The Moorish Wanderer

Glimpses of Morocco’s History Vol. 3

March 30th is only days away. March 30th, 1912, a rainy and sad day, Imperial Sultan Moulay Abdelhafid signed the Fes Treaty, thereby abdicating Morocco’s sovereignty to France and to Spain. Immediately after word has it the Sultan, ‘أمير المؤمنين’, the First Imam, sold the country to the Christians. neighbouring tribes rebelled and marched on Fès, where the few European residents were massacred by the local populace. The soon-to-be Résident Général, Gen. H. Lyautey, directed a column to break the encirclement and free the city.

Who signed the Treaty? Who Sold Morocco? Who is a Traitor to the Nation? (Picture Wikipedia)

Next year will be the 100th anniversary of the treaty a representative of the Alaouite family signed -in exchange of 40.000 pounds. Judas Iscariot sold Jesus for 30 pieces of silver, so obviously Morocco is a bit above the going rate (and modern valuation techniques were not fashionable at the time). I wonder whether some kind of celebration will be organized; Remember the pompous celebration of Fès‘ 1200th birthday, preposterously portrayed as ‘1200 years of Moroccan history‘, as if nothing happened before, or simply as if Morocco did not exist before Idriss 1st had Fès built in 808, or as if nothing existed before Okba Ibn Nafii conquered the Far-West (المغرب الأقصى).

In view of obvious facts however, especially those documented by other sources, bending history is no longer viable, and again, I wonder how things are going to be spun, especially when one considers that Sultan Abdelhafid is directly related to Hassan II  (as in his Great-Uncle) So when Moncef –it’s high time you packed up and got the hell out of your ministry– Belkhayat starts accusing people of High Treason, I would suggest he takes a closer look to pre-1912 history before he starts sprouting his baseless accusations.

I apologize for the heinous introduction. That’s because I can’t stand the Makhzen myths (and take great pleasure in challenging them)

Morocco in 1912 was less a country than a formal sovereign entity: large parts of its territory was De Facto occupied by both France and Spain, and Tangier was already an international city, with delegations -and their ‘protected’ enjoying total impunity from a Makhzen shadow of its former self. Historians like to date back this Götterdämmerung of sorts to the death of Hassan Ist (1894). Court intrigue and a youthful successor did nothing but exacerbate colonial appetites over Morocco: the French and Spanish of course, but the British were still considering their chances as well, and the Germans too thought of Morocco as their first attempt to build an overseas colonial empire. If anything, Morocco was, in its own right, the next Sick Man of North Africa (after Tunisia in 1883). These tumultuous circumstances saw the enthronement of Moulay Abdelhafid (after an ambivalent, even murderous, interregnum) on the condition that He, defender of the Moroccan Umma, denounces all past signed treaties with the Christian nations, re-affirm the Imperial sovereignty over contumacious tribes and gain back those territories the French and Spanish expeditionary forces have occupied. He was preferred over his brother Moulay Abdelaziz for his supposed piety and orthodoxy. He was confirmed as the new Sultan by Fès’ scholars, and:

‘Fez accepted him as Sultan, on the distinct condition that the city was to be exempted from all taxation. This His Majesty solemnly promised and he kept his promise for a few weeks, until, in fact, he was strong enough to break it and then he collected taxes, legal and illegal [Note: The Maks was considered un-Islamic, hence its status as illegal tax], with gusto never before experienced’. (W. Harris, Morocco That Was)

Later on however, he realized the Imperial treasure was empty, and perspective of levying new taxes, or even collecting taxes were bleak, as effective Imperial authority was limited to the few kilometres surrounding some urban centres. Moulay Abdelhafid started his bid for power, but soon realized he was as powerless as his brother before the tribes and the western powers.

Louis Hubert Gonzalve Lyautey

Maréchal De France, Hubert Lyautey, Pacifier of Morocco, first "Résident-Général" Image via Wikipedia

The reason why the old Imperial authority died away so rapidly was mainly due to the its foundation on the religious prestige of its rulers (Sultans direct descendent of the Prophet)as well as Morocco’s isolation, and fanaticism of its people (and the ensuing repression in tax collecting Harkas) postponed the inevitable and kept a certain degree of independence. Now that money could not be levied and troops not paid, tribes and zawyas could riot and declare autonomy from the Makhzen authorities, while French troops steadily progressed accros the desert from the South, and in 1907, from the Eastern border. Now, the main argument regularly invoked to justify the treaty was that ‘it held Morocco together’. This statement overlooks the fact that Morocco as a sovereign entity was a purely nominal concept: true the Imperial Court and its protocol were upheld, and ambassadors paid their respect in Fès -and later on, in Rabat- to the Sultan. Other than that, real power, the violent exaction of taxes on the Moroccan nations, the only real symbol that asserts Imperial sovereignty, disappeared De Facto, and with Western occupation, De Jure as well.

The newly appointed Resident-General Hubert Lyautey, accompanied by French minister Henri Regnault proposed to the Sultan a deal, whereby his nominal authority would be preserved, or as it will come to be known, ‘protected’, in exchange of an explicit recognition of France’s and Spain’s rights over Morocco. The recognition was to be formalized in a treaty, presented March 13th, effectively signed March 30th in the Imperial palace at Fès.

Obediently, the Sultan succumbed, but the protectorate [did not] resemble […] the British veiled protectorate in Egypt that would have granted the Makhzen autonomy in areas like Justice and Administration, but the French protectorate in Tunisia, where the Bey was reduced to a cypher. (C.R. Pennell, ‘Morocco Since 1830, NYU Press. 2000)

Why, in light of the above-described circumstances, did Sultan Abdelhafid signed the treaty? Why did he sign his abdication act? ‘the official document of abdication was handed over. In return he received a cheque of 40,000, the last instalment of the agreed sum of money which the new Protectorate Government of Morocco had undertaken to pay him.‘ (Harris, 1921). Isn’t that a wilful treason, selling His throne and Morocco in exchange of an estate in Tangier and a pile of Cash? A lucid observer can conclude the Sultan signed the treaty to protect the Throne, and not Morocco.

How is that for ‘The Glorious Sherifians Throne’ ?

7 Responses

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  1. […] View original post here: Glimpses of Morocco's History Vol. 3 « The Moorish Wanderer […]

  2. mouka said, on March 27, 2011 at 23:45

    History is one of the oldest tools that regimes have used to change what really happened, and instead implement a narrative that plays in the hands of the regime.
    The communist countries are a classic study case for this distortion of history for ideological purposes.
    I have always been intrigued by the “official” history narrative we were fed in public schools in Morocco. The brief, almost insignificant, coverage of huge spans of time before the advent of Idriss I, has always puzzled me, even before my political awakening. I remember clearly the intellectual unease I would feel, whenever I read my class notes about history. It seemed as if Morocco did not exist, or barely existed, before the great Muslim dynasties were born.
    Another interesting fact, that was always carefully, and purposefully, set aside, was the fact that some dynasties were 100% Amazigh. Even as those dynasties used Arabic scripts to record official documents or letters. The first time I became aware of these Amazigh dynasties, was when I moved overseas to finish my education.
    The history narrative of the Makhzen, is just another way of how the regime distorts history to make it fit their political goals.

    • The Moorish Wanderer said, on March 27, 2011 at 23:52


      Confiscating history is the surest way to assert political and historical legitimacy. Why challenge a political regime with supposedly historic roots, unless one is a traitor?

      thanks for stopping by !

  3. fawzi said, on March 28, 2011 at 06:50

    Quit making sense with your historical facts and scholarly approach! Nationalism thrives on myths and dogma, not facts and reason.

  4. mouka said, on March 28, 2011 at 09:59

    As it probably hasn’t escaped you, your name IS a political and hostorical statement. Morocco has always been named “Morrakosh”. As is still evidenced by its many names for various western countries. The most telling being the Spanish name for Morocco “Marruecos”, which is nothing more than a corruption of “Marruecosh”, itself a corruption of “Morrakosh”.
    The name derives from an Amazigh origin “Amor-n-Akosh”.
    Amazighen were pagan people, they have many gods, one of them being the god of fire and hell “akosh”, as still evidenced by the word “kosha”, as in “kosha dajir”. “Kosha” is generally used to mean some fire pit. The name is probably derived from “Amor”, which is the name of a large swat of land. In Tamazight, the word for land is “tamort”, which is a feminine word, all Tamazight feminine words start with the letter “T”. “Tamort” always references a land or area, when we use the male counterpart of “tamort”, we get “Amor”, which simply implies an even greater geographical area. So the name of Morocco really means “Land of the god Akosh”. Which in turn probably means nothing more than “Sacred Land”. This is where “Morrakosh” is probably derived from.
    When the Islam was established in Morocco, the arabs started referring to Morocco as “Al Maghrib Al Aqsa”. This name makes sense only in the eyes of the the eastern Arabs, as it simply means “Western-ward Land”, it has no meaning for the indigenous population. The systematic erasing of this Amazigh identity and name was in full gear after the protectorate was in place in 1912. The original name was erased from all records and history books. This is another attempt at removing any historical reference to the Imazighen and their legitimate claim to be the indigenous inhabitants of Morocco. The claim that Morocco is only 1200 years old is at best laughable.
    Most of Moroccans are of Imazighen descent, Many inhabitants of the Moroccan plains have slowly converted from speaking Amazigh to Arabic, as the Arabic was the language of the religion that was adopted by most Imazighen. The history books “claim” that Morocco inhabitants have come from “7abasha wa sham”. Meaning they have come from the east. This is a blatant attempt to make Moroccans of Arab origin. I am 100% Amazigh, although I don’t speak it on a daily basis, I use the Darija every day, I feel that the regime purposefully distorts history for ideological and political reasons. Depriving us from our real heritage. The regime is backtracking on this particular issue, under constant pressure from the Imazighen activists. But we are far from having back our identity and history.
    I know that history is not a precise science, or even close to being an accurate narrative, it is a myth that establishes an identity of a group of people, but our history is our to write, not up to the Makhzen to define for us.

    • The Moorish Wanderer said, on March 28, 2011 at 10:08

      Of course my name is a political statement!
      contrary to the makhzen myth, mine admits other versions of history. And in matters like these, even though history is not a precise science (humanities are even less precise than social sciences…) it should be left to historians with a serious training -and a scientific methodology-
      Most historians in Morocco (those with a PhD in history, that is) have been heavily influence by an ‘activist’ teaching, pan-arab, histographic rather than historic.

  5. mouka said, on March 28, 2011 at 15:37

    I use my name in a sort of political, and social wink. As you probably know, the “Darija” is a mixture of several influences. The most notable being Tamazight and Arabic. In fact, an enormous number of “Darija” words make no sense whatsoever to native Arabic speakers, simply because they are derived from Tamazight, the language of Imazighen, the indigenous people of north Africa.
    My name in “Darija” means: Owl. It has no meaning in Arabic, but is derived from Tamazight, where the word for “Owl” is “Talmoukt”. Female (or feminine) names in Tamazight start, or end, with a “T”. Tafilalet, Tounfit, Tabriket, Tazmamart (The infamous political prison of Hassan II), etc, are all female names. So “Talmoukt” is a female name for “Owl”, in Tamazight. When we convert a normally female (feminine) name, to its male (masculine) counterpart, it is with the intent of “magnifying” (emphasizing) it.
    For example, in Tamazight, the word for “House” is “Tigemmi”. This word, “Tigemmi”, is for normal sized houses, when we deal with a huge house, i.e. palace, we use the male counterpart of this word, which then becomes “Agemmi”. Male names in Tamnazight start with “A”, “E” or “O”.
    When “Talmoukt” was adapted in the “Darija”, it went through a gender bending, thus becoming “Almouk”, which was corrupted later on to “Mouka”.
    I chose the name because of the traditional connection between “Owls” and wisdom. Owls are always painted, in folk stories, as a wise bird. I use it mostly to drive home the fact that our “Darija” is nothing but a direct indicator to our dual personalities: Amazigh and Arabic. Most of Moroccans are not aware of this duality in our everyday language.
    Most of the Moroccan places names make no sense to Arabic-only speakers. They make perfect sense to Imazighen. I can write a whole book on the origin of names and words in our “Darija”, but I don’t do it out of pure laziness.
    Maybe this will be my contribution to restoring our common history and reclaim it from the Makhzen.

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