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The Rif and the Rifians: Problems of Definition

The Arabic term rif has the meanings both of 'cultivable land' and of 'seacoast' and is used to denote specific areas both in Egypt and in Morocco. In the Egyptian case it refers to the narrow strip of cultivable or arable land along the Nile and in the Moroccan one to the northern coastal range of mountains bordering the Mediterranean such that in one context one meaning is stressed and, in the other, the other comes to the fore. The poverty and infertility of the land in the Moroccan case and its overcultivation - to say nothing of its overpopulation (cf. Hart 1976) - are very real factors, but not ones which are built into the name itself.