771.00/2–2851: Despatch

The Consul at Rabat (McBride) to the Department of State 1

No. 325

Ref: Consulate’s Telegram 122, February 27, 1951.2

Subject: Denouement of Moroccan Crisis

On Saturday night, February 24, the Moroccan crisis, which was then just two days less than a month old, appeared badly deadlocked. Negotiations between the French and the Palace had been broken off, and the tone of the press was threatening. According to the Frenchlanguage newspapers, demonstrations against the Sultan and the Istiqlal were increasing with even Arab elements becoming restive and adding their complaints to those of the Berbers. It will be examined more in detail in a later despatch when complete evidence is available as to what percentage of the manifestations against the Sultan reported in the Residency-controlled press ever occurred. At that point the Sultan was still apparently standing firm though it was [Page 1378] apparent that General Juin would eventually substantially get his way, if his own Government supported him, because of the Sultan’s lack of military means to back his position.

On Sunday morning it was announced under banner headlines that the Imperial Cabinet had been dissolved and its functionaries as well as the Rector of the Karaouyine University in Fez, an ardent nationalist, had been “reintegrated” into other less controversial duties. Residency sources have pointed out to us that, since talks were still suspended, the French learned of this action by the Sultan, which he had promised earlier incidentally, by the press though it was comirmed by a note to the Residency on Sunday. The immediate reaction of the Residency was that this represented a first step by the Moroccan ruler toward a compromise but was insufficient in itself to meet Juin’s demands even in the personnel field; since the original request regarding the dissolution of the cabinet had later been amplified by the French into insistence of elimination of all anti-French elements in the Maghzen.

The same day information began coming in from Moroccan sources that the French civil controllers in the Berber areas of the Middle Atlas had instructed the tribes under their jurisdiction each to despatch a quota of sixty or seventy armed horsemen to Rabat or Fez, depending on proximity, to demonstrate against the Sultan and the Arab population, and show their loyalty to France. Although we were most skeptical that such a movement would occur, a check by the British Consul General and myself around Rabat and by the British Consul in the environs of Fez indicated that the information we had received was correct. It later developed that perhaps as many as 8,000 men were set in motion, with about 3,000 destined for Rabat. Although the British and ourselves were told later, when this movement was discussed, that this represented merely the most serious of the spontaneous evidences of Berber disaffection with the Sultan and the Istiqlal, a British journalist, Mr. Wallis of the Daily Telegraph, told the Director of Press and Information, M. Mazoyer, that this tale was obvious nonsense since the Protectorate could have prevented the movement simply by not permitting the tribesmen to start out. This Residency official thereupon admitted first that the French had not opposed the descent on Rabat and Fez, and later that the Protectorate had actually encouraged it. Various British and American journalists at present in Morocco have mentioned their conclusion of this maneuver which my British colleague and I had already reached: that the French were playing an unusually dangerous game which might result even in European bloodshed should the demonstrations depart from plan in any respect.

On Monday morning press headlines reflected a totally different atmosphere, and indicated that agreement on outstanding differences [Page 1379] had virtually been reached the previous afternoon. I was called in by the Diplomatic Counselor who reported that a compromise had been effected the day before. The details of this arrangement were reported in Rabat telegram 120 of February 26.1 As an indication of why this sudden volte face had occurred, primarily on the part of the Sultan, who was made to appear to cede on most of the outstanding points, the Diplomatic Counselor stated that Deputy Resident deBlesson, who returned on Sunday morning from Paris, brought with him a message from President Auriol replying to the Sultan’s direct appeal of February 21. Since this was thought to be a last effort on the Sultan’s part to get out of his impasse with Juin, we were left to conclude that, when Auriol called for a return to the spirit of the October talks between the Sultan and himself in Paris, the Moroccan sovereign concluded that the game was up and he had best come to such terms as possible with the Residency quickly before new demands were made.

A further factor in the abrupt termination of the crisis, and perhaps the principal one, was the movement of the Berber tribesmen towards Rabat and Fez. In the French view, it is stated that this ominous and spontaneous development finally convinced the Sultan, when the forces planning to demonstrate against him were at the doors of the capital, that he had either lost or never had the support of the mass of his people in his political policy. Therefore, he concluded he could no longer hold out against the Moroccan population, and must succumb to their wishes by denouncing the Istiqlal and meeting the other French demands (which are now presented as Moroccan demands in the French press). Since no Moroccan now dares to be in contact with us, we don’t have their side, but presumably when the Sultan realized the lengths to which the French were willing to go to coerce him, including even risking losing control of the situation in Rabat, he decided to surrender to the French terms, though he was able to gain some satisfaction on two points, and lost entirely only on the question of eliminating anti-French personnel from the Moroccan Government. Thus, the speedy arrangement of February 25 was concluded. It was not really so hasty because all of the points had been mulled over for so long that all possible combinations had been attempted, and the final accord was merely the putting together of the appropriate ones.

The compromise which was worked out on the question of denunciation of the Istiqlal was that the Sultan issued a long proclamation of the principles of Islam and calling for tranquillity in the country while the Grand Vizier was left the task of condemning the methods and activities of “a certain party”. These declarations appeared on [Page 1380] February 24 to the sustained hoopla of the French press which, having called the Sultan every name in the book, now referred to “the renewed proof of the wisdom of His Majesty”. Point one was thus taken care of, while, on the discharging or transferring of further personnel, announcements are expected momentarily, with the appointment of a new Pasha of Rabat in the person of a member of the pro-French Tazi family already mentioned in the February 28 Echo du Maroc. On the question of reforms, the Sultan has also of course promised speedy action, with the expectation that many pieces of Frenchsponsored and drafted legislation will be approved quickly, while others will be the subject of study by the Franco-Moroccan Mixed Commission discussed in Paris with the Sultan last year, and to the appointment of which he has heretofore been opposed.

This would seem, on the surface at least, to wash out the matter completely, and this office certainly hopes the crisis is finished because the Residency has been in a perfectly poisonous frame of mind during its duration. However, one slight ominous note is the continued harping of the press on demonstrations of loyalty to France, since the need for this propaganda would seem to be over. Le Petit Marocain of the Mas family, a strongly anti-Moroccan sheet, this morning headlined a report to the effect that the religious brotherhoods, who are leading French supporters, felt that the condemnation of “a certain party” was insufficient and were still worrying the old bone of denouncing the Istiqlal by name. It is fervently hoped that the French will drop the matter and let Morocco get on about its business, but the possibility of using artificial respiration on the “crisis” exists. It is hoped when all of the data available can be assembled to present a report which will show that the so-called crisis was largely invented for motives which are not entirely clear as yet. In any event this unproductive political squabble completely dominated Moroccan life during the period from its birth on January 26 to what we cordially hope was its demise on February 27.

Robert H. McBride
  1. Copies were also sent to Paris, Cairo, Tangier, Tunis, Algiers, and Casablanca.
  2. Not printed; it reported that all but two members of the Istiqlal Executive Committee had been arrested. (771.00/3–151)
  3. Not printed.