the Arabs have no record of birth, death, or other dates). He had the whole Beni Warriagel tribe with him almost at once; it was easy to win over the adjacent tribes, and the guerrilla campaign, which had never really ceased, went into a new phase. With the arrival of the younger Abd el-Krim brother, in 1919 or 1920, the revolt was organized on a modern basis; all the tribes of the Riff had joined the movement by 1921, and in the spring of that year Abd elKrim captured General Navarro and twenty thousand Spanish troops with all their equipment, arms, and ammunition. This is what Europe calls the Melilla disaster, which cost General Berenguer his position and definitely turned the tide against Spain in Morocco.

The military tactics of M’hammed, the younger of the two Abd el-Krim brothers, consisted in simply surrounding the Spanish forts which dotted the hills and starving them into an attempt to cut their way through, or into complete surrender. In 1920-1922 the policy was completely successful; the Spanish were compelled to withdraw from almost the whole Riff, placing their farthest outpost at Tizzi Azza for the defense of Melilla, and the Wad Lau line for the defense of Tetuan and Ceuta.

Then Abd el-Krim decided upon the move which has established him as the leader of the Islamic movement in North Africa. He carried the war into the Djebala, besieged Sheshuan at last, and drove the Spanish from all the fortified positions in the Wad Lau district.

In November 1924, Primo de Rivera initiated the necessary retreat. At that time the interior positions were isolated from all communication with one another, besieged by an invisible enemy. General Castro Girona went to the relief of Sheshuan, over that road Berenguer had so enthusiastically built in 1920. The 1923 campaign had filled the Djebala with Abd el-Krim’s Riffi troops, courageous and well-trained; even Raisuli’s tribesmen, the Beni Arous, did not hold faithful to Spain or to their chief. The retreat from Sheshuan was a crushing disaster for Spain; Madrid has denied it again and again, but I rode over the battlefields in January of this year, and the unburied dead were sufficient to answer the official fictions of the communiqués.

With the conquest of the Djebala the victory of Abd el-Krim in the Spanish zone was as complete as it was ever likely to get. Spain still holds Melilla and Ceuta, the presidios, and Tetuan, as well as the Tetuan-Tangier road and the triangle from Arzila to Larache and El-Ksar, as far over as the Beni Gorfet mountains. This is, one can be reasonably sure, an irreducible minimum; she could hardly hold less and be in Africa at all. The capture of Raisuli at Tazarut on January 19 ended all native opposition to Abd el-Krim’s rule; and the caids from the Riff, who have swept over the Rhomarra and the Djebala in the name of Islam, have proclaimed their leader Sultan. For the first time since the twelfth century one government rules from Tangier to Melilla, over the whole interior.

And the government of Abd el-Krim, in spite of the ignorant assertions of the Madrid and Paris press, is a government. Nothing could be easier, or more false, than to assume that Abd el-Krim is a tribal chief ruling by traditional barbaric force. He has nothing in common with the Riffi bandit chiefs of the nineteenth century, or with the infamous and semisavage Raisuli. Even the clever intriguer, Abd el-Malek, who was killed in Spain’s service against Abd el-Krim last August after a lifetime spent in the service of Germany, was inferior to Mohammed in cleverness, as he was inferior in patriotism and sincerity.

The Abd el-Krims — for it is almost impossible to speak of one without the other — found the Riff mediæval and tribal, and have made it into a primitive but efficient example of what Jaurès called the nation armée. Every Riffi is a soldier; the tribal divisions have been supplanted by regular army divisions, and the Abd el-Krims have been astute enough to officer their regiments with men from widely separated tribes.

The unit of military organization is the hamsaïn (Arab word meaning fifty) or company, commanded by a Caid elhamsaïn (chief of fifty). The smaller divisions are called ashraïn (twenty) and hamsa-ashraïn (twenty-five), with corresponding officers. The machinegun companies are officered by four Germans, all deserters from the French and Spanish Foreign Legions; but they have taught the Riffis how to use machine-guns quite well enough, as the army of Castro Girona could testify. The official topographer to the younger Abd el-Krim is a German, but except for those five there are no Europeans in the service of the Riff. Two French civil aviators taught the Riffis all they know about airplanes, and their two Breguets were certainly not bought without the knowledge of the French authorities in Algeria.

In one hamsain of the regular Riffi troops it is easy to find men from three or four different, tribes, officered by caids from still different tribes; the object has been to break down tribal barriers, and it has largely succeeded.

Civil administration does not exist in our sense. Abd el-Krim has abolished the old communal system, and done away with the sheikhs, or heads of the subdivisions of tribes; nothing yet has been devised to take their place. In the meantime the caids of the army, directed by Abd el-Krim’s wazirs, administer what justice, police, and fiscal systems are necessary to the primitive conditions of life in the Riff. There is no currency except Spanish silver; taxation is paid in kind, and many economic exchanges are simple barter. The political form of government is pure absolutism; the old feudal regime is gone, probably forever.

In this connection it is curious to observe what a change has come over the elder Abd el-Krim and his closest advisers since 1921. At first, it will be remembered, they called their organization the ‘Riff Republic, ‘ and attempted to carry on negotiations with English mining interests under that name. Three European correspondents have gone into the Riff since the Melilla disaster; the first was Mr. Ward Price of the London Daily Mail, in March 1924; the second was Mr. Scott Mowrer of the Chicago Daily News, in September 1924, and the third was myself, in the beginning of this year. To Mr. Price, Abd el-Krim talked like the constitutional ruler of an organized state; to Mr. Mowrer he seems to have talked like a struggling republican patriot; to me he talked like a victorious Sultan, an absolute and unquestioned monarch. The difference in tone came from the fact that when I was in the Riff Sheshuan and the whole Djebala had fallen; Abd el-Krim was triumphant from the zone of Tangier to the zone of Melilla, and his attitude had profoundly changed. He no longer made any effort to appeal to British or American opinion; three years of vain negotiations have proved to him that the AngloSaxon capitalists will not risk a dollar on the iron mines of the Riff until the whole situation is duly regularized by international law. Abd el-Krim knows his people well enough to realize that absolute monarchy is all they are at present prepared for; and he has caused himself, finally, to be proclaimed Sultan with his brilliant younger brother, M’hammed, as heir apparent, defying the established tradition which makes only descendants of the Prophet eligible for royal power.


Abd el-Krim lives in an unusually large Riffi house — almost a palace in comparison to the others — at Ait Kamara, about twenty miles inland from the bay of Alhucemas. I lived in his other house at Adjdir, five or six miles farther down toward the coast. Here, and later on my trip from the Riff through the Rhomarra and the Djebala to Tangier, I had sufficiently unusual opportunities for observation; and in the poverty of material on the subject I venture to offer an opinion. It is this: that the qualities and character of Abd el-Krim and his associates are formidably high, as high as those of Mustapha Kemal Pasha and his associates; and that any underestimation of their force would be fatal to the European cause in northern Africa.

Abd el-Krim has with him his brother-in-law, Sidi Mohammed bel Hadj Hitmi, who speaks French and went to Paris a year ago last February to negotiate with the Mannesmann and Stinnes interests under the very nose of the Quai d’Orsay. There is also Hamid Boudra, minister of war or wazir elharb, a determined, keen-minded tribal chief with great prestige throughout the Riff; Mohammed Azarkhan, minister of foreign affairs, a clever man and an educated one, occupied in the endeavor to interest foreign capital; Abd elS’lam el-H’Ktabi, of the immediate family of Abd el-Krim, who manages the finances of the state; and Liazid bel Hadj, who administers what civil administration there is in the way of roadbuilding and domestic reform. These four wazirs, with the two Abd el-Krims and their brother-in-law, form the council of wazirs; Abd el-Krim the elder is the grand wazir, or has always assumed the functions.

These men have made some remarkable progress besides the organization of the Riffi army. Liazid bcl Hadj, for instance, has wiped out slavery and the hasheesh traffic; the Negroes were freed at his instance in 1922. Hasheesh is no longer produced, except as contraband, anywhere in the Riff; and since the conquest of the Rhomarra and the Djebala the effort to repress the traffic has been undertaken there. Liazid has charge of the two thousand odd Spanish prisoners at Adjdir and Ait Kamara; he employs them in building roads, and the roads will be at least as good as the Spanish highways when they are completed. A military telephone system, first established across the Riff from Midhar to Adjdir last November, now connects all the posts from Ait Kamara to Beni Boufra, down the coast to Wad Lau, and down the river Lau to Targhzuit, the western headquarters of the younger Abd el-Krim, and the holy city of Sheshuan.

The telephones, by the way, are French; it is curious how the French authorities have always winked at the smuggling of supplies across the eastern frontier to Abd el-Krim, who should by law be their enemy. There are many French rifles (Saint-Étienne make) in the Riffi army, and French machineguns and light mountain cannon (Schneiders), all brought across from Algeria. The irony of it is that these French engines of destruction, constituting about one third, and the best third, of the Riffi military equipment last January, are now being used on the French themselves.

The important and final fact about Abd el-Krim’s power is its religious significance.

In the beginning, perhaps, no move was made by Abd el-Krim or his immediate advisers to create a situation of ‘holy war,’ or djehad, against the Christian invader; in fact, the Riffi people itself, fanatically insular and thoroughly Moslem though it be, never seemed to me a race with strong enough mystic aspiration to feel the genuine djehad spirit as it is displayed among the Arabs. For crusades or djehads, history would seem to indicate, the Semitic and Latin races are more adapted, as being more likely to lose individual consciousness in the mystic mass-spirit. The Riff tribes are warlike and redoubtable enough, but in a jovial and hearty way, like the Rhineland barons of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. They have none of the Oriental morbidity of hatred, none of the ecstasy of the East; they seem, as the scientists believe they are, Nordic. They call the Spaniard ‘ kelb roumi’ (Christian dog), but it is without any unpleasantly hateful conviction; and they treat Spanish prisoners well enough.

The Riffi, as I saw him in camp, at home, and on trail, is a simple soul, like an English North Country peasant, abysmally ignorant and insular, but possessed of all the essential virtues, with good-humor and friendliness thrown in.

The mixed Moroccan Arab is an entirely different person — lying, thieving, rapacious, intense, fanatically religious, and cruel by instinct. Every Arab I knew in the uncivilized or unprotected areas was cruel to everything and everybody but his horse, and even then the exception was not universal. With the victories of 1921, this type of savage or semisavage Arab was attracted to the banner of Abd el-Krim; the rumor of the new overlord’s triumphs spread through the hills with untold exaggeration, and the superstitious border Arabs grew to look on the Riffi chief as a sort of new champion of Islam — a reincarnation, some of the scribes will tell you, of the great Abdallah who conquered Africa for God and the Prophet.

At the intermediate stage of Abd elKrim’s development (1921-1923) the religious impulse, coming like the original djehad out of the fanaticism of the most primitive, surrounded and enveloped the purely nationalistic modern movement the Abd el-Krim brothers had begun. I am convinced that neither of the brothers initiated the djehad or contributed to the superstitious legend now built up about them; but the Riffi caids, recruiting among the border Arabs, have always used what arguments they could. The scribes, or men who can read and write, — there is one at least in every tribe, — helped greatly in the rapid development of a djehad movement; they spend most of their time chanting the Koran to the fighting men, or leading them in their endless prayers. It was the scribes of the French border who invented the chanting appellation I heard applied often to Abd el-Krim: ‘Mulay Mohammed ben Abd el-Krim, Sultan el-lslam, djder b’ba Spanol.’ (Our Lord Mohammed, son of the Slave to the Generous One, Sultan of Islam, Breaker of Spanish Heads.)

Whether the Abd el-Krims themselves descended to the exploitation of this fanaticism or not, only history can tell, if indeed the truth ever is known; but at any rate by last summer the religious legend had already prevailed. Hordes of Arab tribesmen were enrolled in the cause of Abd el-Krim, and certainly they all thought they were fighting in the name of Islam against Christendom. In the Mctalsa tribe on the French border last January, when I was kept prisoner there some eleven days, I saw innumerable evidences of this; the caids told me that any man who died fighting for Islam would go straight to Paradise, whatever his previous sins, while a Spaniard was predestined to Hell, whatever his virtues. The chief of the tribe, Hamid ben Dada, offered, kindly enough, to catch some Spaniards for me some day and let me kill them; in this wise, he said, I could win eternal salvation.

This type of Arab has never changed, apparently, since the Hegira; the spirit is beneath the lowest level of human consciousness in Europe, and yet in another way infinitely above anything our civilizations have developed. It has at least the white-hot intensity which moves masses of people to reckless sacrifice; and consciously or unconsciously the Abd el-Krim brothers are using it for their immediate aims, which are to precipitate a settlement of the whole Moroccan question.

They both told me repeatedly that their only enemy was Spain, and their struggle exclusively national; in the absence of evidence to the contrary, there is no reason to doubt them.

What Abd el-Krim wants is a regularization of his situation, a recognition of his sovereignty over the Riff, the Rhomarra, and most of the Djebala. If the Powers would consent to this he is quite willing to compromise on the Earache zone, would satisfy England by leaving the Angera country on the Straits alone, and would pledge a genuine peace with France. He would have to have a rational frontier on the French side, however, and not a madhouse line drawn in the air as Delcassé drew the present frontier, running through tribes and villages and sometimes in the middle of houses.

In February I brought these suggestions to Primo de Rivera in Madrid.

Primo seemed willing enough to negotiate, but made his primary condition of an armistice the ‘disarmament’ of the Riff and the recognition in some form or other of the authority of the Sultan Yussef. I sent a detailed account of Primo’s answer and his supplementary statements to M’hammed ben Abd el-Krim, through an agent of his in Tangier. The disarmament proposal was manifestly unacceptable, and the conversation Primo suggested with M’hammed never took place.

What has happened now —the invasion of French Morocco by Riffi and Arab troops — can have but one meaning: unable to obtain any regularization of his position, Abd el-Krim wishes to push the French into proposing a general settlement, of the Moroccan problem. The brothers Abd el-Krim are far too intelligent to suppose they can ever defeat the French in the field; but they know they can oblige France to exert great force to repel their raids, and they further know that France would never dare attack the Riff country itself. To all intents and purposes, the Riff is an unconquerable country, and is so considered by the best French strategists. Only the folly of the Paris politicians or the excitable Paris press could ever work up enough pressure to make Lyautey attack the Riff; it is a hornet’s nest from which France could never extricate herself. Lyautey and Cambay, the two officers most directly concerned, would never think of such an invasion under actual conditions.

It is incontrovertible that the present stage of the Abd el-Krim movement has the force of a djehad; and here arises the unanswerable question: How far can the French trust their native troops or their subject populations? One reads in the newspapers now that Lyautey has twenty-five thousand men only. (I am sure it is eighty thousand, but the disposition of troops may have changed since February.) Is it generally realized that these troops are almost all Moslem — Moroccan and Algerian Arabs for the most part? And that the French have only forty thousand men and women of their own race in Morocco to govern a population of possibly forty millions? Anything like a general Islamic revolt, uniting the already combatant troops of the Riff to the wild Berbers of the Sus and the Bedouins to the south, with even partial participation of the peoples in central Morocco, would mean catastrophe to the French empire in Africa.

One hesitates to believe that Abd elKrim would thus, like Samson, shake the temple down. It is more likely that he wishes no such thing, and would be more than content if the French would consent to propose a general conference.

In such a conference, in which Abd el-Krim intends to be represented on an equal footing with the Powers, the Riff would demand its sovereign rights over the largest part of the Spanish zone. With its independence recognized, the Riff would be free to exploit its immense iron and copper wealth unencumbered; the ridiculous machinery of the treaty of Algeciras, and the paper-economics established under that instrument, would be swept away. France would come out of it a great deal more securely established than before; England would benefit by the proposed enlargement of the international zone of Tangier; and Spain would be relieved at last of the dreadful burden of incessantly disastrous war. This is the solution the Abd el-Krim brothers wish to see; it will never be easy to bring about, of course. England and France know the Riff has been flirting with the colossi of the German steel industry; Spain is unwilling to sacrifice her last vestige of empire on the altar of common-sense; France is uneasy lest any gesture of conciliation be interpreted by Islam as a gesture of weakness; Italy, bitterly disappointed and dissatisfied at Tangier and in Tunisia, will be sure to make unexpected demands. But in the present confusion there is no health to any party in the struggle; only continued war or worse — revolution — can result eventually from the unprincipled and immoral adhesion to the treaties of 1902-1912. Only a new conference, a clean sweep, can clarify the issues and establish a new statute which all nations can unhesitatingly approve.