Ambassador Edward M. Gabriel (ret.)
November 24, 2020
One of the most legendary political figures in Morocco, Mahjoubi Aherdan, has passed away at age 100. Aherdan, who was mostly called by his last name, was the co-founder of the Mouvement Populaire (MP) political party and was one of the staunchest supporters of a free and independent Morocco.
Aherdan served in many notable government positions during his lifetime. He served as governor of Rabat after Morocco’s independence, then as a minister in Morocco’s first government. He also served in several governments thereafter, as Minister of National Defense, Agriculture, and Telecommunications. He remained head of the Mouvement Populaire – one of the six major political parties in Morocco – for many decades and participated in Morocco’s political scene up until the early 2000s.
I met Aherdan for the first time when I was serving as US Ambassador to Morocco. It had been difficult scheduling an appointment with him. Thankfully we had mutual friends, Aziz and Christine Alaoui, who happened to be living in a bungalow on Aherdan’s property. I was finally invited to have dinner with Aherdan and his wife and the Alaouis, with Aziz serving as our translator.
Arriving for dinner, I marveled at the beautiful interior decorations and especially the artwork. He was a gifted painter and writer, and most of the paintings on the walls were his own. In response to my compliments, he responded that the sun would only shine more beautifully in his home when the Western Sahara dispute was settled for Morocco. Aherdan was deeply invested in the Sahara dispute, and it quickly became the focus of our conversation two minutes into our visit. It was a cause he had fought for his whole life, actually marching on the front lines during the Green March in 1975.
I promised to do my best to make substantial progress on the Western Sahara issue before I left my post in Morocco. After hearing the translation of my comment, he turned to Aziz and said in Arabic, “OK, when is he leaving!” That was the essence of Aherdan – a straight talker who was clear and direct, not weighted down by diplomatic speak.
I reached out to Aziz and Christine for this article and asked them for any personal memories they had of Aherdan. Aziz recalled Aherdan telling him about a conversation from the early days of his relationship with King Hassan. Aherdan had a disagreement with the King but caveated his disagreement with the fact that it was out of loyalty to the country. Hassan responded, “Your loyalty to your country hampers your loyalty that you should give me.” That conversation which should have drawn them apart only brought the two men closer together.
Aherdan’s admiration for the Monarch, his love of country, and his honesty in his dialogue is what made him so famous. Anyone debating Aherdan needed to be prepared for a difficult conversation. He believed no one was above him, but also believed no one was beneath him either.
Christine talked about a conversation they had with HRH Princess Lalla Aicha Alaoui bint Mohammed V, the beloved sister of Hassan II. Aziz mentioned to Lalla Aicha he was thinking of running for political office and asked for her advice. She was quick to say that Aziz should talk to Aherdan, the most respected political figure in Morocco. Such a comment could only reflect King Hassan’s respect for Aherdan as well.
My final time with Aherdan was when I accompanied him and Ambassador Ahmed Snoussi to pay our condolences to Lalla Noufissa and Lalla Zoubida at the death of their mother, Lalla Aicha. Ambassador Snoussi is close in age to Aherdan, and is the last surviving close friend and adviser of King Hassan. As we walked up the steps to Lalla Aicha’s house arm in arm and navigating the climb, everyone in the doorway turned in admiration and parted the entrance for these two old warriors to walk in. It was a tribute in itself to the love of Aherdan and his loyal generation of freedom fighters.
One final note. The photo that accompanies this article was taken by Aziz and Christine’s daughter, Leila. She had become a renowned photographer, whose life was tragically taken in a terrorist attack in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. She was 33. At the time, Aherdan was 95 and not in good health. That did not stop him travelling from Rabat to Marrakech to pay his condolences to Aziz and Christine. Leila was like a granddaughter to Aherdan, who loved her dearly, like his own. He was loved by young and old alike throughout Morocco.
Morocco is lucky to have had a man like Aherdan, who helped guide the country through its infancy as a new nation. Rest in peace my friend.