The Princetonian Prince
The Princetonian Prince
Niagara Falls – As I posited in my last piece, my critical views of Prince Hicham are not directed against the message he conveys. In fact, up until I read his “Diaries of a Banished Prince,” I held a favorable opinion of the man and his views. Unlike the staunchest monarchists who shoot both message and messenger indiscriminately, I try to view the topic at hand from a democrat’s perspective who still believes that Morocco’s monarchy, if left unreformed, may risk irrelevancy in the 21st century.
That being said, I do not believe Prince Hicham to be well suited to lead Morocco’s reforms. Conceivably, it is plausible that the prince’s motivation is slightly more sinister than he has led people to believe. In other words, he could well be pushing for the populist narrative of promoting reforms and democracy, while instead his ulterior motive is to become the new king.
Irrespective of motivation however, the personal trajectory of the Prince as he himself portrays in his autobiography, makes him unsuitable for political leadership in the Morocco he envisages, namely a reformed one. Certainly, he comes across as a shrewd entrepreneur with that whatever-it-takes-to-win attitude, and a generous philanthropist. Good for him! As far as capitalism goes, business success is not a bad thing; it is a virtue. It is however slightly oxymoronic to be simultaneously a capitalist crusader and a political activist. In the same way that Bernard Henri Levy cannot reconcile being both a millionaire capitalist and a socialist intellectual, albeit a pseudo one!
But back to Princeton. . . . Seemingly, much to King Hassan II’s chagrin, Prince Hicham left to pursue an undergraduate degree in Political Science at Princeton in 1981. This was no small feat considering the iconic status of this Ivy League institution. Although I wanted to learn more about the academic work he undertook, particularly his interest in the Middle-East and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, ironically, I learned more about the business acumen of some the Prince’s Palestinian partners in later years, than the actual struggles of “the Palestinian National Movement” — the title of his bachelor’s thesis.
The Prince equates his early days in Princeton to an intellectual emancipation journey. In the US, “politics are less hierarchical and more human, fresh and authentic,” in contrast to the Moroccan political scene, marred by stifling dissent and political oppression by the Palace and its pervasive Makhzen. This civilizational clash of sorts was exacerbated whenever the Prince visited Morocco, where everyone around him noticed this transformation, his “Americanization” as he defines it.
Understandably, back in early 1980’s most Moroccan aspiring students who vied for higher education abroad chose French-speaking European universities, and-to a lesser degree- Quebec universities. Very few were able to land an admission letter from American universities where cost was prohibitive, along with the language prerequisite, unless of course, one was lucky enough to obtain a healthy scholarship, or luckier even to come from a well-to-do family.
And this is where my troubles start with the Prince’s narrative.
Only one year after his landing in Princeton, the Prince relocated from “the modest” campus housing to a mansion in town. It would be folly for me to assume that a prince backed by the financial wherewithal of his regal family could not afford a comfortable stay in the U.S., but it has been the prince’s storyline throughout the book that he was able to seek and achieve financial independence beyond reproach.
Fast forward some years later, in 1994 the Prince set up a generous $6 Million endowment fund in recognition of Princeton (I will come back to this endowment fund in a later piece) with thought of settling one day in the U.S. That day came in 2002 when he was banned from the Palace; his growing disillusionment with the new King pushed him to self-exile. He moved back to Princeton and settled into the same mansion of his undergraduate years.
In 2006, the Prince was interviewed at his home by the Daily Princetonian for an online article. In the piece, by Victoria Whitford(*) the Prince clearly stated, “My father bought this house,” adding, “When he traveled he always had a lot of people with him — bodyguards and aides — so it was easier for him to stay here.”
According to this chronology, the mansion-house had been purchased prior to the Prince’s move in 1982. A year later, the Prince’s father, and brother of then-King Hassan II, unexpectedly died while undergoing surgery. While one traditionally does not speak ill of the dead, this tradition however does not inure public figures from criticism for past lapses, particularly when the effects of the actions have not been redressed.
In his book the Prince describes King Hassan in no uncertain terms as a despotic and controlling absolute Monarch. No argument there! According to the book, the late King used economic incentives to attract and pacify allies. A case in point was after the two failed coups d’Etat when, the King openly encouraged his military brass to get rich and stay away from politics. He also used an economic embargo to punish or contain those whose loyalty he questioned. It is in within this context that Prince Hicham wants us to read how his father was trying everything to ensure his economic survival.
Yet purchasing “a graceful stone mansion” in Princeton NJ, in U.S. dollars hardly conveys the image of someone who was struggling for economic survival.
In Gilles Perrault’s, “Notre Ami le Roi,” the author dubbed the prince’s father “Mr. 51%” in reference to the commercial predatory practice of extracting a 51% majority stake in a quid pro quo deals with business partners. Understandably, this “ignominious” label upset the son, who tried to repudiate it, albeit not convincingly, by describing how his father resorted to this financial engineering to survive the King. He went on to expand in some disquieting terms:
“No one could teach the Makhzen how to loot, any more than they could teach fish how to swim. In his Kingdom, the King is as well, if not primarily, the Prince of economic darkness.” Page: 111, Diaries of a Banished Prince.
« Mais, pas plus qu’aux poissons la nage, on n’apprend au makhzen le pillage. Dans son royaume, le roi est aussi, si ce n’est pas avant tout, le prince des ténèbres économiques » page : 111, Journal d’un Prince Banni
A footnote for those old enough to remember the eighties: while wheeling and dealing was taking place behind the Palace walls, the socio-economic background of most Moroccans was the grimmest. With a severe drought coupled with the vicious IMF/WB Structural Adjustment Programs, basic food staples prices rose beyond the reach of many. As a result, in June of 1981, Casablanca was engulfed by popular riots. Hundreds were killed and thousands more arrested. “The Lead Years” were in full swing!
The Prince reflects in his book on this period. He confessed that at 17 years of age, although he had casually heard about poverty among Moroccans before the riots, he could not have gauged its seriousness. He was ready to tackle the world of Political Science at its intricacies at Princeton! I wish I could have written more about his undergraduate academic work, but unfortunately he did not leave us with much, except for the title “the Palestinian National Movement”: another tragedy for another day!
To be continued . . . To read the first part: A Machiavellian Prince in the Making (Part 1 of 4)
(*) “A Prince of Morocco, Now a Princetonian” By VICTORIA WHITFORD, DECEMBER 4, 2006 A prince of Morocco, now of Princeton – The Daily Princetonian
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