On Rif Republic's Self-Determination Cause
Republic of Rif (Arrif) [Boundaries based on those of the Rif Republic (1921-1927)].
Ajdir (Capital of Rif Republic 1921-1927).
The Northwest of North Africa. Morocco is located to its south; to the west is the North Atlantic Ocean; to the east Algeria is located; and to its north Spain and the Mediterranean Sea.
Moroccan-controlled (95%). Spanish colonies (Ceuta–Melilla as autonomous cities).
Body Recognised as Representative of the Riffian People:
Many organisations have struggled for the Rif people's independence, or at lower levels, for their autonomy. Lately the Rif Independant Movement and Rif Movement for Autonomy have emerged.
People and Country
The Rif are clearly a "forgotten" Amazigh indigenous people. The Rif has been inhabited by Amazighs since prehistoric times. Rif meaning the "edge of cultivated land", is a region that extends across northern Morocco. It is now divided into multiple prefectures under the 1997 regionalization law. For decades leading up to Morocco's 1956 independence, the Rif region was shaped by a history of political turbulence, historically warding off European colonial powers.
Riffians affirm in essence that Rif is not Morocco, and is not Spain. That means that Rif is a territorially, politically, and historically different entity from Morocco and Spain.
The population of Arrif (Rif Republic) are a mixture of different genetics, as the Rif major tribes considered belonging to Zenet group of Berbers; the Masmouda and the Ghoumari (Jebala) tribes are considered to be from the Senhadji group of Berbers; while other different ethnicities are living side-by-side with Berbers, like Andalous (Moors), Sub-Saharan Africans, Jews, and Europeans.
They are a Berber (Amazigh) People, just like other Berber groups in North Africa. They speak Tarifit (derived from Tamazight), but they speak many other languages like the Jebalian Dialect. Spanish, French, and classical Arabic are also used in schools and for religious purposes.
Customs/Way of Life
The Rif tribes always lived as confederations, each tribe has its own territory, and each tribe has its own Chief (Amghar), who rules the tribe economically and politically, and a Fqih or a Rabbi, who run the religious things. Rif people are known to be secular, hardworking, and excellent warriors (see the First, Second, and Third Rif Wars). They are also known to be tolerant, peaceful, and open-minded.
The Rif population is one of the rare peoples in the world that converted to all major Abrahamic religions. They are mostly Sunni Muslims, but a good number of them are also Jews and Catholic. Rif people are known to be secular.
Rif Cause and Struggle for Self-Determination
Did you know that Riffians have one of the highest rates of cancer? If you are Riffian, you are more highly exposed to cancer than any other North African citizen!
Sebastian Balfour, a British historian, shows in his Deadly Embrace (London, 2002) that Spain deployed chemical weapons as early as 1921, and intensively from 1924, killing thousands of Riffians. Balfour believes it is high time for Spain, Morocco, and France to recognise this, and offer apologies to the victims, as demanded by Riffian NGOs.
Locals allege that besides inducing cancer, the chemical weapons are still rendering the farmland arid.
Some of the latter — notably the local Association for Toxic Gas Victims (ATGV) — go further, asserting that the war crimes still produce fresh victims today. According to the activists, hospital records reveal that 70 percent of North Africa's prevalence of larynx and stomach cancer is found in the affected parts of the Rif. As Pando notes, however, no such long-term harm is seen after the much more intensive gas use in Europe during World War I. Hence, if the Riffians are indeed abnormally prone to cancer, this must have other causes. Regardless, belief in the mustard gas theory holds strong in the region. It has not helped that the Moroccan government repeatedly has banned international conferences to look into the matter.
Utterly lost in the news mix of recent weeks was the report that a left-wing Catalan party has questioned the Spanish government about the massive use of mustard gas against indigenous resistance in the Rif mountains.
Revolts and Oppression
For nearly five years during the 1920s, the Rif was an independent republic. The Rifian flag replaced the Spanish Moroccan flag, and the region was no longer under Moroccan rule.
However, the Rif Republic came to a bloody end in 1926 when the Spanish, with French reinforcements, and the complicity of the Moroccan Sultan Arab monarchy, contributed 400,000 men to bring down the Rif Republic, and the use of German-made chemical weapons fought the Rifian forces, bringing an end to the short-lived republic. The Moroccan monarchy rushed to thank the French resident-general, and congratulated him for his victory, calling Riffians anarchists.
The following years were marked by bitterness between the Rif and the Moroccan government. Under the terms of independence in 1956, political power in Morocco was consolidated and centralised. This was heavily enforced under the reign of Mohammed V. When the Riffian people launched a revolt in 1958, Mohammed V's response was brutal and violent.
Thousands of troops were sent to suppress the protests, and within days it was brought to an end, with many dead or arrested, while hundreds of others fled to neighbouring countries and Europe.
For years, the sour memory of the revolt remained in the minds of all involved. Anti-government dissent was consistent in the Rif, and any hints of dissent, such as the protests and bread riots of the 1980s, were immediately suppressed by Hassan II's regime. In an infamous speech, the king referred to the Riffian people as savages and thieves.
Today, the Rif has become increasingly marginalised. Investment in relative terms to neighbouring areas in the north, such as Tetouan and Tangiers, is minimal at best, and poverty rates are among the highest in the country. Coupled with the remnants of decades-long oppression, a popular uprising is inevitable.
In 2012, five Rif teenagers were shot to death and burned in Al Hucemas (center of the Republic), when they protested against government policies in Arrif (Rif).
A New Beginning
For the past few weeks of June 2013, the Rif has been rife with protests. Yet consistent with the policies of the past, government response has been as firm as ever.
The protests began in early March 2013, when police killed four Riffian activists by torture, and later their bodies were burned in a bank branch in order to hide torture marks. Many members of the local 20 February Movement chapter in the city of Ait Bouayach were arrested. During the months leading up to Benchaib's arrest, protesters in the city of Taza, which falls in the same regional prefecture, were calling for economic opportunities in one of the country's most impoverished regions.
Activists were denouncing the rise in water and electricity prices, in addition to the lack of employment. Protests in Taza were violently suppressed by security forces, and arbitrary arrests became common.
Meanwhile, an activist on the ground in Ait Bouayach, who chose to be referred to as Mohamed, gave an account of the past few weeks. "Police have damaged private property, and the tear gas used has penetrated the inside of homes and buildings", he said. Mohamed explained that both police and protesters had been injured during the protests.
Activists who sought medical treatment at local hospitals were arrested and questioned. A state-led media blockade prevented journalists from entering the center of the confrontations.
Keeping Eyes Away
Only recently has the international media begun to report on solidarity protests outside of the country.
Other protests in the Rif region have gone uncontested, and are accompanied by public debate and discussion. Members of the 20 February Movement have been joined by unemployed graduates, and local citizens.
For several weeks, footage of protests has circulated on social media sites showing protesters being violently suppressed. Yet the Moroccan media blackout led by the government has prevented the plight of the Riffian people from being heard.
The state-led media blackout allows the state to resurrect the rhetoric of separatism, in order to demonise the Riffian protesters. As a result, non-traditional media has taken the lead in providing coverage, with citizen media powerhouse Mamfakinch launching the "MediatizeRif" initiative, calling for widespread media coverage on the ongoing situation in the Rif.
The state-led media blackout's purpose is twofold: it prevents the spread of information to other rural areas; and it allows the state to resurrect the rhetoric of separatism, in order to demonise the Riffian protesters.
Morocco's staggeringly low 55.6 percent literacy rate, a figure largely due to the vast illiteracy in rural areas, has been advantageous to the regime. The lack of independent media not influenced by the state in rural areas has stifled the dissent of the Rif, one that could easily spread to other impoverished rural areas.
Moreover, the recent memory of the Riffian revolts under Hassan II's reign lives on. Various supporters of the regime have largely dismissed the demands of the protesters, and argued the rhetoric of decades-past.
Claims that the Riffians are intend to spark a civil war, with the goal of seceding and reestablishing the Rif Republic, have been advantageous to the regime. Many Moroccans have been discouraged from publicly expressing dissent after witnessing the way protests in Libya and Tunisia have led to instability.
The Moroccan government has banned many times an international conference that was to discuss the alleged Spanish use of mustard-gas over the Rif Mountains, which is said to still produce victims.
Despite the government's reforms, the reaction to protests in areas like the Rif region have demonstrated that the systematic violation of human rights remains unchanged — and so has the peoples' demand for genuine reform. However, through consistent police repression and media blockades, the regime has prevented the spread of the protests.
Further Reading and Materials