The extent and speed of Madani (1866–1918) and T’hami el Glaoui’s (1879–1956) rise to power is remarkable. In the mid-nineteenth century, their family were simply local clan leaders, controlling an important Atlas pass between Marrakesh and the south but lacking influence beyond it. Their entrance into national politics began dramatically in 1893. In that year’s terrible winter, Sultan Moulay Hassan, on returning from a disastrous harka (subjugation or burning raid) of the Tafilalt, found himself at the mercy of the brothers for food, shelter and safe passage. With shrewd political judgement, they rode out to meet the sultan, feting him with every detail of protocol and, miraculously, producing enough food to feed the entire three-thousand-strong force for the duration of their stay.

The extravagance was well rewarded. By the time Moulay Hassan began his return to Marrakesh, he had given caid-ship of all the lands between the High Atlas and the Sahara to the Glaoui and, most important of all, was forced to abandon vast amounts of the royal armoury (including the first cannon to be seen in the Atlas) in Telouet. By 1901, the brothers had eliminated all opposition in the region, and when the French arrived in Morocco in 1912, the Glaoui were able to dictate the form of government for virtually all the south, putting down the attempted nationalist rebellion of El Hiba, pledging loyalty throughout World War I and having themselves appointed pashas of Marrakesh, with their family becoming caids in all the main Atlas and desert cities. The French were content to concur, arming them, as Gavin Maxwell wrote, “to rule as despots, [and] perpetuating the corruption and oppression that the Europeans had nominally come to purge”.

The Glaoui’s controversial alliance with the Protectorate continued over the next few decades, and in 1953 T’hami again played an influential part in the dethroning of a sultan, conspiring with the French to overthrow Mohammed V. It was his last act of betrayal. Within a few months of Mohammed V’s return to Morocco in 1955, T’hami was dead, his properties seized by the state and ultimately abandoned to the ravages of time.

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