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1554, when the Ottoman Empire briefly occupied the city of Fez

In January 1554, the Ottoman Empire and the Wattasids conquered the city of Fez and occupied it briefly before it was seized by the Saadi dynasty. The move was an attempt to add Morocco to its North Africa colony.

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During the 16th century, the Ottoman Empire had great yet alarming interest in Morocco. Ruled by the Saadi dynasty at the time, the Kingdom witnessed a number of attempts led by the Ottomans to include Morocco in their North African conquest.

Their attempts, however, were met with the great rejection of Mohammed ash-Sheikh, first sultan of the Saadi dynasty. Ash-Sheikh’s enmity against the Ottomans started after he conquered Fez, in 1549, causing the downfall of the Wattasids.

A few years later, Fez was reconquered by the Wattasids, but most importantly with the help of the Ottomans, who believed that the move would intimidate Ash-Sheikh. Before occupying Fez, the Ottomans attempted to make the Saadi sultan acknowledge the Ottoman’s «overlordship» through diplomacy.

In his book «A History of the Maghreb in the Islamic Period» (Cambridge University Press, 1987), Jamil M. Abun-Nasr recalled that in January 1552, a letter sent to Mohammed ash-Sheikh by the Ottomans «seems to indicate that the Ottoman government still hoped to be able to bring the Saadiyan sultan to recognize the overlordship of the Ottoman sultan through diplomacy».

Conquering Fez

The Ottomans' letter was not of high interest for the Saadis and they did not show any interest in cooperating with the Turks. The reaction of Saadis pushed the latter to have Ottoman privateer and admiral Salah Rais conquer Fez.

According to Abun-Nasr, Salah Rais «marched on Fez» and has «occupied it in the early months of 1554». After conquering the city, Rais left it ruled by Ali Abu Hassun, a Wattasid ruler who declared himself a vassal of the Ottomans.

The move, according to the same source, which intended to «intimidate Mohammed ash-Sheikh into submission, had the opposite effects».

Indeed, the Saadi sultan seized back Fez in September of the same year and started preparing for his revenge. The same book recalls that right after the reconquest of Fez, al-Sheikh «entered into negotiations» with Spain, which planned to drive the Ottomans out of the Maghreb altogether.

Having been able to occupy Fez only briefly and the latter reconquest of the city did not stop the Ottomans from trying again. In June 1557, the Ottomans sent an ambassador to Morocco to meet the Saadi sultan. The Turks demanded that al-Sheikh «should have prayer said and coins struck in the domains in the name of the Ottoman sultan».

The Moroccan sultan, who was assassinated in the same year because of that decision, outrageously refused the demand. Historical accounts suggest that Turkish officials who claimed to be deserters from the Ottoman army killed him.

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