The Alaouite Dynasty

Grave of Rabbi in the Jewish cemetary of Rissani, the desert town that was home to the first Alaouite ruler, Moulay Rachid.

The currently ruling Alaouite dynasty is a family of Arabs descended from the Prophet Mohammed. The first Alaouite ruler, Moulay Rachid, came from the southeast oasis of Tafilalet and took power from the Saadians in the 1660’s. According to a legend, he proved his worthiness to be Sultan by defeating a strong Jewish political leader and businessman in the mountains of eastern Morocco. Through capturing the caravan routes in eastern and western Morocco, Moulay Rachid was able to ensure the cooperation of Jewish traders in financing the new empire.

Moulay Ishmael succeeded Moulay Rachid in 1672 and completed the task of pacifying Morocco. He constructed his capital in the city of Meknes. During his 55 year reign, Jews were protected from violence, although they were taxed highly. In 1679, he forced the Jews to construct the Meknes mellah. Meknes attracted Jewish immigrants from throughout Morocco, and the mellah was relatively prosperous in the beginning of the 18th century. Elsewhere in the country, Jewish traders grew wealthy from increased trade with Europe and within Morocco.

After the death of Moulay Ishmael, Morocco fell into 30 years of anarchy. By the 1760’s, Moulay Mohammed was able to create some political stability. The Sultan increased the economic and political importance of the Jews through populating coastal cities with Jewish traders. He installed Jews in the Portuguese city of Mazagan (El Jadida) and created the port of Mogador (Essaouira). He declared that all trade was to go through Mogador, so that he could better control customs revenues. The Sultan asked wealthy Jewish families throughout the country to send family members to become traders in Mogador, where they received special financial treatment. Islamic law was applied liberally in Mogador, enabling Mogadorian Jews to be the first Moroccan Jews to dress in Western clothing.

When Moulay Mohammed died, his son, Moulay Yazid, succeeded him. Moulay Yazid had an intense hatred for the Jews and incited pogroms throughout the country between 1790 and 1792. He encouraged attacks on the mellahs of Tetouan and other cities. The worst treatment was reserved for Meknes and Fez. The Jews of Fez were forced to leave the mellah for two years. Marrakesh Jews also received an expulsion order, and their mellah was pillaged.