Alawite Dynasty

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Moroccan rulers since 1666.

The Alawite Dynasty is part of the greater sharifian Arab sultanate whose origins are in the Middle East. The Sadi and Alawi (Alawite) sharifians migrated to Morocco from the Arabian Peninsula and settled there as early as the thirteenth century. They claim to be descendants of the prophet Muhammad. The Sadi sharifians gained control over Morocco in the first half of the sixteenth century, wresting it from the former Wattasid rulers.

In 1666, the Sadi family branch lost power to its Alawite counterpart when the latter gained possession of Fez, then the Sharifian capital. Under the Sadi sultans, the country suffered from internal turmoil owing to endless disputes among local petty rulers. When the Alawite dynasty took charge, they curbed the excessive powers of these local rulers and restored the country's political unity. The challenges and achievements of the Alawites can best be
discussed in two periods, from the onset of their rule to the French protectorate, and from independence in 1956 to the present.

The founders of the Alawite dynasty, Mawlay Rashid (d. 1672), who undertook the early conquests, and Mawlay Ismaʿil (d. 1727), who consolidated the empire and established a new capital at Meknès, set up a national administration and a workable taxation system to guarantee the trade routes and defend against Christian incursions. They also established an army that proved responsive to the sultanate, not to any local or tribal group. In response to these imperatives, Mawlay Ismaʿil established a centralized administration and a Janissary-like national army of slaves (abid ) loyal to the person of the sultan. Muhammad III (d. 1790) emphasized the family's status as sharifs (nobles) and attempted to establish the regime's legitimacy on a religious basis as defenders of the Muslim community against the encroaching European infidels. Weaker successors eventually capitulated to European demands and, in 1912, France established a protectorate over Morocco and gave Spain control over the northern sector. Muhammad V (d. 1961) played an instrumental role in the independence process.

Following Morocco's independence, the Alawite regime experienced a different set of challenges in building a postcolonial state. Muhammad V and his successor, Hassan II, inherited a unified nation (despite Spanish possession of Ifni, the Western [Spanish] Sahara, Ceuta, and Melilla), a coherent administration, and a strong popular sense of the regime's legitimacy based on their defense of Moroccan nationalism and the king's position as imam of the Moroccan Muslim community as well as head of state. Their task was to build a modern developed state, ensure the loyalty of divided political and regional groups, deliver social services, and stimulate employment and economic development for a population with heightened expectations. A war in the Western Sahara to reclaim territory considered part of historical Morocco proved popular.

The regime's greatest weaknesses since independence in 1956 have been administrative corruption, periodic disaffection of segments of the armed forces, a limited national resource base, drought, and most important, an expanding population. The regime has been challenged by popular discontent, due in part to the severe strain on state resources as the regime has tried to meet the needs of a rapidly expanding population while at the same time satisfying

the alawite dynasty
Table by GGS Information Services, The Gale Group.
1. al-rashid16641672
2. isma'il16721727
3. ahmad al-dhahabi and17271728
4. abd al-malik[contested]
second reign of ahmad17281729
5. abd allah17291757
6. muhammad iii17571790
7. yazid17901792
8. sulayman17921822
9. abd al-rahman18221859
10. muhammad iv18591873
11. al-hassan i18731894
12. abd al-aziz18941908
13. abd al-hafidh19081912
14. yusuf19121927
15. muhammad v19271961
16. hassan ii19611999
17. muhammad vi1999 present

vital interest groups. By 2003, the population of Morocco exceeded 30 million. Initially, Hassan II, who ruled the country with a firm hand from March 1961 until his death in July 1999, countered his political opponents by imposing stiff prison sentences or by forcing them into exile. It was only in the early and mid-1990s that Hassan turned serious attention to domestic reforms and the nation's chronic social and economic problems. He laid the groundwork for modernization, privatization of the economy, and the fostering of trade relations with the European Union and the United States, and he tolerated the proliferation of human rights and women's rights groups. He also maintained, since the early 1960s, clandestine intelligence and military ties with Israel and he helped bring the Egyptians and Israelis together in 1977, leading to the historic visit of Egyptian president Anwar al-Sadat to Jerusalem. Upon his death, Crown Prince Sidi Muhammad (b. 1963), now Muhammad VI, succeeded him to the throne. He has shown a predilection for western-style reforms and the notion of a civil society. He is seeking to expand his father's embryonic reforms.

see also hassan ii; morocco; muhammad v.


Abun-Nasr, Jamil M. A History of the Maghrib, 2d edition. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1975.

Cigar, Norman, ed. and trans. Muhammad al-Qadiri's Nashr al Mathani: The Chronicles. Oxford, U.K.: Oxford University Press, 1981.

Laroui, Abdallah. The History of the Maghrib: An Interpretative Essay, translated by Ralph Manheim. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1977.

Laskier, Michael M. "A Difficult Inheritance: Moroccan Society under Muhammad VI." Middle East Review of International Affairs 7, no.3 (September 2003), 120.

Laskier, Michael M. Israel and the Maghreb: From Statehood to Oslo. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2004.

Pennell, C. R. Morocco since 1830: A History. New York: New York University Press, 2000.

Terasse, Henri. "Alawis." In Encyclopedia of Islam, 2d edition. Leiden: Brill, 1978.

Donna Lee Bowen

Updated by Michael M. Laskier