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’ ?