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Foreign News: El Riff

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A newspaper correspondent, writing from Wazzan behind the French lines, thus began his daily despatch on the Moroccan War (TIME, May 11, et seq.) : “One requires no map in order to follow operations in this important sector. One can install oneself comfortably—except for the flies, whose buzzing might be taken for Abd-el-Krim’s air service —on a shady cafe terrace and drink cool beer while a friendly French officer explains the situation with a magnificent panorama of mountains stretched out before one for orientation.”

The war last week was slack. The two armies pecked at each other, but did no serious damage.

Practically the whole valley of the Wergha is dominated by the surrounding mountains, which lie considerably to the north of the Great Atlas range and which rarely reach 5,000 feet. The territory of the Riff, which is now considerably overrun, lies in the central hinterland of the Spanish zone of Morocco at the extreme northwest of the African continent.

Master of the terrain is Abd-el-Krim, whom his followers have proclaimed “Sultan.” He knows that he cannot beat the French, but he also knows that the French cannot beat him without risking far more than he, Abd-el-Krim, thinks they will. This attitude is accounted for by the comparative security which his steep mountains provide him. Troops cannot be moved across them except through winding passes which the Riffian tribesmen dominate. Artillery and bombs are almost useless; for they cannot remove mountains of rock. But against the attackers the tribesmen bring to bear all manner of weapons from cannon to big stones which they dynamite down on to the enemy.

To the northwest and northeast of the Riff, Abd-el-Krim fights the Spaniards, whom he despises. He has defeated them so often that he now loses no sleep on their account. To the south, principally along the Wergha Valley, which is in French Morocco, are the French. That is a different problem; for in French Morocco is the French Resident General, Marshal Louis Lyautey.

All Morocco (known also as the She-reefian Empire) is nominally under the technically autocratic sway of Sultan Mulai Yusef. In the Spanish zone, where the Riff is situate, Abd-el-Krim is the most potent figure. In the French zone—by far the greater part of Morocco—the greatest man is not the Sultan, who is a mere shadow, but Marshal Lyautey. This soldier, who has won fame solely by his invaluable work in Morocco, is the embodiment of

French power there. He is more. He actually governs Morocco for the Sultan, and as the Sultan is in theory an absolute monarch, Marshal Lyautey is par excellence a beneficent despot. His word is law. Yet, he always takes care to treat the Sultan’s subjects with great tact. He has infinite patience, but, driven to act, he moves with merciless rapidity. The Arabs, who almost always admire a brave and wise man, admire Marshal Lyautey; for he never fails to punish the culpable, no matter how difficult it may be, and he never fails to pay the utmost respect to native traditions and beliefs. In that he is both brave and wise. All this does Abd-el-Krim know.

Consider the great man in the Riff: Abd-el-Krim, or Abdel-Krim, was born about the year 1883. Little is known of his early life, except that his father, also Abd-el-Krim, was a cadi (pronounced cah-dee), or lawgiver, at Melilla. Abd-el-Krim Jr. followed his father, studied law, became a loyal subject of the Sultan.

In contrast to paunchy, swarthy, massive Raisuli, who recently died while a prisoner in the Riff,* Abd-el-Krim is of medium height, a Berber—that is, a descendant of the Visigoths. Like Raisuli, he is liberally bewhiskered, the color of his hair being several shades lighter. He is also an impressive man and looks what he is not: a man of high birth. But he has what a correspondent calls “an impressive refinement of manner.” He speaks his native Berber dialect, Arabic, fluent Spanish and a little French. Men, sometimes his enemies, call him able.

During the War, he was under suspicion for favoring the Germans, and under that cloud he remains today. A break in his career occurred when the Spanish arrested him, probably in 1917, for seditious conspiracy against Spain. He was thrown into prison; but later escaped, seriously injuring his left leg in so doing. Straightway he went to the Riff, a mountainous territory to the east end of the Spanish zone in Morocco. To his own tribe, the Beni Warriageli, he told stories of Spanish misrule, dwelling upon the Spaniards’ cruelty and incapacity. He pictured them as exploiters of the country and called upon his own tribe to free the Riff from their accursed sway. To a man the Beni Warriagelis joined him. Thus began the resistance of the Riffians to the Spanish which resulted two years later (1921) in the catastrophe of Melilla, the battle which freed all the Riff and inflicted a colossal defeat on the Spanish forces, a defeat from which the Spanish have never recovered.

In carrying out his campaign, Abd-el-Krim has not been alone. His brother, Muhammad, a qualified engineer, is his able lieutenant. His cabinet, or Council of Wazirs, contains his brother-in-law, Sidi Muhammad bal Hadj Hitmi, as a sort of Premier. The War Minister is Hamid Boudra, whose very shadow is venerated throughout the Riff. Muhammad Azarkhan is the astute Foreign Minister extremely able and well educated. Abd-el-Salam el-Khtabi and Liazid bal Hadj are respectively Ministers of Finance and Interior. All of these men are brilliant in no ordinary sense of the word, as witness the efficiency of their administration, which shows itself in the able way the war against first Spain, then against Spain and France, has been conducted.

About the time of his triumph at Melilla, Abd-el-Krim posed as the President of the Riff Republic; but things have changed since those days. He carried the war against the Spanish outside of the Riff, and, desiring a better frontier for his State, as he calls it, he warred against the French. It has been said that he attacked the French to force a resettlement of Morocco; this is probably true; but it made necessary a larger army. The question of soldiers was something Abd-el-Krim never had to worry about. The fame of his victories spread far and wide with considerable exaggeration. Gradually the various tribes began to look upon him as the soldier of Islam who was taking up the sword against the infidel Spanish and French. Abd-el-Krim was fighting, however, primarily for the independence of the Riff territory, but, willy-nilly, he was forced to fight for Islam. Perhaps, the role was not altogether displeasing; for at length he was proclaimed Sultan, his brother was made heir with the title of Prince and the republic of the Riff has given way to the sultanate of the Riff. No doubt, too, that Abd-el-Krim calls with the rest of the Faithful to Allah for guidance and victory against the enemy.

Abd-el-Krim is of course not eligible for a royal title, that honor being confined according to Muhammadan law to direct descendants of the Prophet. It seems unlikely that he desires in any way to undermine the spiritual authority of Mulai Yusef who sits in the shade of the Shereefian Umbrella at Rabat or at his other capitals. But he undoubtedly does resent any interference with the internal affairs of the Riff country and, provided that is assured to him with adequate boundaries as a guarantee, he may well become as good a Shereef as the Empire can boast.

*According to The Times (London”! of May 6, Raisuli died toward the end of April. For some time before he had been afflicted with dropsy (TIME, Feb. 16).

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