Rabat - The long history of the monarchy in Morocco is rife with princes, members of the ruling family, who plotted to dethrone the ruling monarch and take his place.
Rabat – The long history of the monarchy in Morocco is rife with princes, members of the ruling family, who plotted to dethrone the ruling monarch and take his place.
Indeed, many of these entered into open rebellion and gathered a group of ulemas, who, in exchange for certain privileges, declared them the legitimate monarch of the country. There were several instances where Morocco had more than one sultan at the same time, before the opponents squared off in the battlefield.
Moroccan dissidence Siba
Until the arrival of the French protectorate in 1912, Siba “dissidence,” was a congenital feature of the Moroccan political system. There was the siba of the princes who aspired to become sultan in the place of the legitimate sultan and who led the country into bloody wars that created instability and affected negatively the lives of the population. And there was tribal siba which recognized the political and religious attributes of the monarch but refused to pay him taxes. As such, his name was mentioned in the Friday prayer khutba as the rightful “Commander of the Faithful,” amir al-mou’minin, while his governors were welcomed and tolerated but had no right, whatsoever, to collect tax money or impose new duties.
Until 1912, Morocco was divided into two areas: bled siba “land of dissidence” and bled l-Makhzen “land under government control.” Moroccan sultans, during the whole of their reign, had to face bouts of dissidence from their own family ranks or from Amazigh tribes. Indeed, Amazigh territory was most of the time in dissidence for two main reasons: firstly the tribes abhorred being under the control of central governments whatever they are, and secondly, they resented the idea of paying taxes to the state that is not receptive to their needs and demands, and did practically nothing for their well being.
The Historian Mohamed El Mansour states that the Sultan Moulay Slimane, who reigned from 1792 to 1822, in his war against the Amazigh tribes of Amalou, was defeated in the Azrou region and cornered. The monarch thought he was going to be killed but instead the Amazigh tribesmen took his djellaba, cut it in small pieces and distributed among the other tribe leaders, present in the battlefield, for baraka “religious grace”, because for them, though he was defeated, he was still the rightful Commander of the Faithful.
In most of the 20th century, apart from recurrent Amazigh uprisings, there were no important instances of dissidence from the ranks of the Alouite reigning family. Moulay Abdelaziz, Moulay Hafid, Moulay Youssef, Mohammed V, and Hassan II all were backed by their family members and refrained from criticizing their rule.
Though the dissidence of Moulay Hicham started in 1995, during the reign of Hassan II, he did not dare openly oppose his uncle. He only expressed his dissatisfaction by taking his family and settling down in the United States. In response to this unacceptable lèse-majesté, Hassan II, who never accepted dissidence whatever its origin, let alone from his own family from whom he expected total obedience, went about promoting Moulay HIcham’s brother, Moulay Smail, to a higher protocol rank and made sure he was at his side at all state functions.
However, Moulay Hicham’s dissidence came out of the closet right after the coronation of Mohammed VI, though, in fact, he was one of the key signatories of the document of allegiance drafted hurriedly upon the death of Hassan II, as is the custom in such circumstances.
The self-banished prince
Since his self-banishment and his open criticism of his cousin Mohammed VI, Moulay Hicham, who is super “media-hungry,” has helped circulate a number of different titles to describe his person and his political actions, mainly the Red Prince, the Rebel Prince and, lately, the Banished Prince.
Who is Moulay Hicham? That is the question that many people are, quite rightly, asking today. Many Moroccans, especially among the young, have no clue who this person might be, since he has been living in self-exile for almost two decades.
Moulay Hicham was born in Rabat on October 4, 1964, to the Prince Moulay Abdellah from his wife Lamia Solh, daughter of the first Prime Minister Riad Solh of Lebanon. He is the direct cousin of Mohammed VI and Moulay Rachid. He is also the cousin of Prince Al-Walid ben Talal of Saudi Arabia, whose mother Mona Al Solh is another daughter of the Lebanese famous politician.
He attended the Rabat American School and graduated from Princeton University in 1985. He later attended Stanford University for graduate study in political science. In 2002, Prince Moulay Hicham relocated to Princeton, New Jersey with his family.
Since the arrival of his cousin Mohammed VI to the Alouite throne in 1999 by legitimate succession, Moulay Hicham has been openly critical of the monarchy and its traditional political structure known as makhzen. The prince has advocated full democracy in Morocco since 1999, and in the Arab world since the advent of the Arab uprisings.
For many of his critics, he is an “opportunist” prince who is expert in manipulating the Western press by playing on the concepts dear to this part of the world mainly: democracy, devolution of power and human rights. However, beyond talk he does nothing to make the change happen, even with respect to his own person and way of life: he preaches one thing while living a lavish life in the West far away from the masses in Morocco suffering daily from poverty, illiteracy, and lack of opportunity.
The reasons for dissidence
Many Moroccans today do ask quite rightly why Moulay Hicham engaged in soft dissidence against his uncle Hassan II, whom he says he admired strongly, or maybe feared — bearing in mind that as a prince he enjoyed both political and financial privileges that are beyond belief for many Moroccans.
People close to the palace argue that when Moulay Abdellah, the late father of Moulay Hicham, became very sick because of a liver condition due allegedly to excessive alcohol intake, Hassan II was furious about the former’s carelessness with his health and decided to take away from him most of his assets. Moulay Hicham, feeling bitter and betrayed, entered into a “cold dissidence” against his uncle, and later when he grew up and became an adult, he decided to leave for the US. He was allegedly encouraged to do that by his cousin from his mother’s side, the Saudi billionaire Al Walid ben Talal.
From 1995 to the time of the death of Hassan II in 1999, Moulay Hicham remained quiet and docile, out of fear of retribution from his uncle, but then when Mohammed VI came to power, he entered into the second phase of his rebellion: “hot dissidence.” He gathered around him a group of leftists, intellectuals, thinkers and journalists and embarked on a frontal assault on his cousin Mohammed VI, who in spite of all Moulay Hicham has said about him, has remained loyal and courteous to him to this day.
Perhaps Moulay Hicham believed strongly that his open dissidence would earn him the sympathy of the Moroccan people and would push for a change in the country, and that this would prepare the terrain for him to take over and become the king.
After the start of the Arab uprisings, he increased his criticism of the monarchy and joined the Mouvement du 20 Février which called for a constitutional monarchy. But the Prince, like the movement itself, failed to understand two important things about the political sociology of the Moroccan individual. In spite of all the criticism he might level at the monarchy, the Moroccan individual still believes in the monarchy’s historical and religious legitimacy.
As noted above, even at the height of dissidence bled siba, Amazigh tribes still considered the sultan the legitimate head of state and Friday prayer khutba was led in his name. This state of mind has not changed today, especially given that the people are witnessing so much chaos around them (see my serialized article published in MWN entitled “Chaos is coming to the Middle East,”) and that they do stick with the monarchy because it preserves stability and unity in the country. People might be suffering from lack of opportunity, illiteracy, and poverty, but, unlike other peoples of the MENA region, they enjoy stability and freedom, and they dearly want to preserve that.
What Prince Moulay Hicham does not seem to understand is that Moroccans are whining about corruption, embezzlement, mismanagement, nepotism and abuse of power, and they want a change for sure. But they do not want this change to come from the outside suddenly. Rather, they want it to be an internal and incremental change. Proof of this is the violent reaction of the people to the Prince’s book that appears to be a frontal attack on the king and the Monarchy. Most people argue that the only aim of the prince is to discredit Mohammed VI, and by so doing hope for a popular revolt that would topple the King and prepare the ground for him to become the king instead of him.
However, two things are undoubtedly marring the campaign of Moulay Hicham. Firstly, his book is increasing the popularity of Mohammed VI within Morocco. People like the monarch because he is sincere in his reforms and really wants to see Morocco change for the better. He is struggling to provide the nation with a better quality of life.
Moroccans like their king because he is a man who hardly talks publicly but believes more in deeds than words: a man of action. Secondly, even if Western countries are providing Moulay Hicham with a platform to air his criticism and are showing sympathy for his ideas, it does not mean in the least that they see in him, at least for the time being, a political alternative to Morocco’s leadership.
Morocco is stable and progressing steadily amidst a sea of chaos and trouble. The West is practical, Morocco is a solid ally and a stable regional power ready to oblige, and thus they will not gamble with this simply to please a prince who has no power base in Morocco whatsoever.
To add salt to the many above-mentioned wounds sustained by the prince, the Moroccan government decided to authorize the sale of his memoirs in Morocco, denying him by such an act, the external popularity he might have gained from any ostracism resulting from prohibition.
So, the prince is losing on all fronts, and such a loss might be fatal to his career and even his prophecy foretelling the Revolution of the Cumin that will take place in Morocco on April 8, 2018. Will his prophecy, like that of the late Islamist leader Abdessalam Yassine of Al Adl Wa Al Ihssan forecasting a popular uprising 9awma, falter too?
Moulay Hicham, the Iznogoud Character
Iznogoud (1962-) is a Franco-Belgian comic book series created by René Goscinny of Astérix fame and illustrated by Tabary. The title character is the scheming, ambitious and power-hungry Grand Vizier of the fictional Caliph Haroun El-Poussah. His obsession is to depose the Caliph by hook or by crook, and to set himself up as the new Caliph in his stead. In order to achieve this goal, he tries every trick in the book, but fails every single time.
Iznogoud is the second in command (Grand Vizier) to the Caliph of Baghdad Haroun El Poussah (Haroun El Plassid in English, a pun on the historical Caliph, Harun al-Rashid; “poussah” is roughly translated as “oaf”) but his sole aim in life is to overthrow the Caliph and take his place. This is frequently expressed in his famous catchphrase, “I want to become Caliph instead of the Caliph” (“je veux devenir calife à la place du calife”), which has passed into everyday French for qualifying over-ambitious people who want to become leaders. Iznogoud is always assisted in his plans by his faithful henchman, Dilat Larath (Wa’at Alahf in English).
The Iznogoud character repeating his infamous catchphrase:
“I want to be Caliph instead of the Caliph!”
Iznogood looks, acts and is evil, he actually possesses almost all the defects required to be a villain, and people of Baghdad are perfectly aware of his desire to overthrow the Caliph…. But the Caliph himself never suspects a thing, instead seeing Iznogoud as a devoted, good, trustworthy friend. The caliph even once admitted he often received anonymous letters trying to warn him about it, but never believed them. Ironically, the Caliph is the only person with whom Iznogoud bothers acting like a good person.
Each volume of Iznogoud has a pattern; five stories, 8 or 12-pages long, all featuring devious and conniving Iznogoud, the less than magnificent Grand Vizier of Baghdad the magnificent. Aided and abetted unwittingly by faithful minder Wa’at Alahf (who has very few wits to start with), every day Iznogoud makes it his business to become the Caliph instead of the Caliph. Except every plan fails, every scheme flounders, every plot fizzles out, and Haroun Al Plassid, good Caliph of Baghdad the Magnificent spends his days in blissful ignorance, trusting his loyal Grand Vizier every step of the way.
Since the enthronement of Mohammed VI in 1999, Prince Moulay Hicham has become the Iznogoud type. He has financed every possible press to criticize and attack his cousin, but has failed. He has also used every public platform to quite rightly denigrate the traditional and corrupt government system Makhzen but has gotten nowhere. He has published several articles arguing that unless it reforms, the Moroccan monarchy won’t survive. The Monarchy reformed slightly with a new constitution in 2011 and not only survived, but gained strength in the light of the catastrophic results of the Arab uprisings elsewhere in the Middle East.
The image of the self-banished prince in Morocco
One wonders why the prince is failing in his recurrent attempts to create havoc within the Moroccan political scene. Worse, his repeated attacks strengthen more and more the monarchy and the sympathy of the Moroccan people for it, even in its makhzen format.
The answer, to this seemingly difficult riddle, is simple: you cannot gain the sympathy of Moroccans by political salon talk at a distance, and attempt to initiate change by remote control. The prince left Morocco and its problems a long time ago to live in the luxuries and amenities that a country like America offers. Then, how can he know in depth the immediate concerns of Moroccans and how can he identify with them and their urgent needs? The answer is so simple, he does not know their daily pains and struggles and, consequently, he cannot provide real relief for their headaches.
For the majority of Moroccans, the prince’s discourse is hypocritical for the following reasons:
- He wants to have his cake and eat it too:
The Moroccans do not trust him or believe his preaching, because, while he is criticizing the actual political system in its makhzen form directly, and the rule of his cousin indirectly, he unabashedly continues to fully enjoy the privileges of the system. He has plenty of businesses in Morocco and it is believed that he employs scroes of people at ridiculously low wages. So he is using his princely status to make maximum benefit. Moroccans will believe in him if he gives up his privileges of princehood once for all and becomes a simple citizen.
- The prince is rich and Moroccans are poor:
The Moroccans want him to give up to the state most of his businesses here and repatriate his wealth sitting in foreign banks and give it to the treasury, because most of this wealth originated in this country in the first place and should be refunded back fully.
- Prince talks in the name of Moroccans:
The prince always talks about the plight of the Moroccan people, but all he knows about their plight is what his retinue of bourgeois Moroccan intellectuals tell him. He has never been anywhere close to the poor and struggling Moroccans. So, how can he talk in their name?
- The prince says one thing and does another:
He wants to save the Moroccans from the claws of the makhzen and the exploitation to which they are subjected by its economic correlate and instead of investing his wealth in the country to create jobs for the unemployed, he prefers to use his money elsewhere and, as a result, he has no credibility whatsoever among the rank and file.
For all these reasons and more, the Moroccan people think that the preaching of the prince is nothing but hot air, and that all he has in mind is a strong resolve to take personal revenge upon his cousin and become Caliph in the place of the Caliph.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Morocco World News’ editorial policy
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