The Moorish Wanderer

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…