The Currently Ruling Alaouite Dynasty

Mourners at the Jewish cemetery in Tetuan, early 20th Century. 

Beth Hatefutsoth, Photo Archive, Tel Aviv. 

Courtesy of Roger Violett Collection, Paris.

The currently ruling Alaouite dynasty is a family of Arabs descended from the Prophet Mohammed, giving them both secular and religious authority. It has been in place since the 1660's. Until the late 18th century, except for a few years, Jews were protected from violence, although they were taxed highly. A few elite Jews were given the monopoly on external trade. At times, they provided the majority of taxes collected by the monarchy.

Jewish-Muslim relationships were characterized by contrasts: scorn and friendship, conflict and harmony, and safety amidst precarious environmental conditions. Many Jews had a profound sense of isolation, living in their mellahs. Rabbis and rich community leaders exercised significant control over their lives. Community leaders were responsible for ensuring that the terms of their protected status were honored, ensuring peace, obedience and order. They supervised the courts in which judges administered law in civil cases involving members of the community, and they reconciled other disagreements. They could also take cases to the Muslim caid. Under the French protectorate, the authorities selected Jewish community committee members from among the rich.

As one commentator put it, "Jews and Muslims coexisted and cross-fertilized, sharing the same values of civilization. While there were problems, overall the relationship between Jews and Muslims over five centuries has been positive. Moroccans have learned to be tolerant, to engage in dialogue and search for compromise. Muslims were generally polite to Jews. Neighbors visit Jews on their holidays. Jews visit Muslim neighbors. While a policy of discrimination and humiliation prevailed, and there were incidents of violent persecution, on the whole, Jews fared better under Islam than under Christianity."  (Mark R. Cohen, "The Neo-Lachrymose Conception of Jewish-Arab History," Tikkun Volume 6 No. 3.)

Jews played a role in the power struggle and mutual distrust between Arabs and Berbers. To engage in commerce, Jews would travel from the Arab cities controlled by the Sultan to the Berber rural areas outside of his control. They had to secure protection from both sides in return for payment in cash and or services. Both Arabs and Berbers considered it a privilege to protect Jewish traders. Jews were given articles of clothing, which were used to identify them and protect them when they traveled. Patrons who allowed clients to be harmed were shamed, as were those who mistreated their clients. Jewish clients provided services, such as lending money or producing crafts, to their patrons.

In February 1860, Spain prepared to invade the northern city of Tetouan, in efforts to extend its political influence. Tribes and unruly soldiers attacked the mellah, to protest the impotence of the Sultan against the Spanish. The entire city was pillaged the following day to prevent the Spanish from benefiting from Jewish wealth. After Tetouan was returned to Moroccan control in 1862, the Jewish population feared it would be attacked, given the close business relationships between some Jews and the Spanish. Taking advantage of this sentiment, European consulates encouraged the Sultan to protect Jews in Tetouan and throughout the country, because they saw the Jews as potential allies in increasing European financial, commercial and political control over Morocco.

Decree of Sultan Sidi Mohammed IV                                                                                      Home