March 23rd, 1965: A Day Of Days
46 years have passed since the infamous March 23rd, 1965. And though many forgot, or tried to, or did not know about it, the students’ and pupils’ riots have had far-reaching consequences, and it is safe to say that we are still experiencing some residual effects.
A bit of history perhaps: by the mid-1960s, the political showdown between UNFP radicals and the Monarchy got exacerbated with tale-telling signs of economic depression. Indeed, after the sudden death of King Mohamed V in 1961, Hassan II engaged into a more open political activism, and publicized by his actions the covert clashes with the National Movement (especially the UNFP) to assert the Monarchy’s power on Morocco’s politics as hegemonic player.
Things turned sourer when Hassan II announced a constitutional referendum by 1962. An established constitution was the National Bloc’s main claim after 1956, and though late King Mohamed V had repeatedly promised a hypothetical constitutional convention, such business was deemed junior to the more pressing task of carrying out day-to-day government. It seems that then Crown Prince Moulay Hassan was not at all happy with the idea, since the outcome was unpredictable, and would at best lead to a toothless monarchy an outcome he considered a hindrance to his own thrust for power) if not an outright dismissal of monarchy as a political regime. Such delays took form of governmental de-stabilization and the exacerbation of internal divisions between radical elements and pro-status quo within the Istiqlal, divisions that led to the UNFP breakaway.
The 1962 constitutional referendum was, to say the least, a travesty of democratic consultation: though the ‘Yes’ had a cleat win of more than 90%, there were numerous instances of blatant administrative meddling, either by preventing Istiqlal or UNFP activists to vote, threats made to regular citizens, and especially in rural areas, local authorities bribed and threatened peasants to vote in favour. Furthermore, the constitution itself was the King’s brainchild, an adaptation of the very power-concentrated French 5th Republic Constitution (as it is, the Crown Prince was a great admirer of Charles De Gaulle, though admiration was not always reciprocal) Almost immediately, 1963 general elections (the first ever for parliament in Morocco, the second after the 1960 local elections) locked in the political balance into violent confrontations.
The Regal hegemonic agenda basically dessicated democratic institutions and drained them out of any political legitimacy. Furthermore, the youthful Moroccan population, like all the youth around the world (let us remind ourselves of the 1968 upheavals in France and other countries in Europe, campus rebellions in the US to name but a few) was eager for some fresh change, a change that was too radical to a youthful King (eager too for some fresh change, but that would rather go his way)
The immediate trigger for the March 23rd protests (that lasted 3 days: 21-22 and 23 march 1965) was a new education regulation (issued by then-minister Belabbes) that de facto prevented virtually all High-School candidates from being able to get their baccalaureate (a degree that allowed for a safe job with the civil service, and thus the most straightforward way to lift off poverty and acquire a social status. That is why not only pupils, but also their parents -and young unemployed- took to the street and express their anger. At times of bad economic forecast and aspiring masses to better standards of living, the administrative decision (though thought to have a likely small effect) had a symbolism such that the people’s cup was bare: strikes at schools, street demonstration, police repression, and ultimately, large-scale riots in urban centres like Casablanca (Mohamed V High School earned quite a reputation from then on).
The riots were such that police soon gave up, and the Monarchy (and its then-most staunch henchman, General Mohamed Oufkir) soon called upon the army, who only too well willingly carried out methodical street fighting for wrestling back the control of the rioting cities (bullet impacts can still be witnessed on some buildings in Casablanca for instance).
Why bring back such black memories? First, because Morocco’s history cannot be summed up in dates like August 20th, or March 3rd, or indeed November 6th. Such riots, contrary to what Abdellah Laroui‘s own account, were of ground-breaking magnitude: it was the bluntest end to the post-1956 idyll of national unity, a most violent depiction of the Monarchy’s ruthlessness in defending its prerogatives and repressing its dissidence. What was before circumvented to veteran nationalists and freedom-fighters like the so-called 1963 plot quickly spread to an institutionalized terrorism justified with red scare campaign. As some nihilists like to point it out, we do not live in a Bisounours kind of universe; There is a need for A remembrance day, and March 23rd is the ideal date. The IER unfortunately missed out on the symbolism, and a date like this one would balance up the pompous national holidays singing the praises of an all-too omnipresent monarchy. Think about it:
August 20th is a purely a Palace intrigue matter;
November 18th, Independence day is Mohamed V’s return and not that of Saint Cloud’s protocol (March 2nd);
November 6th, Green March was a tactical stunt (as does its corollary of Rio De Oro attachment, August 14th);
and finally, The King’s enthronement anniversary (July 29th).
Is it too much to ask for a non-Regal national holiday?