“Brother” North: Morocco’s Involvement in the Spanish Civil War
Summary of the essay “El abrazo mortal de Franco: La participación de las tropas marroquíes en la Guerra Civil Española,” which earned an Honorary Mention in the Undergraduate category for the 2012 Watt Award.
Although the Spanish Civil war is an extensively studied topic, the role of Spain’s neighboring country Morocco in this conflict still requires attention. This body of research highlights the situation of Spanish Morocco before and during the Spanish Civil War and examines how it contributed to the battle. The original work fully explores this relationship by framing the historical background of Spanish-Moroccan relations, the creation of distinct Moroccan troops and armies, the growth of conservative ideology in Morocco, the contributions of the Moroccan troops in the Spanish Civil War, and finally, highlights the consequences that this Moroccan militant presence had on Morocco and in peninsular Spain.
Spain had a weak presence in Morocco for centuries until the humiliating losses incurred at the end of the 19th century with the Spanish-American war made Morocco the final foreign Spanish territory. Although Spanish Morocco offered little financial gain to mainland Spain, many officials were determined to maintain it. From the first moment these officials entered Spanish Morocco, two separate groups emerged: Las Africanistas (African-ists) and Las Africanomilitaristas (African-militarists). Las Africanistas dedicated themselves to the study of the Moroccan people and established positive relationships with the locals. Las Africanomilitaristas took advantage of these relationships with the goal of expanding commerce under a clandestine agenda of strengthening their conservative ideology.
Spanish officials in Morocco established three distinct troops that entered the Spanish Civil War unified under the name of El Ejército de África (Army of Africa): La Policía Indígena (Indigenous Police) which grew into Las Regulares (The Regulars), Los Legionarios (The Legionaries), and the Mehalas Jalifianas (Halifian Troops).
Prior to the Spanish Civil War, Morocco served as a cradle for fascist ideology. Franco began his military career in Morocco, emerging from the Rif War as a hero. Franco expanded Los Legionarios and Los Regulares, promising higher salaries and assistance for the soldier’s families. The legitimate Spanish government rarely supervised Spanish-Moroccan activities, and the fascist forces manipulated anti-republican sentiment to increase enlistment. Acknowledging this history, it is not a coincidence that the Spanish Civil War was declared in Spanish Morocco on July 17th 1936.
In the actual conflict, the Ejército de África played a decisive role in various crucial battles that lead to the dictatorship of Franco. The first group of soldiers arrived in Cádiz in July 1936, and was the beginning of what would total 80,000 Moroccan soldiers fighting in peninsular Spain. These same men were instructed to terrorize villages upon arrival of the fascist forces. This was a deliberate decision by the fascist forces to relate the barbaric side of the war with the re-emergence of the mythical image of the “maligno moro” (dangerous Moor) of the re-conquest period of Spanish history. While the Moroccan soldiers committed war atrocities, the fascist army planted fear in Spanish citizens’ hearts and demonstrated its power without staining the reputation of the government that would emerge following the war.
The use of Moroccan soldiers had destructive effects in the homeland. It created rifts within the Moroccan communities themselves, dividing villages into those who sympathized with the Spanish colonizer or those who fought for Moroccan nationalism, created greater poverty, and isolated young marriageable women who lacked a male guardian to sign their marriage certificates.
In conclusion, although the Spanish Civil War took place in peninsular Spain, it is necessary to highlight the participation of the Ejército de África in this historical event. One cannot determine whether history would have ended differently without the contribution of the Moroccan troops, however we cannot forget the enormous sacrifices that Spanish Morocco and its people made to the advancement of fascism in Spain.
Minda Jerde is a student at Pacific Lutheran University.