French protectorate in Morocco

French protectorate in Morocco
Protectorat français au Maroc
حماية فرنسا في المغرب
Protectorate of France
Flag Coat of arms
La Marseillaise
Cherifian Anthem
(instrumental only)
French conquest of Morocco.[1]
Capital Rabat
Languages French
Moroccan Arabic
Standard Arabic
Religion Roman Catholicism
Political structure Protectorate
   1912–25 Hubert Lyautey
  1955–56 André Louis Dubois
  1912–27 Yusef
  1927–53 Mohammed V
  1953–55 Mohammed Ben Aarafa (French puppet)
  1955–56 Mohammed V
Historical era Interwar period
   Treaty of Fez March 30, 1912
   Independence November 18[2] 1955
Currency Moroccan rial
Moroccan franc
Preceded by
Succeeded by

The French Protectorate in Morocco (French: Protectorat français au Maroc); Arabic: حماية فرنسا في المغرب Ḥimāyat Faransā fi-l-Maḡrib) was established by the Treaty of Fez. It existed from 1912, when a protectorate was formally established, until independence (18 November 1955), and consisted of the area of Morocco between the Corridor of Taza and the Draa River.


Further information: France–Morocco relations
Map of Atlantic coast of Morocco (1830)

Despite the weakness of its authority, the Alaouite dynasty distinguished itself in the 18th and 19th centuries by maintaining Morocco’s independence while other states in the region succumbed to Turkish, French, or British domination. However, in the latter part of the 19th century Morocco’s weakness and instability invited European intervention to protect threatened investments and to demand economic concessions. The first years of the 20th century witnessed a rush of diplomatic maneuvering through which the European powers and France in particular furthered their interests in North Africa.[3]

French activity in Morocco began during the end of the 19th century. In 1904 the French government was trying to establish a protectorate over Morocco, and had managed to sign two bilateral secret agreements with Britain (8 April 1904, see Entente cordiale) and Spain (7 October 1904), which guaranteed the support of the powers in question in this endeavour. France and Spain secretly partitioned the territory of the sultanate, with Spain receiving concessions in the far north and south of the country.

First Moroccan Crisis: March 1905 – May 1906

The First Moroccan Crisis grew out of the imperial rivalries of the great powers, in this case, between Germany on one side and France, with British support, on the other. Germany took immediate diplomatic action to block the new accord from going into effect, including the dramatic visit of Wilhelm II to Tangier in Morocco on March 31, 1905. Kaiser Wilhelm tried to get Morocco's support if they went to war with France or Britain, and gave a speech expressing support for Moroccan independence, which amounted to a provocative challenge to French influence in Morocco.

In 1906 the Algeciras Conference was held to settle the dispute, and Germany accepted an agreement in which France agreed to yield control of the Moroccan police, but otherwise retained effective control of Moroccan political and financial affairs. Although the Algeciras Conference temporarily solved the First Moroccan Crisis it only worsened international tensions between the Triple Alliance and the Triple Entente.

Agadir Crisis

Main article: Agadir Crisis
The French artillery at Rabat in 1911

In 1911, a rebellion broke out in Morocco against the Sultan, Abdelhafid. By early April 1911, the Sultan was besieged in his palace in Fez and the French prepared to send troops to help put down the rebellion under the pretext of protecting European lives and property. The French dispatched a flying column at the end of April 1911 and Germany gave approval for the occupation of the city. Moroccan forces besieged the French-occupied city. Approximately one month later, French forces brought the siege to an end. On 5 June 1911 the Spanish occupied Larache and Ksar-el-Kebir. On 1 July 1911 the German gunboat Panther arrived at the port of Agadir. There was an immediate reaction from the French, supported by the British.

French protectorate 1912–1956

French Moroccan medal

France officially established a protectorate over Morocco with the Treaty of Fez,[4] ending what remained of the country's de facto independence. From a strictly legal point of view, the treaty did not deprive Morocco of its status as a sovereign state. The Sultan reigned but did not rule. Sultan Abdelhafid abdicated in favor of his brother Yusef after signing the treaty. On April 17, 1912, Moroccan infantrymen mutinied in the French garrison in Fez, in the 1912 Fes riots[5] The Moroccans were unable to take the city and were defeated by a French relief force. In late May 1912, Moroccan forces again unsuccessfully attacked the enhanced French garrison at Fez.

In establishing their protectorate over much of Morocco, the French had behind them the experience of the conquest of Algeria and of their protectorate over Tunisia; they took the latter as the model for their Moroccan policy. There were, however, important differences. First, the protectorate was established only two years before the outbreak of World War I, which brought with it a new attitude toward colonial rule. Rejecting the typical French assimilationist approach to culture and education as a liberal fantasy, Morocco's conservative French rulers attempted to use urban planning and colonial education to prevent cultural mixing and to uphold the traditional society upon which the French depended for collaboration.[6] Second, Morocco had a thousand-year tradition of independence; though it had been strongly influenced by the civilization of Muslim Iberia, it had never been subject to Ottoman rule. These circumstances and the proximity of Morocco to Spain created a special relationship between the two countries.

Morocco was also unique among the North African countries in possessing a coast on the Atlantic, in the rights that various nations derived from the Conference of Algeciras, and in the privileges that their diplomatic missions had acquired in Tangier. Thus the northern tenth of the country, with both Atlantic and Mediterranean coasts were excluded from the French-controlled area and treated as a Spanish protectorate.

Although being under protectorate, Morocco retained -de jure- its personality as a state in international law, according to an International Court of Justice statement, and thus remained a sovereign state, without discontinuity between pre-colonial and modern entities.[7] In fact, the French enjoyed much larger powers.

Under the protectorate, French civil servants allied themselves with the French colonists and with their supporters in France to prevent any moves in the direction of Moroccan autonomy. As pacification proceeded, the French government promoted economic development, particularly the exploitation of Morocco’s mineral wealth, the creation of a modern transportation system, and the development of a modern agriculture sector geared to the French market. Tens of thousands of colonists entered Morocco and bought up large amounts of the rich agricultural land. Interest groups that formed among these elements continually pressured France to increase its control over Morocco.

Lyautey and the Protectorate (1912–1925)

Hubert Lyautey, the first Resident General of the protectorate, was an extraordinary personality with royalist leanings who made it his mission to develop Morocco. Unlike his compatriots, Lyautey didn't believe that France should annex Morocco like French Algeria but rather civilize Moroccan society and educate it. He promised that in this process that he would:

offend no tradition, change no custom, and remind ourselves that in all human society there is a ruling class, born to rule, without which nothing can be done... enlist the ruling class in our service.... and the country will be pacified, and at far less cost and with greater certainty than by all the military expeditions we could send there

Lyautey's vision was ideological: a powerful pro-French westernized monarchy that would work with France and look to France for culture and aid. Unlike in Algeria where the entire nobility and government was displaced, Lyautey worked with the Moroccan nobility, offering them support and even building elite private schools where they could send their children (a benefit not given to the majority of Moroccans). One notable product of this schooling is Thami El Glaoui.[8]

Lyautey allowed the sultan to retain his powers: he issued decrees in his own name and seal and was allowed to remain the religious leader of Morocco. He was even allowed an all-Arab court. Lyautey once said:

In Morocco, there is only one government, the sharifian government, protected by the French

Walter Burton Harris, a British journalist who wrote extensively on Morocco, wrote:

At the Moorish court. scarcely a European is to be seen, and to the native who arrives at the Capital there is little or no visible change from what he and his ancestors saw in the past


Opposition to French control

Rif Rebellion

Flag of Rif Republic (1921–1926)

Sultan Yusef's reign, from 1912 to 1927, was turbulent and marked with frequent uprisings against Spain and France. The most serious of these was a Berber uprising in the Rif Mountains, led by Abd el-Krim who managed to establish a republic in the Rif. Though this rebellion originally began in the Spanish-controlled area in the north of the country, it reached to the French-controlled area until a coalition of France and Spain finally defeated the rebels in 1925. To ensure their own safety, the French moved the court from Fez to Rabat, which has served as the capital of the country ever since.

Nationalist parties

In December 1934, a small group of nationalists, members of the newly formed Moroccan Action Committee (Comité d’Action Marocaine – CAM), proposed a Plan of Reforms that called for a return to indirect rule as envisaged by the Treaty of Fez, admission of Moroccans to government positions, and establishment of representative councils. The moderate tactics used by the CAM to obtain consideration of reform – including petitions, newspaper editorials, and personal appeals to French. Nationalist political parties, which subsequently arose under the French protectorate, based their arguments for Moroccan independence on such World War II declarations as the Atlantic Charter.

During World War II, the badly divided nationalist movement became more cohesive, and informed Moroccans dared to consider the real possibility of political change in the post-war era. However, the nationalists were disappointed in their belief that the Allied victory in Morocco would pave the way for independence. In January 1944, the Istiqlal Party, which subsequently provided most of the leadership for the nationalist movement, released a manifesto demanding full independence, national reunification, and a democratic constitution. The sultan had approved the manifesto before its submission to the French resident general, who answered that no basic change in the protectorate status was being considered.

Exile of Sultan Mohammed

The general sympathy of the sultan for the nationalists had become evident by the end of the war, although he still hoped to see complete independence achieved gradually. By contrast, the residency, supported by French economic interests and vigorously backed by most of the colonists, adamantly refused to consider even reforms short of independence. Official intransigence contributed to increased animosity between the nationalists and the colonists and gradually widened the split between the sultan and the resident general.

Mohammed V and his family were transferred to Madagascar in January 1954. His replacement by the unpopular Mohammed Ben Aarafa, whose reign was perceived as illegitimate, sparked active opposition to the French protectorate both from nationalists and those who saw the sultan as a religious leader. By 1955, Ben Arafa was pressured to abdicate ; consequently, he fled to Tangier where he formally abdicated.

Later on, faced with a united Moroccan demand for the sultan’s return, on a great scale, rising violence in Morocco, and the deteriorating situation in Algeria, Mohammed V was returned from exile on November 16, 1955, and declared independence on November 18, 1955. In February 1956 he successfully negotiated with France to enforce the independence of Morocco, and in 1957 took the title of King.

1956 independence

In late 1955, Mohammed V successfully negotiated the gradual restoration of Moroccan independence within a framework of French-Moroccan interdependence. The sultan agreed to institute reforms that would transform Morocco into a constitutional monarchy with a democratic form of government. In February 1956, Morocco acquired limited home rule. Further negotiations for full independence culminated in the French-Moroccan Agreement signed in Paris on March 2, 1956.[9][10] On April 7 of that year France officially relinquished its protectorate in Morocco. The internationalized city of Tangier was reintegrated with the signing of the Tangier Protocol on October 29, 1956.[11] The abolition of the Spanish protectorate and the recognition of Moroccan independence by Spain were negotiated separately and made final in the Joint Declaration of April 1956.[12] Through these agreements with Spain in 1956 and 1958, Moroccan control over certain Spanish-ruled areas was restored, though attempts to claim other Spanish possessions through military action were less successful.

In the months that followed independence, Mohammed V proceeded to build a modern governmental structure under a constitutional monarchy in which the sultan would exercise an active political role. He acted cautiously, having no intention of permitting more radical elements in the nationalist movement to overthrow the established order. He was also intent on preventing the Istiqlal from consolidating its control and establishing a one-party state. In August 1957, Mohammed V assumed the title of king.

Monetary policy

Main article: Moroccan franc

The French minted coinage for use in the Protectorate from 1921 until 1956, which continued to circulate until a new currency was introduced. The French minted coins with denomination of francs, which were divided into 100 centimes. This was replaced in 1960 with the reintroduction of the dirham, Morocco's current currency.

The Algeciras conference gave concessions to the European bankers, ranging from a newly formed State Bank of Morocco, to issuing banknotes backed by gold, with a 40-year term. The new state bank was to act as Morocco's Central Bank, but with a strict cap on the spending of the Sherifian Empire, with administrators appointed by the national banks that guaranteed the loans: the German Empire, United Kingdom, France and Spain.

Postal history

A French postal agency had sent mail from Tangier as early as 1854, but the formal beginning of the system was in 1891, when French post offices were established throughout the sultanate. The offices issued postage stamps of France surcharged with values in pesetas and centimos, at a 1–1 ratio with the denominations in French currency, using both the Type Sage issues, and after 1902, Mouflon issue inscribed "MAROC" (which were never officially issued without the surcharge). In 1911, the Mouflon designs were overprinted in Arabic; in the same year, the Sherifian post was created to handle local mail, using special stamps.

The first stamps of the protectorate appeared 1 August 1914, and were just the existing stamps with the additional overprint reading "PROTECTORAT FRANCAIS". The first new designs were in an issue of 1917, consisting of 17 stamps in six designs, denominated in centimes and francs, and inscribed "MAROC".


Morocco had from 1912 – 1935 one of the largest 600 mm (1 ft 11 58 in) gauge networks in Africa with total length of more than 1700 kilometres. After the treaty of Algeciras where the representatives of Great Powers agreed not to build any standard gauge railway in Morocco until the standard gauge TangierFez Railway being completed, the French had begun to build military 600 mm (1 ft 11 58 in) gauge lines in their part of Morocco.

See also


  2. Furlong, Charles Wellington (September 1911). "The French Conquest Of Morocco: The Real Meaning Of The International Trouble". The World's Work: A History of Our Time. XXII: 14988–14999. Retrieved 2009-07-10.
  3. "TRAITÉ conclu entre la France et le Maroc le 30 mars 1912, pour l'Organisation du Protectorat Français dans l'Empire Chérifien" (PDF). Bulletin officiel de l'Empire chérifien : Protectorat de la République française au Maroc (in French). Rabat. 1 (1): 1–2. Retrieved 20 March 2015.
  4. H. Z(J. W.) Hirschberg (1981). A history of the Jews in North Africa: From the Ottoman conquests to the present time / edited by Eliezer Bashan and Robert Attal. BRILL. p. 318. ISBN 90-04-06295-5.
  5. "Segalla, Spencer 2009,The Moroccan Soul: French Education, Colonial Ethnology, and Muslim Resistance, 1912–1956. Nebraska University Press."
  6. Bengt Brons, "States : The classification of States", in: International Law: Achievements and Prospects, Martinus Nijhoff Publishers 1991 (ISBN 9789231027161), p.51 §.31
  7. 1 2 "A History of Modern Morocco" p.90-91 Susan Gilson Miller, Cambridge University Press 2013
  8. "Déclaration commune" (in French). Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Development (France). March 2, 1956.
  9. "French-Moroccan Declaration". Department of State Bulletin. Department of State. XXXIV (873): 466–467. March 19, 1956. (unofficial translation)
  10. "Final Declaration of the International Conference in Tangier and annexed Protocol. Signed at Tangier, on 29 October 1956 [1957] UNTSer 130; 263 UNTS 165". 1956.
  11. "Spanish-Moroccan Declaration". Department of State Bulletin. Department of State. XXXIV (878): 667–668. April 23, 1956. (unofficial translation)

Further reading

Coordinates: 32°N 6°W / 32°N 6°W / 32; -6

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