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Reign of Hassan II

Following Mohammed V's sudden death in 1961 from complications after surgery, his 31-year-old son Mulay Hassan assumed power as King Hassan II. The new king took personal control of the government as prime minister and named a new cabinet. Aided by an advisory council, he drew up a new constitution, which was approved overwhelmingly in a December 1962 referendum. Under its provisions, the king remained the central figure in the executive branch of the government, but legislative power was vested in a bicameral parliament, and an independent judiciary was guaranteed. In May 1963, legislative elections took place for the first time, and the royalist coalition secured a small plurality of seats. However, following a period of political upheaval, in June 1965 Hassan II assumed full legislative and executive powers under a "state of exception," which remained in effect until 1970. Subsequently, a reform constitution was approved, restoring limited parliamentary government, and new elections were held. However, dissent remained, revolving around complaints of widespread corruption and malfeasance in government.

In July 1971 and again in August 1972, the regime was challenged by two attempted military coups. The atmosphere in the country remained tense. On 16 August 1972 the Royal Moroccan Air Force F-5 squadron apparently fell under the influence of General Mohammed Oufkir, the minister of defense and chief of staff of Morocco's military forces (Forces Armees Royales). Oufkir was thought to be totally loyal to the King; he enjoyed the monarch's full confidence and was clearly second in power only to the King. The 16 August 1972 coup attempt saw six pilots from the F-5 squadron intercept the King's Boeing 727 and try to shoot it down. The pilot of the King's aircraft, Mohammed Kabbej, radioed to the attacking aircraft that the King was dead and that Kabbej was taking the damaged airliner down. The King had not been hit and Kabbej's quick thinking and superb airmanship in landing the badly damaged 727 were credited with saving the monarch's life. The pilots of the F-5 squadron were arrested; many of them "disappeared."

The elements of classic tragedy were present in Morocco. Some monarchs - Hussein and the Shah come to mind - faced similarly parlous situations and survived. But they had such assets as a body of loyal subordinatcs, a disposition to work at the business of governing, and a willingness to make the throne an agent of change. The King's reaction to the two attempts on his life was to blame everyone but himself. He showed no signs of preparing to change his style of rule, nor did he devote much time or energy to the business of governing. Unlike Jordan's King Hussein and the Shah of Iran, King Hassan did not sense the need to bring about reforms as a way of bolstering the monarchy. He doesnot readily take advice, and shows no signs of changing his ostentatious personal life-style.

Hassan had lost the support of most important groups in the country and the people generally were apathetic as to his fate. Moreover, he was a dilettante, is convinced of his own righteousness and seemed unable to comprehend that his survival and that of his dynasty depended, at the very least, on winning the supprt of some influential groups and on administering the country more effectively.

Unemployment and poverty were endemic and growing in the cities which, with their large numbers of impoverished slum dwellers and frustrated students and intellectuals, were breeding grounds for dissent. For all Hassan's extravagance and inattention to the nuts and bolts of government, the royal house had provided a certain focus for the disparate elements of Moroccan society.

Hassan still had some assets that may help him stay in power. The countryside appeared to remain passively loyal; the Gendarmerie seemed to be a reliable instrument for maintaining internal order; the opposition political parties were divided and not particularly effective; the economy had performed reasonably well, although long-term social and economic problems remained; new governors had been appointed in the countryside and may help improve administration there; finally, the King, on occasion, showed himself to be a skillful political manipulator, and had been able to eliminate many of his powerful opponents following two unsuccessful coup attempts.

As he came to sense that political party leaders were making headway against him, he wanted to divert attention to other matters. The classic maneuver in such circuinstances is pandering to xenophobic sentiment. He might have choosen to move against French investment in Morocco or to reassert Moroccan claims to Spanish territories in North Africa.

Despite serious domestic turmoil, the patriotism engendered by Morocco's participation in the Middle East conflict and by the events in Western Sahara contributed to Hassan's popularity and strengthened his hand politically. The king had dispatched Moroccan troops to the Sinai front after the outbreak of Arab-Israeli War in October 1973. Although they arrived too late to engage in hostilities, the action won Morocco goodwill among other Arab states. Shortly thereafter, the attention of the government turned to the acquisition of Western Sahara from Spain, an issue on which all major parties agreed.

Moroccan claims to Western Sahara date to the eleventh century. However, in August 1974 Spain formally acknowledged the 1966 United Nations (UN) resolution calling for a referendum on the future status of Western Sahara and requested that a plebiscite be conducted under UN supervision. A UN commission reported in early 1975 that a majority of the Saharan people desired independence. Morocco protested the proposed referendum and took its case to the international Court of Justice at The Hague, which ruled that despite historical "ties of allegiance" between Morocco and the tribes of Western Sahara, there was no legal justification for departing from the UN position on self-determination.

The Green March, which took place in 1975, is the most important event in the Reign of Late Hassan II. 350.000 unarmed Moroccans marched south into the desert to reassert the sovereinty of the Sahara which was in the hands of the Spanish at that time. A movement called the POLISARIO was formed by the help of Algeria and Libya to oppose Moroccan rule and to fight for self determination of the Sahrawi. Spain had declared that even in the absence of a referendum, it intended to surrender political control of Western Sahara, and Spain, Morocco, and Mauritania convened a tripartite conference to resolve the territory's future. But Madrid also announced that it was opening independence talks with the Algerian-backed Saharan independence movement known as the Polisario Front.

In early 1976, Spain ceded Western Sahara to Morocco and Mauritania. Morocco assumed control over the northern two-thirds of the territory and conceded the remaining portion in the south to Mauritania. An assembly of Saharan tribal leaders duly acknowledged Moroccan sovereignty. However, buoyed by the increasing defection of the chiefs to its cause, the Polisario drew up a constitution and announced the formation of the Saharan Arab Democratic Republic (SADR). A new dimension was thereby added to the dispute because the liberation movement could now present its claims as a government-in-exile.

Morocco eventually sent a large portion of its combat forces into Western Sahara to confront the Polisario's forces, which were relatively small but well-equipped, highly mobile, and resourceful, using Algerian bases for quick strikes against targets deep inside Morocco and Mauritania as well as for operations in Western Sahara. In August 1979, after suffering military losses, Mauritania renounced its claim to Western Sahara and signed a peace treaty with the Polisario. Morocco then annexed the entire territory and in 1985 built a 2,500-kilometer sand berm around three-quarters of it. In 1988 Morocco and the Polisario Front finally agreed on a United Nations (UN) peace plan, and a cease-fire and settlement plan went into effect in 1991. Even though the UN Security Council created a peacekeeping force to implement a referendum on self-determination for Western Sahara, it has yet to be held, periodic negotiations have failed, and the status of the territory remains unresolved.

More than any other issue since independence, the objective of securing Western Sahara had unified the Moroccan nation. Because of the firm stand the king had taken, it also enhanced his popularity in the country. But the war against the Polisario guerrillas put severe strains on the economy, and Morocco found itself increasingly isolated diplomatically. Successive governments showed little inclination to move seriously against pressing economic and social issues. As a result, popular discontent with social and economic conditions persisted. Political parties continued to proliferate but produced only a divided and weakly organized opposition or were suppressed. Through the force of his strong personality, the legacy of the monarchy, and the application of political repression, the king succeeded in asserting his authority and controlling the forces threatening the existing social order. Gradual political reforms in the 1990s culminated in the constitutional reform of 1996, which created a new bicameral legislature with expanded, although still limited, powers. Although reportedly marred by irregularities, elections for the Chamber of Representatives were held in 1997.

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Page last modified: 07-08-2018 23:35:11 ZULU