The about-face of the Moroccan nationalists and their alliance with Franco
After a short period during which the Moroccan nationalists saw their optimism and hopes dashed that the Spanish republicans would access their claims, the breakout of the military uprising of July 17, 1936 in Morocco, was marked by a spectacular about-face by the leader of the Moroccan nationalists in the Spanish Protectorate, Abdelkhalek Torres.
After expressing his neutrality on the conflict, he quickly sided with Franco. As explained in my previous article, the rebels took ruthless measures against all those who were suspected of refusing to cooperate with them.
At first, the leader of the Moroccan nationalists opposed the idea that Franco use soldiers under the authority of the Makhzen (the Moroccan authority). This defiant attitude aroused the indignation of the rebels who multiplied the means of pressure against him.
Unlike General Orgaz, who had shown a contemptuous attitude towards the Moroccan leader, Franco adopted a different attitude, considering that it was better to win him over rather than turning him into a potential enemy. The conciliatory attitude of the latter with Abdelkhalek Torres proved effective, since the Moroccan nationalist did not only rally to the Franquistas cause, he also leveled harsh criticism at the Republicans for their policy in Morocco, while highlighting that all the promises they made to Moroccans remained unfulfilled.
Besides the pressure brought to bear by Franco on the Moroccan nationalists, the reversal in the position of the latter was not a coincidence. It was the result of an operation of “seduction” led by the Spanish military aimed at luring them and overcoming their opposition to the military uprising and the massive dispatch of Moroccans to the Iberian Peninsula. To reach this goal, at the beginning of the Spanish Civil War, the Spanish High Commissioner in Morocco, Lieutenant Colonel Beigbeder, made a statement in which he promised the Moroccan nationalists that Spain, a “true friend of Islam”, would grant Morocco its independence at the end of the military uprising.
This fallacious promise proved effective even among the most progressive and reformist sectors of Moroccan nationalism, as Franco became perceived as more amenable to their demands for autonomy and independence than the Republicans. This supportive attitude of the Moroccan leaders was based on the idea that, once in power, Franco would be more receptive to Moroccans’ claims, grant them more freedom and would introduce reforms likely to lift the north of its economic under-development and illiteracy.
Aware that the Moroccan nationalists were able to demonstrate their support to any of two opponents who could satisfy their claims, Franco was able to make effective use of this advantage, thus, depriving the Republicans of political legitimacy in northern Morocco.
From that moment, the leader of Moroccan nationalism in the north showed full support to Franco. This support was praised and highlighted on the radio, on newspapers and on the occasion of the Abdelkhale Torres’ trips to Spain. During these trips, he delivered speeches in which he praised the “brotherhood” links that united the peoples of Spain and Morocco, as well as the “moral qualities” of Franco and his acolytes.
Moreover, in order to win the sympathy of the people of the Rif and avoid discontent, shortly after the war started, Franco organized a group trip to Mecca whose echo spread throughout Northern Morocco.
The attack of the vessel, which was to transport Moroccan pilgrims to Mecca on the eve of the departure of the first Moroccan group, was widely used by Franco to give a boost to his propaganda campaign and lure as many Moroccans as possible to support his “cause.”
This attack carried out by the Republicans caused them more hostility from the Moroccans. Franco seized this opportunity to demonize the Republicans and further exacerbate Moroccans’ hostility towards them.
After the bombing, General Franco invested in Aranda, who was then in Morocco, with the mission of conveying his “sympathy” towards the Moroccan people, his outrage for what had happened and his determination to do away with “the Godless Republicans.”
During this trip, General Aranda gave a speech full of untruths about the “brotherhood” between the two peoples, his “esteem” for Moroccan soldiers, and the duty of both countries to stop the spread of atheism.
In the same vein, when Franco received on April 2, 1937 in Seville a Moroccan delegation composed by the grand vizier, pilgrims and dignitaries from Tetouan, he gave a pompous speech in which he emphasized the “historical ties” that united Morocco and Spain.
In addition, the franquist officials did not stop during this period. Instead they multiplied the gestures of “sympathy” and “benevolence” towards Moroccans. For example, they proceeded to build a new mosque in Ceuta, a library, houses, which they sold at low prices, a nursing home, etc.
With regard to education, which was one of the areas most neglected by the Spanish republican authorities throughout the Protectorate, Franco proceeded with the Arabization of education, the creation of a research center on Islamic studies in Larache in July 1937, and the House of Morocco in Cairo.
It must be said, about the center that if Franco sought at first to gain greater support from Moroccans to his “cause”, its importance during the post-Civil War and post-World War II periods would prove crucial to the legitimacy of his regime. This is reflected in the fact that Spain found in the center, in a country of great cultural and political weight in the Arab world, a platform to promote the image of Franco as a “protector” of Islam and “friend” of the Arab world.
While highlighting the supposed brotherhood ties between the Spanish and the Moroccans, Franco’s propaganda campaign aimed at manipulating the Moroccans, and preparing the rebels’ supporters to accept on their soil the massive and prolonged presence of the representatives of a country and a religion to which they devoted centuries-old hostility. However, it was less clear that it would have a positive effect on the image of the “bloody” Moroccans in Spain.
This hypothesis had no chance to materialize. The collective memory of the Spanish people, already shaped by centuries of confrontation and rivalry with Moroccans, was still traumatized by the bad memories of the War of Melilla in 1893 and the Rif War (1921-1926). These emotions were aroused further when Spaniards suddenly discovered that their soldiers were dealing with a “horde” of “primitives,” who were bent on destroying their enemies mercilessly.
 Muhammad Ibn Azzuz Hakim, « La oposición de los dirigentes nacionalistas marroquíes a la participación de sus compatriotas en la guerra civil española », in José Antonio González Alcantud (ed.), Rachid Raha et Mustafá Akalay (cols.), Marroquíes en la guerra civil española, campos equívocos, Barcelona, Anthropos.
 Víctor Morales Lezcano, España y el norte de Africa, el protectorado en Marruecos (1912-56), Madrid, U.N.E.D, 1986, pp. 124-127.
 María Rosa de Madariaga, Los Moros que trajo Franco, la intervención de la tropas coloniales en la guerra civil española, Bercelona, Martínez Roca, 2002, p. 356.
Samir Bennis is the co-founder and editor-in-chief of Morocco World News. You can follow him on Twitter
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