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Sheikh Merin (1090-1137), a somewhat trivial character in this timeline, was a wealthy merchant in Algeria during the latter stages of Almohavid rule over the Maghreb. An anti-monarchist and reformer, it was the influence of Sheikh Merin that allowed the ascendancy of young Muwahhid Abdul Yusuf and the Almohad Kingdom.
Sheikh Merin started his life as the son of an unimportant Berber chieftain from a strain of the Merinids - sympathisers of the old Mauretanian regime which was extinguished in 1061. Leaving his ancestral home aged 16, he ventured into the world of finance in Algeria's finest cities. He was so successful that before long, his name was known by almost every financial mind in the Maghreb.
Influences in the Civil War
Merin had no quarrel with his Almoravid rulers until the pinnacle of the reign of Murabit Yusuf Tariq II, whose extreme incompetence had caused widespread corruption in the administration and the guilds of the cities. It was here that Merin became agitated, and set on the course for reform, which was ultimately ended with his assassination.
Merin's understanding of the political situation in the Maghreb was sound - and it is to this that the success of future revolution against Almoravid rule can be mainly attributed. Though a weak minded ruler, Murabit Yusuf Tariq II still commanded a powerful position, particularly over the army, which had remained since the days of Murabit Yusuf Khalifah the main political force in the area. Violence could easily be quelled by violence; therefore Sheikh Merin employed instead his influence among the merchant class. In March 1130, Sheikh Merin organised a boycott of salt, over which the Murabit family had traditionally maintained their monopoly, in an attempt to force the issue of reform in government. After a while, however, the crippling loss of profit margins, combined with increasing punutive legislation from Yusuf Tariq's government, forced Merin's hand. The salt boycott was relieved in September, causing a relent by Yusuf Tariq over some of the tougher legislative measures inflicted by the government on the merchant class. To all intents and purposes, however, the situation was much the same as it had been before.
The Rebellion of 1131
Sentiments had lightened little over the course of the year, and in March 1131, the Grand Sharifate implemented a new tax to pay for a war with the Songhai. Sheikh Merin was not at all pleased by these developments, but nonetheless the tax was levied - and the armies of the Almoravid Empire went to war. Murabit Yusuf Tariq II was at their head, and they penetrated deep into Songhai territory. Whilst the Almoravid monarch moved, however, Sheikh Merin and his allies were planning. Luck was on their side; Yusuf Tariq had left little in the way of provision for defence at home. The elderly regency council - left more to restrain the young Murabit Yusuf Tariq than to do anything useful - were hardly much of a challenge on their own.
It was at the end of April that Sheikh Merin finally made his move. Having gathered his forces from the disaffected areas of the Algerian coast, he was joined by his brother, Sheikh Abu Wad, accompanied by an army from the Merinid hinterland. The turn of the month saw the brothers march into Bougie, where they were greeted by a storm of popularity from the merchant class. A short battle outside the walls of the town with the levies of the Almoravid governor saw the rise to fame of Muwahhid Abdul Yusuf, who's daring lead of a small force of light troops shook the morale of the Almoravids. Sheikh Merin saw the value of young officers such as Abdul and, in return for a protestation of loyalty to the Merinid cause, Muwahhid Abdul Yusuf was given the command of a small army.
Aftermath of War with the Songhai
Meanwhile, Merin's spies reported to him the defeat of the Almoravid army at the battle of Fort Niger. This was swiftly followed by the return of the Grand Sharif who, seeing the turmoil in his domains, fell on his sword in despair. It is true that all the major centres of power in on the coast of Algeria were in the hands of the rebels - and that the Berber hinterland was entirely in the sway on insurrection. Carthage remained quiet in her neutrality - and though the Tunisian provinces of the empire were held by Murabit Yusuf Abu Saed (father of the future Sheikh of Kairuoan), it was only by very tenuous means.
The news of the demise of Murabit Yusuf Tariq II was not as good for the alliance as Merin might have hoped however. His son, Murabit Yusuf Tariq Adbullah, though a hothead, was something of a popular figure. Certainly more so than his father anyway. By his instigation, the regency council was immediately broken up. With the garrison of Marrakesh, he marched from his capital to meet the remnants of his father's army at a pre-determined point to the south. His spies once again informing him of his opponent's every mood, Merin sent Sheikh Abu Wad and his army to make a dash for Tingis. Remaining in Bougie, he hoped that Tariq Abdullah would consider himself outmaneuvered. This was not the case; neither indeed, was the employment of Wad's force against Tingis a particularly good idea. In a spur of bad maneuvering, Wad found himself caught between the coast and a Moroccan army with Almoravid sympathies. The battle, itself little more than a skirmish, was indecisive, but Wad was forced to withdraw. Tariq Abdullah, meanwhile, had ignored this maneuver entirely and was well on the way to the rebels' strongholds on the Algerian coast. His persistent attack frightened off local raiders in the hinterland - and when the rebel force under Muwahhid Abdul Yusuf attempted an engagement at Bomika, the over-confident tactics of the rebels shattered against Tariq Abdullah's simple charge. Abdul fled with the remnants of his cavalry to Bougie, where he and Wad met up with Sheikh Merin. Though Wad and Abdul advocated the need to fight, Merin saw that the circumstances were against the rebels. His decision to leave Bougie was hastily accepted by the other leaders - and in February 1132, the rebels left Bougie. Support for the rebels in their other strongholds melted as swiftly as it had arisen a year earlier, leaving Tariq Abdullah and his force to re-consolidate government control.
1133-36 - Second Rebellion and the Usurpation of Muwahhid Abdul Yusuf
The Songhai invasion of 1133 shattered the fragile peace built up by Tariq Abdullah in the first year of his reign. Failure to be thorough in his purging of the 1131 rebellion left Tariq Abdullah overstretched. Merin was cautious to cause trouble, but was nonetheless convinced by Muwahhid Abdul Yusuf to raise an army for attack. Abdul's raids were in the meantime punishing for the Almoravids, but he resented the hesitancy of Merin and his brother to act with decision. The Byzantine invasion of the Almoravids' Tunisian provinces gave Abdul the final push he needed. Merin and Wad were sent an invitation by Abdul for a meeting. Collecting together their respective armies at an encampment in the Algerian interior, Abdul played secretly on the disaffection of the impatient Merinid soldiery - and induced them to join him. Finally, Abdul invited the Merinid brothers to a night of drinking and revelry. Having carefully planned the occasion, Abdul allowed Sheikh Merin's sharp wits to be doused with alcohol, following which he had the two brothers assassinated.