The Barbary Coast during 16th – 20th century

For a long time Morocco, Libya, Tunisia Egypt, Niger, Mali and few other places were occupied by the Berber who belonged to the Afro-Asian family. They were also known as Imazighen or Maxyes. In the 15th and 16th centuries the power of this tribe, which had become a dynasty by then, began to decline. The Barbary Coast, known so because of the Berbers, on the Northern part of Africa became an area of interest for both Spain and the Turks. Spain attacked it from the West while Turkey approached it from the east.

Role of Pirates

The rivalry between Turkey and Spain went on for many years in the 16th century. It was finally won by the Turks in an unorthodox manner. The Turks took the help of Turksih pirates. Pirates are generally caught by the government but in this case the authorities took the help of the pirates to fight the Spanish. The pirates established along the coast and these territories were declared to be the provinces of the Ottoman Empire.

  • In 1512, the first pirate established himself in coastal Algeria.
  • Two others established in Libya by 1551. In 1534, Tunisia was taken over by a famous pirate Khair ed-Din but for a brief period.
  • The place went back to Spain in 1535.
  • It took another forty years for the Turks to take it back to their control.

French Intervention

In most other places along Barbary Coast pirates were still having a stronghold. The main income source for the Turks was from piracy. There was a lot of plunder for almost three centuries. Then came the French intervention in Algiers. The French claim was that the ravages of the pirates were the reason for the attack but the actual reason was very trivial.  The French Consul in Algiers had met the Turkish governor of Algiers in 1827. The governor alleged that the French had not paid an invoice created for wheat supply thirty years before and wanted that payment. The French refused to pay. The governor threatened to take away the concessions given to France in Algeria. There were heated arguments and it is said that the governor threw his fly whisk at the French officer. The French king Charles X took this as an insult and stopped all naval entries. This had little effect so Algiers was attacked. With this attack France occupied Algiers but they got complete control only in 1847. By the 20th century most of the Barbary region was controlled by the Europeans. Tunisia and Morocco was taken over by France. Italy took over Libya.

European Colonisation between 1900 and 1912

As the time moved into the 20th century the European colonisation was nearly complete and it was true to Morocco as well. At the beginning of the 20th century, 1900, France and Italy had clandestine agreement where they agreed to assign Morocco to France and Libya to Italy. The territory under the control of France was also shared by Spain. Since Britain was the powerful colonial ruler it made a pact with France to accept Britain’s role in Egypt if France wanted its freedom in Morocco.

German Visit

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Though the European nations were discussing power sharing in their colonies, Morocco was more or less an independently ruled country and it was ruled by the Alaouite dynasty of Sultans. Therefore the discussions of the nations were on theory and not practically applicable. To add to this in 1905 William II, the German emperor visited Tangier, the most famous city in Morocco and emphasized that the supremacy of the Morocco should be maintained.

This visit of the German emperor set a diplomatic bustle. In 1906 a conference was held in Algeciras and the US president Theodore Roosevelt also took active part in it. Most of the countries were against Germany except Austria and Hungary. In the conference it was decided that the independence of the Sultan of Morocco would remain intact but the European country to supervise this country would be France. This, in other words meant that Morocco was a French colony.

Treaty of Fe’s

There were some protests in Morocco and France had to send more troops. In 1911 Germany tried to intervene by sending a gunboat to Agadir but the situation was soon brought under control. France gave some territories in Central Africa to Germany and Germany returned this gesture with the acceptance of the role of France in Morocco.

In a year, in 1912, the Sultan felt himself powerless against French encroachment and signed the Treaty of Fe’s agreeing to the colonisation of the entire country. In another treaty in 1912, France and Spain decided on sharing the country.

  • One tenth of the northern side was colonised by Spain and this was the region which has the historical places of Ceuta and Melilla.
  • These two areas were under the Spanish control since the 15th
  • The most important city of Morocco, Tangier, was to be a neutral area that would be governed by international administration but the start of World War I delayed the implementation of this plan.
  • From 1912 for almost four decades Morocco was a divided colony, divided between the French and Spanish.

Rebellion against Colonisation in the years between 1912 and 1956

Colonisation in any country did bring a lot of benefits to the country. The intention was to help the Europeans and Europe but the colony was also benefitted. Transport system, education and health saw a marked improvement in Morocco. Yet there was resistance to the foreign reign and in the early years, especially, there were rebellions. The five year rebellion by Abd-el-Krim was the most important of all the rebellions. Abd-el-Krim even featured in the Time magazine in 1925.

Abd-el-Krim

Abd-el-Krim belonged to the Republic of Rif in the northern part of Morocco. He was a military leader and the Berbers were his support. They lead a big revolution against Spanish and French colonization in Rif. Many famous revolutionaries like Mao Zedong, Ho Chi Minh and Che Guevara were influenced by the guerrilla tactics used by Abd- el- Krim.  Abd-el-Krim won over the Spanish army in 1921 with the guerrilla tactics and then for almost five years, till 1926, he had complete control over Rif. In 1936 he was defeated by the huge combined force of France and Spain.

After a break the resistance to foreign control resurfaced and this time it was by young and educated Moroccans who demanded political liberties and even complete independence. The French was flabbergasted with the American presence in the Moroccan land. To add to this President Roosevelt expressed that France must move out of Morocco.

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Even though independence was not in sight a party Istiqlal (Independence) was formed in 1944. They had the secret support of the Sultan Muhammad V. In 1952 took action against this movement and quashed it. The leaders were arrested and in 1953 the Sultan was deposed and exiled.

Aftermath of the Repression

  • The natural and immediate result of the suppression was an increase in terrorism.
  • This was followed by another uprising in 1955.
  • It was in the same year there was a crisis in Algeria another bigger colony of France.

All this was too much for the French government and it had to give to the demands of the people of Morocco. The exiled sultan was brought back and in November 1955, French government in principle accepted the independence of Morocco. It was put into effect in March 1956. Spain occupied Morocco was also given its freedom in April 1956. Tangiers which was the prized place with international status was also integrated with the rest of the nation in 1960. With this integration Morocco was back to old, pre-colonial borders. The dynasty which ruled Morocco resumed its rule over its citizens.

Restoration of an African kingdom  from 1957

The erstwhile sultan, I restored to his post and Muhammad V proclaims that Morocco will have constitutional monarchy. So he became the monarch and assumed the title as the King of Morocco in 1957.

Namesake Government

To form a constitution, elections was the way forward. Elections were held in 1960 but the king himself became the prime minister and his son Hassan was his deputy. Formation of a constitution was postponed to 1962. In 1961 Muhammad died and his son Hassan became the King of Morocco. In the referendum in December 1962 the King remained the main figure in the executive branch of the government. The judiciary was with the bicarmel parliament. Legislative elections were held in May 1963 for the first time. The royalist coalition got very few seats. In June 1965 there were political upheavals and King Hassan took over the control fully.

Forty Years of King Hassan

  • There was hope that the constitution would be formed but it was not to be.
  • For forty years King Hassan II ruled Morocco, disregarding the political parties, especially the opposing ones.
  • Civil rights were given scant respect. There were several coups.
  • King Hassan II managed to defeat the coup attempts and put down riots that sprang up in many places.
  • There were many attempts by the liberals to draft constitutional reforms to bring in elections.
  • However these attempts were not successful and the king ruled until his death which was in 1999.
  • He was then succeeded by his son Muhammad VI.

Morocco and International Issues

During the forty years of King Hassan’s rule there were a few international issues for Morocco. There were disputes over the territories between Mauritania and Algiers. The border with Algeria was drawn during French occupation and that was disadvantageous to Morocco. The disputed border is rich in iron ore and there was always a tussle for that place between Algeria and Morocco. The war which was known as the Sand War ended after the mediation of the Organisation of African Unity.  In 1970 an understanding was arrived at between the two countries. Both would mine the iron and share the iron as partners.

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In the south too, King Hassan had some interest and it led to disputes. This dispute in the south was of longer duration and was more significant. The places of dispute were Western Sahara and Mauritania. King Hassan in 1960 claimed that Morocco had rights over Mauritania. But towards the end of the decade in 1969 he changed his stand and turned his attention to annexing Western Sahara with Morocco.

Moroccan interest in The Western Sahara from 1976

Western Sahara was colonized by Spain and was also known as Spanish Sahara. It is a region close to the Atlantic Ocean sharing its borders with Mauritania and Morocco. This place was inhabited by nomadic tribes and the land itself had little value until phosphate deposits were discovered in 1963.

Dispute between Morocco and Mauritania

Western Sahara became an area of dispute between Morocco and Mauritania in 1970. In 1975 United Nations decided that the few tribes living could decide their future. Morocco responded dramatically by sending 350,000 people across the border so it could get more votes in the referendum. When Spain realised that Moroccans were determined about their occupation it withdrew its claim and Western Sahara was completely handed over to UN in 1976. UN decided that Western Sahara would be under a joint administration of Morocco and Mauritania.

A third factor changing the political scenario

Whether this joint arrangement will work was never known as there was a third factor to the political scenario.

  • A local activists group called Polisario with guerrilla tactics began to harass the Mauritanians and Moroccans.
  • They were supported by Algeria and Libya. In 1976 this group declared themselves as the government and around seventy nations recognised this government.
  • In the joint governance Morocco got two thirds of the northern region which was rich in phosphates.
  • The rest which was given to Mauritania was not of any economic use and Mauritanians stopped their fight with Polisario and made peace with them.
  • This was necessary because Morocco was trying to annexe the whole of Western Sahara.

So the fight now shifted between forces of Morocco and Polisario. Realising the tactics, Morocco fortifies against the guerrilla intrusion. Before the situation could out of hand UN intervened in 1988 and reached upon a ceasefire in 1991. Once again the referendum on whether people wanted independence under Polisario or union with Morocco was tabled. This proposal was accepted by Morocco and Mauritania.

The referendum never really happened. The UN and governments of Morocco and Mauritania could not decide who had the right to vote. There were sparsely populated tribes of Western Sahara and the entire population which moved in from Morocco. The Saharawi would vote for independence while the others would vote for Morocco.  All knew that the majority vote would not really represent the view of the tribes, so the referendrum. Many other initiatives from the UN failed. In 2016 Mohammed Ezzedine who was a long term president died. Situation has not really changed after his death too.