The Moorish Wanderer

Glimpses of Morocco’s History Vol. 1

We need to go back to basics. No, I haven’t turn John Major yet (it’s only a matter of time before one can turn to a vegetable, right ?) but it seems, in the evils of wicked education policy pursued by some powerful lobbies for some three decades now- even well-educated internet-users are shockingly unaware of Morocco’s history.

And what makes matters worse, many that boast their undying patriotism can be put to shame for ignoring large scores of our history. It is usually understood that true patriots, so keen on loving their country, just like a lover, do their best to know their idol’s past history. It seems not.

I don’t claim to be historian. In fact I don’t claim to know that much about Morocco’s history too: some of High-school history lessons were so boring that I just skipped the teacher’s soliloquies on Moulay Ali Sherif, or the sub-Saharan expeditions Sultan Mansur Dâhbi sent raiding for gold and slaves. (I did however, rely on well-prepared notes, but, sadly, only for exam preparation. Some facts and dates managed to stick to mind, though) And as I grew older, with the hot political involvement of post-high school, I also discovered post-1956 history (the one that is strangely not taught at school, private or public)

So let me make it up to all of us: the agora around Morocco, patriotism, our ’12 centuries of History’, and other features of ill-informed doxa prompted me into changing course:  I’d like to leave politics aside for the time being, and start posting about history from time to time. I had this ambition many years ago, but time, and perhaps laziness prevented me from carrying out such a project. I shall now, to the best of my abilities, present some relatively unknown parts of our glorious history. I don’t claim to cover all of it from the Phoenicians up to the February 20th demonstrations, but rest assured, the random posts I’ll be tossing around will try to cover the widest possible chronological span.

I shall start with the High Atlas. I have developed a romantic streak for this place since I last visited it about 4 years ago; but still, the place has its history too. And instead of going for the all-too-celebrated imperial cities, let’s have a look at the rural areas, shall we? My accounts are usually drawn from books like ‘Saints Of the Atlas‘ (E. Gellner), ‘Lords Of the Atlas‘ (G. Maxwell) ‘Les Origines Sociales et Culturelles du Nationalisme Marocain‘ (A. Laroui) and other articles I’ll be citing along (with possible weblinks whenever available)

More specifically, I’ll be discussing the state (Makhzen) apparatus in the region: for all its fierce autonomy, local tribal democracy, and frequent clashes with the central power, the High Atlas, as the second-line border to the grand Sahara, has had some of the most ruthless governors (Caïds قيّاد), whose descendants had the unfortunate demise to be durably labelled as ‘collaborators’.

Consider the High Atlas: the plains and immediate surroundings of Marrakesh, one of the oldest Imperial cities (along Fès, Rabat and Meknès) are relatively safe, whether in times of asserted central authority or when the Makhzen has little grip over its territories. The mountains, on the other hand, are rebellious. contentious and frequently prone to challenge authority. A word of semantics here: Blad Siba does not mean anarchy. It does mean however that central power (which is going to be referred to as ‘Makhzen’ from now on) is non-existent, or rather, does not have the legitimate means of violence to coerce the rebellious subjects and force them into submission. These rebels are quite curious: they do not intend to break away from the Sultan’s authority; quite frequently, Friday prayers are established in His good name, and whenever possible, all kinds of respectful tribute are paid to the Imperial Sultan; the explanation is quite simple and resides in the Islamic obligation to be under a Ruler’s authority. What Blad Siba refuses is quite simply to pay the taxes. Not because of greed, but certainly, as we shall see later on, because of the way these taxes are literally extracted from the locals.

The plains are indeed usually docile (or, to put it more euphemistically, are less prone to riot and rebel against the local and central power) than their brethren in the mountains. The late Interior Minister, and Hassan II‘s factotum, Driss Basri, described it most emphatically: ‘we are [referring to Settat] plain and medowlands tribes, farmers. We always needed the Makhzen protection from mountain tribes’. When taxes were collected, plain tribes could afford -when harvest was good- to pay the Caïd and the Sultan. Tribes localized in mountainous and hostile regions, less so.

Let us take a leaf from Gavin Maxwell‘s account: “The […] rough geographical division […] covered the terms Blad Makhzen – the country under government control- and Blad Siba, Lawless Country, where force [for the Makhzen to prevail] was the only criterion- of the infinitely greater territories of un-subdued tribes. [Throughout the history of Morocco] it was from Blad Siba, and more especially the land of desert and palm oasis lying to the east of the Atlas, that almost every new dynasty of Sultans rose to conquer and replace the last […]” (p. 29-30)

handsome, […] and a most dignified bearing (G. Maxwell) “] […] In 1893, the reigning Alaouite Sultan, Mouley Hassan [1st], decided upon a tax-collecting expedition to the desert oases beyond the High Atlas, with its ultimate aim as the restoration of law and order at Tafilelt, the great palm oasis that had been the cradle of his dynasty, and which was now, as so often before, in a state of anarchy. […] It had always been the custom of the Alaouites to send home to Tafilelt unwanted members of their families […] as he majority [of these Alaouites] were unwamted, the descendants of the Prophet in Tafilelt were legion, it was an unusual state of affairs if there were not a few stirring up trouble“. (p. 33)


Here we are then: collecting taxes is not the main goal for these Harkas, far from it (and as it turns out, these expeditions cost way more than the effective collected tax receipts) but it is a bold symbol, of tribal submission and imperial authority. A Sultan like Hassan 1st, barely spent more than 6 months in one palace. For a Sultan to assert his power over his contentious subjects, He must be one whose “Imperial tents are never stored”.

Maxwell also describes the tax collecting: When the harka meets a tribe, no matter how obedient or rebellious it was, whether in peace or in a state of self-defence, they had to provide the food for the Imperial Juggernaut. The Sultan hardly travels alone, or only with a military outfit: The imperial retinue gathers numerous wives from the Harem, viziers and their families, courtesans, merchants looking for some fair bargains, and the usual rabble following a campaigning army: harlots, small trades, and any marginal seeking a meagre reward in sticking with the grasshopper army. Even when passing through a deserted and poor countryside, the Caïd and the tribe chiefs have, in addition to provide food and shelter, to stand before the Sultan, pay their respect and pledge allegiance (bey’a) and fill to their best, the Imperial Coffers. ‘Every Sultan, since the empire of Morocco first came under the dominion of the Arabs, had travelled in exactly the same manner…‘ Incidentally, the whole journey to Tafilelt, through the impregnable and dangerous mountain passes,  through the numerous skirmishes with rebellious mountain tribes, the frequent punishments (we shall describe in great details what it entailed) and then, the inevitable diseases and losses due to scarce water and food, bad if not non-existent field hygiene. Late 1893, Moulay Hassan arrived a dying man to Tafilelt. He was to die soon (summer 1894).

The Kasbah Of Telouet, A cardinal fortified strongpoint in the High Atlas (Picture. Virtual Tourist)

There was something very specific to the High Atlas tribes, far more complex than what have been recorded in Europe, and certainly with no similarities with Arab and plain-established tribes. Their leaders -usually elected, and seldom selected by central government to serve the Caidat position- lived in high-pitched castles (the formidable Kasbahs like Telouat) contumacious and very rebellious toward the Makhzen, against whom swords were crossed and muskets were fired only too frequently. Although fiercely Muslim, pageant rituals survived, with animist worship mixing into a very local Islam.

These feuds are not specific to the High Atlas, but they do provide, by the stalwart autonomy these tribes earned, a vivid illustration of the reprisals and punishments pro-Makhzen caids and Harkas exacted against the rebels and dissidents: Any captured prisoner, after horrendous torture, was beheaded, and the local Jews were paid to salt “literally thousands of heads” for public display on the nearest city’s wall (hence the ghetto the Moroccan Jewish community members were living in, The Mellah) The ringleaders, when captured, fared no better fate: they were stripped of their clothes, imprisoned in tiny cages, and at best, kept there until they die of starvation.

Next piece is going to be random. However, if anyone is interested in a particular history period, and to the best of my abilities and references, I shall post on it. Just send an email to tmkadet(at)gmail(dot)com

Milestone 100. Random thoughts & Others

Posted in Flash News, Morocco, Tiny bit of Politics by Zouhair ABH on December 22, 2010

Or so it was. 100th post -after I’d scrapped some I deemed to shameful to display- and blank screen to go, if not a desperate yearn to put together 2 ideas. I do have some drafts on economics, which I neglected a bit, but these are not enough. Although I can aver that I am going pretty well on my thesis.

So, what’s to talk about? random thoughts indeed, which should certainly not degenerate into desultory soliloquies of a fitful madman. Perhaps Wikileaks. I did not discuss the stuff, and I certainly am not going to do so -in depth I mean- in this post. Perhaps I could venture some thoughts on the matter. Wikileaks is very embarrassing. Not only to the US -they will get over it eventually, but damage has been done- but to one of the perks modern states enjoyed throughout the ages, i.e. secrecy, is about to disappear. Leaks are not a new phenomenon in the Western hemisphere: There was an earlier occurrence when the Lyndon administration had the unfortunate honour to deal once with mass-scale leaks during the Vietnam War -what came to be dubbed as ‘the Pentagon Papers‘-  and in 1971, beans were being spilled about how the war was conducted, contrary to official claims. It did contribute to the downfall of Lyndon Johnson. Of course, these leaks were massive because a document was compiled, and then put into the public domain. Wikileaks, on the other hand, benefited from new technologies, and was initially focused on ‘War Logs’ of Iraq and Afghanistan campaigns.

Secrecy goes with one of the modern state features: bureaucracy, with its specific and specified rules of process, extensive description of procedures and the like, is a quasi-institution that inevitably produces mass amounts of written documentation, some of which is deemed not to be made public. It could be motivated by the claim that it could hurt someone’s career, or reveal sensitive information damaging the national security, stability, institutions… the argument is contingent on how open the political master is about information. ‘Top Secret’ is the word. In that case, the bureaucracy produces its own rules protecting its individuals, or rather, the positions, a protection that is justified to the extent that the edifice need wholesome credibility. However, evidence and literature did underline the human aspect to it: Michel Crozier did point out, through the example of French civil service, that bureaucracies tend to create their own rules, and when consciously so, try to protect themselves from outside inquiries.

This, however, changed a bit. Partly due to the rise of libertarianism to prominent political thinking, and an increasing suspicion towards large bureaucracies and the State more generally. The Official Secrets Act gave way to the Freedom of Information Act, and secret agencies are required to disclose documents after a certain amount of time. Group pressure and individual citizens in the post-industrialized world are increasingly holding governments to account, a trend that is likely to be observed in the newly democratic countries in other parts of the world. Wikileaks, is therefore just “fast-tracking” these documents and quite frankly, they would not threaten much interests, save perhaps for some US officials to be roughed-up for their blunt style in diplomatic cables. On the other hand, it would be good to read some confidential memos from Morocco, least of which on the true nature of agreements with France after 1956, or perhaps what happened exactly to Ben Barka in 1965.

I did not grasp fully the implications of the Sahara issue: media in Morocco are still drumming up domestic support for the cause, as I watch on television the Foreign Affairs minister congratulate himself on negotiations about which we know very little, and about which the Moroccan people have very little if anything, to say in it. It is either a matter of media manipulation (as a cover-up for something else) or just as a under-the-table kind of deal that would contradict the domestic line on “Moroccan sovereignty or bust”. As far as I am concerned, Spanish and Algerian animosity, if anything, account very little for the current issue. It is a matter of institutional resilience, a deeper problem to address, something the policy makers do not have the incentives, nor the means, nor even the will to tackle. As for the Moroccan people, they have been rendered, well, as they say in Arabic: صُمٌّ بُكْمٌ عُمْيٌ فَهُمْ لَا يَعْقِلُونَ. C’est pas demain la veille !

I finally got my new ID Card. It took me about 3 months to get it. To my dismay, they mistyped my family name (which is a bit complicated, granted); A Kafkaesque discussion with the local clerk followed:

Me: “My family name is not typed correctly”

Clerk: “Central used the official paper you have put in your application”

Me: “Well, yes… I have the document here, my name is typed like so”

Clerk: “This is not my problem. You’ll have to do the application all over again, or perhaps just the fingertips bit”

Me: “I thought it was electronic; Why do I have to start from square one ?”

Clerk: “I don’t know, please stand aside, let 3ibad Allah yi choufou ch’ghoulhoum”

I did state my belief in civil service, but sometimes, I wonder how the Moroccan service is holding the country together. I always thought I was listed on the DST file -and I have no problem with that, it’s a family tradition, plus it’s their job to keep an eye on troublemakers, even harmless ones such as myself, but if they fail to transfer correctly my name on a computer file, then on the ID card, I have serious doubts on their ability to ensure security and to run effectively national register database. Oh, and that’s the tip of the iceberg: I still have my passport to renew, too… I am a Public Service loving person at heart, but, as far as Morocco is concerned, it’s high time they abolished the cosy rent civil servants are benefiting from, and start whipping them up for the common wealth, and to get value for their salaries.

I was thinking about social engineering as well: the first duty of government -left wing government of course- is to ensure common welfare is maximized, which implies redistribution, and thus making some people less well off, though they redistributed amount does not hurt their wealth to significant extent. This, among other things, can be achieved by means of public policies, the so-called public choice, subject to ideological tendencies: for instance, pro-family governments would for instance grand generous allowances for married woman to quit their job to take care of children, or indeed build kindergartens nearby. Pro-individual officials would on the contrary facilitate non-marital partnerships by passing laws allowing for it, or by introducing fiscal incentives. Econometric studies do show that individuals do respond to incentives of such features. Now, some could argue, and it could be sensible, that authoritarian tendencies lie in these policies. Sure. However, as the British Conservative Party advocated once, “We’re all in this together”; that’s the textbook trade-off that makes civilized societies what they are: individuals abdicate part of their individual freedom in exchange to larger, more secure collective privileges. Public policies, social engineering are just part of this explicit pact.

These policies are necessary to discuss in my opinion. I belong to a group of people that advocate a constitutional reform in Morocco, that would emphasise on human rights and genuine democracy, and these are views I subscribe to. But there is a fine line between romantic idealism and down-to-earth, bread-&-butter policies to put them to practise. Liberals and left-wing radicals did not, or failed to provide precise measures. I mentioned something about legalizing prostitution, on how defence spendings should be allocated among the Armed Forces; I would gladly do research on how to rethink taxation and budget spendings. We need more social engineers, and certainly less human rights activists. Too much time, energy and resources are spent lamenting on the lack of liberties -which is perfectly true- and very little is spent on actually putting forward proposals to achieve greater wealth, greater responsibility and wider freedom margins.

Last thing: Maroc Blogs Awards is closing nominations. Do vote for me, I’d appreciate it. thank you.

Media Strategy: We’ve Got It Wrong

Much as I would like to comment on the spiral of violence in the Sahara, I have to confess my equal distaste for siding either the Polisario or Makhzenian side. It would have felt like derogating to a credo I fancy: never mix history and media coverage.
Unless someone can claim to be an ubiquitous, omniscient, unbiased and flawless journalist roaming free and loose in the desert taking shots and recording interviews, no one can claim a fair report on the events of violence in Laayoune and other parts of the Sahara (not even the worldwide press agencies). At the present time, trying to make sense out of the Schmilblink is useless, if not the aim of deliberate propaganda, a typical “Them & Us” situation. Better wait and see. The bovine-minded would tease the doubtful for a perceived lack of patriotism, but the sensible way is to observe; the rest is idle chat.

Instead, I would reach upon a much reasonable subject: both sides fielded various sets of media and communication strategy, which would ultimately give the upper hand to either side prior to the expected negotiations on the Sahara issue. On the record, I assume Morocco has a strategy, because from where I see things, it looks bloody amateur to say the least. the Polisario, on the other hand, when they do not put their efficacious propaganda machine into action, benefit almost naturally from sympathetic reports from mainstream media. As far as I am concerned, in media terms, Morocco wiped out the sympathy it got from the Ould Salma case, and finds itself back in the script as the super-villain, close to the low ebb of November 2009, when Aminatou Haidar was expelled.

Clouds and Ashes over Laayoune (Demotix Picture)

Could it get any worse? Very easily so. Could things get better? Difficult, but feasible if our officials get their heads together and start changing their current strategy, or if they had no prior strategy, to come up with one that would rebuild Morocco’s damaged image. Otherwise, that’s incredible leverage to the Polisario in the upcoming UN-backed negotiation talks.

Media strategy in both sides differ wildly in style: in an age of instant information and shrinking margins for cover-ups, the Moroccan response communication strategy is, and one is economical with the terms, weak, and its efficiency highly questionable: deporting journalists and even members of  foreign parliaments does not help. Official web channels, the MAP for instance, have a very weird way in putting Morocco’s case. In facts it is targeting Moroccan audience. Never mind the foreigners, that’s the Moroccans we’ve got to focus on. On the foreign front, the communication strategy the Moroccan officials seem to follow can be reasonably summed up as follows: ideally, it would be enough to convince the 5 permanent members of the Security Council and around 10-11 non permanent members to back -or at least to abstain- a resolution recognizing Morocco’s sovereignty or its autonomy-based proposal, and as the old sayings goes: “جمع و طوي“. A state can claim sovereignty over a defined territory precisely because other sovereign states recognize the fact. Biafra did not make it because it lacked the proper support of sovereign powers, though it was never short of media and NGOs support. That’s the way our officials’ minds could be moving to.  Large sums of money are spent buying off friends in France, Spain, the US, etc… and paying off lobby agencies to market our side of the story to the high spheres of world leaders. Little is spent on media strategy. The idea seems to be that if the governments are ok with it, their mainstream media will follow suit. In short, there is only one media strategy, and that is to devote time and resources to stifle internal dissent. One tries very hard to notice differences in the way the 8 o’clock evening news briefings on the Saharan troubles of the past week differ from those of the early 1980’s. Save for stylistic differences, the message remains the same. For instance, there were casualties among the security forces; This is likely to trigger quite sympathetic comments from Moroccans readers, but to others, they are merely casualties like others. When a 14 years boy was shot around the protest camp, the same readers worldwide would almost instantly feel more upset about him then about the Moroccan policemen and paramilitary. That’s the way it goes down with the media. Experienced government with press officers and media PR professionals find it hard to deal with. Our authorities are definitely not up to scratch with that business.  Communications with the outside world are, at best, defensive and greet foreign observers with deliberate hostility.

On the other hand, the Polisario leads a guerilla-style propaganda. Their media strategy is definitely outward-looking. In short their Press agency does not differ much from ours. But they do not depend on it to rely their side of the story: much of the mainstream media reported their figures instead of the Morocco claims. The protesters at Agdayme Izik were protesting because of their economic difficulties (as the BBC noted) At the moment the media report the fact accurately, but it is at the same time, casting doubts on our officials’ tolerance for dissidence: “[…]But while the demands are social, the scale of the protest — the people in the tent camp represent a sizeable chunk of Western Sahara’s native population — is testing the Moroccan government’s tolerance for dissent, and its nerve.” In any case, the fact the common Moroccan citizen does not care whether the rest of the world believe Morocco is controlling by force a non-autonomous territory (a j’y suis j’y reste sort of state of mind is irrelevant. To readers  and viewers of well-known newspapers, media networks and TV channels, the Western Sahara will look like East Timor and Indonesia. Right now all the niceties about how complex the conflict is, as well as the criticism of the occult intertwined interest in this dispute dragging on for more than 50 years (trace it back to Mauritania’s independence, that is much more accurate) just flew out of the windows for the most vicious, partisan and nationalistic invectives from one side to the other. Algerian and Spanish media -in their majority- back the Polisario because they have special relationship with them. Morocco relies on friendly foreign countries to mop up the mess and stand by them. To the Polisario long-term media strategy of friendly media and reliable channels to echo their speech, our officials adopt short-sighted and short-term tactics that do worse than anything to our claim. Instead, they devote incredible resources to convince the Moroccan people -that are already obedient and compliant to the official line- that indeed, the acts of violence in Laayoune and elsewhere are a trifle. Some marginals and petty criminals that have gone rogue.

In media spin terms, Morocco fights the communications war just as badly as they did during the desert war of 1976-1991. Little training and absolutely no efficient contingent plan to parry enemy influence. On the media front, Morocco is as defensive as isolated as it has been during the 1980’s. And in facts, the way our communications are channelled did not change much before the cold war. These very strategies fail to capture the tremendous impact alternative media have on people’s mind. And whether we like it or not, the countries our officials are counting on to buttress our claim are democractic, and their elected leaders have to be accountable to their electorate. If these become convinced Morocco are the baddies, the friendship between our two countries won’t matter much…

So what? Do we have to stand idle and let them lead us to disaster? Can’t we devise some alternative diplomacy on the subject? Some did. or rather did try, and they were quite sloppy with it, leading to comparative results. The first thing to do, policy-wise, is to be open about it.The chaps at the interior ministry and the royal cabinet should overcome their fear and be open about things. Get an international panel of journalists from international newspapers, representative from foreign countries, NGO activists, UN representatives. Walk them through the scene of violence. At the age of instant information, damage control would be to accept international scrutiny. Second, be credible. It is obvious that standards of living and, to certain extent, civil liberties are better off from our side of the defensive wall. Be bold, media-savyy. It might be all spin, but in people’s mind -outside Morocco, it will look like an honest country trying to be democratic and open-minded, but that’s just the lousy separatists that want to to blow it off. It started to take off with Ould Salma, but now it is gone; I am getting all Malcom Tucker right now, but this spin stuff should not elude us from the core question: institutional reforms. response was weak and disorganised because of the cast-like bureaucratic hierarchy. What we call in Morocco: “التعليمات”. Instructions. The officials, especially at the interior ministry, cannot take a single decision without referring to their superiors. It goes very high all the way up, paralysing thus the local and central administration in case of emergency. And when initiatives are taken, they are sloppy too because no one will turn up and ask questions. For the Moroccan claim to be solid granite, basic democratic mechanisms have to be introduced in the actual spheres of power. If Morocco talks the talk of democracy and civil liberties, it should walk the walk of institutional and constitutional reforms too. I try to voice up the nihilist inside me shouting and screaming in anger, not because I am being glad my country is entangled in a difficult position because of staff incompetence, but because in the long run, some of the choices that were made in marketing our claim might turn out to be wrong, much to our disadvantage.

Finally, Morocco has to be reconciled with its history in this region. As soon as it captures the media initiative, it should dug into core issues, concrete stuff: admit past errors for one. This is all long term work that requires media knowledge and handling our officials direly need.

Founding Myths and the Green March

Posted in Flash News, Moroccan ‘Current’ News, Moroccanology, Morocco by Zouhair ABH on November 6, 2010

That’s today apparently. the Green March I mean. As I am writing those lines, I am awaiting by the speech His Majesty the King delivers on that occasion. Awaiting because of the recent troubles down under, at Agdayme Izik near Laayoune in the Sahara.

Dissidents' camps (source: Le Soir-Echos)

These protesters camped up in hundreds and thousands (15.000-20.000 following various sources), apparently expressing their ras-le-bol of a situation that is, to put it euphemistically, delicate.  Will he mention this formidable show of force? Threaten or Assure the dissident masses?

The reason why I wrote this post is not the Green March anniversary itself. I have been baffled by the sheer alacrity a colleague blogger displayed on celebrating the Green March (on Tweeter that is. He did not have the wit to write something up about this glorious second ملحمة الملك و الشعب). Now I am no iconoclast, in the sense that I believe every state-nation, real or artificial, needs founding myths. And Morocco is no exception to that. I am just surprised that someone like him, so well-taught and of such keen insight could be so blatantly blinded by mere propaganda. Why would I then demur the Green March as a founding myth? In broad terms, because it is the founding myth of one side in the Moroccan political spectrum, i.e. the monarchy. We live in interesting times, where one is required to be a patriot, though prevented from lifting the veil off some unpleasant truths. So to the benefit of the one watching us, I would like to remind him of some facts about the Sahara case. what is the fuss about the Green March? I mean any sane individual would note that Morocco got its independence out of France and Spain like a mortgage payment: French zone first, Northern Spanish zone afterwards, then bits and chunks until late 1960’s, when it was sort of frozen up until early 1970’s, when late king Hassan II got things heated up in Morocco to finally reach its apex with November 6th, 1975. Oh, another thing that bemuses me, Rio de Oro and Mauritania. How come a territory that was Mauritanian, and accepted as such by Moroccan authorities (as part of the signed tripartite treaty signed November 1975) was swiftly claimed as own after they pulled out of the Desert war? And how come the Monarchy toned down so vividly the claims on Mauritania itself? My claim is, the Green March, and beyond that, the Sahara issue was means to an end. It was a nationalistic move to overcome the increasing remoteness the monarchy was in. It succeeded in gathering popular support as well as extracting a nation-wide consensus from political parties; Nonetheless, and it is certainly not out of malicious thought, one cannot standby idly looking on a propaganda piece -a successful one, not because it is so, but because generations of Moroccans believe in it.

The Green March walkers, holding flags and portaits of King Hassan II, November 1956

To be sure, the sight of 350.000 peaceful demonstrators hurdling towards the border is chilling to say the least. The vermilion forest of national flags and the remarkable devotion of the walkers boosts up one’s nationalist pride (yes, even the radical crypto-communist nihilist has nationalist feelings). The Green March hymn burnishes the whole thing up. But it eludes an array of facts that are either ill-known to the general public -and it seems, to some of the would be elite- or just belittled because they do not fit their respective weltschaaung. Why, the mere fact that the same monarchy prevented -indirectly of course, and for matters of internal politics- some patriots from defeating the French-Spanish occupation of the Sahara and restoring it back to the Moroccan rule should refrain one from being ecstatic about the Green March; It was no a matter of gaining back our rightful soil, merely a short-term political move that developed into a matter of legitimacy.

Morocco gained formally its independence March 2nd, 1956 following the Saint-Cloud Treaty undoing the Fès treaty -thus effectively ending the French protectorate- (another myth was to promote November 18th as independence day, the day Sultan Mohammed V went back from his exile, while Morocco was still under French and Spanish rule). the Northern zone was retro-ceded to the newly independent Morocco in April 1956. Nothing was said about the Spanish Western Sahara that the Moroccan nationalists -not the monarchy- were claiming as part of Morocco; Indeed the monarchy was much suspicious in its own discretion during this period. Truth of the matter is, it was busy strengthening its hold on power, especially the crown-prince, to the expenses of the other major political players. If it so sordid politics, why an overwhelming majority of Moroccans still identify more closely with the Sahara issue than any other issue, seemingly closer to their common, everyday shores: consumer prices, and level of wages for instance? I would like to venture some explanation by taking a leaf out of “Psychologie des Foules” by a 19th century right-wing positivist Gustave Le Bon. The whole idea of using signs and symbols that are sympathetic to the masses, or in an almost bawdy way, to their instincts is well described in his book: “La foule, jouet de tous les stimulants extérieurs, en reflète les incessantes variations. Elle est donc esclave des impulsions reçues. […] On peut physiologiquement définir ce phénomène en disant que l’individu isolé possède l’aptitude à dominer ses réflexes, alors que la foule en est dépourvue.” I wouldn’t go as far as describing the whole propaganda behind the Green March as one of Pavlovian inspiration, but when one looks at the cornucopia of flags, korans, portraits of the king, and the enthusiastic tune -the famous نداء الحسن– are close to external stimulii. That was in 1975. From that year onward, TV, education, books, newspapers, all possible means of communication have been more or less explicitly marshalled into supporting the cause, effectively waving the patriotic flag whenever internal difficulties arise.

Far from me denigrating the founding myth the Green March became over the years (do I sound like I am?) my point is, the motivation behind it, namely the peaceful demotic demonstration fro bringing back the Sahara to the Morocco has not been motivated by selfless, patriotic means to a rightful end. It is the starting point of a purely political gambling, and the denouement of a hypocritical policy the monarchy followed since the days of independence. How could one be uncompromising about Moroccan Sahara, while they were in the past silent about it, or about the Mauritanian claim too? And why prevent equally if not even more fiercely patriotic people from taking it away militarily -with greater glory no doubt- when they had the means, the motives and good likelihood to achieve it. It is, quite simply, a call for sanity: cheer the green march as you want, cherish it as a founding moment of Moroccan pride and history. Don’t spoil it by ignoring its political backdrops and the hidden conflict for influence that laid behind it. If there’s one thing that can advance the cause, it is surely, for the Moroccan regime, to recognize its past lapses, and be open about it to the widest extent possible. Can one presume things will be dealt with in a reasonable and a grown-up manner? thank you.

Let me go gooey and optimistic a moment: an autonomous republic within a federal monarchy is just as fine a settlement solution as another. One could even think of the Polisario as some sort of regionalist party that would compete for the regional parliament just like federal-wide parties. This supposes that their hard-line people would come to terms (Morocco does not have hard-line people, ony warring tribal interests), that the corrupted officials from one side of the defence wall and the other are routed out, that Morocco delivered a clean bill of health on its constitutional reforms, and finally that the Algerian officials chose to focus on their home issues more courageously.

… Et le Maroc passa à côté d’une opportunité historique

Posted in Uncategorized by Zouhair ABH on November 28, 2009

: le présent article n’est pas une apologie de l’indépendantisme Polisarien. Il s’agit d’un effort de dé construction d’une réalité confuse que très peu de marocains connaissent, car cachée par nos dirigeants depuis 30 ans)

“What does attract you in the desert?”

– “It is clean…”

C’était la réponse du Major T.E. Lawrence (Al-Orance pour les tribus arabes). Le Sahara n’est pas propre. Il est plein d’os blanchis, de carcasses calcinées d’avions, de chars, de divers véhicules, des cadavres d’une guerre qui dure toujours (même avec un cessez-le-feu)

La cause du Sahara, c’est deux thèses antagonistes : Sahara Marocain vs Sahara Occidental. C’est aussi une survivance de la guerre froide, un point où Est et Ouest se mesuraient par marionnettes interposées. Mais au fond, combien de marocains connaissent l’histoire vraie ? Ou tout au moins, combien ont les bonnes informations pour se faire une idée à peu près correcte de la situation ?

I. A l’origine, l’opération Ecouvillon/Ouragan

Ecouvillon a certainement été à l’origine du problème. En 1958, Le Maroc avait une armée ‘officielle’, structurée comme les armées modernes et encadrée à l’européenne (les FAR) et une guérilla bien équipée, très mobile et en constante coordination avec sa consœur algérienne. Il s’agit de l’Armée de Libération Marocaine, qui opérait au nord du Maroc depuis 1955, et qui s’est infiltrée petit à petit au Sud, après la signature des accords de La Celle Saint-Cloud. Ceux qui sont passés par le système marocain se rappellent peut être (ou pas…) les cartes géographiques ou le Maroc recouvre peu à peu son indépendance et son autorité sur des territoires donnés. Au sud de Sidi Ifni, les français et les espagnols étaient encore présents, et l’ALM-Sud opérait souvent des incursions en profondeur pour détruire des installations militaires franco-espagnoles. Cette armée avait des chefs comme Fqih Basri, M. Bensaïd Aït Idder, A. Yousoufi, résistants qui entendaient prolonger la lutte armée pour libérer tous le Maghreb.

Dans ce contexte, la monarchie marocaine (ainsi que ses alliés ‘objectifs’ en Europe et aux Etats-Unis) s’inquiétait de ce rival potentiel, d’autant plus que l’ALM était qualitativement et quantitativement supérieure aux FAR : certes, les officiers coloniaux marocains reversés étaient compétents, mais l’expérience unique des combattants de l’ALM, rodés aux opérations de guérilla (urbaine et classique) et de style ‘commandos’ lui donnait un avantage décisif. Cette ALM était donc un danger pour la monarchie, qui tenta par tous les moyens de l’asphyxier : en essayant de corrompre ses dirigeants (Sanhaji raconte que tout chef de l’ALM qui faisait allégeance à la monarchie avec un groupe de plus de 25 combattants était automatiquement intégré à la fonction publique, aux FAR, était éligible à un agrément de transport, etc…)

Ou encore en coupant les vivres : sous sa primature, A. Ibrahim a souvent défendu Benhamou et Basri devant Mohamed V, et surtout, My Hassan, les premiers se plaignaient de l’interruption du ravitaillement, interruption initiée par le prince héritier, et de son conseiller militaire, le Cdt Blair (de l’US Navy et très probablement de la CIA)

En 1958, Les combattants de l’ALM avaient habitude de partir de leurs bases en territoire marocain –avec la discrète neutralité bienveillante des gardes frontières marocains- et frapper en zone occupée. Les franco-espagnols décident de couper court à l’impunité des combattants ALM et larguent un millier de parachutistes derrière la frontière marocaine (le 7ème Régiment de Para Coloniaux et la Légion étrangère espagnole y participent) et prennent à revers l’ALM et les tribus sahraouies qu’elle arme. Elle est donc entièrement annihilée, et beaucoup de sahraouis garderont souvenir de cette opération. Les membres de l’ALM gardent le souvenir d’une trahison, les autorités marocaines les ayant abandonnés face à un adversaire bien renseigné et surtout, largement supérieur en nombre et en matériel (que peuvent faire les mortiers et fusils des combattants, contre les avions et les canons lourds du contingent Franco-espagnol ?)

Pour le Polisario, l’ALM était simplement un corps d’instructeur (mercenaires même). On comprendra plus tard pourquoi ce mythe fondateur est nécessaire à la littérature du Polisario pour trouver les racines d’un ‘nationalisme sahraoui’.

II El Ouali Mustapha Sayyed : Un patriote mal connu

« Fils de résistant, issu de la tribu des Thallat, le futur leader sahraoui grandit à Tan Tan, entre à l’école tardivement.[…] (Il) s’inscrit en faculté de droit à Rabat. C’est là que sa conscience politique se forme. […] Ses enseignants saluent ce “pur idéaliste dont l’adversité ne semble pas dévoyer la cause sahraouie”, ses camarades apprécient cet “esprit libre qui ne souffre aucun sectarisme”.

El Ouali n’envisage pas l’indépendance, bien au contraire. “Ces dignes héritiers de l’ALN veulent parachever ce qui n’a pas été permis à leurs aînés, réparer cette frustration, encore cruellement vivace, d’avoir été empêchés de pénétrer au Sahara armes à la main”, se rappelle un militant de gauche, qui les a côtoyés.

Entre-temps, El Ouali voyage, commence par l’Algérie où Bensaïd Aït Ider lui apporte son appui, jusqu’au jour où il lui fait état de ses projets sécessionnistes. “La révolution au Maroc, oui, mais la scission du territoire, non”, » (TelQuel n°210)

A l’évidence, quelque chose s’est passé entre le moment où El Ouali militait pour le rattachement du Rio de Oro espagnol au Maroc, et le moment où il fait appel à la Libye, puis aux Algériens pour armer et financer ce qui deviendra plus tard le Polisario. A Tan Tan en 1972, El Ouali organise une manifestation contre l’occupation espagnole du Sahara, est arrêté, puis enlevé par la police marocaine, puis relâché quelques mois plus tard. Bien entendu, cette arrestation en plus de ses activités politiques à l’UNEM, font qu’il passera par la torture ordinaire de l’époque. Dans l’optique makhzénienne, le patriotisme ne peut s’exprimer que par ses voies officielles, en proclamant l’attachement au trône et à la monarchie. C’est cette vision qui peut expliquer partiellement la décision de la monarchie pour étouffer l’ALM en la livrant littéralement, aux anciens colonisateurs. la majorité des combattants n’était peut être pas républicaine, mais aspirait vivement à un nouvel ordre des choses, ce que la monarchie, et –cette fois, ses alliés intérieurs- les anciens collaborateurs réhabilités, refusait catégoriquement.

El Ouali est donc dégoûté, mais ne se tourne pas directement vers le séparatisme. Il rallie les dirigeants de gauche, exilés en Algérie ou en France (Bensaïd Aït Idder ou Fqih Basri) pour participer à leurs projets (notamment l’organisation du Tanzim.) : ‘Arrivé à Tripoli le fqih Basri enrôle (El Ouali){…}, très vite, Mahmoud (Bennouna) et Basri découvrent en El Ouali les qualités d’un chef capable d’ouvrir un troisième front dans le Sud’

Remarquons que jusqu’en 1973, El Ouali opère avec des marocains, en tant quel tel, pour combattre le despotisme hassanien de l’époque. Après ? On peut lier deux évènements à l’intervention des services secrets algériens : Mars 1973 a été échec pour le Tanzim, car ce dernier a été, entre autres, infiltré par des agents marocains avec la neutralité bienveillante des algériens, ces derniers ayant aussi opposé toutes sortes de difficultés pour l’approvisionnement et les communications. Du côté d’El Ouali, il n’est pas impossible de penser qu’une manipulation algérienne et libyenne l’ait conduit à envisager de plus en plus l’idée d’un Sahara indépendant. Quand il est question d’Algérie ou de Libye ici, ce sont des forces occultes, manipulées à leur tour par les services de renseignement de pays plus grands : CIA et KGB ont déjà eu l’occasion de coopérer pour dévoyer des mouvements tiers-mondistes à leur propre bénéfice…

10 Mai 1973, le Polisario est officiellement créé, et engage des raids contre les postes espagnols : il ne s’attaque pas au territoire marocain, et se focalise sur la lutte contre les espagnols. Juin 1976, sa petite colonne est éliminée par l’armée Mauritanienne (avec le soutien de l’aviation française ?) devant Nouakchott. Sa mort ouvre la voie à une nouvelle phase dans le problème du Sahara.

III. Le Maroc, La Marche Verte, la guerre des sables

En 1975, la Monarchie ne tient que par la terreur policière. Hassan II a besoin de reprendre l’initiative face à un mécontentement populaire croissant (on enregistre de plus en plus de révoltes populaires dans les petites localités perdues du Maroc inutile) et des dates comme 1971, 1972 et 1973, prouvent qu’on peut dangereusement menacer le pouvoir. C’est ainsi que la marche verte allait permettre à la monarchie de reprendre l’initiative, et réactiver -à son bénéfice bien sûr- le vieux nationalisme marocain. Curieux retournement de situation : la Koutla (Istiqlal, UNFP puis l’USFP qui se créé en 1975 par scission de l’UNFP) qui compte beaucoup d’anciens résistants, perd une revendication qu’elle a longtemps fait sienne : la récupération des territoires marocains encore sous domination colonialiste (y compris la Mauritanie) à un moment où la monarchie souhaitait d’abord consolider son emprise sur les territoires de 1956. La Marche verte, est, en ce sens, une initiative audacieuse, plus dirigée vers des buts de politique intérieure, que par des considérations de ‘libération nationale’. 1975, c’est aussi l’année de la mort de F. Franco, dictateur de l’Espagne et, comme son collègue Salazar, inconscient des changements du monde après 1945.

La Marche verte, c’est aussi l’infiltration des FAR en zone sud, et dès 1976, des accrochages avec l’APLN Algérienne, et le Polisario, qui se renforce des milices espagnoles, composées de soldats Sahraouis. le Polisario, en plus de disposer d’une force armée disciplinée et en parfaite connaissance du terrain, reçoit du matériel moderne de Libye, d’Allemagne de l’Est, le Yougoslavie et de Tchécoslovaquie, et des renseignements précieux des Algériens. le Maroc reçoit le soutien de la France et des USA, mais le matériel reçu n’est pas très utile dans une guerre du désert, où la mobilité et l’armement léger et rustique obtiennent plus de résultats qu’une armée conventionnelle, à l’armement certes de qualité, mais fragile sous le climat sec du Sahara, et l’incompétence de militaires ayant peu ou pas d’expérience. Ce n’est qu’en 1991 que le climat se détend, et les deux belligérants signent un cessez-le-feu.

IV. Quel Sahara pour quel Maroc ?

La proposition marocaine d’autonomie sahraouie suppose un référendum constitutionnel : une partie du territoire marocain disposera d’une autonomie accrue, et le principe d’extension de ces avantages à d’autres régions marocaines suppose un changement profond du système administratif du pays. Un changement de telle ampleur doit s’effectuer à travers un réaménagement de la constitution. Une solution parmi d’autres serait de faire du Maroc une fédération de régions avec de larges attributions, mais qui se rattachent à l’idéal du Maroc pluriel mais indivisible. Une réforme constitutionnelle, redistribuant les pouvoirs au bénéfice du peuple marocain, sera nécessaire pour faire en finir avec ce ‘grand malentendu’

Bibliographie :

TelQuel n°210

‘Héros sans Gloire, Echec d’une révolution’ Mehdi Bennouna

‘Les Trois Rois’ Ignace Dalle

‘سنوات الصمود في قلب الإعصار’ Mohamed Louma & Abdellah Ibrahim

‘La Grance Encycolpédie du Maroc – Institutions’ Collectif