Restoring the (unwelcome?) past in the High Atlas

28 06 2010

“Born in 1879 to the caid – or baron – of Telouet and his Ethiopian concubine, el-Glaoui’s fortunes rose in 1893 when he and his brother saved the sultan from a blizzard and starvation after he got stuck in the mountains on a tax-gathering expedition.”

Thus reads an excerpt from a fascinating piece posted to the BBC News website today about a controversial Moroccan leader whose memory continues to elicit varied responses today.

Yes, they have blizzards in Morocco, whose formidable Atlas Mountains trap moisture rolling off the Atlantic to the North African nation’s benefit, leaving the northern Sahara Desert in their wake.

Kasbah Jbel Toubkal, High Atlas Mountains, Morocco

Throughout history the natural defences provided by mountains have helped countless strongmen consolidate power over isolated alpine realms. Here is a rare case where such a leader was able to translate his mountain fiefdom into considerable power not only in the surrounding lowlands, but internationally as well.

Today, some local parties have undertaken the task of restoring the Pasha’s long-neglected palace to its former glory. Such a project is sure to face more than mere ambivalence from residents of the impoverished valley. Many would certainly welcome the tourism revenues. Reviving the memory of such controversial figures is rarely an easy task, however, particularly in a region where many current residents are descendants of the Pasha’s slaves.

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