The Moorish Wanderer

Five Score Years Later…

La Marche de l’Histoire” is perhaps the best Radio France Inter broadcasts – not nearly as great as its predecessor 2000 d’Histoire- but still; On March 9th Jean Lebrun invited Professor E. Berenson (NYU) to talk about Hubert Lyautey, conqueror, pacifier and first Resident General of the French Moroccan protectorate.

you can download the entire broadcast on this weblink [mp3]

But my blogpost isn’t about Maréchal Lyautey. It is not even about French colonialism; I should say I have a declared interest in this; my entire higher education so far has been conducted under the French Grandes Ecoles system, and there is no doubt in my mind that until recently, my Weltschauung has been very French-centred. Education, cultural references, even my early reading list on Moroccan politics has been fashioned by French authors, historians or French-speaking references.If anything, me blogging in English is a kind of redemption from la Langue de Molière, and I don’t buy into the idea that Arabic as my natural lingua franca, Pan-arabism is just as dismal a cultural colonialism as the French influence.

former Sultan Abdelhafid posing as a gentleman farmer, carrying his nephew and future Hassan II (Source: Le Journal Hebdomadaire)

Sultan Abdelhafid signed the Fez treaty on March 30th 1912; Historians report that Saturday was rainy and grey – that day formalized Morocco’s loss of sovereignty. How it came to the Spanish-French protectorate has been pretty well established: high foreign debt, increasing foreign pressures to meddle with Imperial finances, and a traditionally weak central authority failing even to perform the basic -some might say sole- task of levying taxes, let alone suppress successfully Roguis and tribal uprisings all over the Cherifian empire. A succession of military defeats and weak sultans allowed French cavalry columns to egress North of the Sahel and West from the Moroccan-Algerian border, and a stylish, bloody shelling, then landing on the shores of the future Casablanca in 1907. Spaniards took advantage of

C.R. Pennell reports:

While French and Spanish troops nibbled at Moroccan territory, European creditors drained the treasury. Moulay Abdelhafid could not fulfil his bay’a by recovering the lost lands, nor by ending the debt.

The new Sultan needed money. He had recognised the Act of Algeciras, which has undermined his authorities, but customs dues alone were not enough. Abdelhafid needed foreign loans. Between January and April 1909 negotiations in Fez and in Paris produced a proposal to reorganize the Moroccan debt, at the price of increased French control over the Chaouïa and Oujda where only the fiction of Makhzen authority would be maintained.

That served Lyautey well, as he did not use brutal force to invade Morocco; he dubbed his strategy ‘oil slick’, which precluded slash and burn tactics the Spanish army was so keen on carrying out in the Northern part of Morocco. By 1912, the enthusiastic coalition that supported Abdelhafid’s bid for the Imperial throne waned: Chorfa and Ulamas, long exempted from tax duties,  refused to pay the Tartib (a non-Islamic tax) and so did the Guich tribes;

Abdelhafid was nominated under the conditions he would drive away the Christian aliens, he turned out to be their puppet, in 1910 Colonel Mangin was appointed to reorganise the Moroccan regular army, while French banks controlled all the receipts from the 227 Million francs foreign trade.

The idea of maintaining local elites and the Sultan wasn’t entirely Lyautey’s idea: Consul Gaillard pushed for a subtle indirect rule, whereby French troops were stationed in Morocco officially to restore the Sultan’s rule and protect his throne and his dynasty:

Article III: Le Gouvernement de la République prend l’engagement de prêter un constant appui à Sa Majesté Chérifienne contre tout danger qui menacerait Sa personne ou Son trône qui compromettrait la tranquilité de Ses Etats. Le même appui sera prêté à l’héritier du trône et à ses successeurs

(Fez Treaty – BO n°1 dated 11/01/1912)

France’s Premier R. Poincaré gave reason to Lyautey and Gaillard (promoted to the newly created Diplomatic Bureau of the Resident-General) over General Moinier (who was in favour of direct rule) and the attached legislation to the Fez treaty effectively put the Resident-Generalship under the authority of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs – not the War Ministry.

But the reality of French rule was very Jacobin: military governors answered directly to General Lyautey, and civil comptrollers ranked second to the military establishment. Initially those arrangements were dictated by the urgency of dispatching a rapid-response force to the sporadic mutinies in the newly (re)created, 12,000 strong Moroccan army, and against the tribal M’hallas besieging Fez, Sefrou and Hajeb. Abdelhafid surrendered Morocco’s sovereignty (sold out, as a matter of fact), but the new Sheriff in town had to conquer a contentious land and wage a political fight with perpetually warring tribes. in Fez, Colonel Gouraud had to break the siege, while French columns were rushed to Souss and Marrakech to deal with Desert warriors led by Ahmed El Hiba.

The ‘Pacification’ officially ended in 1934, long after Lyautey had left the Resident-Generalship.