IN EASTERN eyes, Morocco, the Maghreb el Aqsa, is nothing more than the most westerly of a long chain of states which, from Indonesia to the Atlantic, live according to the same religious, political and social laws, revealed by the Almighty in Mecca 1,300 years ago. Because its civilization is Arab, it is part of the domain claimed by the Arab League. Easterners, therefore, feel that, like 'Iraq and Egypt, it should immediately be given complete independence, and foreign interests there left to the guardianship of the Moroccan Government.

Most westerners are inclined to take a different view of this question. Morocco, along with the other North African lands, seems to them to belong to the special strategic and economic area of the western Mediterranean defined by the coasts of the three Latin countries. It has participated for 2,000 years in the great historical process of intermingling that has given western civilization its richness and particular character. The entire Mediterranean world was unified by the Romans; then Berber Islam overran Spain, Provence and Sicily; and since 1830, 2,000,000 Europeans have settled on the shores of North Africa. The resulting fusion of races and interpenetration of cultures have many aspects that cannot be expressed by the too simple word "colonization."

France, with whose national life Morocco has been closely associated since the beginning of the present century, hopes that this country will join the French Union, at the same time retaining its own many-faceted personality. The east, on the other hand, dreams of reconstructing the Arab Empire of the Middle Ages, sometimes expanded in imagination to embrace the whole of Islam. It is pursuing in Morocco the reconquest of all North Africa and, at the same time, preparing to advance into the interior of the continent.

While these two theses are in sharp opposition, an examination of the facts suggests possibilities of accommodation.


Morocco has the greatest number of Berbers of any of the Moslem countries. Moroccans of Arab blood number barely 10 percent of the population, while the peoples of Berber language account for 45 percent of the total, grouped in various strong and anarchic tribes. While the historical expansion of Morocco was accomplished under the aegis of Arab Moslem civilization, the great dynasties of the Middle Ages, who at one time ruled all Spain, North Africa and the Sahara, owed their conquering power to the mobilization of the Berber elements among the Moroccan people. It was Berber anarchy that preserved this country, alone of all the Moslem countries, from the Turkish conquest that began in the sixteenth century. And it was this same anarchy that made the Sherifian Empire, at the dawn of the twentieth century, a fantastic aggregate of unsubdued tribes, independent religious or temporal fiefs and vast dissident mountain regions where the customs of the people recalled those of Germany in ancient times. The existence of this land, so like Afghanistan or Yemen in character, at the very gates of the Mediterranean was an extraordinary historic and geographic paradox. It resulted in a series of grave international crises at the time of the "division of Africa;" its eventual consequence was the establishment of a protectorate burdened with heavy international mortgages.[i]

France countered this fragmentation, resulting from international treaties, by affirming the unity of the Moroccan Empire in the Spanish zone and in Tangier. In the French zone, it was Lyautey, Resident General from 1912 to 1925, who, more than anyone else, can be called the architect of Moroccan unity. He insisted that the pacification of the dissident tribes, a task patiently accomplished in the course of 27 years of judicious military operations and skillfully exercised political pressure, be undertaken in the name of the Sultan of Morocco, not of France. By systematically restoring the ruined prestige of the Makhzen (the Sultan's Government), by maintaining the position of the upper classes, by giving an important rôle in public affairs to the young educated Moslems, and by insisting that modern agricultural colonization be limited in extent and serve only as an example, Lyautey showed that he considered Morocco a nation still in process of formation. His policies won him the affection of the Moroccan people. His administration was the "honeymoon" of the Protectorate.

Lyautey's successors, however, sometimes displayed a less clear understanding of the evolution of the country. The French administration often attached more importance to material improvements than to the development of Moslem youth and, therefore, governed directly. This neglect was all the more regrettable because in 1934, when the pacification of the empire was completed and Sherifian authority was established over the last of the ancient tribes, a strong, young and ambitious nationalist movement became powerful in Morocco.

The ideology of this movement had been created by a few hundred college and secondary-school students. The process began in 1930, when an ill-considered reform of the Berber judicial system was undertaken. The reform was based upon the idea that Berber law could be assimilated to French law, and ran counter to the authority of the Makhzen without giving the Berbers an adequate framework within which to develop their own institutions. Its controversial features were abandoned in 1934, but it caused these youths to raise the cry that Moroccan Islam was threatened by proselytizers. The protest was taken up by the Emir Chekib Arslan, the declared enemy of French policy in the Levant, who was living in Lausanne and conducting extensive activities with the aid of German and Italian subsidies. He spread the cry throughout Islam, even as far as Indonesia. In 1934, a group of Moroccan students in Paris, encouraged by the Leftist parties, drew up a Charter for the movement, which proposed radical reforms and the creation of a parliament. In view of social conditions in the country, the French authorities regarded this proposal as completely premature. Moreover, they felt that a few hundred students did not represent public opinion in this vast backward land. The students thereupon attempted to broaden their movement by provoking incidents and riots in which they could involve the Moroccan city populations, and in 1936 and 1937 they succeeded fairly well in this purpose.

General Noguès, who was appointed Resident General at the end of 1936, showed skill in allaying their agitation. He corrected administrative abuses, gave human problems their proper value, and sought the advice of young Moroccans. He succeeded in establishing much calmer conditions throughout Morocco. Unfortunately, however, the looming world conflict made it necessary to postpone the two great reforms which were the precondition of Morocco's development as a nation: the cultural and political education of the masses and the organization of a modern government.


News of the defeat of France in 1940 was received in Morocco with stupefaction. Never in the memory of the Moroccans had France been beaten in war. Here was the opportunity for which the warriors of the tribes, who had not resigned themselves to the life of peaceful herdsmen, had been waiting. But there was no revolt, and the movement for emancipation was slow in getting under way, a fact which indicates that, on the whole, good feeling prevailed between the Moroccan people and their French protectors. Indeed, in all circles, even among the educated Moslem youth, there were numberless expressions of sympathy for the unhappy French. The French administration was alert and energetic, and everything went on as before. This tranquillity was all the more remarkable because a German armistice commission, with headquarters in Fedhala, arrogated to itself all the prestige that Germany had enjoyed in the Sherifian Empire before 1914, and sought to estrange the Moroccans from France.

The Germans, moreover, were busy reminding Franco of the Treaty of 1902 which had put Fez, Meknes and Kenitra in the Spanish zone, but which was rejected by the Spanish Cortes because it involved too heavy responsibilities. Now the Germans tempted Spain with the suggestion that part of Algeria and northern Morocco might be hers, though they had no intention of giving them to her. General Franco maintained a force of 140,000 men, armed with the most modern equipment, in the Spanish zone, which threatened to invade the Sherifian zone at the first sign of a Gaullist uprising. The French administration and the Sultan's representative were expelled from Tangier and the Khalif of Tetuan, Moulay Hassan, a cousin of the sovereign, was encouraged to use the parasol, the prerogative of the Sultan. A "Moroccan unity" movement, advocating the unification of Morocco under Spanish auspices, was supported by German funds poured into the pockets of nationalists like Mekki Nasiri and Abd el Khalek Torres who insulted France most coarsely. Several young nationalists of Fez and Rabat took up residence in Spain with the support of the German political agencies in that country. There was grave danger that hostile activities would be carried on in Rabat, within the Sherifian Government itself, in order to throw Morocco's rulers into the arms of Germany by frightening them with the specter of Spanish intervention. Fortunately, the discredit into which Spain, once so feared by the Moslems, had fallen, made them suspicious of these manœuvres. Nevertheless, it is now established that secret relations existed between very high Moroccan officials and the German Government from the beginning of the war until 1943.

In order to maintain an atmosphere of good understanding at all costs, General Noguès relaxed the close supervision which France had hitherto exercised over the Palace. He also permitted in the city of Fez many exceptions to the strictly controlled economy of the rest of the territory. The results were manifold. The Sultan's Government immediately returned to its old customs, which 30 years of orderly administration had sought to eradicate. Under the régime which ensued, respect for authority again had to be expressed by rich gifts. Power over the tribes was used to levy irregular and exorbitant tribute. At the same time, the ruling family favored its friends and evened old scores with its enemies. Such methods of administration were even more difficult to combat after the Resident General, obeying Vichy's commands for two days following the Allied landing on November 8, 1942, ordered French troops into an absurd conflict, since he was thus placed in a position of extreme moral weakness.

The great masses of Moroccan tribesmen, included within the administrative framework of the Protectorate since their fairly recent subjugation, remained bound by their century-old traditions and were in no way stirred by the currents of modern life. The conflict of the great world forces was an event far beyond their judgment and understanding. After the Allied landing, they learned with interest that war was once more going on in the world and 90,000 mountaineers joined the regular and supplementary troops -- the goums and labors (Moroccan cavalry) -- to seek glory and adventure in Tunisia, Italy and France. The victories they won filled these soldiers with pride; like the great children they were, they marveled at the petty advantages brought them by the war. No national spirit filled the hearts of these fighters.


Following the Franco-British disagreement in the Levant, London had sent an ultimatum to the National Liberation Committee at Algiers on November 17, 1943, demanding that it restore to power the Lebanese Government arrested on the order of the French High Commissioner in Beirut. General de Gaulle and his Ministers, desirous above all else of avoiding an inter-Allied crisis only a few months before the expected liberation of the French capital, complied with these imperative injunctions. France was thus obliged to abandon her authority as a Mandatory Power without receiving anything in return, and was denied the advantages she might have gained from treaties concluded with the Lebanese and Syrian Governments according to the British precedent established in 'Iraq and Egypt. This obvious setback was immediately interpreted by the Moroccan nationalists as a sign of French impotence. At the same time, boundless hopes were placed in the Anglo-Saxon Powers. It was thought that they would surely intervene against their weak ally in North Africa to gain independence for the peoples. Their power in the area was known to be irresistible, for they had just landed large armies on the North African coast.[ii]

The nationalists set afoot a bold, though carefully concealed, scheme to proclaim the independence of Morocco and the abrogation of the Protectorate. The plot was hatched in Fez and, after an incubation period of more than a month (which was punctuated by secret audiences at the Imperial Palace), resulted in the presentation of petitions to various notables by the nationalists, supposedly under orders from the Sultan. Finally, on January 11, 1944, the Sherifian Ministers made a solemn démarche at the Residency (where General Noguès had been replaced), suddenly confronting the Resident General with what was said to be the ardent aspirations of all Morocco. Against this the Sultan declared himself powerless. At the same time, the walls of the northern cities were covered with slogans and a feverish atmosphere prevailed in the streets. The townspeople, secretly mobilized by the leaders of the conspiracy, from day to day expected a complete and miraculous success. The Europeans who, until then, had known nothing of this clandestine political activity, found themselves suddenly isolated and confronted with a Makhzen seemingly once more omnipotent. The firmness of the Provisional Government at Algiers, which tersely reminded Morocco of the existence of the Protectorate, sufficed to restore calm. At that point, a kind of panic succeeded the mood of exaggerated hope, especially when the Sultan himself, faced with his treaty obligations, formally disavowed those who claimed to have his support. The sobered townspeople quietly returned to their daily occupations, while rural Morocco, that is, nine-tenths of the country, which was only vaguely aware of these events, learned simultaneously of the crisis and of its end.

These events taught valuable lessons, although they came to an unfortunate and bloody conclusion. On January 29, 1943, the Military Security Services had arrested, on insufficient evidence, certain nationalist leaders suspected of maintaining relations with Germany. Riots accordingly broke out in Rabat and Fez which resulted in prolonged repression. The Palace, for its part, made cautious by its setback of January 1944, but by no means reformed, worked with extraordinary tenacity to reoccupy, one by one, the positions of power it had held before the abortive crisis. Its dreams of grandeur, inspired perhaps by the example of the King of Egypt, led it to free itself in fact from the tutelage of the Protectorate and to substitute for that authority its own absolute temporal and spiritual power over the entire empire.


The new Resident, M. Eirik Labonne, who took over the heavy political heritage of the postwar period, was determined to carry out a program of radical reforms as soon as favorable circumstances presented themselves. He wished first to put Moroccan economy on a firm basis. Since the country is threatened with disastrous overpopulation and impoverishment if its economy remains almost entirely agricultural, M. Labonne drew up a far-reaching industrial program, which carried on the plans of his predecessors for the erection of enormous power dams. Large companies were founded with the harmonious participation of the French and Moroccan Governments and of private interests -- French, Moroccan and foreign -- for the purpose of intensifying the exploitation of the country's mineral resources and the development of its industry.[iii]

At the same time, M. Labonne realized that the weak point in the political development of Morocco was the lack of education of the Berber tribes, who were in a state somewhat comparable to that of the Mexican Indians before the creation of the Mexican Government's itinerant educational missions. He therefore began a determined campaign against illiteracy and set up travelling schools all over the territory, with the generous and enthusiastic assistance of the French population of the interior. This campaign was extremely successful.

Yet these liberal efforts did not win the full support of the youth movement and the Palace. A most important change has taken place in the mentality of the educated youth since the war. Before 1939, they were deeply influenced by the west. But the Second World War, which was fought above the heads of the Middle Eastern peoples, so to speak, by methods that were considered barbarous and which utilized colossal material forces, frightened them and drove them to return with a kind of fearful ardor to their old religion and tradition, conceived in an idealized form. And now hope is arising that soon a third World War will result in the mutual destruction of the great western empires and thus leave the field clear for the accomplishment of Islam's eternal mission. The creation of the Arab League, originally conceived for other purposes, has given a broad political framework to these confused religious aspirations. Morocco is particularly affected by this reaction, because of the ever-increasing rôle played in the movement by numerous emissaries from the Spanish zone. These are young men, now reaching maturity, who for 20 years have been trained in the east with the support of the Spanish Government. Narrow in their culture, strongly indoctrinated with the dogmas of the Arab renascence, they know very little of the real life, needs or aspirations of the Moroccan people, especially the tribes, and they know nothing of the west.

Certain economic developments have contributed to the political activity of the youth in the cities and the neighboring countryside. During the war enormous profits were made in business and these have created great fortunes, some of them exceeding a billion francs. Landowners enriched by the sale of their crops, Makhzen agents who play a part in the controlled economy and are less carefully watched than formerly, have prospered mightily, paid their debts and established themselves in modern city houses.

The tribes, on the other hand, have suffered from famine during bad years, like 1943 and 1944, and in prosperous times they have had to submit to compulsory collections of grain, wool and cattle for the benefit of the cities. The absence of manufactured goods to exchange for agricultural products has made necessary very unpopular economic restraints. Political agitators, therefore, can win the ear of the tribesmen more readily than in the past. Furthermore, the development of the autocratic tendencies of the Makhzen has strengthened the absolute power wielded in the localities by the tribal chieftains.

Moreover, the surplus population of the countryside, and the peasants ruined during the bad years whose land has been taken over by the large landowners, are flocking to the towns, where they create extensive proletarian slums on the outskirts of the modern city districts. Casablanca, to cite one example, has become, like the great cities of China, an enormous camp, picturesque but wretched, of men and women in search of problematical employment. These slums are excellent breeding grounds for agitators, both nationalist and Communist.

Communist activities are only in the initial stages in Morocco, but the evolution of the Moroccan Communist Party is significant. It was founded by Frenchmen in 1943. Two years of determined efforts were required to draw Moslem militants into its ranks. But as soon as an Algerian teacher, Ali Yatta, became its leader, the Moroccan Communists ceased to base themselves upon the French Union and drew closer to the nationalist movement. The National Communist Congress held at Casablanca on April 6, 1946, was attended by 1,000 delegates, of whom 125 came from the Kasba Tadla region. The party leaders have far less education than the nationalists. A certain number of French Communists, frightened by the xenophobia of the movement, have disassociated themselves from it. While cells of the party multiplied in the little cities and even flourished in certain Berber regions where they served as centers to which the people could bring their grievances, a mysterious directive was issued in August 1946 advocating a united front with the nationalist parties and an alliance with Messali's anti-French proletarian party in Algeria. The Palace and the nationalist youth, while carefully maintaining their contacts with the Moslem leaders of the party, do not hold the organization in very high esteem, a fact which can be explained by their social and religious prejudices and by the very slight results thus far obtained in a country still strongly attached to all the forms of the past.


In the best period of the Protectorate a youthful, enthusiastic and enterprising French population easily succeeded in controlling the various social and economic currents of modern Morocco. But its leaders grew old, and its agents were too numerous and too ignorant to adapt themselves to the internal developments of this "young" country where everything has been changing rapidly. Under normal conditions, French leadership would have been rejuvenated, but Morocco was cut off from France for seven years. No new blood came from the home country to restore the vitality of the administration. The educated Moroccan youth are deserting administrative jobs because the salaries of civil servants are too low, compared with the enormous profits to be made in business. It is waiting for the day when it takes power; then it will gain administrative experience, it reasons. One particularly serious aspect of this is the extreme difficulty with which Moslem teachers are recruited for the countryside. On the other hand, in the cities there is a craze for the development of Arab culture, presented in an anti-western spirit.

The general international picture intensifies the ardent national aspirations of the city youth and the demands of the Palace. Every month brings news of political progress by the Asiatic states, many of them more backward than Morocco, yet admitted into the United Nations. Meantime, agencies established in the western capitals for the purpose of carrying on propaganda in the Middle East are reiterating their promises of support.

Finally, the Arab League seems to fear that the French Union will be achieved in the near future and for this reason is making determined efforts to keep Moroccan nationalism a strongly "eastern" movement. It is well known that the Constitution of the Fourth Republic provides for the participation of the lands under French protectorate and the states of the Indochinese Federation in the High Council of the Union and the Assembly of the Union. Up till now, the prospect of this degree of self-government has aroused no enthusiasm among the Moroccan youth, but, on the contrary, has encouraged the opponents of France to redouble their activities.

Thanks to the diplomatic action of France in 1945, the Sherifian administration was reëstablished in Tangier, from which Spain had expelled it during the war. Under the pretext of reaffirming his sovereignty, the Sultan of Morocco, after six months of insistent demands, secured permission from the Resident General to travel through the Spanish zone to the international city, so that he might receive the homage of the Moroccan people. His real purpose was "to put the problem of Morocco before the whole world." In a series of skill fully-worded speeches, the Sultan, his son and even his daughter affirmed the unity of the Moroccan Empire as opposed to the territorial fragmentation resulting from international treaties; they further proclaimed the identity of Moroccan aspirations with those of the eastern countries, the Islamic rôle of Sherifian sovereignty in the political complex of the Arab nations, the absolute identity in culture and civilization of Morocco and the east, and, finally, Morocco's need to obtain its "full rights." The rôle of France was almost completely ignored.

These speeches were received with enthusiasm by the nationalists in Tangier and the Spanish zone. The speakers deliberately avoided mentioning revision of the statute of Tangier or the status of the Strait of Gibraltar, for the rivalry of the great empires is to be feared in all strategic zones of international importance. Their reference to cultural and ethnic matters also passed over the essential facts that though Morocco is an heir of Moslem and Arab civilization, it has always held a place apart from the Moslem east, not only because of the Berber character of its people, but also because of the prestige and influence exerted in the past by the great center of civilization that was Andalusia. The idea that Morocco is part of the east seems no more than an oratorical device inspired by immediate political objectives.

Two months after the events at Tangier, the French Government, for humanitarian reasons, decided to transfer Mohammed Abd el Krim, the former Berber leader of the holy war in the Spanish zone, who had been living in exile on the island of Madagascar for 21 years, to a comfortable residence in France. Just as Abd el Krim's ship passed through the Suez Canal, Allal el Fassi, a nationalist leader previously exiled to the Gabun and recently pardoned, secretly went to Cairo. Assisted in Egypt by other North African leaders and with the support of the Ikhwan el Mouslimine or Moslem Brotherhood (a new fanatical sect which is carrying on activities in Syria, Palestine, Egypt and Mecca, and trying to establish itself in North Africa) he succeeded in persuading the old Riffian chieftain to leave the ship and ask for the protection of the King of Egypt. A few days later, Abd el Krim, established in Cairo and surrounded by advisers from the Spanish zone, filled the press with violent attacks upon France and announced his return to the political scene by invoking the possibility of a recourse to arms. The significance of this incident was considerably lessened in the eyes of the west by the well known fact that Abd el Krim and his associates owe their lives to French protection, to which they had appealed when threatened with capture by the Spanish Army and treatment as criminals.


The new Resident General, General Juin, appointed in May 1947, has expressed his determination to continue energetically the economic program of M. Labonne. But since the precondition for that is to set the old Sherifian Government upon the path of progress, he secured the approval of the Sultan for the creation of a mixed Council, composed of French administrators, traditional viziers and Moroccan councillors, under the chairmanship of the Grand Vizier. This governmental reform, while modest in appearance, is intended to avoid a disastrous return to the old Makhzen institutions and practices. If the Sherifian Government coöperates in making this Council work, the basis will be laid for the administrative training of Moroccan officials and the formulation of a modern constitution. The French Government, with the unanimous support of French public opinion, does not envisage a radical transformation of the Protectorate until the extensive common interests of both countries which were developed during the last 40 years have been safely guarded. Its thesis is that neither an agreement in the form of a Franco-Moroccan treaty, nor the participation of Morocco in the French Union, is possible unless France can deal with a "qualified representative." So far none has presented himself; certainly, neither the Makhzen reconstituted along medieval lines nor the isolated and inexperienced nationalist youth, nor both of them together -- for though they are often in opposition, they do unite upon occasion -- could be taken as such. Security in future Franco-Moroccan relations, therefore, lies in an agreement ratified by the whole Moroccan people. Their political maturity must be promoted by all possible means, so that they themselves can determine their fate.

Thus the French subordinate any major political advance to the prior need for education. The Nationalists, on the other hand, assert that all gradual reforms are useless and that there is no purpose in studying plans for coöperation until complete independence is granted to Morocco. Each side lacks confidence in the other. The east violently denounces colonialism, while the French population in North Africa, confronted with recent events in Palestine and Egypt, rejects the idea of accepting the status of a protected minority within insufficiently modernized Moslem states.

Skill and patience could mitigate and even conciliate this conflict of forces and views. But is there perhaps a still more serious divergence of purposes than this? The west is trying slowly to foster autonomous communities capable of one day becoming modern nations, in the Sudan, as in Morocco and other parts of Africa. But the east has lost confidence in modern civilization and, deluded by the memory of its own past greatness, seeks to reconstitute old empires based on racial solidarity, not on the humanistic values of the west. France's difficulties in Morocco are perhaps only an episode in the struggle between the east and the west in which, in the last analysis, spiritual factors play a much more important rôle than material forces or power rivalries. Just as the Kingdom of God is "within," so the secret of peace and harmony among civilizations lies in the hearts of men.

[i] Morocco's economic régime is that of the Open Door, established by the Treaty of Algeciras, 1906. According to the terms of the Franco-Spanish Treaty of 1904, the country consists of a zone under French protectorate (7,500,000 inhabitants) and a number of less important zones: a zone under Spanish protectorate in the north (1,000,000 inhabitants); the Spanish cities of Ceuta and Melilla; the islands of Velez and Alhucemas (150,000 inhabitants); the Spanish zone of Ifni in the Sous region (75,000 inhabitants); the international zone of Tangier (70,000 inhabitants).

[ii] President Roosevelt's visit to Anfa evidently inflamed the imagination of many people; some even declared that the United States intended to establish a protectorate over Morocco, a notion recently brought forward in several public statements by Abd el Rahman Azzam, Secretary of the Arab League. These statements were immediately denied by the State Department. Information gathered in Morocco itself completely confirms this denial. Any conversation on the future of Morocco was obviously impossible "at a time when America's signature on an agreement guaranteeing the integrity of the French Empire during the war was not yet dry."

[iii] For example: the Société des Charbonnages Nord-africains (coal) with a capital of one billion francs in which Belgian interests are represented; the Société d'énergie thermique nord-africaine (thermal energy) with a capital of 800,000,000 francs; the Société minière du plomb (for the exploitation of the Zellidja lead deposits) with a capital of 500,000,000 francs of which American investors account for one-third; the Compagnie franco-marocaine de navigation (shipping) with a capital of one billion francs. Three billion francs will be spent over a three-year period to complete the power dams. In the year 1946-1947 private capital in Morocco in search of a field for investment amounted to 15 billion francs.

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  • ROBERT MONTAGNE, Director of the Center for Advanced Moslem Studies, University of Paris; formerly Director of the French Institute at Damascus and Professor at the Institute for Advanced Moroccan Studies
  • More By Robert Montagne