Mulai Ahmed er Raisuni

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Mulai Ahmed er Raisuni
مولاي أحمد الريسوني
ⵎⵓⵍⴰⵉ ⴰⵀⵎⴻⴷ ⴻⵔ ⵕⴰⵉⵙⵓⵏⵉ (Tarifit)
Mulai Ahmed er Raisuli
General Emir of the Jebala Tribal Confederacy
Personal details
DiedApril 1925 (aged 53–54)
Prison in Tamasint (near Al Hoceima)

Mulai Ahmed er Raisuni (Arabic: "مولاي أحمد الريسوني", known as Raisuli to most English speakers, also Raissoulli, Rais Uli, and Raysuni; 1871[1] – April 1925[2]) was a Sharif (descendant of the Islamic prophet Muhammad), and a leader of the Jebala tribal confederacy in Morocco at the turn of the 20th century. While he was regarded by foreigners and the Moroccan government as a brigand, some Moroccans, especially among the Jebala, considered him a heroic figure, fighting a repressive, corrupt government, while others considered him a thief. Historian David S. Woolman referred to Raisuni as "a combination Robin Hood, feudal baron, and tyrannical bandit."[3] He was considered by many as "The last of the Barbary Pirates" though Barbary Coast piracy had ended by the middle of the 19th century. On the other hand, according to Douglas Porch, an American historian, Raisuni was part of the rule rather than the exception in that every successful Moroccan politician at the time combined villainy with sainthood.[4] He died in April 1925 after having been captured and imprisoned by his rival Abd el Krim.

Early life[edit]

A goumi standing guard in the camp of Mulai Ahmed er Raisuli in Tangier, Morocco.

Mulai Ahmed er Raisuni was born in the village of Zinat sometime in 1871.[citation needed] Due to his place of origin and his reportedly handsome visage, one of his other nicknames was "the Eagle of Zinat."[citation needed] He was the son of a prominent Caid, and began following in his father's footsteps. However, Raisuni eventually drifted into crime, stealing cattle and sheep and earning the ire of Moroccan authorities. He was also widely known as a womanizer.[citation needed]

By most accounts, the formative event in Raisuni's life was his arrest and imprisonment by Abd-el-Rahman Abd el-Saduk, the Pasha of Tangier, who was Raisuli's cousin and foster brother.[citation needed] The Pasha had invited Raisuni to dinner in his home in Tangier, only for his men to capture and brutalize Raisuni when he arrived. He was sent to the dungeon of Mogador and chained to a wall for four years. Fortunately, his friends were allowed to bring him food and he managed to survive. Raisuni was released from prison as part of a general clemency early in the reign of Sultan Abdelaziz - soon to become Raisuni's greatest enemy.[citation needed]

Outlaw and pirate[edit]

Raisuni was hardened by his imprisonment, and returned to criminality after his release. However, he became more ambitious than before, growing to resent the Sultan's fealty to the various European powers - Britain, France, Spain and Germany - jockeying for influence in Morocco. With a small but devoted band of followers, Raisuni embarked on a second career: kidnapping prominent officials and holding them for ransoms.

Raisuni's first victim was Walter Burton Harris, an Englishman and correspondent for The Times who already knew Raisuni. Raisuni demanded not money, but the release of several of Raisuni's men held in prison; Harris was released after only three weeks captivity.

Many of Raisuni's other victims of this time were Moroccan military and political officials; his men only rarely kidnapped Europeans. In between kidnappings, Raisuni extorted 'tribute' from villagers in territories controlled by his followers, executing those who refused to pay. He also periodically maintained a small fleet of boats for seagoing piracy; however, he was less successful in this endeavor than in his kidnapping and extortion schemes.

Raisuni had a mixed reputation. He became known for his chivalry and respectful attitude towards his hostages; he pledged Ion Perdicaris that he would defend him from any harm, and was known to have befriended many of his other hostages. He was also known as a well-educated man who enjoyed reading any book he could, and was extremely generous to his family and followers.

However, towards those who were not worthy of ransom, emissaries of the Pasha and the Sultan, or those disloyal to him, he was known for cruelty. A favorite punishment of Raisuni's was burning out an enemy's eyes with heated copper coins. On one occasion, he returned the head of an envoy to the Pasha in a basket of melons.

The Perdicaris incident[edit]

In 1904, Raisuni was propelled onto the international stage when he kidnapped the Greek-American expatriate Ion Perdicaris and his stepson Cromwell Varley and held them for a ransom of $70,000 ($2,110,000 in 2021).[5][6] American President Theodore Roosevelt, then running for re-election, made political capital out of the incident, sending a squadron of warships to Morocco to force Abdelaziz's compliance with Raisuni's demands, famously proclaiming "Perdicaris Alive or Raisuli Dead!"[5][7]

After a near-confrontation between the government of Morocco and troops of the United States of America, Raisuni received his ransom money and concessions; he was appointed Pasha of Tangier and Governor of Jibala province, and all of his imprisoned followers were released. However, Raisuni was ousted from the post in 1906 due to corruption and cruelty to his subjects; a year later he was again declared an outlaw by the Moroccan government.[citation needed]

Shortly after his dismissal, Raisuni kidnapped Sir Harry "Caid" Maclean, a British army officer serving as a military aide to the Sultan's army. Raisuni ransomed Maclean for £20,000 from the British government (£2,290,000 in 2021).[8]

Later years[edit]

For years, Raisuni continued to antagonize the Moroccan government, even after Abdelaziz's forced abdication.[citation needed] He briefly regained favor with the Moroccan government, by siding with Mulay Hafid's overthrow of Abdelaziz, and was restored again as Pasha of Tangier. However, at the instigation of the Spanish government, the Sultan removed Raisuni from his post in 1912.[citation needed]

In 1913, Raisuni led several Rif tribes in a bloody revolt against the Spanish, and continued a protracted guerilla war against them. His men were finally defeated by Colonel Manuel Fernández Silvestre on 3 October 1919 in the Battle of Fondak Pass, although Raisuni and most of his troops managed to slip away.[9] Silvestre was later infamous as the Spanish commander at the Battle of Annual.

During World War I, Raisuni was reportedly in contact with agents of the German government to lead a tribal rebellion against France. Responding to these rumors, French troops launched a punitive expedition into Spanish Morocco in May 1915, which dispersed Raisuni's followers but failed to capture Raisuni himself.[10] In September 1922, and after an interview with Colonel José Villalba Riquelme and permission of the High Commissioner of Spain in Morocco, Ricardo Burguete, he submitted to the Spanish authorities and subsequently joined forces with the Spanish army in the Rif War of the 1920s.[11] This agreement was heavily criticized at the time as Raisuni's forces, heavily weakened by their conflict with Abd el Krim, were seen as on the verge of defeat.[11] Raisuni was intensely jealous of Abd el Krim and his growing popularity with the Rif peoples, hoping to gain control of Western Morocco with a Spanish victory.

In January 1925, after the Spanish army retreat to the Estella Line, Abd el Krim's followers attacked Raisuni's palace, killing most of his guards and capturing Raisuni.[12][13] He was jailed in Tamasint (near Al Hoceima), where he died by the end of April 1925, having suffered from dropsy (Edema) for several years. Rumors of his survival persisted, however, as Raisuni had been erroneously reported dead in 1914 and 1923. He is still regarded as a folk hero by many in Morocco, although his reputation is mixed at best.[4]

Portrayal in popular culture[edit]



A number of other works have been published about Raisuni, though many are now out of print.

  • Full-length biography of Raisuli written by Rosita Forbes: The Sultan of the Mountains: The Life Story of the Raisuli,[15] published the year of Raisuli's death (1925).
  • French historian I.S. Allouche published a collection of his correspondence with Raisuni in 1951.[citation needed]
  • Raisuni is also featured in Walter B. Harris's memoir: Harris, Walter Burton (1921). Morocco that was. W. Blackwood and sons. - Total pages: 333
  • Sheean, Vincent (1926). An American among the Riffi. The Century Company. - Total pages: 345
  • Woolman, David S. (1968). Rebels in the Rif: Abd el Krim and the Rif Rebellion. Stanford University Press. - Total pages: 257
  • A history of the Rif War in Porch, Douglas (2005). The Conquest of Morocco: A History. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. ISBN 9781429998857. - Total pages: 368



  1. ^ Forbes 1924, p. 29
  2. ^ TIME 1925a
  3. ^ Woolman 1968, p. 46
  4. ^ a b Porch 2005, p. 104
  5. ^ a b Simon 2001, pp. 34–36
  6. ^ The Star 1907, p. 2
  7. ^ TIME 1925
  8. ^ Weir 2008, p. 96
  9. ^ Eyre, Edward (1939). European Civilization, Its Origin and Development, Volume 7. Oxford University Press. p. 273.
  10. ^ The New York Times 1915, p. 2
  11. ^ a b Chandler 1975, p. 315
  12. ^ Reid Sarkees, Meredith; Whelon Wayman, Frank (2010). Resort to war: a data guide to inter-state, extra-state, intra-state, and non-state wars, 1816-2007. CQ Press. pp. 304. ISBN 9780872894341.
  13. ^ Chatterjee, Ramananda (1926). The Modern Review, Volume 40. Modern Review Office. p. 411.
  14. ^ Tuchman 1959, pp. 104–117
  15. ^ Forbes 1924


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