Ali Soilih

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Flag of the "État comorien" under the rule of Ali Soilih (1975-1978)

Ali Soilih, full name Ali Soilih, (Arabic: علي صويلح‎; January 7, 1937 – May 29, 1978) was a Comorian socialist revolutionary and political figure.


Soilih was born in Majunga, Madagascar. He spent much of his early life there, and was educated in Madagascar and France. During the early 1960s, he traveled to Comoros, where he worked in agriculture and economic development.

Rise to power[edit]

In 1970, Ali Soilih entered politics as a supporter of Said Ibrahim, leader of the Democratic Assembly of the Comoran People, Rassemblement démocratique du Peuple Comorien (RDPC).[1] He soon developed an ideology of hostility towards France as the former colonial power. His ideas were somewhat influenced by Maoism, although he did not renounce his Islamic principles.[2]

On August 3, 1975, less than a month after Comoros gained independence from France, Soilih overthrew President Said Mohamed Jaffar and became head of a revolutionary council that took over Comoros. Soilih, whose adherents were barely armed, hired French mercenary Bob Denard to overthrow Ahmed Abdallah. He officially became President of the revolutionary council in January 1976. He acquired extensive powers under the terms of a new constitution[3] and implemented socialist economic policies. In 1977 he held a referendum on his presidency, with 56.63% of voters endorsing it.[citation needed]

Revolutionary program[edit]

Soilih embarked on a revolutionary program that was mainly directed against the country's traditional Muslim society.[citation needed] His vision, based on a mixture of Maoism and Islamic philosophies, was to develop the Comoros as an economically self-sufficient and ideologically progressive Islamic modern state.

Condemned as wasteful and cumbersome, certain inherited customs of Comorian culture were abolished, like the 'Anda', the traditional "grand marriage",[4] as well as traditional funerary ceremonies, which were criticized for being too costly. Soilih advanced the cause of the youth by discouraging the study of history and allowing young people to take more power. In order to reach his goal, he lowered the voting age to fourteen and put teenagers in positions of responsibility. Among the most striking of his reforms were measures designed to gain the favor of the youth, like the legalization of cannabis and promoting the removal of the veil among the women of Comoros.[5]

Soilih created the 'Moissy', a young revolutionary militia trained by Tanzanian military[citation needed] advisers. The Moissy was a Comorian version of Mao Zedong's Red Guards, and its methods were similar to those that had been employed by their Chinese counterpart during the Cultural Revolution.[6] Moissy units terrorised villages and specialized in violent attacks against conservative elders, formerly revered old men.[7]


As a result of Soilih's confrontational policies, France, the former colonial power in the islands, terminated all aid and technical assistance programs to Comoros. The teenage Moissy were perceived[by whom?] as a repressive political police,[citation needed] and their intimidation tactics and often random and chaotic activity caused widespread resentment among the Comorian population.[citation needed] Their humiliation[vague] at the hands of the Moissy and the undermining of their authority alienated the traditional leaders of the Comoros who resented the progressive elimination of age-old traditions. Growing discontent promoted by the political opposition resulted in four unsuccessful coup attempts[citation needed] against the Soilih regime during its two and a half-year existence.[8]

On May 13, 1978, Soilih was finally overthrown by a fifty-member European mercenary unit, hired by exiled former leader Ahmed Abdallah in France and led by French Colonel Bob Denard .[citation needed] Abdallah became president, Soilih's policies were reversed, and the name of the country was changed to "Islamic Federal Republic of the Comoros".[9] On May 29, Soilih was shot and killed; according to the government, he had attempted to escape from house arrest.[10]


More than 10 years later, in 1989, Soilih's older half-brother, Said Mohamed Djohar, overthrew Abdallah, possibly with the help of Denard. He served as president of Comoros until 1996.

The effects of the social policies of Ali Soilih are still apparent in the Comoros, particularly on Anjouan.[11][vague]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Comoros: The Break with France". Country Data. Retrieved May 23, 2013.
  2. ^ "Histoire des Comores: Ali Soilih (1937-1978)" (French). MweziNet. Retrieved May 23, 2013.
  3. ^ The Europa World Year Book, V1 Taylor & Francis Group
  4. ^ "Le Anda, Grand Mariage comorien sous Ali Soilih" on YouTube (French). YouTube. September 14, 2008.
  5. ^ French, Howard (1997). "The Mercenary Position" (subscription required). Transition 73: 110-121.
  6. ^ "Comoros: The Soilih Regime". Country Data. Retrieved May 23, 2013.
  7. ^ "Union of Comoros". Al-Hakawati. Retrieved May 23, 2013.
  8. ^ "Comoros: Security Concerns". Country Data. Retrieved May 23, 2013.
  9. ^ Lehtinen, Terhi. "The Secessionist Crisis in the Comoros Islands". Conflict Transformation Services. Retrieved May 23, 2013.
  10. ^ "Ex-Comoro Island Chief Reported Shot to Death While Trying to Escape". The New York Times. May 29, 1978.  (subscription required)
  11. ^ Rushby, Kevin (October 1, 2001). "Another day, another coup". The Guardian.