Abd el-Krim was born in the small settlement of Ajdir, across Alhucemas Bay from the Spanish army’s island presidio of Peñón de Alhucemas. Ajdir belonged to the Aït Youssef Ou Ali faction of the Beni Urriaguel family, the largest and most-populous Berber group in the Rif. Abd el-Krim’s father was a literate and learned man who had significant influence both within and outside his faction, and in the 1880s he was named a qāḍī (Islamic judge) by Moroccan Sultan Muley Hasan. As early as 1902, Abd el-Krim’s father was designated a moro amigo (“friendly Moor”) by Spanish military authorities, and he eventually received a monthly stipend for providing the Spanish with local intelligence and supporting their cause in the central Rif. That relationship would continue for a number of years, bringing benefits for his family but also the deep distrust of some of his fellow Berbers.
Abd el-Krim’s initial education was provided exclusively by his father; in 1902 he was sent to the traditional madrasah (university) of al-Qarawīyīn in Fès, where he studied Islamic law and classical Arabic grammar and literature for two years. In 1906, as a result of his father’s ties with the Spanish, he secured a teaching post at a Melilla primary school for young Moroccan males, a position he would hold until 1913. Additionally, in 1907 he was hired to edit and write articles in Arabic for El Telegrama del Rif, a daily newspaper in Melilla. There he defended the advantages of European—especially Spanish—civilization and technology and their potential to elevate the economic and cultural level of the Moroccan population. His association with El Telegrama lasted until 1915. In 1910 Abd el-Krim took a position as secretary-interpreter in the Native Affairs Office in Melilla, which brought him into close contact with the Spanish military bureaucracy and the town’s civil society. In that post he gained a reputation for intelligence, efficiency, and discretion.
With the establishment of the Spanish protectorate in November 1912, Abd el-Krim’s