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Mulai Ahmed er Raisuni

Mulai Ahmed er Raisuni (Arabic: "مولاي أحمد الريسوني", known as Raisuli to most English speakers, also Raissoulli, Rais Uli and Raysuni) (b. 1871,[1] Zinat, Tétouan – d. April 1925,[2] Tamasint, Al Hoceima[3]) 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 regarded by foreigners and the Moroccan government as a brigand, some Moroccans, especially among the Jbala, 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."[4] 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.[5] He died in 1925 after having been captured and imprisoned by his rival Abd el Krim.


  • Early life 1
  • Outlaw and Pirate 2
  • The Perdicaris Incident 3
  • Later years 4
  • Portrayal in popular culture 5
  • References 6
  • External links 7

Early life

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. Due to his place of origin and his reportedly handsome visage, one of his other nicknames was "the Eagle of Zinat." 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.

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. 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 - ironically, soon to become Raisuni's greatest enemy.

Outlaw and Pirate

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

In 1904, Raisuni was propelled onto the international stage during what was to be known as the "Perdicaris Incident." This is when he kidnapped the Greek-American expatriate Ion Perdicaris and his stepson Cromwell Varley and held them for a ransom of $70,000. 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!"

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.

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.[6]

Later years

For years, Raisuni continued to antagonize the Moroccan government, even after Abdelaziz's forced abdication. 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.

In 1913, Raisuni led several Rif tribes in a bloody revolt against the Spanish, and continued a sanguine guerilla conflict against them for almost eight years. His men were finally defeated by Colonel Manuel Fernandez Silvestre, 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.[7]

In September 1922,[8] and after an interview with Colonel José Villalba Riquelme he submitted to the Spanish authorities and subsequently was one of Spanish leaders in the Rif War of the 1920s. He 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, Krim's followers attacked Raisuni's palace, killing most of his guards and capturing Raisuni. He was jailed in Tamasint (near Al Hoceima), where he died by the end of April 1925, having suffered from dropsy 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.

Portrayal in popular culture

He was portrayed by Sean Connery in the heavily fictionalized 1975 film The Wind and the Lion, which was filmed in Spain by the American director John Milius. Milius drew largely on an American Heritage magazine article by Barbara W. Tuchman,[9] as well as a full-length biography of Raisuli written by Rosita Forbes: The Sultan of the Mountains: The Life Story of the Raisuli,[10] published the year of Raisuli's reputed death.

A number of other works have been published about Raisuni, though many are now out of print. French historian I.S. Allouche published a collection of his correspondence with Raisuni in 1951. Raisuni is also prominently featured in Walter B. Harris's memoir Morocco That Was (1921), Vincent Sheean's An American Upon the Riffi (1926), and David S. Woolman's Rebels in the Rif: Abd l-Krim and the Rif Rebellion (1968), a history of the Rif War and Douglas Porch's The Conquest of Morocco (2005).


  1. ^ Forbes, Rosita. The Sultan of the Mountains: The Life of Story of Raisuli (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1924), p. 29
  2. ^ TIME Magazine Article of 17 August 1925
  3. ^ Qabila of the Rif (p. 37
  4. ^ Woolmann, Rebels in the Riff (Stanford: University Press, 1968), 46
  5. ^ Porch, Douglas. The Conquest of Morocco (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux Company, 2005), p. 107
  6. ^ Page on Maclean
  7. ^ "Raisuli Busy for Germany." New York Times, May 27th, 1915, p. 2
  8. ^ The Encyclopedia of World History; 2001
  9. ^ "Perdicaris Alive or Raisuli Dead!", American Heritage August 1959; later republished in Tuchman's compilation book Practicing History: Selected Essays (1981), pp. 104-117
  10. ^ page on Forbes' book
  • David Bensoussan, Il était une fois le Maroc : témoignages du passé judéo-marocain, éd. du Lys,, Montréal, 2010 (ISBN 2-922505-14-6.)Second edition :, Bloomington, IN, 2012, ISBN 978-1-4759-2608-8, 620p. ISBN 978-1-4759-2609-5 (ebook);

External links

  • The Capital Century: 1904: 'Perdicaris alive or Raisuli dead!'
  • Brief Time Magazine Article from 1925
  • Testimonial of Walter Harris, kidnapped by Raisuli in 1903, on Virtual Tangier
  • , 1907Daily MailThe Real Raisuli: Article from the London
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