The Moorish Wanderer

Politics Away, Bring the Burlesque

I don’t feel like discussing politics today.

I sometimes wonder: are the Moroccan leftS built for democracy? Or rather, are our left-wing politicians party to leave behind their personal griefs and over-sized prides (as well as shamless u-turns for the governmental of them…), and build the Unified Left (no less). Not one party, you understand, that would be too difficult and I for one, wouldn’t be at ease with it (that’s the sectarian part of me, I can’t rid of it, sorry…).

Let’s talk about something superficial, or something too elaborate in its superficiality perhaps. Let us leave aside the average populace to their regular uproars; Although these times, new records were set it seems. Naciri junior went a bit berserk on his way home, he seemingly did beat up some random guy for a minor car friction. Other than that, I didn’t find Naciri father very convincing in explaining himself: I did lap it up though; the “on my honour” part. Very dignified, very much indeed. It just happened he has a turbulent son that needs protection (with a justified record of bad behaviour I am told)

Then there’s the Elton John outcry: Attajdid lost the initiative it seems, and wanted to gain it back, you know, call up the primary islamic/islamist instincts of their public to get a grip on their (average) readers.The facts Elton John being gay and performed a concert in Israel are just irrelevant. No parallel intended,  but I didn’t recall Attajdid chums protesting much against the concert the Red Army Choir presented before HRH Prince Rashid for the FAR’s 50th anniversary in 2006. And they, the Red Army Choir, did too perform in Israel, and moreover, the Russian army is killing Chechen Muslim brothers. Attajdid, and the PJD too, it seems, are just trying to re-attract attention to them after the blow related to the surreal fatwas. They eventually caved, as Elton John did come to Morocco, and he did perform a wonderful piece last night.

What worries me more is the AMDH business. Leaving aside political loyalties, I am very fond of Annahj -although I am not a member, and it so happens I disagree with some of their stands- but the fact they had the majority at the last conference should not prompt their “comrades” in the PADS and the PSU to deafened us with their plaintive cries: “but look, they’ve got everything and they are party to turn the NGO into their own boutique !”. What upsets me more is how delighted the Makhzen left was, to this. I can hear them already: “hey, you can’t even get together on this”, plus you know, there’s still a look-down attitude towards the radical left; Because parties like the USFP and the PPS gambled, lost their bet and are in the process in loosing some more, while trying to sank promising projects with them. And it’s not like the “little” ones are fond of pursing their own project. No, they are under the despicable illusion they still can do some good in ‘discussing’ with the other side. Politics-fiction is nothing compared to Moroccan politics, we’ve just got cross another layer of surreal politics.

I drifted a bit, sorry. I was about to discuss something interesting (to those of us who have any interest in it).

Let us talk about Neo-burlesque. First off, do we need it to be construed as demeaning to Women ? As a matter of fact, it is indeed. It boils down to stripping but with an elaborate choregraphy, with music, all elegantly of course a real change from “regular” stripping, though it must be pointed out, that all this takes place in a very 1940’s-1950’s mood: the clothes (or what’s left of them, that is), the performer’s features (haircut, makeup, etc…), as if the “new sexy” (and I am not referring to the Lady Gaga sort of sexy, or what the teenage girls want to look like) is to bring back the gorgeous Pin-ups so much fantasized about for many decades.

Dita Von Teese, Neo-Burlesque star show, draws a lot from the 1950's pin-up presentation.

When I was doing my research about it, I found this book, “The Happy Stripper: pleasures and politics of new burlesque” on the matter; Very interesting indeed. Jacki Willson went to see a performance -a stripping presented as artistic-. After the show, she felt a mix of confusion, anger and pleasure. The author is definitely a feminist, but she didn’t know what to make out of the performance: was Ursula Martinez (the stripper, but then again she is a little more than that…) a dis-empowered worker, or was she shining indeed in all its provocative sexiness? Is it fine to sell stripping as art, while the public is in a voyeuristic state? All of these questions prompted J. Willson to write the present book we are discussing. Right from the 1950’s all the way to the 1980’s, the feminists struggled to make women more minds than bodies; To redefine all the essential parameters of femininity in order to overcome, as Willson puts it, ‘to-be-looked-at-ness’ state. As it was rightfully pointed out, normative clothes and behaviour were -and to a certain extent, still are- designed function to the male gaze/pleasure. Think about it in our own societies: why does a young woman put the veil? the very quick, simple and completely acceptable motivation (within the society’s normative set of references) is that of protecting the lady’s virtue from male temptation. Is it not that the veil, the burqa, the niqab, or any piece of clothing considered to be of shari’a origin are for protecting and shading women from men’s temptation?

Western feminists wanted too -in their whole heterogeneous lot- to bring intelligence and wittiness in women’s personalities. Away the ‘dumb blonde’ or ‘hot redhead’ stereotypes, women can too have witty repartee, biting intelligence and holding senior offices at work. What Willson just saw in the cabaret joint was a shock: there she was -the stripper/artist I mean- getting rid in the sexiest way possible of her incredibly sexy clothes, but in the same time, with a majesty, a self-confidence and afterwards, with a wit and humour that indeed, it must be troubling for the feminist the author is to sort it out.

She then goes on: “ We are in the thick of a new wave of burlesque. This formidable display of flesh seductively draws us back to a time of the eroticized pin-up. It propels us back into that era of hard glamour where such cinematic characters as Marlene Dietrich or Elizabeth Taylor reigned supreme. This provocative sexuality bubbles breathlessly from the fashion pages of glossy magazines and lures up from pop music videos and film. Does this forthright display of sexualized women take us right back to a pre(-)feminist 1950’s state, or does it communicate something much more pressing about our present post-feminist condition?

Though not a 1950's Pin-up, Greta Garbo was of first class in her own.

The more interesting part of course, is when Willson finds sociological ties to the whole business of burlesque. As an American, she drew mainly from the late 19th century (when Burlesque was first introduced in the US) to the Neo-Burlesque of late 1990’s, when iconic performers, like Dita Von Teese brought back the sexy pin-ups then so much revered in the post-WW2 period. In facts, she found that in times of economic crisis -such as the current one-, times of uncertainty and confusion, all unsettling, the burlesque, the theatrical representation of sexuality was brought back. She does however points out that as time goes by, and with the steady middle-class shaping of US society, these representations, tend to be of, as she puts it, of “bourgeoisification” of burlesque: the French Can-Can has little to do with the current shows, much more elaborate, sophisticated, very 1950’s like (which is not a coincidence, the 1950’s/1960’s where the âge d’or of US bourgeois middle-class society, as well as the fore running signs of sexual liberation)

So, is there any link between (post)feminism and burlesque? It is true the 1950’s pin-ups have something of a sex-appeal, and in facts, some of them indirectly provided role model for sexual-liberty aspiring young women. After all, Marlene Dietrich and, to some extent, Greta Garbo are iconic within the lesbian -and more widely, for GBT as well- community. Not only because of their sexual orientations, but because of how at ease they seemed and acted with their personal choices. Dita Von Teese might as well be a model for aspiring post-modern, post-industrial young women: witty, openly sexual with a great taste (I am sorry, but Men and Women alike dressed in a much better fashion in the 1950’s than they do now. Arguably, clothes were of far inferior material, but the cuts and looks were much better, as far as I am concerned).

Marlene Dietrich in a Boyish oufit. One of the Hollywood stars with an assumed bisexual identity. The cold sexual allure of her "blonde mystery" was Dietrich's trademark.

Why would the male gentry feel threatened by this horde of sexually aggressive Femina? Or is it just because the old paradigm of the predator male is actually outdated? It looks as though some would be happy to watch Dita in her giant Martini glass, but would be too afraid to have something like her at home, or at bed. Too much intimidating perhaps?

 

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Treacherous Dahir

We had just gone through an anniversary no one really cared about. How odd, considering how important it is for the official Moroccan history. I mean, if you’d have asked the average Istiqlali chum, they would have provided you with the very average answer i.e. it is the cornerstone of Moroccan nationalism. In case you didn’t have guessed -or the Istiqlali fellow failed in reaching the answer – I am referring to the Berber Dahir of May, 16th, 1930.

Much has been fantasized about this Dahir, and the whole debate around it. The monarchy and the traditionalist Istiqlal wing built a whole myth out of a document very little known to the Moroccan people. In facts, and without prejudice to the colonial project behind the document, I believe it to be a myth not of Moroccan nationalism, or any particular will of independence or emancipation, but merely an ex-post item of a political agenda pushing for a very thoughtful nationalist ideology, the one usually found in cities like Fès or Rabat. It is made to look as though:

1. the true founding moment of Moroccan ‘identity’  is there when Allal El-Fassi and other Quaraouine graduates rose to criticize the move, in a very nationalistic fashion; i.e. no Moroccan ever felt bound to defend their country against the imperialist foes but the fine families of Fès.

2. Moroccan nationalism is solely of pan-arabist nature. And if it was not for the post-1956 turmoil, Moroccans of Imazighen extraction would always be looked down with suspicion, and those who championed Arab nationalism -oh, and they are of specific urban areas, how odd!- would be held to be the true heroes of Moroccan pride.

But of course, I am going a bit ahead of myself. Since I am not a member of the master race, and since anything I say is usually held to be biased -besides being very radical, and if I may say so, entirely nihilist- let us first have a look at the Dahir itself, and then, call up some interesting references to discuss its content.

The Dahir on itself is of a very light content: 8 articles, merely a column and a half in the Bulletin Officiel n°918, May 1930. And in facts, the content are, if not harmless, of a very administrative nature. And in a nutshell, the May Dahir merely provides the administrative framework for an earlier decision, much more offensive to the theoretical imperial authority.Indeed:

“Louange à Dieu,
Que l’on sache par la présente, que notre Majesté Chérifienne, Considérant que le dahir de notre Auguste père, S.M. le Sultan Moulay Youssef, en date du 11 septembre 1914 a prescrit dans l’intérêt du bien de nos sujets et de la tranquillité de l’Etat de respecter le statut coutumier des tributs berbères pacifiées…, qu’il devient opportun de préciser aujourd’hui les conditions particulières dans les quelles la justice sera rendue dans les mêmes tribus A décrété ce qui suit :

Art. 1 : Dans les tribus de Notre Empire reconnues comme étant de coutume berbère, la répression des infractions commises par les sujets marocains(1) qui serait de la compétence des Caïds dans les autres parties de l’Empire, est de la compétence des chefs de tribus. Pour les autres infractions, la compétence et la répression sont réglées par les articles 4 et 6 du présent dahir.

Art. 2: Sous réserve des règles de compétence qui régissent les tribunaux français de Notre Empire, les actions civiles ou commerciales, mobilières ou immobilières sont jugées, en premier ou dernier ressort, suivant le taux qui sera fixé par arrêté viziriel, par les juridictions spéciales appelées tribunaux coutumiers. Ces tribunaux sont également compétents en tout matière de statut personnel ou successoral. Ils appliquent, dans les cas, la coutume locale.

Art. 3: L’appel des jugements rendus par les tribunaux coutumiers, dans les cas où il serait recevable, est portée devant les juridictions appelées tribunaux d’appel coutumiers.

Art. 4: En matière pénal, ces tribunaux d’appel sont également compétents, en premier et dernier ressort, pour la répression des infractions prévues à l’alinéa 2 de l’article premier ci-dessus, et en outre de toutes les infractions commises par des membres des tribunaux coutumiers dont la compétence normale est attribuée au chef de la tribu.

Art. 5: Auprès de chaque tribunal coutumier de première instance ou d’appel est placé un commissaire du Gouvernement, délégué par l’autorité régionale de contrôle de laquelle il dépend. Prés de chacune de ces juridictions est également placé un secrétaire-greffier, lequel remplit en outre les fonctions de notaire.

Art. 6: Les juridictions françaises statuant en matière pénale suivant les règles qui leur sont propres, sont compétentes pour la répression des crimes commis en pays berbère quelle que soit la condition de l’auteur du crime(2). Dans ces cas est applicable le dahir du 12 août 1913 (9 ramadan 1331) sur la procédure criminelle.

Art. 7: Les actions immobilières auxquelles seraient parties, soit comme demandeur, soit comme défendeur, des ressortissants des juridictions françaises, sont de la compétence de ces juridictions.

Art. 8: Toutes les règles d’organisations, de composition et de fonctionnement des tribunaux coutumiers seront fixés par arrêtés viziriels successifs, selon les cas et suivants les besoins”.

Of course, no one in the nationalist side said something at the time, nor was the first decree ever reported or on the record. Till 1912, the Moroccan Sultans had little power over their own territories. Of course, M’hallas in Harkas -expeditions for income tax collection- were organised from time to time to assert the Sultan’s authority over a particularly rebellious Caïd or tribe. The imperial power was virtual, subject only to the Sultan’s own ruthlessness (and on can account for some of their characters)or/and to the extent of good organisation their armies enjoyed. Other than that, large parts of Morocco lived in a very large autonomous state, and this included the Berber moutains, where Sharia was not a customary practise, and instead of Makhzen-appointed Cadi, the council tribe ruled rather. In ‘Siba‘ region, a form of local democracy, much less blood-thursty and more humane ruled the pride mounts of the Atlas. Even after the Fès Treaty was signed, the Berber regions maintained their own traditional structures. It seems our nationalists overlooked the fact that many tribes in the High and Middle atlas resisted French pacification and remained untamed till 1934. The fact the late Sultan Youssef recognised the local jurisdictions is merely de facto.

Istiqlal Leaders with Allal El Fassi

Let us roll back to the Dahir. It was mentioned before that the 1930 dahir was merely of administrative nature, and the Sultan already expressed his views -or those of the Résident Général, or both- on Imazighen tribes (sorry, it’s a bit anachronistic, but I prefer to use this term rather than ‘Berber’ which is quite demeaning) in an earlier Dahir (Bulletin Officiel n°73, September 1914). A dahir oddly enough published in Arabic only (to my knowledge anyway…)

The sultan admits, in his own words, Art.1: “The Berber tribes belonging to Our Sherifian realm manage their home affairs in full accordance with their own local law and customs, under the supervision of governmental delegates” (It doesn’t say whether the delegate is form the Makhzen, or from the Bureau des Affaires Indigènes)

Gilles Lafuente (1984) did point out that before 1930, the ongoing Residential policy was to categorize the tribes all over Morocco (Arab and Imazighen alike) for it was in Lyautey’s mind that an efficient colonialism imposes itself without damaging the local customs. (a useful axiom very few Residents Généraux took their own, much to the dispair of Lyautey legacy). There is no doubt some elements of the Residence wanted to wipe the Islamic influence out of the Imazighen tribes, for they notice some pageantry -quite far from orthodox Islam- in their customs. Some, like the next Résident Général -Lucien Saint-, even noticed Imazighen had indo-european features (blond, tall, fair skin and good health) and deduce France’s main mission is to set free these ‘primitive European’ yearning to be freed from the Arabo-Islamic chains. All of this didn’t look good for many Moroccans -especially the Salafists like El Fassi-. Why would they wait till 1930 to burst and protest in the strongest way possible –the famous قراءة اللطيف pray-?

An Officer of the "Bureau des Affaires Indigènes" with a young local

To be true, the Fassi-oriented nationalism is not so per se. The etymological concept of nationalism refers usually to a nation, or,  in modern concepts, to a state-nation. Boubker El Kadiri -a well-known and much respected nationalist figure- says so when he remembers how the Berber Dahir threatened his faith, his identity, and everything he holds dear for a Muslim family, country and community. Fassi nationalism it seems, is of a very religious nature. The 1930 intellectual uprising is not ex-nihilo. All over colonized Muslim countries, salafists -like the Muslim Brotherhood- started thinking about an Islamic renewal, a renaissance so to speak. El Fassi, heavily influence by this Oriental thinking, started building up the ideological paradigm that would be from then on the Istiqlal trademark. This doesn’t abstract itself from religion or ethnic belonging, quite the opposite. It seems -and I am sure some Imazighen activists would back me up on this one- the glorious opposition to this Dahir is merely that of an imperialism threatened by another. There is nothing fundamentally modern about it. How could someone say: “we all are Moroccans of one country”:

وبالفعل ظهر تجاوب جدي مع تحركنا، وتعاطف واسع مع الأفكار التي كنا ننادي بها، فالتحق بنا الشيوخ والشباب، والرجال والنساء.
وتسابق المصلون لترديد “اللهم يا لطيف نسألك اللطف بما جرت به المقادير، ولا تفرق بيننا وبين إخواننا البرابر“.

and on the same time state in the strongest way possible: “Moroccan identity is fundamentally Islamic and Arabic-speaking”

ومما زاد في غيضنا وتخوفنا من السياسة الاستعمارية، كوننا بتنا نسمع ونرى بأمهات أعيننا الدعوات التبشيرية إلى المسيحية، تمارس خاصة في المناطق البربرية، حيث كان يرغب الفرنسيون نزع الذات المغربية والقضاء على الدين الذي يعتقد به الجميع، فاهتز لذلك كيان عدد واسع من الشباب.

That’s what Istiqlal nationalism means: there can be no way Morocco had a history before Islam, and in anyway, any pre-Islamic culture or civilisation is worthless before it. the nationalist reaction looked as though they were afraid Imazighen tribes would escape their intellectual custody and join another one. There’s no altruistic project, only political agendum to be followed. It may be too for religions to wipe out an pageantry and instead impose itself as the ‘founding moment‘ myth?

Perhaps religion as got nothing to do with it; Perhaps it’s just a question of lobbies and competition over who rules what; Then some representative of the master race remember us from time to time that because of their “struggle” (and only theirs) Morocco was freed from colonialism… well, when it’s about being cheeky, I think the ‘djaj l’byed‘ set a record on their own…

Ecouvillon 1958

I am proud to say that I have left my nihilist filthy habit out of this post. Since some of our would-be young political leaders need to be punched in their unsubstantial guts and for those of you with a healthy thrust for modern history, I shall provide some insights on how Morocco found itself trapped in the Sahara problem; And I will too talk about a glorious feat unfortunately little known to the Moroccans. Broadly speaking, I claim the Makhzen made a mistake in neglecting -at best, if it’s not simply betrayal- the Moroccan Liberation Army. I sincerely believe that, if the Abdellah Ibrahim government had its way, that is, if the MLA commanders got the support they were requesting, this whole shebang wouldn’t happen. But of course, History cannot be re-written, but we should learn from it; The claim is justified, but it the truth should be told, the patriot is so indeed when they are fully aware of the Motherland history (and to be honest, I don’t think the CJDM people know much about it…) Ecouvillon. A bottle-brush. a tool you need to clean-up clogged stuff. Ecouvillon-Ouragan is a little-known episode of the immediate years following Morocco’s independence.

I’ve got a question: How come no one of our fiercely patriotic young people was shocked we’d got half-independence? Morocco recovered a little under 40% of its present area (Sahara included) with bits and chunks still under foreign supervision. We were indeed protected, though actually Moroccan territory was divided up between France and Spain (and we do know who signed the treaty, don’t we?) And, to remind the amnesic generations, the Green March was not the only, nor the first attempt to affirm Morocco’s claim over the Sahara.

Shortly before independence, the MLA started building up its strength. The first units of the Moroccan Liberation Army started guerrilla warfare on French garrisons, October 1955, on the border from their Spanish Morocco bases. After the independence, some of these units start moving southwards, directly into the Rio De Oro Sahara. Colonel Benhamou, deputy commander, moved then most of his troops to Attar early January 1957. Let us also note that right from the start, the Monarchy tried bribing some of its leaders, either by giving them grima, or a civil-service posting, or money (there were even official communication about that to the local commanders shortly after the Saint Cloud treaty was signed). In any case, the monarchy wanted to get hold of the MLA as soon as possible, seemingly to restore ‘law and order’ as this 1957 AFP communiqué suggests:

Répondant au désir de Sa Majesté Mohammed V relatif au retour au calme et à la stabilité, (…) l’Armée de libération se devait de cesser toute action que les circonstances l’avaient obligée jusqu’ici d’entreprendre pour assurer le maintien de la sécurité publique. Dorénamvant, il appartient au gouvernement de Sa Majesté, qui a pris en main les pouvoirs nécessaires, d’assurer ses responsabilitées et d’accomplir les tâches qui lui incombent(I.Dalle, p53)

Those who refused to do so continued the struggle, as Morocco was not fully independent, a large chunk of its territories (including the disputed Mauritania until 1960) was still under French and Spanish control.

Spanish Legion at Al-Aiun. These and the Tropas Nomadas fought against the MLA.

Early 1957 saw the first actions the MLA started out against small Spanish garrisons. Desert warfare gave significant advantage to the MLA flying columns: as they rely on local tribes‘ guidance, support and protection, they easily make up for their lack of air and heavy support, especially against fixed positions the Spanish forces were desperately trying to hold against the Moroccan raids. It must be pointed out that while some political factions in free Morocco where wholeheartedly supporting the MLA raids, other elements close to the Monarchy were actually afraid of this increasingly popular political and military force. Even the newly-founded FAR (Forces Armées Royales) were no match to the battle-harden –and ideologically committed- members of the MLA. Furthermore, because how unique battlefield the Rio De Oro is, modern weapons did not matter: save for the relatively new light weapons (sub and support light machineguns) the MLA as well as their ennemies fielded WW2-era rifles and mortars. The Spanish couldn’t make good use of their close-support jet fighters, so the technological gap between the MLA and the Spanish garrisons was narrowed down. The French, on the other hand, were increasingly concerned with the Algerian uprising (1954) and couldn’t commit enough troops to protect their territories. They where however in the same position, as they were fielding relatively obsolete weaponry, with the advantage of larger mechanized forces, compared to the Spaniards. The French were more than worried the MLA raids could affect their position north Port-Etienne (Nouakchott)

Early February, Ecouvillon is set up with big resources: the Suez fiasco prompted the French command (and their Spanish allies) to commit as much equipment and manpower to their venture in order to make out a swift and blitzkrieg-like operation. In facts, the field allowed for large-scale attacks, very much like the raids (rezzou) Sahrawi tribes were quite fond of. According to Attilio Gaudio, the French AOF (Afrique Occidentale Française) command committed 630 vehicles of all kind, Jeeps, GMC 6×6 Trucks, M8 Armoured cars and miscellaneous light tanks, in order to supply the 10.000-strong column with motorized support. These highly mechanized crack units, mainly paratroopers from the Légion Etrangère and the colonial troops (7e Régiment de Parachutistes Coloniaux), had also local levies, mainly the Méhariste troops with natives acting as guides. The Spanish fielded their own Legion (la Bandera), as well as their local levy, the Tropas Nomadas.

Inspection Line, French Meharists. They Provided Reconnaissance support for Ecouvillon

The strategic goal for the French was to secure a safe corridor near Tindouf, The Spanish, being subject to attrition and on the verge to lose their control over their Sahara, considered that a large-scale operation could indeed allow them to get rid of all hostile activities between Cap-Juby, Villa Cineros and El Aiun. This was a major shift in the ongoing war, as the colonialist forces heavily updated their arsenal and gathered impressive air support for their upcoming attack. The Moroccan Liberation Army, on the other hand, was not as modern as their enemies; the troops were a mixture of Sahrawi tribes and Moroccan irregulars, mainly veterans from the North-Spanish Morocco campaign. The MLA tactics were mainly guerrilla and the troops are mostly Camel-borne. Abdellah Ibrahim recalled that the very existence of the MLA was considered to be most dangerous for the Monarchy’s stability: “One time Colonel M. Benhamou and Fqih Basri met me in order to brief me on the difficulties the MLA is facing, namely the declining supply of food rations, hardware supplies, weapons and ammunitions, They then went on the serious breaches military and high-ranking officials were guilty of, relating to the secrecy of the whole operation (for the benefit of those who might have misunderstood, supporting the MLA was quite unofficial, and it upset lots of people, many of whom were on foreign powers’ payroll) Following his claims, 1958 was also a year of political tensions, as the monarchy increasingly worried the MLA was a serious rival to legitimacy. Abdellah Ibrahim also believed that then-crown prince Hassan was behind this, as well as the right-wing side of the Istiqlal were pushing for political rather than a military solution on the Sahara issue, making them objective allies in the plot against the MLA.

France still had a large chunk of southern Morocco, and since they launched the operation from two directions (as seen on the map) they account for some interesting reports on how helpful the Moroccan border guards were cooperating with them. The Monarchy actually made a deal with the French to help -however passively they were, but help nonetheless- to crush the MLA, and in exchange, they abandon Northern Sahara and could get the Spanish to cede Sidi Ifni. There’s nothing to be ashamed of this (after all, we were ‘protected’ then granted independence through treaties and negotiation) but we shan’t overlook the fact that the crown prince -the one so much praised for his genius on many, many things- voluntarily and consciously sold out true patriot just to make sure no one would appear as a political alternative to him.

Alongside the military operations, the Sahara problem was far beyond Moroccan internal affairs: France needed a safe corridor west of its Algerian territories, and engaged in a ‘chassé-croisé’ strategy with both Spain and Morocco; as A. El Ouali rightfully underlined: “Dès 1957, face à l’opposition franco-espagnole, l’Armée de Libération Marocaine, après avoir contribué à la libération des parties septentrionales du pays, dirige son action vers la libération de tous les territoires sahariens du Maroc. Elle choisit pour ce faire de s’attaquer d’abord au maillon le plus faible du colonialisme franco-espagnol : la présence espagnole au Sahara. Dès le mois de novembre 1957, elle parvient, dans une action éclair, à prendre de revers les forces militaires espagnoles et à s’installer dans l’ensemble du Sahara marocain” which is quite right, the sucessful raids against Al Aiun were rather a surprise for many observers:

“Guerrillas of the old Moroccan Army of Liberation, no longer occupied with fighting the French, moved into the scrublands around the Ifni frontier. No sooner had the King departed for his visit to the U.S. than the irregulars assembled a motley force of some 1,200 townsmen and tribesmen and launched an attack on Ifni. […]Their first thrust the black-turbaned, khaki-uniformed irregulars swept into Sidi Ifni itself, a small (pop. 10,000) fishing town of unpaved streets. They slaughtered a score of sleeping Spanish sentries and made off with some trucks and mules. The Spanish, who last month jailed a few local Moslems for demonstrating in favour of King Mohammed, had quietly reinforced the Ifni garrison with several hundred paratroopers and Foreign Legionnaires. Shouting their battle cry of “Long Live Death,” the Legionnaires led a counterattack into the hills that drove most of the invaders back across the frontier and cost them an estimated 100 dead, 200 wounded. Announced Spanish casualties: 5 dead, 43 wounded. The Moroccans managed to hang on to some of Ifni’s border outposts. Spanish paratroops dropped from the skies to retake one, a heavy cruiser lobbed shells into others.

The Time also accounted for some interesting articles on the ongoing operations the MLA carried out successfully against Spanish, then French outpost on the desert. The MLA was so successful that it carried out long-range raids on Al Aiun: “After two months of fighting, irregulars of the Moroccan Liberation Army, under the leadership of a squat ex-Marrakech street vendor named Benhamou, have driven the Spanish out of most of their Atlantic Coast enclave of Ifni. Ifni is not much but rocky rubble and scrub, but its single city, Sidi Ifni (pop. 10,000), has been used by the Spanish as the seat of the governor of all its desert provinces—Ifni, Rio de Oro, Spanish Sahara, as well as the part of southern Morocco that they have continued to rule on the ground that King Mohammed’s government is unable to establish its authority there. Last week, with Moroccans encircling Sidi Ifni’s tightly held perimeter, Madrid merged all the rest of its West African colonies under one military governor, and set up the new administration at the fortified town of Aiun, 250 miles south of Ifni

But Benhamou’s nationalists and tribesmen were moving fast. Now calling themselves the new Saharan Army of Liberation, they appeared at Edchera, near Aiun, in the midst of a blinding sandstorm, launched a fierce attack on its garrison of Spanish soldiers and Legionnaires. It was the most murderous battle since the 1934 French “pacification” campaign. The Spanish claimed the Moroccans fled, leaving 241 corpses and 20 camels. The communiqué also listed 51 Legionnaires dead, but a knowing Madrid source indicated that total Legion casualties almost equaled the Moroccan dead”.
The fact is, the military option was going well, very well indeed, and so the political negotiations ‘official’ Morocco engaged with the Spanish were of marginal interest. The crown prince’s involvement in Ecouvillon was for internal politics: the desire to get rid of the MLA, in order to assert his own power. The betrayal of true patriots (not matter what has been written and said on people like Basri, or Ait Idder) is nothing but treason. History is so ironic that, in 1963, Hassan II’s pity revenge was to accuse and sentence to death these people for treason. As Churchill once said: ‘What kind of people do they think we are?’ I guess this has been overlooked by our esteemed historians, has it not?

Operation Ecouvillon-Ouragan. The Northern part of Sahara still under France's supervision (Map 1958-1959) France committed Colonial paratrooper and desert troops to crack down on MLA activities.

What is then the point in telling the tale? Does it have a link with the current problem? Directly, yes; Instead of giving a free hand to the MLA, and therefore achieve an earlier complete independence (with no Polisario, no RASD, ولا ستي حمس) Hassan II sort of confirmed Spanish control over Western Sahara, and waited to wave the patriotic flag in 1975 –and ever since- in order, again, to deal with left-wing opposition. The very same tactics is set up whenever it’s necessary to suppress dissent. It is, as usual, the ‘enemy from within’ theory.

Why do I need to bring this forgotten history?

First off, to remind the ‘young elite’ that the Makhzen played a Machiavellian part with this Sahara business: first by sacrificing the MLA to the colonialists (in order to assert their power over Morocco) and in a time it was under considerable strain and low popularity, to play the nationalism card.

Second, because of this betrayal, and ever since 1975, the Moroccan people were constantly out of touch; all what was asked –oh, I should say imposed- was silence. 3 decades later, there still are people claiming urbi et orbi the Sahara is Moroccan.

Of course it is, but do we know why we are in such a mess in hands? Do we even admit the Makhzen’s responsibility in this? Of course not, populism and demagogy just point out to the Algerian and shout:’they’re the baddies, we are the goodies’ while young sahrawis in Tindouf are raised in hatred and resentment towards the ‘Colonialist Moroccans’. Meanwhile, dark forces in Morocco, Algeria and the Polisario are taking advantage and loot the people.

Third, because we need a radical shake up of the constitution: speaking for the Moroccan side, my fellow citizens need to be involved in the process. They need to know the negotiators, those in charge of the Sahara issue, should be accountable to the people’s will, and then, our claims will be entirely justified, or at least, with a rigorous and representative voice, that could win the international community’s respect. Perhaps I need to remind that Morocco craves international recognition in order to win their case, It is one of the basic conditions for a state to assert its sovereignty.

Ecouvillon just shows that the Makhzen cannot admit nationalism outside its boundaries. A sad indictment of the MLA Legacy, some consider the FAR’s involvment with ecouvillon as a glorious feat;

In any case, the venerable Ait Idder gives a very interesting account of his experience with the High Command.


Out-of reach, out of touch-standing

Posted in Moroccan ‘Current’ News, Tiny bit of Politics by Zouhair ABH on May 6, 2010

Commenting news is not for me; One needs to be a little superficial to do so. My own level of superficiality allows only for bogus scientific articles. However, I would gladly prepare for a breach of custom, since, in Shakespeare words; “a custom is more honoured in the breach than in the observance”. I
Read in
Robin des Blogs’ : “Le plus Grand drapeau au monde sera marocain”. Oh, that’s sounds interesting: dropping the largest flag ever on Dakhla. This brilliant initiative is backed by the highest authority (that’s what they say anyway…), and is aiming to prove that when a couple of young Moroccans put their minds to it, they can achieve anything. And they did, for they put their mind into one of the most useless things ever, and unfortunately, they are on their way to succeed. Last month they published a communiqué, following (with some comments, sorry, I couldn’t help it)

“SOUS LE HAUT PATRONAGE DE SA MAJESTÉ LE ROI MOHAMMED VI, QUE DIEU L’ASSISTE in upper case of course, the King deserves it after all, but it sounds more like ‘the King is backing us, join us or back off and shut it’. I am usually not prone to exaggeration, but it suspiciously sound like on of those totalitarian demonstrations to keep the people’s attention off critical issues.

Le Cercle des Jeunes Démocrates Marocains a l’honneur de vous présenter: L’appel de toute une génération, « Le plus grand Drapeau Du Monde » Parce que notre objectif vise à ce que le marocain, particulièrement le plus jeune, ne reste pas un spectateur passif de l’histoire, mais en devienne bel et bien l’acteur; qu’il ne se demande pas ce que son pays peut faire pour lui, mais ce que lui peut faire pour son Pays. Wow, very John Fitzgerald Kennedy statesman-like! (The part of his inaugural speech when he says: ‘And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country’) I like the part where the young Moroccan has to get with it and gets in history; Very moving indeed.

“Pour démontrer à tous, que le jeune Marocain peut réaliser des prouesses quand ce dernier est mis en confiance, qu’il est prêt à défier l’inconnu par amour pour son pays”. That’s what I call patriotism. A little makhzenian of course, but there you go. I fear there’s a fine line between the unity road symbol and the biggest –waste of resource for cheap publicity– flag in the world. If it’s a feat the young CJDM are looking for, surely there’s a better strategy? I don’t know… build another road between Tarfaya and Daora perhaps; Though I fear the posh, upper-class would-be elite does not lower itself to such lowly chore. Le projet du « plus grand drapeau du monde » vise à promouvoir les valeurs citoyennes telles que le civisme, la solidarité et le patriotisme. Cet évènement a pour ambition de promouvoir une citoyenneté active, incluant les droits et les devoirs. C’est sur ce concept que le Cercle des Jeunes Démocrates Marocains puise la force de ses idées.

I can’t comment on that. On the one hand these values are indeed something I strongly believe in. On the other hand a bunch of d*ckheads are acting as though they were the very first to advocate these values; the very sort of ex-nihilo thinking typical of the ignorant.

L’évènement est prévu début Mai à Dakhla et verra trois cent cinquante jeunes venant des seize régions du Royaume déployer un drapeau marocain d’une superficie supérieur à 43 000 m², un record mondial qui sera validé par le « Guinness Book ». Ah, figures! 43.000 M² that’s a lot of resources. Dans cette perspective, le Cercle des Jeunes Démocrates Marocains organisera une série de conférences au Maroc et à l’étranger autour du thème de la citoyenneté marocaine et lancera une campagne de communication au niveau international sur le plan d’autonomie des provinces du Sud.

Nous avons besoin de toi… de lui… d’elle… de vous… de nous tous… (Very moving, words are simply not enough to describe the feelings!)

Car ensemble tout devient possible. (Oh, is Sarkozy in it too?)

Now That I spat my nihilist and fundamentally pro-separatist radical ideology (as a blogger colleague stated recently) let us look at this ‘initiative’ in a more rational fashion.

The flag. Unfortunately for our young activists, it seems the precedent (an Israeli flag was displayed in November 2007) was subject to debate; Haaretz says it covers an area of 66.000 M², but the Guinness Book of Record does not agree (according to their figures, 18.800 M²), So I wouldn’t be too sure the Dakhla flag would enter with the whole 43.000 M²… Then there’s this other large flag unfold in Israel as well in September 2009 (that one is not in the Guiness Book though.) That’s quite interesting, because according to the promoters, its cost was about $120.000. That’s a lot of money. No doubt our lot got a discount. Let us assume the cost per unit was 10MAD/M², that should get around 430.000MAD. What on earth could one do with such a ridiculously low amount of money? Well, the 2009 Budget could for instance, be paid for the waters and fishery department investment allowance at Oued Ed-Dahab-Lagouira region. It could also pay for say a 30-employees strong small business minimum wage for a year (around 1500MAD in real terms) ou zid ou zid… In any case, that money could have been put to a better use. Do the maths again with a slightly higher cost unit and you will see numbers grow fast.

Getting a royal patronage is admittedly, a good thing for Mehdi Bensaid, Reda Bachir El Bouhali and Aymane El Alj. However, it’s quite dangerous for the Monarchy’s stand. It has been a sort of an official doctrine: the King rises above party political matters (but leaves the business to one of his trusted henchmen) however, for him to associate his name so closely to such initiative; It is… well, beyond me. But of course I am a loyal subject of the crown, and it is constitutionally forbidden for me to comment on his decisions. Let us now move to what these -how should I put it in a polite manner?- amateurs are trying to advocate as a cause, the self-promoted national cause. Do we need to remind them of how Morocco submitted to the French-Spanish protectorate? I very much doubt they would act the same if they’d known how this whole business of Sahara dispute arose. Perhaps we need to refresh their memories –if they had any kind of those- on how the Moroccan Liberation Army was left to be destroyed by the colonialist forces, while trying to gain back the Sahara. This document from the French Ministry Of Defence does state (p20-21) the Monarchy always denied support to this Army, and did nothing to help –quite the contrary- when it was blown into oblivion on February 10, 1958 (Operation Ecouvillon/Ouragan) do we need to remind them what role a certain CIA Operative played in this little-known episode? Or perhaps they won’t take it, A call but to no avail.

Let us leave the new-generation elite playing their puerile games; they shall need time to grow mature like their elders…for the better or the worse!

Worthy Of Democracy

Posted in Moroccan History & Sociology, Moroccanology, Tiny bit of Politics by Zouhair ABH on May 5, 2010

Madame Speaker,

I usually do not comment on what my fellow bloggers write on their blogs (but I do leave comments from time to time). Or rather, I didn’t have the chance to discuss things and issues seriously (which is all natural, given that the blogoma, in its huge majority, deals in such simplistic schemes that one cannot but stand idle before it…)

An esteemed blogger posted an article that was the last straw for me to bear, or rather, gave me at last something to write about. You might call it left-wing intellectual arrogance in my tone, I am simply angry that ‘grown-ups’ like Citizen Hmida could speak such foolish things, and confirm this idea of the Blogoma as a ‘garbage idea‘ (which, save for a happy few, do not justice to itself); A stereotype other bloggers are trying to avoid by bringing intellectual uplift, or at least by advocating local, yet noble causes.

Not that I hold anything against the honourable gentleman: everyone is entitled to their opinions –how ever misinformed and superficial it might be- but there are things that make me wonder about the benefits free speech or rather, its necessity: do we give the loonies the right to manage themselves? Well, for the time being, another tribe of well-meaning fools -the Makhzen and their obedient useful idiots- run the country, so the lunatics are trying to see if they can take over the internet beforehand.

Let us turn to the main argument the Citizen Hmida develops about democracy. He is actually targeting the post-Massira young Moroccans (i.e. those born after 1975) and their supposed exaggerated thrust for Democracy: “La génération « post-Massira » considère que la démocratisation de notre pays se réalise mal, ou au mieux trop lentement à son gré!” as he puts it in his unique fashion.

Given he is a man of culture and knowledge, I was surprised how misinformed he was on British politics. Indeed:

“Les élections anglaises se sont déroulées avec les mêmes partis qui subsistent depuis lors : les « torries », royalistes devenus progressivement « conservateurs » et les « wights », libéraux, remplacés au XIXème par le « Labour » travailliste. Un dernier né tente de se faire une place depuis quelques temps et semble y réussir cette fois : ce sont les «libéraux démocrates », des centristes qui semblent en quête d’identité”

Or does it? Early-age Tories are not remembered for their sole monarchism, a minimum knowledge of the English Civil War would teach a lot about that. And about the Liberals, the Whigs and Labour, I wonder how Sir Herbert Asquith would react if he knew he was put with,say, Ramsay Mc Donald in the same political basket? What would David Lloyd George say if he was told the Liberals were ‘replaced’ by Clement Atlee’s chums? and what comments Charles Kennedy would provide if he’d read about his ‘newly-found’ Lib-Dem party, so ‘newbie’ that their are still looking for their political identity? Oh, I am sure it was just a civic slip of the mind (and indeed, of fingers on the keyboard…) but it tells how superficial our colleague could get when discussing serious issues like politics. And he still has the nerves to defend his mistakes; what is it? The elderly pride has been wounded? Can’t the honourable gentleman stand younger people to point out his mistakes?


But that’s not what I want to discuss; I wanted to point out this paternalistic –and frankly, annoying- tone in his article, and in many others, about modern history, democracy, Moroccan politics… No bottom to it, no consistent arguments, no better than the average Moroccan journalist (and they are, just like him, very average).

His main argument –if I understood it well- was that ‘democracy was not built in a day’.

Of course Democracy is not to be of ex-nihilo nature, and of course it is always a bit of a process. However, his flawed argument stands on the wrong idea that democracy is something to be achieved at a definite stage, a sort of a goal really. As if Great Britain is indeed a complete democracy.

I am a great fan of British democracy, and I would love Moroccan politics being run just like in the UK: the King would have honorary duties, respected and revered as a symbol, and not for holding extra-constitutional powers; A government that could be voted against at any moment if they do not have a substantial majority in parliament, and so on and so forth… A strong government, capable of carrying out their policies, the very one they got elected on. Does it mean Britain is an achieved democracy? That is not for him, nor for me, nor for anyone else to say; it’s up to factual history investigation.

(By the way, I think he should read a bit about modern British politics, I think the ‘Very Short Introduction Of’ Oxford Series is a good start) There’s at least one thing about this political regime that is worthy of praises, namely it intrinsically admits its own imperfection (spiritual and temporal theocracies, on the other hand, not so much…) and, through its very own mechanisms, work it out. I shall of course present some academic papers on that particular subject, for the benefit of those of us who lack proper education, or those that lacked rigorous apprehension of political theory and knowledge to that matter.

Madame Speaker,

I believe Dahl (1971) provided some interesting insights on what he calls ‘polyarchies’ since “no large system in the real world is fully democratized”. In a nutshell, democracy is a continuous quantity with an upper bound quite out of reach, the upper bound being function of the general set of references a specific society endorses as are not logically consistent, and ultimately perverted by what K. Popper calls ‘historicism’; Let us for the sake of argument, admit the United Kingdom took three centuries to turn truly democratic (which it didn’t; Lord Melbourne might have been a progressive Primer Minister, he didn’t have much sympathy to the common people).

This does not mean Morocco will have to wait three centuries as well to be in turns democratic as well. This is not catch-up growth theory, nor basic mathematics for him to apply. I do not deny the benefits of looking up history, quite the other way round: I am a staunch advocate of the process, but there’s something odd about this callup, namely that because western democracies took such a long time, we wetheads should not claim democracy too loud, and by this token, should instead be glad to live in a country that is, after all, better off compared to fellow MENA and Arabic countries. Strangely enough, that does remind me of the very official line the MAP (that one always cracks me up) or Le Matin follow: Morocco is building its democracy, and those claiming it is not are either nihilists or traitors, and in any case enemies to the ‘sacred values’ our country holds dear.

The honourable gentleman did sound as though his pre-Massira generation utterly failed to establish democracy, and now wants somehow to put the blame on us (I felt targeted as well as many others) and in any case, the fact that Britain achieved a higher state of democracy does not absolve us from pushing for greater democracy in Morocco. If anything, it is not for the young people among us that need to “se pencher sérieusement sur le problème, d’essayer d’en démonter les mécanismes afin de participer efficacement et à leur manière au long cheminement qui aboutira inéluctablement à la mise en place d’une démocratie viable dans notre pays.” Hmida and many others sharing the same ideology advocating a rewriting of History, either because it didn’t turn out quite as they expected it to, or because they know nothing about and tend to reject anything that contradicts the compulsory national curriculum of civic education circa 1990’s.

It seems he doesn’t understand, or accept that the 5 years following independence were full of political progress, and we achieved more than what we could have ever hoped for in the previous centuries and indeed, in the next decades.

I mean in less than a decade, Morocco has its own pre-constitutional parliament (meant to be a constituent assembly, if it was not for the then-crown prince Hassan) with a good representation of political parties, trade unions, professional trusts and so on (the 76-strong Conseil National Consultatif). In this particular matter –and in many occurrences as well- Morocco catched-up quite quick with the Western democracies, how odd! Why can’t we then advocate for, say, a full secularist judiciary and political legitimization of power, or do we have to wait a couple of centuries as well?

Let us take a look to what the 4th government: Prime Minister Abdellah Ibrahim carried out in less than two years so much workload it can still be felt everywhere: the Moroccan Central Bank, the national Currency, the public companies, the first moudouwana (which, ironically enough was far more liberal than the next one, and, to some extent, the latest amendment) all of that in two years. What the honourable gentleman thinks is impatience is merely anger, or perhaps disappointment to this intellectual waste. One can understand indeed why “La génération « post-Massira » considère que la démocratisation de notre pays se réalise mal, ou au mieux trop lentement à son gré!” as he puts it.

May the house allow me for a conclusion to my long and tedious statement; The bottom line is, democracy is not a ‘steady’ process, and it’s not because far more advanced coutries achieved high levels of democracy that we need to follow the same fashion; I dare say its speed is function of what we Moroccans want to make out of it. I think I can speak for myself and my honourable friends, democracy is here and now, with constant discussions (just like this one) and no self-satisfaction that we should achieve it”.