Situated at the edge of the Rif, OUEZZANE traditionally formed the border between the Bled es-Makhzen (the governed territories) and the Bled es-Siba (those of the lawless tribes). As such, the town was an important power base, and particularly so under the last nineteenth-century sultans, when its local sheikhs became among the most powerful in Morocco.
Ouezzane is also a place of pilgrimage for Moroccan Jews, who come here twice a year (April & Sept) to visit the tomb of Rabbi Amrane Ben Diwane, an eighteenth-century Jewish marabout buried in a Jewish cemetery north of town.
Ouezzane’s sheikhs – the Ouezzani – were the spiritual leaders of the influential Tabiya brotherhood. They were shereefs (descendants of the Prophet) and came in a direct line from the Idrissids, the first and founding dynasty of Morocco. This however, seems to have given them little significance. In the eighteenth century, Moulay Abdallah es-Shereef established a zaouia at Ouezzane, which became a great place of pilgrimage.
Until the beginning of the twentieth century Jews and Christians were allowed to take only temporary residence in the town. However, in 1877, an Englishwoman, Emily Keane, married the principal shereef, Si Abdesslem. The marriage was, of course, controversial. For several decades she lived openly as a Christian in the town, and is credited with introducing vaccinations to Morocco. Her Life Story, published in 1911 after her husband’s death, ends with the balanced summing up: “I do not advise anyone to follow in my footsteps, at the same time I have not a single regret.” She is commemorated in St Andrew’s Church in Tangier.