'Alawi dynasty
سلالة العلويين الفيلاليين
Parent houseBanu Hassan, of Banu Hashim, of Quraysh
Country Morocco
Founded1631; 393 years ago (1631)
FounderSharif bin Ali (died 1659)
Current headMohammed VI
TitlesSultan of Tafilalt (1631–1666)
Sultan of Morocco (1666–1957)
King of Morocco (1957–present)
Style(s)Amir al-Mu'minin

The 'Alawi dynasty (Arabic: سلالة العلويين الفيلاليين, romanizedsulālat al-ʿalawiyyīn al-fīlāliyyīn) – also rendered in English as Alaouite, 'Alawid,[1][2] or Alawite[3] – is the current Moroccan royal family and reigning dynasty. They are an Arab sharifian dynasty and claim descent from the Islamic prophet Muhammad through his grandson, Hasan ibn Ali.[4] Their ancestors originally migrated to the Tafilalt region, in present-day Morocco, from Yanbu on the coast of the Hejaz in the 12th or 13th century.[5][6][7]

The dynasty rose to power in the 17th century, beginning with Mawlay al-Sharif who was declared sultan of the Tafilalt in 1631. His son Al-Rashid, ruling from 1664 to 1672, was able to unite and pacify the country after a long period of regional divisions caused by the weakening of the Saadi Dynasty. His brother Isma'il presided over a period of strong central rule between 1672 and 1727, one of the longest reigns of any Moroccan sultan. After Isma'il's death the country was plunged into disarray as his sons fought over his succession, but order was re-established under the long reign of Muhammad ibn Abdallah in the second half of the 18th century. The 19th century was marked by the growing influence of European powers.

The 'Alawis ruled as sovereign sultans up until 1912, when the French protectorate and Spanish protectorate were imposed on Morocco. They were retained as symbolic sultans under colonial rule. When the country regained its independence in 1956, Mohammed V, who had supported the nationalist cause, resumed the 'Alawi role as independent head of state. Shortly afterwards, in 1957, he adopted the title of "King" instead of "Sultan".[8] His successors, Hassan II and Mohammed VI (the current reigning monarch), have continued the dynasty's rule under the same title. Today, the Moroccan government is officially a constitutional monarchy,[9][10][11] but the king retains strong authoritarian power over the state and public affairs, despite some political reforms in recent decades.[12][11][13][14][15]


The dynasty claims descent from Muhammad via Hasan, the son of Ali. The name 'Alawi (Arabic: علوي) stems either from the name of Ali (the father of Hasan),[16] from which the dynasty ultimately traces its descent, or from the name of the dynasty's early founder Ali al-Sharif of the Tafilalt.[17] The honorific title mawlay (also transliterated as mulay or moulay), meaning "my lord", was also commonly used in conjunction with the names of sultans.[18]

The state and empire ruled by the 'Alawis was also known in some periods as the "Sharifian Empire" (الإيالة الشريفة in Arabic) or Empire Chérifien in French according to the Treaty of Fes). This name was still in official usage until 1956 (when Morocco regained its independence from colonial rule), and is also used by historians to refer to the preceding Saadian state, which was also ruled by a sharifian dynasty.[19][20][21][22]



The 'Alawis were a family of sharifian religious notables (or shurafa) who claimed descent from Muhammad via his grandson Hasan, the son of Ali and of Muhammad's daughter Fatimah.[1][17] Like the Sa'di dynasty before them, the 'Alawis originally came from the village of Yanbu al-Nakhil in the Hejaz region of Arabia.[6][5] According to the dynasty's official historians, the family migrated from the Hijaz to the Tafilalt during the 12th or 13th century at the request of the locals who hoped that the presence of a sharifian family would benefit the region. It is possible that the 'Alawis were merely one of many Arab families who moved westwards to Morocco during this period. The Tafilalt was an oasis region in the Ziz Valley in eastern Morocco and the site of Sijilmasa, historically an important terminus of the trans-Saharan trade routes.[1][17][2]

Little is known of 'Alawi history prior to the 17th century.[2] In the early 15th century they appear to have had a reputation as holy warriors, but did not yet have a political status. This was the example of one family member, Ali al-Sharif (not to be confused with the later 'Alawi by the same name below), who participated in battles against the Portuguese and Spanish in Ceuta (Sebta) and Tangier and who was also invited by the Nasrids of Granada to fight against Castile on the Iberian Peninsula.[3]: 228  By the 17th century, however, they had evidently become the main leaders of the Tafilalt.[2]

Their status as shurafa (descendants of Muhammad) was part of the reason for their success, as in this era many communities in Morocco increasingly saw sharifian status as the best claim to political legitimacy. The Saadian dynasty, which ruled Morocco in the 16th century and early 17th century prior to the rise of the 'Alawis, was also a sharifian dynasty and played an important role in establishing this model of political-religious legitimacy.[23][2][1][3]: 228 

Rise to power

The family's rise to power took place in the context of early-to-mid-17th century Morocco, when the power of the Saadian sultans of Marrakesh was in serious decline and multiple regional factions fought for control of the country. Among the most powerful of these factions were the Dala'iyya (also spelled Dila'iyya or Dilaites), a federation of Amazigh (Berbers) in the Middle Atlas who increasingly dominated central Morocco at this time, reaching the peak of their power in the 1640s. Another, was 'Ali Abu Hassun al-Semlali (or Abu Hassun), who had become leader of the Sous valley since 1614.[3]: 222, 228  When Abu Hassun extended his control to the Tafilalt region in 1631, the Dala'iyya in turn sent forces to enforce their own influence in the area. The local inhabitants chose as their leader the 'Alawi family head, Muhammad al-Sharif – known as Mawlay Ali al-Sharif,[17] Mawlay al-Sharif, or Muhammad I[1] – recognizing him as Sultan.[3]: 222, 228  Mawlay al-Sharif led an attack against Abu Hassun's garrison at Tabu'samt in 1635 or 1636 (1045 AH) but failed to expel them. Abu Hassun forced him to go into exile to the Sous valley, but also treated him well; among other things, Abu Hassun gifted him a slave concubine who later gave birth to one of his sons, Mawlay Isma'il.[3]: 228 [23]: 224 

While their father remained in exile, al-Sharif's sons took up the struggle. His son Sidi Mohammed (or Muhammad II[1]), became the leader after 1635 and successfully led another rebellion which expelled Abu Hassun's forces in 1640 or 1641 (1050 AH). With this success, he was proclaimed sultan in place of his father who relinquished the throne to him.[3]: 228–229 [23]: 224–225  However, the Dala'iyya invaded the region again in 1646 and following their victory at Al Qa'a forced him to acknowledge their control over all the territory west and south of Sijilmasa. Unable to oppose them, Sidi Mohammed instead decided to expand in the opposite direction, to the northeast.[3]: 228–229 [23]: 224–225 [24]: 22  In 1647, he won the loyalty of several Arab tribes of the Banu Ma'qil in this region, and conquered Oujda. As Oujda was an imperial city, he became Sultan of Tafilalt upon his conquest.[citation needed] He advanced as far as al-Aghwat and Tlemcen in Algeria (which was part of the Ottoman Empire at the time) in 1650. His forays into Ottoman Algeria provoked a response from the Ottomans, who sent an army that chased him back to Sijilmasa. In negotiations with an Ottoman legation from Algiers, Sidi Mohammed agreed not to cross into Ottoman territory again and the Tafna River was set as their northern border.[24]: 79 [3]: 228–229 [23]: 224–225  In 1645 and again in 1652, Sidi Mohammed annexed the Emirate of Tuat to his Sultanate.[25]

Despite some territorial setbacks, the 'Alawis' influence slowly grew, partly thanks to their continued alliance with certain Arab tribes of the region. In June 1650, the leaders of Fez (or more specifically Fes el-Bali, the old city), with the support of the local Arab tribes, rejected the authority of the Dala'iyya and invited Sidi Mohammed to join them. Soon after he arrived, however, the Dala'iyya army approached the city and the local leaders, realizing they did not have enough strength to oppose them, stopped their uprising and asked Sidi Mohammed to leave.[3]: 229 

Mawlay Sharif died in 1659, and Sidi Mohammed was once again proclaimed sovereign. However, this provoked a succession clash between Sidi Mohammed and one of his younger half-brothers, Al-Rashid. Details of this conflict are lengthy, but ultimately Al-Rashid appears to have fled Sijilmasa in fear of his brother and took refuge with the Dala'iyya in the Middle Atlas. He then moved around northern Morocco, spending time in Fez, before settling in Angad (northeastern Morocco today). He managed to secure an alliance with the same Banu Ma'qil Arab tribes who had previously supported his brother and also with the Ait Yaznasin (Beni Snassen), a Zenata Amazigh tribe. These groups recognized him as sultan in 1664,[26] while around the same time Sidi Mohammed made a new base for himself as far west as Azrou. The power of the Dala'iyya was in decline, and both brothers sought to take advantage of this, but both stood in each other's way. When Sidi Mohammed attacked Angad to force his rebellious brother's submission on August 2, 1664, he was instead unexpectedly killed and his armies defeated.[27][3]: 229 [23]: 225 

The walls of the Kasbah Cherarda in Fez, a garrison fort built by Mawlay ar-Rashid in order to house some of his guich tribes

By this time, the Dala'iyya's realm, which once extended over Fez and most of central Morocco, had largely receded to their original home in the Middle Atlas. Al-Rashid was left in control of the 'Alawi forces and in less than a decade he managed to extend 'Alawi control over almost all of Morocco, reuniting the country under a new sharifian dynasty.[21][3]: 229  Early on, he won over more rural Arab tribes to his side and integrated them into his military system. Also known as guich tribes ("Army" tribes, also transliterated as gish[1]), they became one of his most important means of imposing control over regions and cities. In 1664 he had taken control of Taza, but Fez rejected his authority and a siege of the city in 1665 failed. After further campaigning in the Rif region, where he won more support, Al-Rashid returned and secured the city's surrender in June 1666.[3]: 230 [28]: 83  He made the city his capital, but settled his military tribes in other lands and in a new kasbah outside the city (Kasbah Cherarda today) to head off complaints from the city's inhabitants about their behaviour. He then defeated the remnants of the Dala'iyya by invading and destroying their capital in the Middle Atlas in June 1668. In July he captured Marrakesh from Abu Bakr ben Abdul Karim Al-Shabani, the son of the usurper who had ruled the city since assassinating his nephew Ahmad al-Abbas, the last Saadian sultan.[3]: 230  Al-Rashid's forces took the Sous valley and the Anti-Atlas in the south, forced Salé and its pirate republic to acknowledge his authority, while in the north, except for the European enclaves, he was in control of all the Rif comprising Ksar al-Kebir, Tetouan and Oujda in the northeast. Al-Rashid had thus succeeded in reuniting the country under one rule. He was not able to enjoy this success for very long, however, and died young in 1672 while in Marrakesh.[23]: 225 [21]

The reign of Mawlay Isma'il

Upon Al-Rashid's death his younger half-brother Mawlay Isma'il became sultan. As sultan, Isma'il's 55-year reign was one of longest in Moroccan history.[1][23] He distinguished himself as a ruler who wished to establish a unified Moroccan state as the absolute authority in the land, independent of any particular group within Morocco – in contrast to previous dynasties which relied on certain tribes or regions as the base of their power.[3]: 230  He succeeded in part by creating a new army composed of Black slaves (the 'Abid al-Bukhari) from Sub-Saharan Africa (or descendants of previously imported slaves), many of them Muslims, whose loyalty was to him alone. Mawlay Isma'il himself was half Black, his mother having been a Black slave concubine of Mawlay Sharif.[29][3]: 231  This standing army also made effective use of modern artillery.[2] He continuously led military campaigns against rebels, rivals, and European positions along the Moroccan coast. In practice, he still had to rely on various groups to control outlying areas, but he nonetheless succeeded in retaking many coastal cities occupied by England and Spain and managed to enforce direct order and heavy taxation throughout his territories. He put a definitive end to Ottoman attempts to gain influence in Morocco and established Morocco on more equal diplomatic footing with European powers in part by forcing them to ransom Christian captives at his court. These Christians were mostly captured by Moroccan pirate fleets which he heavily sponsored as a means of both revenue and warfare. While in captivity, prisoners were often forced into labour on his construction projects. All of these activities and policies gave him a reputation for ruthlessness and cruelty among European writers and a mixed reputation among Moroccan historians as well, though he is credited with unifying Morocco under strong (but brutal) leadership.[3]: 230–237 [23]: 225–230 [1]

Bab Mansour, the monumental entrance to Mawlay Ismail's imperial palaces in Meknes, finished in 1732

He also moved the capital from Fez to Meknes, where he built a vast imperial kasbah, a fortified palace-city whose construction continued throughout his reign.[30] He also built fortifications across the country, especially along its eastern frontier, which many of his 'Abid troops garrisoned. This was partly a response to continued Ottoman interference in Morocco, which Isma'il managed to stop after many difficulties and rebellions.[3]: 231–232  Al-Khadr Ghaylan, a former leader in northern Morocco who fled to Ottoman Algiers during Al-Rashid's advance, returned to Tetouan at the beginning of Isma'il's reign with Ottoman help and led a rebellion in the north which was joined by the people of Fez. He recognized Isma'il's nephew, Ahmad ibn Mahriz, as sultan, who in turn had managed to take control of Marrakesh and was recognized also by the tribes of the Sous valley. Ghaylan was defeated and killed in 1673, and a month later Fez was brought back under control. Ahmad ibn Mahriz was only defeated and killed in 1686 near Taroudant.[3]: 231–232  Meanwhile, the Ottomans supported further dissidents via Ahmad al-Dala'i, the grandson of Muhammad al-Hajj who had led the Dala'iyya to dominion over a large part of Morocco earlier that century, prior to Al-Rashid's rise. The Dala'is had been expelled to Tlemcen but and they returned to the Middle Atlas at the instigation of the Ottomans and under Ahmad's leadership in 1677. They managed to defeat Isma'il's forces and control Tadla for a time, but were defeated in April 1678 near Wadi al-'Abid. Ahmad al-Dala'i escaped and eventually died in early 1680.[3]: 231–232  After the defeat of the Dala'is and of his nephew, Isma'il was finally able to impose his rule without serious challenge over all of Morocco and was able to push back against Ottoman influence. After Ghaylan's defeat he sent raids and military expeditions into Ottoman Algeria in 1679, 1682, and 1695–96. A final expedition in 1701 ended poorly. Afterwards, peace was re-established and the Ottomans agreed to recognize Morocco's eastern frontier near Oujda.[3]: 232 [23]: 226 

Approximate territories under Alawi authority in the late 17th to 19th centuries[31]

Isma'il also sought to project renewed Moroccan power abroad and in former territories. Following the decline of central rule in the late Saadian period earlier that century, the Pashalik of Timbuktu, created after Ahmad al-Mansur's invasion of the Songhay Empire, had become de facto independent and the trans-Saharan trade routes fell into decline. The 'Alawis became masters over Tuat (oasis in present-day Algeria) in 1645, they rebelled many times after this initial conquest but Isma'il established direct control there from 1676 onwards.[3]: 232  In 1678–79 he organized a major military expedition to the south, forcing the Emirates of Trarza and Brakna to become his vassals and extending his overlordship up to the Senegal River.[23]: 227  In 1694 he appointed a qadi to control in Taghaza (present-day northern Mali) on behalf of Morocco.[3]: 232  Later, in 1724, he sent an army to support the amir of Trarza (present-day Mauritania) against the French presence in Senegal and also used the opportunity to appoint his own governor in Shinqit (Chinguetti).[3]: 232  Despite this reassertion of control, trans-Saharan trade did not resume in the long-term on the same levels it existed before the 17th century.[3][23]

In 1662 Portuguese-controlled Tangier was transferred to English control as part of Catherine of Braganza's dowry to Charles II. Mawlay Isma'il besieged the city unsuccessfully in 1679, but this pressure, along with attacks from local Muslim mujahidin (also known as the "Army of the Rif"[32]), persuaded the English to evacuate Tangier in 1684. Mawlay Isma'il immediately claimed the city and sponsored its Muslim resettlement, but granted local authority to 'Ali ar-Rifi, the governor of Tetouan who had played an active part in besieging the city and became the chieftain of northern Morocco around this time.[33][32][3]: 239  Isma'il also conquered Spanish-controlled Mahdiya in 1681, Al-Ara'ish (Larache) in 1689, and Asilah in 1691.[3][23]: 226  Moreover, he sponsored Moroccan pirates which preyed on European merchant ships. Despite this, he also allowed Europeans merchants to trade inside Morocco, but he strictly regulated their activities and forced them to negotiate with his government for permission, allowing him to efficiently collect taxes on trade. Isma'il also allowed European countries, often through the proxy of Spanish Franciscan friars, to negotiate ransoms for the release of Christians captured by pirates or in battle. He also pursued relations with Louis XIV of France starting in 1682, hoping to secure an alliance against Spain, but France was less interested in this idea and relations eventually collapsed after 1718.[3]: 232–233 

The Mausoleum of Mawlay Ismail in Meknes, which contains his tomb and that of his son Ahmad adh-Dhahabi

Disorder and civil war under Isma'il's sons

After Mawlay Isma'il's death, Morocco was plunged into one of its greatest periods of turmoil between 1727 and 1757, with Isma'il's sons fighting for control of the sultanate and never holding onto power for long.[1] Isma'il had left hundreds of sons who were theoretically eligible for the throne.[3] Conflict between his sons was compounded by rebellions against the heavily taxing and autocratic government which Isma'il had previously imposed.[2] Furthermore, the 'Abid of Isma'il's reign came to wield enormous power and were able to install or depose sultans according to their interests throughout this period, though they also had to compete with the guich tribes and some of the Amazigh (Berber) tribes.[21][3]: 237–238  Meknes remained the capital and the scene of most of these political changes, but Fez was also a key player.[3]: 237–238  Ahmad adh-Dhahabi was the first to succeed his father but was immediately contested and ruled twice only briefly before his death in 1729, with his brother Abd al-Malik ruling in between his reigns in 1728. After this his brother Abdallah ruled for most of the period between 1729 and 1757 but was deposed four times.[21][1][3]: 237–238  Abdallah was initially supported by the 'Abid but eventually made enemies of them after 1733. Eventually he was able to gain advantage over them by forming an alliance with the Amazigh tribe of Ait Idrasin, the Oudaya guich tribe, and the leaders of Fez (whom he alienated early on but later reconciled with).[3]: 238  This alliance steadily wore down the 'Abid's power and paved the way for their submission in the later part of the 18th century.[3]: 238–240 

In this period, the north of Morocco also became virtually independent of the central government, being ruled instead by Ahmad ibn 'Ali ar-Rifi, the son of 'Ali al-Hamami ar-Rifi whom Mawlay Isma'il had granted local authority in the region of Tangier.[32][3]: 239  Ahmad al-Hamami ar-Rifi used Tangier as the capital of his territory and profited from an arms trade with the English at Gibraltar, with whom he also established diplomatic relations. Sultan Ahmad al-Dahabi had tried to appoint his own governor in Tetouan to undermine Ar-Rifi's power in 1727, but without success. Ahmad ar-Rifi was initially uninterested in the politics playing out in Meknes, but became embroiled due to an alliance he formed with al-Mustadi', one of the ephemeral sultans installed by the 'Abid installed in May 1738. When Al-Mustadi' was in turn deposed in January 1740 to accommodate Mawlay Abdallah's return to power, Ar-Rifi opposed the latter and invaded Fez in 1741. Mawlay Abdallah's alliance of factions was able to finally defeat and kill him on the battlefield in 1743, and soon after the sultan's authority was re-established along the coastal cities of Morocco.[3]: 239  In 1647, Sultan Mawlay Abdallah strategically established his two sons Khalifa (Viceroy) in politically important cities. His eldest Mawlay Ahmed was appointed Khalifa of Rabat[34] and his youngest Sidi Mohammed, Khalifa of Marrakesh.[34] His eldest son would die before him in 1750.[35] After 9 years of uninterrupted reign, Mawlay Abdallah died at Dar Dbibegh November 10, 1757.[35] His only surviving son, Sidi Mohammed, succeeded him.

Restoration of authority under Muhammad ibn Abdallah

Order and control was firmly re-established only under Abdallah's son, Sidi Mohammed ibn Abdallah (Mohammed III), who became Sultan in 1757 after a decade as viceroy in Marrakesh.[36] Many of the 'Abid had by then deserted their contingents and joined the common population of the country, and Sidi Mohammed III was able to reorganize those who remained into his own elite military corps.[3]: 239–240  The Oudaya, who had supported his father but had been a burden on the population of Fez where they lived, became the main challenge to the new sultan's power. In 1760 he was forced to march with an army to Fez where he arrested their leaders and destroyed their contingents, killing many of their soldiers. In the aftermath the sultan created a new, much smaller, Oudaya regiment which was given new commanders and garrisoned in Meknes instead.[3]: 240  Later, in 1775, he tried to distance the 'Abid from power by ordering their transfer from Meknes to Tangier in the north. The 'Abid resisted him and attempted to proclaim his son Yazid (the later Mawlay Yazid) as sultan, but the latter soon changed his mind and was reconciled with his father. After this, Sidi Mohammed III dispersed the 'Abid contingents to garrisons in Tangier, Larache, Rabat, Marrakesh and the Sous, where they continued to cause trouble until 1782. These disturbances were compounded by drought and severe famine between 1776 and 1782 and an outbreak of plague in 1779–1780, which killed many Moroccans and forced the sultan to import wheat, reduce taxes, and distribute food and funds to locals and tribal leaders in order to alleviate the suffering. By now, however, the improved authority of the sultan allowed the central government to weather these difficulties and crises.[3]: 240 

Gate and fortifications in the port of Essaouira today, founded in 1764 by Sultan Muhammad ibn Abdallah as a port for European merchants

Sidi Mohammed ibn Abdallah maintained the peace in part through a relatively more decentralized regime and lighter taxes, relying instead on greater trade with Europe to make up the revenues.[2] In line with this policy, in 1764 he founded Essaouira, a new port city through which he funnelled European trade with Marrakesh.[17][37] The last Portuguese outpost on the Moroccan coast, Mazagan (al-Jadida today), was taken by Morocco in 1729, leaving only the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla as the remaining European outposts in Morocco.[1][21] Muhammad also signed a Treaty of Friendship with the United States in 1787 after becoming the first head of state to recognize the new country.[38] He was interested in scholarly pursuits and also cultivated a productive relationship with the ulama, or Muslim religious scholars, who supported some of his initiatives and reforms.[3]: 241 

Sidi Mohammed's opening of Morocco to international trade was not welcomed by some, however. After his death in 1790, his son and successor Mawlay Yazid ruled with more xenophobia and violence, punished Jewish communities, and launched an ill-fated attack against Spanish-held Ceuta in 1792 in which he was mortally wounded.[17] After his death, he was succeeded by his brother Suleyman (or Mawlay Slimane), though the latter had to defeat two more brothers who contested the throne: Maslama in the north and Hisham in Marrakesh to the south.[17] Suleyman brought trade with Europe nearly to a halt.[23]: 260  Although less violent and bigoted than Yazid, was still portrayed by European sources as xenophobic.[17] Some of this lack of engagement with Europe was likely a consequence of the Napoleonic Wars, during which England blockaded parts of Europe and both France and Spain threatened Morocco into not taking any side.[17] After 1811 Suleyman also pushed a fundamentalist Wahhabist ideology at home and attempted to suppress local Sufi orders and brotherhoods, in spite of their popularity and despite his own membership in the Tijaniyya order.[23]: 260 

European influence and confrontation in the 19th century

Hassan I in 1873

Suleyman's successor, Abd al-Rahman (or Abderrahmane; ruled 1822–1859), tried to reinforce national unity by recruiting local elites of the country and orchestrating military campaigns designed to bolster his image as a defender of Islam against encroaching European powers. The French conquest of Algeria in 1830, however, destabilized the region and put the sultan in a very difficult position. Wide popular support for the Algerians against the French led Morocco to allow the flow of aid and arms to the resistance movement led by Emir Abd al-Qadir, while the Moroccan ulama delivered a fatwa for a supporting jihad in 1837. On the other hand, Abd al-Rahman was reluctant to provide the French with a clear reason to attack Morocco if he ever intervened. He managed to maintain the appearance of neutrality until 1844, when he was compelled to provide refuge to Abd al-Qadir in Morocco. The French, led by the marshall Bugeaud, pursued him and thoroughly routed the Moroccan army at the Battle of Isly, near Oujda, on August 14. At the same time, the French navy bombarded Tangiers on August 6 and bombarded Mogador (Essaouira) on August 16. In the aftermath, Morocco signed the Convention of Lalla Maghnia on March 18, 1845. The treaty made the superior power of France clear and forced the sultan to recognize French authority over Algeria. Abd al-Qadir turned rebel against the sultan and took refuge in the Rif region until his surrender to the French in 1848.[23]: 264–265 [17]

The next confrontation, the Hispano-Moroccan War, took place from 1859 to 1860, and the subsequent Treaty of Wad Ras led the Moroccan government to take a massive British loan larger than its national reserves to pay off its war debt to Spain.[39]

In the latter part of the 19th century Morocco's instability resulted in European countries intervening to protect investments and to demand economic concessions. Sultan Hassan I called for the Madrid Conference of 1880 in response to France and Spain's abuse of the protégé system, but the result was an increased European presence in Morocco—in the form of advisors, doctors, businessmen, adventurers, and even missionaries.[39]

Crisis and installation of French and Spanish Protectorates

After Sultan Abdelaziz appointed his brother Abdelhafid as viceroy of Marrakesh, the latter sought to have him overthrown by fomenting distrust over Abdelaziz's European ties.[40] Abdelhafid was aided by Madani el-Glaoui, older brother of T'hami, one of the Caids of the Atlas. He was assisted in the training of his troops by Andrew Belton, a British officer and veteran of the Second Boer War.[41] For a brief period, Abdelaziz reigned from Rabat while Abdelhafid reigned in Marrakesh and Fez and a conflict known as the Hafidiya (1907–1908) ensued. In 1908 Abdelaziz was defeated in battle. In 1909, Abdelhafid became the recognized leader of Morocco.[40]

The abdication of Abd al-Hafid, Sultan of Morocco in 1912, after signing the Treaty of Fes which initiated French colonial rule

In 1911, rebellion broke out against the sultan. This led to the Agadir Crisis, also known as the Second Moroccan Crisis. These events led Abdelhafid to abdicate after signing the Treaty of Fes on 30 March 1912,[42] which made Morocco a French protectorate.[43] He signed his abdication only when on the quay in Rabat, with the ship that would take him to France already waiting. When news of the treaty finally leaked to the Moroccan populace, it was met with immediate and violent backlash in the Intifada of Fez.[44] His brother Youssef was proclaimed Sultan by the French administration several months later (13 August 1912).[45] At the same time a large part of northern Morocco was placed under Spanish control.

Colonial rule, Mohammed V, and independence

Main articles: French protectorate in Morocco and Spanish protectorate in Morocco

Under colonial rule the institution of the sultan was formally preserved as part of a French policy of indirect rule, or at least the appearance of indirect rule. Under the French Protectorate, the 'Alawi sultans still had some prerogatives such as the power to sign or veto dahirs (decrees). In the Spanish zone, a Khalifa ("deputy") was appointed who acted as a representative of the sultan. In practice, however, the sultan was a puppet of the new regime and many parts of the population saw the dynasty as collaborators with the French. The French colonial administration was headed by the French resident-general, the first of whom was Hubert Lyautey, who enacted many of the policies that set the tone for France's colonial regime in Morocco.[39][46]

Mawlay Youssef died unexpectedly in 1927 and his youngest son, Muhammad (Mohammed ben Youssef or Mohammed V), was acclaimed as the new sultan, at the age of 18. By the guidance of the French regime, he had spent most of his life growing up in relative isolation inside the royal palace in Meknes and Rabat. These restrictions on his interactions with the outside world continued in large part even after he ascended to the throne. However, over the course of his reign he became increasingly associated with the Moroccan nationalist movement, eventually becoming a strong symbol in the cause for independence. The nationalists, for their part, and in contrast with other anti-colonial movements like the Salafis, saw the sultan as a potentially useful tool in the struggle against French rule.[46]

Mohammed V in 1934

Some of Mohammed V's initial interactions with nationalists came during the crisis caused by the so-called "Berber Dahir". Among other things at this time, the sultan received a delegation from Fez which presented a list of grievances about the new French policy, and had discussions with Allal al-Fassi where he apparently expressed that he had been misled by the French residency when signing it and vowed to cede no further rights of his country.[46]: 250  The sultan refrained from openly associating with the nationalist movement in the 1930s, but nonetheless resisted French attempts to shift the terms of the Protectorate during the interwar years. He reaffirmed Morocco's loyalty to France in 1939, at the beginning of the World War II. After the fall of France to the Germans and the advent of the Vichy regime, however, the sultan increasingly charted his own course, successfully pushing some reform initiatives related to education, even as the Vichy regime encouraged him to make several well-publicized trips abroad to bolster his legitimacy and that of the colonial system. In 1942 the Allies landed on the Moroccan Atlantic coast as part of their invasion of North Africa against Axis occupation. This momentous change also allowed the sultan more political manoeuvring room, and during the Anfa Conference in 1943, which Allied leaders attended, Mohammed V was left alone at one time with President Roosevelt, who expressed support for Moroccan independence after the war. The encounter was the sultan's first face-to-face interaction with another head of state without the mediating presence of the French officials. In the fall of the same year, the sultan encouraged the formation of the official Istiqlal ("Independence") Party and the drafting of the Manifesto of Independence that called for a constitutional monarchy with democratic institutions.[46]

These moves were strongly opposed by the French, but the sultan continued to steadily defy them. Another watershed event was the Tangier Speech of 1947, delivered in the Mendoubia Gardens of Tangier during the first visit of a Moroccan sultan to the city since Mawlay Hassan I in 1889.[46] The speech made a number of significant points including support for Arab nationalism, a generally anti-colonial ideology, and an expression of gratitude for American support of Moroccan aspirations while omitting the usual statements of support for the French Protectorate. In the following years the tensions increased, with French officials slowly acknowledging the need for Moroccan independence but stressing for slower reforms rather than rapid sovereignty. The French enlisted many powerful collaborators such Thami el-Glaoui to organize a campaign of public opposition to the sultan and demands for his abdication – also known as the "Qa'id Affair" – in the spring of 1953. The political confrontation came to a head in August of that year. On August 13 the royal palace in Rabat was surrounded and closed off by Protectorate military forces and police, and on August 16 Thami and allied Moroccan leaders formally declared Mohammed Ben 'Arafa, a little-known member of the 'Alawi family, as sultan. On August 20 the French resident-general, Auguste Guillaume, presented demands to the sultan for his abdication and his agreement to go into exile. The sultan refused to abdicate, and that afternoon he and his sons were escorted at gunpoint from the palace and onto a plane. He and his family were eventually exiled to Madagascar.[46]

The exile of the sultan did not alleviate French difficulties in Morocco, and an insurgency broke out which targeted both the regime and its collaborators with boycott campaigns as well as acts of violence. Several assassination attempts were made against the new puppet sultan, Mohammed Ben 'Arafa, and one of the boycott campaigns was aimed at the country's mosques due to prayers being said in the new sultan's name. Eventually, with the decolonialization process under way in Tunisia and the independence war in Algeria, the French agreed to negotiate Morocco's independence at a conference on August 23, 1955. By October 1 Mohammed Ben 'Arafa had abdicated and later that month even Thami el-Glaoui supported Mohammed V's return. The sultan landed at Rabat-Salé Airport at 11:42 am on November 16, greeted by cheering crowds.[46] The French-Moroccan Declaration of Independence was formally signed on March 2, 1956, and Tangier was reintegrated to Morocco later that year. In 1957 Mohammed V adopted the official title of "King", which has since been used by his successors, Hassan II and Mohammed VI.[39][46]

From 1957 to present day

Further information: History of Morocco § Independent Morocco (since 1956)

King Hassan II with future King Mohammed VI, Lalla Asma, and Lalla Meryem (left to right)

At independence, the Moroccan makhzen (royal government) remained underdeveloped and urgent reforms were needed to resolve problems arising from decades of colonial rule.[39]: 154  Political friction existed between the nationalist Istiqlal Party, which pushed for more democratic institutions, and the king, Mohammed V, who now hesitated on endorsing radical political changes. By the end of the decade in 1960, the Istiqlal Party was weakened by splinter factions and the growing number of political parties were unable to act together as an effective counterbalance to the king. A formal constitution also remained lacking. As a result, the monarch emerged as the main pillar of political stability in the state and there was a revival of absolutism under royal rule.[39]: 155–161  Mohammed V died in 1961 and was succeeded by his son, Hassan II.

Hassan was soon compelled to promulgate a constitution, which was approved by popular referendum in 1962. The constitution had been written by officials appointed by the king and in practice it cemented the monarchy's rule by granting it far-reaching executive powers.[39]: 163–164  Hassan II worked to improve relations with France and position Morocco as an ally of the West, but relations with neighboring Algeria deteriorated over border issues and resulted in the Sand War in 1963.[39]: 165–166  Tensions also rose internally during the 1960s and 1970s, with leftist opposition mounting against the conservative monarchy. This in turn was met with increased political repression and Hassan II largely relied on the army and police as instruments of power. The period from roughly 1975 to 1990 is known as the "Years of Lead", as state violence was regularly deployed against dissenters and political opponents were jailed or disappeared.[39]: 166–170  Two attempted coups d'état against the king failed in 1971 and 1972.[39]: 175–178 

Upon the withdrawal of the Spanish occupation of the Western Sahara in 1975, Hassan II used the opportunity to publicly galvanize nationalist sentiment by pressing Morocco's claims to the territory, over the objections of the local Sahrawi people and of the Algerian and Mauritanian governments. He organized the Green March, which saw around 350,000 Moroccans crossing the southern border to settle inside the territory, triggering a war with the Polisario, the armed front of the Sahrawi people.[39]: 180–184  A ceasefire was negotiated in 1989,[39]: 184  but the conflict remains unresolved today,[47][48] with most of the territory under de facto Moroccan control while the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic controls the easternmost zones.[39]: 180–184 [49] During the 1990s Hassan II changed course in domestic politics and publicly promoted an agenda of reform. A new constitutional reform, approved by referendum, was enacted in 1993. Another amendment to the constitution was passed in 1996 to create a bi-cameral legislature, with the lower house elected directly by voters and an upper house chosen indirectly by regional assemblies and professional organizations.[39]: 205 

Hassan II died in 1999 and was succeeded by his son, Mohammed VI, the current reigning king. The new monarch's reign began with promises of further liberalization and reform; however, the extent of political reforms has been limited and popular engagement with electoral politics has been inconsistent.[39]: 221, 228–230 [50] Another constitutional reform was passed by a referendum in 2011 in response to protests inside the country, in the wider context of the Arab Spring.[51][39]: 234–236  Today, the 'Alawis remain the only monarchy in North Africa.[9] They officially rule in a parliamentary constitutional monarchy,[9][10][11] but authoritarian and absolutist characteristics are still noted by scholars and observers, with effective power largely remaining in the hands of the king,[12][10][14] a situation that has been compared to the pattern of Hashemite monarchy in Jordan.[14][52]

List of 'Alawi rulers

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A family tree of the dynasty near the Hassan Tower in Rabat
The current head of the Alawi dynasty, King Mohammed VI, pictured behind a family tree of the dynasty at the Dar al-Makhzen in 2022

See also: List of rulers of Morocco

Sultans of the Tafilalt and early expansion:

After capture of Marrakesh in 1668, Sultans of Morocco:

Under the French protectorate (1912–1956):

From Independence (1955 onwards):


Mohammed VI of MoroccoHassan II of MoroccoMohammed V of MoroccoMohammed Ben AarafaMohammed V of MoroccoYusef of MoroccoFrench-Spanish ProtectorateAbdelhafid of MoroccoAbdelaziz of MoroccoHassan I of MoroccoMohammed IV of MoroccoAbderrahmane of MoroccoSlimane of MoroccoYazid of MoroccoMohammed ben AbdallahAbdallah of Moroccoal-Mostadi of MoroccoAbdallah of Moroccoal-Mostadi of MoroccoAbdallah of MoroccoZin al-Abidin of MoroccoAbdallah of Moroccoal-Mostadi of MoroccoMuhammad II ben Arbia of MoroccoAbdallah of MoroccoAli of MoroccoAbdallah of MoroccoAbu'l Abbas Ahmad II of MoroccoAbdalmalik of MoroccoAbu'l Abbas Ahmad II of MoroccoAlaouite Succession CrisisIsmail Ibn Sharifal-Rashid of MoroccoMuhammad ibn SharifMoulay Ali CherifKings of MoroccoSultans of MoroccoTafilalt

Family tree

Monarch Moulay Sharif
Monarch Mohammed IMonarch IsmailMonarch Rachid
Monarch AhmadMonarch Abdul MalekMonarch Abdallah IIMonarch Mohammed IIMonarch AliMonarch Al-Mustadi'Monarch Zin al-Abidin
Monarch Mohammed III
Monarch Al-YazidHishamMonarch Sulayman
Monarch Abd al-Rahman
ibn Hicham
Monarch Mohammed IV
Monarch Hassan IAarafa
Monarch Abd al-AzizMonarch Abd al-HafidMonarch YoussefTaharMonarch Mohammed
Ben Aarafa
Monarch Mohammed V
3° spouse
Lalla Bahia
2° spouse
Lalla Abla bint Tahar
Fatima Zohra
Monarch Hassan II
2° spouse
Lalla Latifa Hammou
Monarch Mohammed VI
Lalla Salma
Crown Prince

See also


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Further reading

Royal house —House of Alaoui Preceded bySaadi Dynasty Ruling house of Morocco 1666 – present Incumbent