Abd el-Krim forgotten fighter against colonialism

I have often seen the Irish War of Independence (1919-21) as being the defining moment when the colonised people of the globe started to throw of the shackles of their colonial occupiers. However in parallel with the struggle in these Islands many hundreds of miles to the south on the coast of what is now Morrocco a now forgotten leader led a successful guerrilla war starting in 1920 which established the ‘Republic of the Rif’(1921 – 1927).

Abd el-Krim is almost forgotten now outside of the Arab World but be successfully fought and held of both Spain and France and eventually it was only the combined military efforts of both countries which defeated him. One of his most successful victories at the battle of Anwal where 18000 Spanish troops were killed and more than twice that number fled led to a political earthquake in Spain and the establishment of the government of Miguel Primo de Rivera which arguably (via Miguel’s son Jose Antonio) led to the Spanish Civil War.

El-Krims attempts after the creation of the Republic of the Rif to gain diplomatic relations with several European powers were rebutted, The old Nation States of Europe concerned that what had been successful in a part of Morocco would spread throughout the occupied Arad World. Eventually the Republic of the Rif was conquered by a joint force of Spanish and French forces numbering over a quarter of a million and using tanks and aircraft. In addition despite the apparent abhorrence of the Great Powers over the use of chemical weapons which led to the Geneva protocol in 1925 the Spanish used chemical weapons against the Rif Republic.

After the Rif Republic was crushed Abd el-Krim was sent into exile with his family by the French to remote reunion Island in the Indian Ocean and whilst his treatment there was comfortable his exile lasted from 1926-1947. Eventually being allowed to leave because of ill health he settled in Egypt where he immediately presided over a Liberation group seeking freedom for the Arab peoples of the Maghreb. He died in Cairo in 1963 aged 80, just after seeing his hopes of a Maghreb independent of colonial powers completed by the independence of Algeria.

In his day he was the poster boy of revolution appearing on the cover of Time magazine. His struggle and the guerrilla tactics he used against the colonial powers influenced other great leaders such as Ho Chi Minh, Mao and Che Guevera.

In 1971, Mao told a Palestinian delegation of Fatah:

“You have come to me to hear me speaking about a people’s liberations war, but in your own recent history you have Abd-el-Krim. He is of one the most important inspiration sources, of which I have learned what the people’s liberations war exactly is.”

Image: Abd el-Krim Cover of Time 1925

Bernard Moffatt

Assistant General Secretary, Celtic League. (02/09/2019)

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