By Malika Layadi
November 19, 2014
On November 18th, Morocco celebrated its 59th anniversary of independence. Unlike the 4th of July in the United States, Morocco’s Independence Day is not celebrated with much extravagance. There are no fireworks, no concerts, no parties… So how then do we Moroccans celebrate our Independence Day? And what does this day mean to us?
The celebration starts days in advance, when Morocco’s major streets are adorned with the Moroccan flag. During that period, you can see the red and green of the flag in all cities, big and small, and all villages across the country. On November 18th itself, Moroccan TV broadcasts a series of documentaries and interviews on independence, commemorating the historical figures and events that led to the end of colonialism. In a sense, we celebrate Independence Day by commemorating the past and aspiring for the future. While Americans view the 4th of July as marking the start of their nation, Moroccans do not see the end of the colonial period as the start of the nation – our history as a country dates back centuries. The end of the colonial period represents the culmination of Moroccan struggles against adversity, and Independence Day is therefore a day of introspection, where Moroccans not only honor the leaders of independence and the country’s achievements since the French left but also appreciate their hopes for Morocco’s future endeavors.
Of course, one cannot aspire for the future without knowing one’s past. Morocco’s independence movement started during the Second World War. On January 11, 1944, Moroccan nationalists signed an independence manifesto demanding the end of both French and Spanish colonial control over the country. Among the 67 signatories was a woman, Malika El Fassi, whose signature was a revolutionary symbol of Morocco’s move away from a patriarchal and feudal society.
In 1947, Sultan Mohammed Ben Youssef (later King Mohammed V) publicly demanded Morocco’s independence in a speech in Tangier. His speech caused so much outrage in France that Erik Labonne, French General Resident in Morocco, was removed for being too tolerant of Moroccan nationalists and replaced by Alphonse Juin. The latter adopted a more confrontational approach with the nationalists and the sultan, which culminated in the exile of the sultan and his family to Madagascar on August 20, 1953. That same day, the Moroccan people revolted against the exile, beginning what we now call the Revolution of the King and the People. After two years of protests and negotiations, France finally recognized Morocco’s right to independence on November 6, 1955.
Ten days later Sultan Mohammed Ben Youssef returned from exile. Two days after that, on November 18th, tribal lords and nationalists across the country pledged allegiance to the king. Although Morocco did not get its independence until March 2, 1956 from France and April 7, 1956 from Spain, it chose to celebrate its Independence Day on the day representatives of the Moroccan people pledged their allegiance to King Mohammed V as their legitimate ruler and no longer recognized France and Spain’s rule.
As Morocco celebrates its 59th anniversary of independence in light of its political transition, it is looking back at its rich history and its fearless struggle for independence to draw strength, courage, and wisdom from the past and shape its future.
Ms. Layadi is a research assistant at MAC and a native of Morocco.