Mohamed Sheikh SBAI, last Lion of the Desert

«Mohamed Ali, I leave you the keys and convey my greetings to Lehjeila «, followed very emotional hugs…» On her sublime face, freshly shaved, after the operation that it had suffered with success at the Agdal in Rabat clinic, tears in the eyes, I've never felt as beautiful smell.

 We are Saturday, January 29, 2005, I had to travel the most painful of my life, the longest, not in terms of kilometers but of emotions. This journey saw us leaving the sinister Ouarzazate hospital, Friday, January 28 around 3 p.m., after several discussions with doctors, brothers, sisters, revolving around a single question: was it necessary to bring my father, the lion of the desert, almost unconscious, due to complications cardiac acute, at a clinic in Marrakech or better equipped Rabat. In a moment of lucidity, my father told me, on a clear tone: Mohamed Ali, was released me from here. I did not hesitate a moment to organize within the hour that followed his transfer, first in Marrakesh, then in Rabat.

 While I crossed the atlas, flashed in my head the main stages of the life of this great man that I was sometimes privileged witness being special relations binding ourselves often beyond father-son to rank in a friendship out of standard. One day of summer 1995 in Switzerland, while was is relaxing on a terrace overlooking the beautiful Lake, in a burst of happiness, joy and humor, it me called, no doubt to put me at ease: Mohamed Ali, a father often chooses a friend among his sons. Message received five out of five. It rarely even laughed and joked. He was a consummate art to add a touch of humor to more serious discussions, often respond by metaphor, proverb, or image that made superfluous any explanation… He had a concern delicate to put his audience at ease, not taking them top, not playing the preacher and caring, constantly, the accuracy and relevance of the facts that he declined an inimitable tone!

I understood why Lehjeila, my mother, woman settled, polyglot, having mastered everything that can be acquired as knowledge in the desert, has set his sights on you while she was approached by wealthy nomads, more literate, as families Sid El Madani and Sidi El Konti, who felt that this light must remain in the circle of the ulema (people of knowledge). Had not reckoned with the strong character and vision of this young Bedouin landing to me hamid, on his camel Maria, at the end of the 1940s, after a journey of several weeks that it has carried out Bir Umm Grein in Mauritania until me hamid. His trusted friends, including his sister Guabel, she said she has not seen someone like Mohamed Cheikh, everything she crossed the desert. What tribute!

At the end of the operation carried out, Saturday, January 29, 2005, by Professor Chaâra of the Agdal clinic, it told me its success and asked me to follow the request of my father to see me. Surprised to see it lying on his bed, in another State, smiling and bright, it me greeted with this sentence which shocked me: I knew that whoever has such a treasure, is not lost. Happiness and joy, I him tight against me and tell him, embarrassed: it is you treasure. We spent nearly three timeless hours I can never describe, and for good reason. In his voice, I felt the serenity of one who was prepared to leave an ephemeral world to eternity… By sliding her hand in mine, at the end of this last trip together, he told me: I will leave the keys and kiss Lehjeila (her daughter). I immediately éclipsai me to catch my flight to Geneva with a sense of accomplishment, after the success of the operation, but with a heavy responsibility for its enigmatic message. Which keys got it passed? And how to use it? On the plane, I blacked out a slip of a few lines, to free myself from the embrace of two issues that interrupted, constantly scrolling events in my memory.

 Two weeks later, on February 13, 2005, this legend died peacefully in the heart of the Atlas, Taddert 90 KMS South of Marrakech, gently reciting soorat al-'Azzalzala, the earthquake': when the Earth, delivers his testimony on the action of men, in the last judgment! A land where he returned, next to his family: his father Sidi Ladharam, her mother Lalla Steira and his first wife Lehjeila, my mother, buried near the mausoleum of Sidi Khalil Es-Sabga, his grandfather, the wandering saint. The wandering? Because Sidi Khalil, one of the most learned minds of the desert, realized very early that wandering in the middle of animals, several years during, he had more chance to unravel the mysteries of life, away from the greed of men… A t – it succeeded? He left with his secret with his grandson, Mohamed Cheikh, in captured certainly something… The legends continue to fuel debate on the mysteries of the communion between man and the animal, like the iconic history of Saint Francis of Assisi lived on another continent, several centuries earlier!  

This Sunday, February 13, 2005, I lost a father or a friend. Certainly the two.


Mohamed Sheikh Sam joined his creator on February 13, 2005

Newspaper Al Attihad AlIchtiraki February 14, 2005

 Came the moment, finally, to blacken a few pages in his memory in which jostling images, events and reflections, with filigree this still current issue: how to tell the bulk, without falling into the anecdotal? Also, allowing new generations to have looking lucid and objective on the history of Morocco, from 1953 to 2005, through the course of this lion of the desert which, early on, has debunked man especially when it has the power or claims to have other men!

Mohamed Sheikh who ignored all the challenges to say, by pride, that a man is on the Earth or under the Earth. You the lion of the desert, the man who has fought against the arrogance of power of Hassan II and who challenged, whenever he had to be on the side of justice, people power and fears, and all time good believer, the unique power, that of God, the Almighty. Yes, you told me, with your piercing glance: my son, the one who fears God feared person and one who does not fear God feared everyone. What sense of verticality, Mohamed Sheikh, son of Sid El Abbas, Ojha Sidi Khalil Es-Saih, the wandering Saint, and Lalla Steira, Holy, that have transmitted you certainly SAP the faith and the nobility. Your challenges legendary any drift of people power in your region and even nationally, when it became clear in the 1960s, after the disprition of your friend Mehdi Ben Barka, that your camp is now of those who were going to suffer a black Decade (1965-1975) of repression and marginality. Paradoxically, these are the years which are gushing out from my memory the most beautiful and the strongest memories with you.

 To understand what follows, it is important to describe me m'hamid El Ghizlane, stronghold of Mohamed Cheikh, through three contexts: geographic, ethnic and historical by elsewhere related.

 Me hamid El Ghizlane is located at the elbow of the Draa River, the long river of the same name, 250 kms Southeast of Ouarzazate, to the door of the desert and giving access to the large caravan tracks leading from southern Morocco to Timbuktu, in the South, and to Mauritania, to the Southwest. This strategic position gave him a historic role in the conquest of Saharan and sub-Saharan spaces by the different Moroccan empires, particularly at the time of the Saadian where me hamid has had its golden age representative the beachhead of the armies of Ahmed Al Mansour to the South. At that time, the currency of the empire Saadien was struck at Kasbet Laalouj, near me hamid and a large Customs was installed filtering caravan traffic from the Morocco to Timbuktu or coming from it. This is for geography. 

About the history of me hamid El Ghizlane, without going back very far, let's look at that of the French presence, the independence, the years of lead and the current Morocco, at the crossroads, in the context of the Arab spring is trying to redraw the political map of a world coming out of close to half a century of lethargy, without knowing where he is going.

 Me hamid has had the privilege of being the last Moroccan point to fall, in 1932, under the present french protectorate in Morocco since 1912. This slowness is explained that du Maréchal Lyautey focused first on the useful Morocco around Rabat – Fez – Casablanca – Marrakech. 

 January 1932, the epilogue of the civil war that has bloodied me hamid 1930-1932 States finally with the arrival of the french who, after having pacified the Jbel Saghro and conquered without a problem the Draa Valley, were preparing to invest the largest Palm Grove of southern Morocco and strategically most important because it opens up their domination at the great Hamada du Draa to junction with the Iguidi region and Zegdou already conquered in Algeria nearby. This last episode was facilitated by the tribal war between the proud tribe of the Ait Kankuri, not least proud tribe of Arib or at least the part that is grouped around the Sidi Khalil, the Mystic marabout family nicknamed Saint Errant 'Sidi Khalil Essaieh'. The Arib tribe, from the Maaquil Arabs who conquered space desert of the Draa River at the beginning of the invasion (or conquest, according to) Arabic in the 8-9th centuries. Historians explain this presence of the Hamada du Draa region similar to their area of origin in Arabian peninsula and the Yemen: desert with oases where the opportunity to lead a similar life…

 The Ait Kankuri tribe is known for its warlike and domineering character. What earned him fear and believes in the southern part of the Morocco. Hunted by the French of the Saghrou and the Tafilalet region, Aït Faten are folded naturally on me hamid and its region, the only space not then conquered by the French and that his could present a nice contrast on these roumis miscreants and a den of harassment. However the main obstacle to overcome is to exclude the very powerful head of me hamid, Sidi Mohamed Ould Sidi Khalil, who reigns over all the desert space ranging from me hamid Zegdou and Tawdenni, the famous mine of salt along the caravan leading of M-hamid to Timbuktu. Sidi Mohamed is imposed on the French as principal interlocutor in this region and has signed an agreement of non-aggression, in 1926, to manage the region with them from me hamid and especially to monitor the trade caravan, very active, at the beginning of the century. Before the showdown with Sidi Mohamed, the powerful head of the Aït Kankuri, Moha Ould Akhrabich, attempted to bribe the Arib tribe factions that are sensitive to a fight against the French representing a threat to islam. This argument could touch the Legouassem faction, which is very sensitive to anything related to religion. They have never forgiven its arrangements with the French and its monopoly of the caravan trade to Sidi Mohamed. In 1927 all explosive ingredients were gathered into the bloody confrontation. Encouraged by the hostile attitude of a part of the inhabitants of the region towards Sidi Mohamed. Including Ouled Sahel to Tagounit, the me Drawa hamid, the blessed me hammed to Talha and part of the nomads of Arib and Nouaji blaming Sidi Mohammed his inhospitable attitude of Ait Kankuri, their powerful protectors and valiant fighters against the french. The absence of the latter in the region has opened the way, naturally, to the last civil war in this region.

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