The region of the Rif Mountains, situated between
the Mediterranean Sea in the north, Chefchaouen in the west, Al
Hoceima in the east and Taounate in the south, has had a turbulent
history, and has always resisted the imposition of outside authority.
The region was part of the bled as-siba, the "land of dissidence"
outside the Moroccan sultan's control, until its 1912 incorporation
into the Spanish protectorate of northern Morocco. Spain's colonial
armies, however, were devastated by the 1921-27 revolt of Muhammad
Abd Al-Karim, who united the area's Berber tribes and established
the independent Republic of the Rif. His poorly armed forces were
vanquished only by 360,000 French and Spanish soldiers sent to end
Later, tough Riffian guerrillas played an important part in the
anti-colonial struggles of 1955-56, but after independence the Hispano-Berber
Rif found itself excluded from corridors of power dominated by French
and Arabic speakers. In 1958 the region rose in rebellion against
the government in Rabat. A military expedition composed of two-thirds
of the Moroccan army led by then-Crown Prince Hassan landed at Al
Hoceima and overwhelmed the rebels. Since then Riffians have continued
to suffer from poverty and underdevelopment, and the Rif was the
scene of several civil disturbances in the 1980s.
Aside from its historical propensity for rebellion,
the Rif is best known as a source of kif or cannabis. For more than
100 years the Moroccan government has allowed (ignored) kif cultivation
in a limited area closely surrounding the village of Ketama. However,
the industry has grown in the past 10 years and farms now nearly
cover all the upper mountain ranges and much lowland as far as 75
miles from the once quiet Ketama. Fifteen years ago less than 500
sqaure miles were under hashish cultivation. Now, cultivation covers
more than 10,000 square miles and nearly every terraced field with
a source of water is filled with kif plants from spring to late
summer. Hashish is the only major product of the region and it is
one of the only crops that will grow here.