The Qaids and the Dispossession of Tribes in “Intra-colonial” Morocco, part 1

By Mohammed Maarouf *

Up to the protectorate period, the traditional form of state (Makhzen) governed Morocco with an administrative system based on the participation of regional mandarins called qaids. The periphery land named by colonial anthropology blad siba (land of dissidence) existing beyond the pale was set in contrast with blad l-Makhzen (the land of the pale), the agriculturally rich and economically exploitable regions under the central control of the sultanate (such land during the Protectorate was named ‘le Maroc utile’). Blad siba, from the colonial economics perspective, referred to the geographical zones and entities (mountain chains and the pre-Sahara) sporadically under the control of the Makhzen (such land during the Protectorate was named ‘le Maroc unitile’). And because such vast territories were remote from the direct control of the centralized rule of the Makhzen, powerful qaids were appointed there to govern tribes, collect taxes and supervise the agricultural production.

In blad siba, the tradition said that the jma‘a (tribal assembly) ran the agricultural, social and relational affairs of the tribe. As Gellner maintained, this was “a structural rather than an ideological democracy.” In Pierre Bourdieu’s terms, it was lived democracy – ‘démocratie vécue’ – (cit. in Gellner, 1969, p. 28). Reading Montagne from a postcolonial perspective, one actually laments the decline of the tribal democracy in such times and the appearance of despotic figures like qaids who shattered the unity of tribes and thrust them in the yoke of oppression.

We ask the question with Gellner, could it have been plausible to make a direct transition from tribal democracy to modern democratic local government in Morocco (Gellner, 1969, p. 27)? But tribal democracy incorporated within itself its own transgressive politics. It was challenged by the appearance of a single powerful figure ruling the tribe under the title of amghar. Montagne defines the amghar as follows: ” ‘Amghar’, pl. ‘Imgharen’. Nom verbal provenant de la racine Mghr, être grand par taille, l’age, la situation sociale … le mot arabe ‘chikh’ traduit très exactement le mot berbère ‘amghar’. Dans certaines régions de l’Atlas occidental (Mzouda par exemple) on désigne les notables sous le nom d’Inmoghorn, tiré de la même racine. ” (1930, p. 271).

How did the amghar (the notable) acquire leadership? The jma‘a (collective assembly of the tribe) was a tribal institution made up of members belonging to the powerful families in the tribe. A chief was elected by the members of the board amid a fierce struggle among all the rest to defend their own interests. The scramble for the position of head ( muqaddem) of the jma‘a always ended with the designation of the chief who had enough support from the members of the assembly.

After several years of exercising locally administrative and judicial functions, the chief seized the opportunity to get rid of the title of muqaddem and declared himself the leader of the tribe, thus acquiring the title of amghar. ” Dans toutes les tribus, même là où les institutions oligarchiques ou démocratiques sont le plus complètement acceptées, des chefs s’élèvent par instant au-dessus des titres d’amghar à fonder par la violence ce que de Foucauld a justement appelé le pouvoir despotique ” (Montagne, 1930, p. 269).

To reinforce his power, the amghar implemented two antagonistic policies towards the jma‘a and the Makhzen. He promised the jma‘a that he would spare them the burden of taxation and thus reinforced his chiefdom upon them, and at the same time, served the interests of the Mahkzen to gain its favor. Thus the Makhzen started looking for amghars to attract them to its camp by nominating them by dahirs as qaids (Halim 2000, p. 145).

The purpose was to weaken the unity of the tribes and maintain them under control as tax-levied units. Montagne argued that the Makhzen sought to obliterate all signs of jma‘a: “L’unité était jadis un canton, ancienne “taqbilt” indépendante formée d’un certain nombre de mouda‘ ou de jema‘a, aux dimensions presque constantes. A présent, les tribus sont divisées arbitrairement en tiers, en quarts, cinquièmes ou unités plus petites encore qui n’ont plus d’autre fonction que de faciliter la répartition des impôts ” ( 1930, p. 377).

Let us consider the example of the tribes of Zayan situated in the heart of the Middle Atlas. They were living autonomous far from Blad l-Makhzen. To annex these tribes to its jurisdiction and make them liable to its taxation, the Makhzen saw in Moha ou Hammou, the amghar of the Zayani tribes, the ideal chief to be converted into an agent / qaid of the Makhzen. Nominated by the Sultan Mulay Al Hassan as qaid of Zayan, Moha brought the whole area under the Makhzen’s control. To quote Montagne’s words, the Makhzen was but an oppressive apparatus that suppressed the volition of tribes and their sense of collectivism:

Telles sont les aspects principaux de la politique et l’organisation du makhzen dans ses relations avec les tribus berbères du Sud du Maroc. Lourde machine qui écrase le pays et fait disparaître les dernières traditions que les chefs autochtones avaient respectées, efface les limites des cantons, le souvenir des alliances anciennes, et ne laisse plus bientôt, en face du Sultan qu’une foule anonyme de sujets dont le rôle unique est de payer l’impôt. (Montagne, 1930, p. 379).

Though there may be an element of truth in what Montagne claims, the Makhzen emerges from a de-colonial perspective, as Laouri maintains, not only as an oppressive machine but as a court of law perpetuating social order and preventing clashes and tribal conflicts.

Yet, there was a divide-and-rule sharifian politics aimed at governing with the least resistance from the tribes. The more the tribes were fractioned into small units governed by amghars nominated as qaids, the more effective the silos style of command operated. Maintaining the country in a provisional order was an effective style of ruling for the Makhzen since it undermined the power of tribes and their chiefs as well as lubricated the process of tax-collection.

*Dr. Mohammed Maarouf, Chouaib Doukkali University, Morocco