Marvine Howe, One Woman’s Morocco, (London: Arthur Barker, 1956), 240 pp.

Marvine Howe’s recent book, Morocco: The Islamist Awakening and Other Challenges (2005) has attracted much more attention than her earlier book, One Woman’s Morocco. There are quite obvious reasons for this. The recent book addresses issues of greater topical interest such as the rise of so-called political Islam in Morocco and the risk which these dissident underground forces posed to Morocco’s young democracy especially in the aftermath of the terrorist incidents in Casablanca in 2003. The book is also a tour de force detailing political actuality since the accession of Hassan II but focusing on the substantial reforms introduced by King Mohamed VI since his takeover in 1999. Few books have achieved the clarity of vision and the wealth of information which Howe’s account of Morocco provides. Most studies dealing with Arabs or Muslims, say from Philip Hitti (1937) to Edmund Rogan (2009) have spared very little space to the political and cultural developments in Morocco past or present. Howe’s book, in contrast, is devoted entirely to the intricate power structure and dynamism of one of the oldest monarchies in the world.

Marvine Howe, Morocco: The Islamist Awakening and Other Challenges  (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), pp. 428.

Marvine Howe’s long association with Morocco has given her the advantage of a veritable connoisseur of the domestic political landscape of the country even before its independence in 1956. Reading her earlier book, One Woman’s Morocco or  The Prince and I (the earlier American edition published by J. Day Co. New York, 1955), one cannot fail to note her insightful view of the brewing forces leading to the political crisis of 1953 and the ensuing escalation of violence prior to independence. Howe arrived in Fés in 1950 to work as English language instructor of  the children of a French Commandant. In truth, she was moved by her journalist’s curiosity to know more about a country associated in the popular imagination with “Camels, Casbahs and the French Foreign Legion” p. 14. Right from the very start, she knew how to turn her stay into a continuing learning experience. She had first to overcome the prejudices imparted to her by her French entourage. Increasing calls of Moroccan activists to end French colonial presence were seen as an outrageous betrayal of French civilizing mission in Morocco. As the Commandant’s wife put it:

 France has opened the doors of the twentieth century to a people with habits and minds of the Middle Ages […] Naturally there has been a certain shock. It is the French and American idealists who have never been to Morocco who have caused the greatest harm to the French Work by insisting that a Moroccan labourer who has helped to build a skyscraper is ready to live in one.


The Crown Prince Moulay Hassan and his small band of French-schooled nationalists think they are ready to take over the management of the country. You see, that’s what comes from giving them education. Now they want to drive us out of the country we have constructed. Do you call that gratitude? pp.16-17

 In March 1951 Fés was invaded by numerous horsemen from some Berber tribes in a deliberate show of power staged by Thami Glaoui, Pasha of Marrakech and France’s staunch collaborator in Morocco. The march on Fés was a dramatic escalation in the struggle for control between the nationalist elements with close ties to the Palace on one hand, and the Berber tribes under the authority of Pasha Glaoui on the other. Howe, who was a witness to these developments began to suspect  that the French indeed were behind the scene pulling the strings. Her circle of informants growing, she began to perceive the fundamental nature of the conflict. Sultan Mohamed Ben Youssef was under continuous pressure from the Protectorate to disown the nationalist party and was forced to choose between preserving the status quo or risking the loss of his throne.

When she moved to Rabat to serve as a reporter and animator of  a Radio program intended for America servicemen based in Morocco, she unwittingly found herself entangled in the shifting politics of the country. Her work involved frequent contact with political figures, administrators, foreign visitors. These meetings were also occasions to raise delicate questions of French policies in Morocco and the political aspiration of Moroccan elites and general public alike. It did not take her long to come face to face with the Royal family. Her relationship with both princes Hassan and Abdullah developed over time from personal acquaintance to a certain degree of political sympathy. Prince Moulay Hassan who took interest in instructing her equestrian skill also introduced her into the labyrinthine structure of Rbati society split along ethnic, social, religious, and political lines. Though initially reluctant to engage into political discussion, the Prince eventually gave vent to his anxieties and aspirations to his American companion. His  pronouncements helped Howe’s understand the political momentum gathering in the wake of the forced exile of the sultan in August 1953. “Moulay Hassan”, Howe writes “widened my perspectives on many questions. I, in turn, was able to present for the first time the point of view of Moroccan as well as French leaders in my reports” Pp. 171-72.

By contrast, her encounter with the Pasha Glaoui in Marrakech was disappointing. The mythical quality bestowed on the man in the French press and official circles was misleading and the title of Pasha was a misnomer:

The Glaoui looked neither like a leader of people nor the champion of a cause, as his reputation would have it. I had expected to find some token of nobility or strength in the eyes of France’s famous ally, but I saw only a stony, self-centered perseverance and a total unconcern for anything and anyone outside his own personal orbit. There was no hint of compassion or kindness in his dark, hard eyes. What surprised me above all was the lack of any vestige of the acute intelligence which is usually the requisite for a leader. If faces could be relied on to reveal character, the Pasha was not a brilliant man, but, rather, a determined one. P. 103.

The last chapter of the book covers the deteriorating situation in Moroccan cities after the exile of the Sultan to Corsica and then to Madagascar. This turning point occurred when the Sultan rejected to sign a bill of reforms imposed on him by the Protectorate. Whatever the nature of these reforms, the political conjuncture and the increasing pressures mounted by the French colonial lobby backed by Pasha Glaoui had already brought the fragile entente between the Palace and the French authorities to an end. Massive protests organized in cities caused both fear and consternation to the colonial establishment. Violent attacks against suspected collaborators , French subjects and officers were reciprocated by even more brutal measures conducted by the well-equipped and trained security apparatus of the Protectorate.

Howe, who had already departed the country prior to the coup against the Sultan,  continued to follow the news from Morocco through the media. Her book ends with a conciliatory note on the necessity of colonizers and colonized to come to terms and negotiate a peaceful solution to the imbroglios caused by successive colonial administrations.

Though written more than five decades ago, Howe’s book still has much to offer to its present readers. As the account of a meticulous and disinterested observer, the book provides important clues as to the particular circumstances of Morocco’s independence and their continuing impingement on Franco-Moroccan relations today. The book is also a careful portrait of Prince, later King Moulay Hassan who ruled Morocco with a firm and decisive grip for nearly four decades surviving two military coups in 1971 and 1972. The critical conjuncture of 1951-1956 in the history of Morocco becomes much less obscure and confusing when leafing through Howe’s book . It is even more interesting to read her sequel to this early account, the book she wrote with the hindsight knowledge and authority of a veteran scholar of Morocco.