100 years ago, the French government forced a powerless sultan, Moulay Abdelhafid to sign a shameful treaty allowing two European nations: France and Spain with the connivance of England, Italy, and Germany to reduce yet another free and sovereign nation to the servitude and tyranny of imperial power. Today neither France nor Spain has expressed remorse for the ravages they had wrought on the Moroccans in the name of modernizing their country and establishing social security. Decades of systematic repression, unrestrained military attacks against resistant tribes and communities, and ruthless exploitation of human and natural resources constitute the inglorious legacy of Franco-Spanish colonial presence in Morocco.
With hindsight, it may be said that the signing of the Protectorate in Fés on 30 March 1912 was inevitable given the resolve of French officials to annex this fertile and strategic land to their imperial realm. Algeria and Tunisia had already been absorbed into the French empire in 1830 and 1881 respectively. British special relations with Moroccan government [Makhzen] during the Drummond-Hays’ service (1829-1890) were a major factor in warding off French and Spanish conquests of the country especially following the humiliating defeat of Isly in 1844 and the occupation of Tetouan in 1859. Both incidents were turning points in the modern history of Morocco and foreshadowed the disintegration of the Moroccan state in the coming decades. Meanwhile British influence in Morocco and desire to preserve the status quo nurtured the hope during the reign of Sultan Hassan I that the country would eventually escape the fate of its neighbors. British assistance to the Makhzen in military matters involved training, supply of arms and intelligent information. However, after the death of Sultan Hassan I in 1894, the Makhzen faced constant challenges from dissident tribes. Weakened by internal conflicts and handicapped by a corrupt and inefficient administrative apparatus, the Makhzen had little resources or desire to redress the growing state of anarchy.
European interference in domestic affairs of Morocco took different forms. European consuls made a lucrative business out of the protection rights they sold Moroccan Jewish and Muslim subjects. Thanks to the consular protection, many Moroccan nationals gained extraordinary privileges such as legal immunity from prosecution in Moroccan courts and exemption from paying taxes imposed on ordinary Moroccan citizens. The Madrid Conference in 1880 rather than introduce constraints on the protection phenomenon made it a legal procedure thus undermining Morocco’s sovereignty and robbing the national treasury from much needed revenues. The Makhzen’s authority was seriously impaired as numerous Moroccans rushed to purchase the privileges offered by European consulates.
In 1904 Britain and France signed the famous entente cordial which enabled both imperial nations to pursue their colonial ambitions without restraint. While Britain would have a free hand in managing the affairs of Egypt, France would in return add Morocco to its North African possessions. German opposition to French designs was very vehement and the Kaiser Wilhelm II’s visit to Tangier on 31 March 1905 brought Morocco to the forefront of international politics in what came to be known as the first Morocco Crisis. The Algeciras Conference (1906) which brought European powers together along with the US settled the question of Morocco in terms favorable to France. Moroccan interests were entirely disregarded and the Acts of the conference gave legitimacy to French and Spanish protectorates.
The murder of a French Doctor in Marrakech, Emile Mauchamp, by the hands of an angry mob in March 1907 gave French officials in Paris the long-awaited pretext to implement their colonial project. Days after the Marrakech incident French troops led by General Lyautey took possession of the border city Oujda. In June works of railway desecrating a Muslim cemetery in Casablanca provoked popular protests which soon degenerated into bloody mayhem. To restore peace, French troops were disembarked in Casablanca and deployed against the insurgent tribes of the Chaouia plains.
From 1908 to 1911 the domestic situation in Morocco deteriorated fast. The authority of the sultan in Fés was challenged by reckless rebels such as Raisuli in the vicinity of Tangiers and Bouhmara in the north east of Morocco. Faced to the wall, Sultan Abdelaziz, who had gained a reputation of a juvenile and extravagant monarch insouciant of the perils that threatened the country, abdicated to his elder brother Sultan Abdelhafid in 1908. Abdelhafid was himself no match to the political intrigues of the French colonial establishment. His margin of maneuver so limited and his sole achievement was the capture of the pretender Bouhmara.
In April 1911, following false rumors spread by the Comité du Maroc (an active French colonial lobby) and the French consul in Fés to the effect that the capital city Fés was under siege and that the European nationals themselves were under the threat of annihilation. French government dispatched thousands of soldiers to lift the siege, but instead they occupied the city on 21 May . French aggressive move incurred German wrath manifested through the bombardment of Agadir in June 1911. However, French territorial concessions in west central Africa concluded in the Treaty of Berlin convinced the Germans to accept French colonial presence in Morocco as a fait accomplit. On 30 March Sultan Abdelhafid sealed the future of Morocco by signing the nine articles which made up the Treaty of Fés. The Treaty authorized French military occupation of Morocco and control of its economic activities. It also denied the Makhzen direct contact with foreign nations and imposed French diplomatic representation on Morocco. The sultan was granted protection and his throne was made immune against the vagaries of time. As an ironical sequel, Sultan Abdelhafid was forced to abdicate to his younger brother Moulay Youssef only months after his signature of the ominous Treaty of Fés (reproduced Below).
PROTECTORATE TREATY BETWEEN FRANCE AND MOROCCO
Signed at Fez on March 30, 1912: Source: Rom Landau, Moroccan Drama 1900-1955 (San Francisco: American Academy of Asian Studies, 1956), pp. 392-393.
The Government of the French Republic and the Government of His Sherifian Majesty, desirous of inaugurating a regular regime in Morocco based upon internal order and general security, which will make it possible to introduce reforms and to ensure the economic development of the country, have agreed upon the following:
ARTICLE I. The Government of the French Republic and His Majesty the Sultan have agreed to establish in Morocco a new regime comprising the administrative, judicial, educational, economic, financial and military reforms which the French Government may see fit to introduce within the Moroccan territory.
This regime shall safeguard the religious status, the respect and traditional prestige of the Sultan, the exercise of the Mohammedan religion and of all religious institutions, in particular those of the Habus.
It shall include the organization of a reformed Sherifian Makhzen.
The Government of the Republic will come to an understanding with the Spanish Government regarding the interests which this Government derives from its geographical position and territorial possessions on the Moroccan coast.
In like manner, the city of Tangier shall retain its recognized distinctive characteristic, which will determine its municipal organization.
ARTICLE II, His Majesty the Sultan agrees that henceforth the French Government, subject to prior notification to the Makhzen, may proceed to such military occupation of the Moroccan territory as it may deem necessary for the maintenance of good order and the security of commercial transactions, and may exercise every police supervision on land and within the Moroccan waters.
ARTICLE 3. The Government of the Republic pledges itself to lend constant support to His Sherifian Majesty against all dangers which might threaten his person or throne, or endanger the tranquillity of his states. The same support shall be given the heir to the throne and his successors.
ARTICLE 4. Such measures as the new regime of the Protectorate may require shall be established by decree, upon the proposal of the French Government, by His Sherifian Majesty or the authorities to whom he may have delegated his power. The same procedure shall be observed in the matter of new regulations and of modifications of the existing regulations.
ARTICLE 5.-The French Government shall be represented to His Shenfian Majesty by a Commissioner Resident-General, representative of all the power of the Republic in Morocco, who shall attend to the execution of the present Agreement.
The Commissioner Resident-General shall be the sole intermediary between the Sultan and foreign representatives and in the relations which these representatives maintain with the Moroccan Government. In particular, he shall have charge of all matters relating to foreigners in the Sherifian Empire. He shall have the power to approve and promulgate, on behalf of the French Government, all the decrees issued by His Sherifian Majesty.
ARTICLE 6. The diplomatic and consular agents of France shall be charged with the representation and protection of Moroccan subjects and interests abroad.
His Majesty the Sultan pledges himself not to conclude any act of an international nature without the previous approval o the French Republic.
ARTICLE 7. The Government of the French Republic and the Government of His Sherifian Majesty reserve unto themselves the right to determine by mutual agreement the basis of a financial reorganization which, while respecting the rights conferred upon bondholders of the Moroccan public loans, shall make it possible to guarantee the commitments of the Sherifian Treasury and to collect regularly the revenues of the Empire.
ARTICLE 8. His Sherifian Majesty declares that in future, he will refrain from contracting, directly or indirectly, any public or private loan, and from granting in any form whatever any concession without the authorization of the French Government.
ARTICLE 9. The present Treaty shall be submitted to the Government of the French Republic for ratification and the instrument of the said ratification shall be handed without delay to His Majesty the Sultan.
In faith whereof, the undersigned have drawn up the present Act and have affixed their seals thereto.
Fez, March 30, 1912 (11 rebiah 1330).