Moroccans in the Spanish Civil War

Episode 32 with Ali Al Tuma

Thousands of Moroccans fought on the Nationalist side in the Spanish Civil War, but few know what the experience was like for these men beyond propagandistic stereotypes.  Ali Al Tuma, one of the last researchers to be able to interview Moroccan veterans, discusses what he learned about why they joined and what their experiences were.  We also consider the Spanish perceptions of these Moroccan soldiers on both sides of the conflict and the accusations of atrocities leveled against them.

The Episode

The Guest

Ali Al Tuma received his doctorate at Leiden University in 2016. In 2018 he published his thesis on the Moroccan soldiers in the Spanish Army, titled: Guns, Culture and Moors. Racial Perceptions, Cultural Impact and the Moroccan Participation in the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939).  He also co-edited with Dr. Eric Storm a volume on Asian and African soldiers fighting in Europe titled: Colonial Soldiers in Europe, 1914-1945. ‘Aliens in Uniform’ in Wartime Societies (2016). Between 2017-2019 he worked at the United Nations University in Tokyo, researching military and justice aspects of the war in Iraq against the Islamic State organization. In addition to historical publications, he has written fictional works including an award-winning historical play: Yusuk Melik Ispanya (Yusuf King of Spain) (Sharjah, UAE, 2015) about the adventures of a reluctant Moroccan soldier during the Spanish Civil War.  He is currently a researcher at the Center for History at Sciences Po-Paris working for the European Research Council Project “Slave Voices” (headed by Prof. M’hamed Oualdi).

Suggested Reading

  • Azzuz Hakim, Mohammed Ibn. La actitud de los moros ante el Alzamiento. Marruecos 1936. Malaga: Algazara, 1997.
  • Balfour, Sebastian. Deadly Embrace. Morocco and the Road to the Spanish Civil War. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002.
  • Calderwood, Eric. Colonial Al-Andalus: Spain and the Making of Modern Moroccan Culture. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2018.
  • Madariaga, María Rosa de, Los moros que trajo Franco. La intervención de tropas coloniales en la Guerra Civil española. Barcelona: Martínez Roca, 2002.
  • Merroun, Mustapha el. Las tropas marroquíes en la Guerra Civil española. Madrid: Almena, 2003.
  • Mesa, José Luis de. Los moros de la Guerra Civil española. Madrid: Actas, 2004.
  • Sánchez Ruano, Francisco. Islam y Guerra Civil española. Moros con Franco y con la República. Madrid: Esfera de los Libros, 2004.
  • Tuma, Ali Al. Guns, Culture and Moors. Racial Perceptions, Cultural Impact and the Moroccan Participation in the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939. London and New York: Routledge, 2018.


  • Ben Mizzian, El General Moro. TVE (2009)
  • El laberinto marroquí. Intermedia Producciones (2007).

One comment

  1. Hi Foster, We were in touch a while back when I was trying to find out more about the Moroccan involvement in the Spanish Civil and hunt down an affordable copy of Deadly Embrace by Sebastian Balfour. It was great to see the episode of Historias drop this morning – I have listed and it is fascinating. You mentioned a listener had suggested this topic, I wonder if that was me, though probably it is of wider interest. I have been working on a podcast set in the Spanish Civil War for 25 years now (it was going to be a book!!). It is entirely fictional but it comes with a good dollop of history. One of my objectives is to inform about the war through fictional stories. I am also planning to release some parallel episodes consisting of interviews with experts on specific aspects of the war to give the historical angle on what my fictional characters are living through. I have got quite a nice roster of historians and podcasters lined up and after listening to your interview of Ali Al Tuma, I would love to get him on too. Do you think you could put me in touch with him? It would be much appreciated. The Moroccan side of things is so under-covered compared to other combatants’ experiences. It feels like every single member of the International Brigades wrote a memoir about their time in Spain but there just isn’t the wealth of first-hand accounts from the Moroccan soldiers. As you and Ali Al Tuma discussed, it is amazing that he managed to speak to old soldiers before they died. I have just ordered a copy of his book, which I look forward to reading very much. I did eventually get a copy of Deadly Embrace through a bit of jiggery-pokery. I used to work for OUP and I wrote a blog for them and they paid me in the book. Thanks for all the podcasts, but specifically this one. All the best, Luke



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