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The French and Spanish in Morocco

In French-controlled Morocco, a Muslim Sultan held nominal power, but the real power lay with the French resident-general, an aristocrat and former army colonel, Louis Lyautey. His policies closely fit the French colonial ideal, and he was a favorite among French conservatives. Lyautey had served in Madagascar, and he had convinced tribes there that the French army was on their side, the army giving them machine-made tools and teaching them scientific methods in farming. In Madagascar his troops had built roads and had established telegraphic installations. Lyautey had left Madagascar materially better off and more tranquil than it had been in its entire history, and he wanted to make life better for Moroccans.

In the part of Morocco that France controlled, French farmers had incomes that averaged eight times higher than the average of Moroccan farmers, and the French farmers looked upon their Muslim neighbors as an inferior race. Lyautey had been in Morocco since 1912, and he had become popular with the local French and the Moroccans. Lyautey dealt with the Moroccan people through the authority of their own chiefs. He tried to avoid offending any local customs and religious practices. Under Lyautey the French taught Moroccans how to grow more and better crops. More marketplaces were developed for the Moroccans, and the French built hospitals, schools and roads. In that part of Morocco that the French controlled the economy improved, benefiting local people and French investors. And Lyautey created two new coastal cities: Kenitra (to be renamed Port Lyautey) and Casablanca.

In 1920, while things seemed to be going okay for the French in Morocco, rebellion erupted among mountain tribes in that part of Morocco nominally controlled by Spain. This was a 200-mile stretch of land between Ceuta and Melilla near Algeria, two Mediterranean ports that Spain had held for over 300 years. The rebellion was led by Mohammed ben Abel Krim. In 1922 Krim announced the creation of an Islamic republic. He was receiving aid from abroad, while describing his struggle as nationalist rather than pan-Islamic.

During the rebellion, atrocities were committed by both Krim's forces and the Spanish. The Spanish bombed the Moroccans but hit mainly rocks and cactus plants. By mid-1924 many Spaniards were sick of the fighting. So too was Spain's dictator, Miguel Primo de Rivera. Spain had spent a lot of money and was gaining nothing in wealth from Morocco, and Primo de Rivera complained about the tens of thousands of men killed in the war. He wanted to end Spain's pursuit of the rebel forces, and he complained that Britain would not let him withdraw. The British were concerned about the French expanding in Morocco near the Strait of Gibraltar. Also, Spain's military officers in Morocco – among them colonel Francisco Franco – were adamant about continuing the fighting. They saw Spain's imperial enterprise in Morocco as an effort at wiping out the shame of defeat by the United States in 1898, and they wanted to reclaim for Spain the glory of empire.

In 1925, Krim's advances spilled over into tribal areas governed by France. Resident-general Lyautey did not want a war against Krim. But Krim allowed incursions against French-controlled Morocco to continue. Krim recognized that Lyautey had given Moroccans order, security and economic prosperity. He claimed that he would give them the same benefits with the advantage that he was a Muslim rather than an infidel. Krim expanded to within twenty-five kilometers of Fez, where the Sultan and Lyautey were headquartered. But the Moroccans in French-controlled areas largely supported French rule and viewed Krim as a menace. Krim was facing too much of an enemy. For Lyautey, a policy that appealed to hearts and minds had proved successful.

A joint French and Spanish force applied overwhelming force against Krim. This included artillery barrages, aerial bombardment and the use of gasoline bombs from a volunteer airforce commanded by an American soldier of fortune, Charles Sweeney. Krim and a party of twenty-seven surrendered to the French in May 1926. The French received Krim and his party courteously and exiled them to French islands in the Indian Ocean. Krim and his family went to the island of Réunion, where the climate was similar to Morocco, and they lived on his annual stipend on a large estate not far from the island's capital, St Denis. The French wanted Krim not as a martyr but to be forgotten. Spain wanted revenge against Krim and viewed France's treatment of Krim as a disgrace.

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