Rabat - When you meet her for the first time, you are immediately enchanted by her proverbial simplicity, tremendous politeness, predisposition to listen attentively and willingness to talk and give her feedback away from any etiquette often associated with blue-blooded people. She is a faithful reflection of her parents the late Lalla Fatima Zohra and the late Moulay Ali, who were very devout Muslims, genuine patriots and very simple beings bent on giving and caring for the other in total selflessness and altruism. In this very traditional setting, Lalla Joumala was brought up to love, beyond belief, her country and its culture, to be respectful of traditions and beliefs and willing to serve her country at all times and in any circumstances.
Rabat – When you meet her for the first time, you are immediately enchanted by her proverbial simplicity, tremendous politeness, predisposition to listen attentively and willingness to talk and give her feedback away from any etiquette often associated with blue-blooded people. She is a faithful reflection of her parents the late Lalla Fatima Zohra and the late Moulay Ali, who were very devout Muslims, genuine patriots and very simple beings bent on giving and caring for the other in total selflessness and altruism. In this very traditional setting, Lalla Joumala was brought up to love, beyond belief, her country and its culture, to be respectful of traditions and beliefs and willing to serve her country at all times and in any circumstances.
Lalla Joumala was born in Rabat in 1962, to the late Lalla Fatima Zohra half-sister of Hassan II and the late Moulay Ali his cousin. From her early teens she showed tremendous intelligence, a sense of caring for the others and an incredible predisposition for independence, almost verging on some sort of cautious rebellion. She had a mind of her own, always wanting to be different without been culturally-insensitive. In many ways, she was born to be a diplomat: a good listener, intelligent thinker, perspicacious and clear-sighted speaker, and last but not least, shrewd and politically-correct human being.
Lalla Joumala, like her two brothers Moulay Abdellah and Moulay Youssef were brought up in a very strict Moroccan tradition, common among the Alouite royals, with a strong emphasis on respect of religion and its teachings in their daily life and dealings and adherence to the precepts of Moroccan culture in what concerns respect of seniority, assistance to the other and preeminence of cultural sensitivity. They had their schooling at the Madrassah mawlawiya, “The Royal College” where they memorized the Koran and learned Sunnah besides languages, humanities and sciences. Their schooling was very strict in all of its aspects: mainly discipline, attendance and hard work. In the Madrassah they mixed with the other princes and Moroccans of different backgrounds, coming from various regions and social classes. They were not entitled to any favors, whatsoever, because of their rank. They had to prove themselves like the others.
After this strict schooling, she joins Lycée Descartes in Rabat where she takes her high school education studies culminating in a baccalaureate. When everybody in the Royal household was expecting her to further her education in France, she exhibited her rebellious sense of decision by opting for the prestigious University of London where she completed a BA degree at the School of Oriental and African Studies –SOAS- with tremendous success and flying colours.
Back to Morocco, with a degree in law from SOAS, she settles down in Casablanca and not in Rabat like all the other royals and rather than enjoy the life of a princess, she gets involved in charitable work. But, though HRH Lalla Joumala was physically in Morocco, her heart was all the while in London where she had several friends and a host of sweet souvenirs.
Moroccan British Society (MBS)
In 2003, desirous to serve her home country, Morocco, and her land of predilection, Britain, Lalla Joumala creates the Moroccan British Society (MBS). An association, which in the Article 2 of its Statutes, states:
“The main purpose of the Association is to provide means of all kinds likely to allow the Moroccan and the British peoples to acquire a better mutual understanding of their civilizations, cultures, and political, academic, scientific, economic, financial, and commercial institutions so as to promote and foster their friendly relations and their cooperative ties in every domain. Within the framework of its mission, the Association could cooperate with official institutions and organs of both States, with which it shall conclude cooperative agreements.”
The King Mohammed VI Fellowship in Moroccan and Mediterranean Studies
Following the creation of MBS, Lalla Joumala launches in 2004 The King Mohammed VI Fellowship in Moroccan and Mediterranean Studies which was the fruit of an agreement between the Moroccan British Society (MBS) and St Antony’s College of the famous Oxford University. Besides strengthening and promoting Moroccan-British ties, the new Fellowship aimed to promote the study of Morocco in Britain through the endowment of an academic position at Britain’s most prestigious university.
In October 2004 the formal agreement between St Antony’s College and the MBS was signed at a ceremony in Rabat by Lalla Joumala, President of the MBS, and Sir Marrack Goulding, Warden of St Antony’s College. The same month the first holder of the Fellowship, Dr Michael Willis, began work at the Middle East Centre at St Antony’s.
In its first two years, the Fellowship organised a number of events at Oxford. These included a lecture series on the theme of “Morocco in the Contemporary World: The Road Ahead” in spring 2005 that comprised contributions from a range of academics and politicians, including former Prime Minister of Morocco, Mr Ahmed Osman. In June 2006 a conference entitled: “Truth, Justice and National Reconciliation: The Moroccan Experience in Comparative Perspective” was held and invited members of Morocco’s Equity and Reconciliation Commission to discuss Morocco’s approach to issues of national reconciliation, with experts on similar processes in other countries.
Future projects for the Fellowship include the establishment of a visiting Fellowship for Moroccan academics to come to Oxford and the creation of a scholarship fund for outstanding Moroccan students to study at Oxford.
The “Sacred” exhibition
In no time, MBS, under the able leadership of Lalla Joumala, gets down to work by organising a major event entitled “The Sacred” exhibition of manuscripts of Holy Books of the three monotheistic religions in collaboration with The British Library in London, England, where it took place from the 27th of April to the 23rd of September 2007.
This activity aimed to foster inter-religious dialogue in the times of prevalent political and religious tensions internationally, with the idea of an exhibition that would acquaint the general public with the shared values of the three Religions of The Book.
In his Royal letter of the 30th October 2006, addressed to the general public of the exhibition, King Mohammed VI says:
“I am delighted that the United Kingdom is hosting an exhibition of the Sacred Books of the followers of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. I really supported the idea and gave it my blessing. In this respect I should like to commend Moroccan British Society’s initiative and to express my appreciation to the British Library for endorsing the idea as both relevant and useful. Cultural, artistic and spiritual events as this one, are indeed very much needed today.”
The monarch goes on to stress the indefectible attachment of the Kingdom of Morocco to inter-faith dialogue which, it has de facto practiced over centuries of its existence, as a country and as a nation:
“This exhibition is a clear example of what we can do to foster interaction and constructive dialogue. There has never been a greater need for the revealed religions to join efforts and build on culture, art and the spiritual legacy we have in common to promote a spirit of tolerance, mutual understanding and coexistence.”
In her introduction of this ambitious project aiming at getting Abrahamic religions close to each other and setting up a permanent dialogue and understanding between their cultures, Lalla Joumala expressed strongly this objective, in the following words:
“Aiming to foster inter-religious dialogue in these times of prevalent political and religious tensions internationally, the MBS approached the British Library with the idea of an exhibition that would acquaint the general public with the shared values of the three Religions of The Book. This undertaking was guided by the mutual respect between our Respective Monarchs and by the centuries’ old dialogue between our Nations. It was further inspired by the religious status of Her Majesty the Queen of England as Head of the Anglican Church and of His Majesty The King of Morocco as Commander of the Faithful.”
This exhibition had for principal aim to emphasise that Morocco’s religious mosaic is the result of successive migration waves and conversions. The three monotheistic faiths coexist harmoniously and mutually enrich each other through cultural cross-fertilization fostered by an atmosphere of mutual respect and harmony. Judaism was the first of the three monotheistic religions to take root in Morocco over two thousand years ago and was strengthened by successive diasporas. Christianity emerged in Morocco – as in the rest of North Africa, in the Third Century AD, while part of the region was under Roman rule. Islam was the last monotheistic religion to take root in Morocco in the 8th Century AD. It was strengthened by a long process of conversions and of cultural adaptation, and was eventually embraced by a large majority of the population to become the country’s state religion. Inter-faith dialogue has always been fostered in Morocco. Leaders of the three religious communities meet regularly to promote mutual understanding. However, although other religions enjoy freedom of practice, Morocco is primarily a land of Islam.
The Moroccan-British ties: eight centuries of friendship and exchange
The first recorded contacts between Morocco and England go back to the time of sultan Muhammad al-Nasir known as the “victorious” (1199-1213) whose Almohad Empire (1121-1269) extended over a huge territory of 626,024 square miles, on an east-west axis from the Atlantic ocean to Libya and on a north-south axis from the Iberian Peninsula to the Senegal River, comprising the following present countries: Spain, Portugal, Gibraltar, Morocco, Mauritania, Algeria, Tunisia and Libya.
The Sultan al-Nasir was enjoying victory after victory while his contemporary English monarch King John (1167-1216) was facing trouble at home. He was excommunicated by the ecclesiastical authority and at the same time was facing internal insurgency that led to his sealing of the famous Magna Carta (The Great Charter) document in 1215, as well as external invasion from the French King Philippe de France.
Confronted with these formidable dangers, he sought help from al-Nasir, known in Europe, then, as miramumelinus meaning amir al-mu’minin “the Commander of the Faithful.” In this regard, he sent three envoys, the knights Thomas Hardington, Ralph Fitz-Nicholas and Robert of London. According to the chroniclers of this mission, the priests Mathew Paris of St. Albans Abbey seconded by the priest Roger of Wendover, King John offered al-Nasir to become Muslim and submit his country to the Almohad rule:[i]
Sent secret messengers, namely the knights Thomas Hardington and Ralph Fitz-Nicholas, and Robert of London, a clerk, [i.e. in holy orders] to the Emir Murmelius, the great King of Africa (i.e.Tunisia and Libya) Morocco and Spain, who was commonly called Miramumelinus, to tell him that he would voluntarily give up to him himself and his kingdom, and if he pleased he would hold it a tributary from him ; and that he would also abondon the Christian faith, which he considered false, and would faithfully adhere to the law of Mahomet.
The sultan received the envoys and after many days of traditional Moroccan hospitality, he politely rejected the offer of King John (known in England, then, as Bad King John) on the grounds that such an alliance is of no interest to him and his people and expressed it in very unfavourable and undiplomatic terms:[ii]
That King is of no consideration, but is a petty King, senseless and growing old, and I care nothing about him. He is unworthy of any alliance with me.
This first inconclusive contact was soon forgotten and diplomatic and trade relationships increased in the 15th and 16th centuries. News spread of the great trade opportunities available in Morocco and both countries shared, besides, a certain animosity towards the imperial greed of Spain. Queen Elizabeth I, who sought an understanding with Morocco to counter the ambitious Spanish crown, sent letters to the sultan Abdelmalek and later Ahmed al-Mansour to strengthen commercial and military relationships.
As a result, commercial exchanges got to a very good start and Queen Elizabeth I set up the Barbary Company in 1585, to which trade with Morocco was officially entrusted. The first ambassadorial envoy to St. James Court was Abdelwahed Ben Messaoud Anoun in 1600, who apparently inspired Shakespeare to write his world-famed play: “Othello the Moor.” in which he extolled the courage and generosity of this Moorish official.
But, soon these good relations were, to be briefly marred by the British occupation of Tangier between 1662 and 1684 and prior to that the high seas piracy acts of the pirates of the, then, infamous coastal city of Salé known in Europe as “Sallee Rovers” (1627-1668), who sold so many English blue-blooded people as slaves in the markets of their city. But, these two incidents did not affect the good and flourishing trade between the two countries, in the least. Under pressure from England and other European countries, the Alaouite monarch Moulay Slimane (1792-1822) abolished piracy, known, then, as Jihad al-Bahr “Jihad at sea.”[iii]
In the 18th and 19th centuries, the commercial and diplomatic relations knew ups and downs, but continued to grow in strength, nevertheless, with much trust and esteem on both sides. In 1840, the sultan Moulay Abderrahmane (1822-1859) offered help to the Emir Abdelkader to fight the French in Algeria, the British advised the monarchy to observe moderation in its assistance and they were right because, the Moroccan advocacy will lead the country to the catastrophic Oued Isly Battle in 1844 that heralded the end of the Empire of Morocco. Still, however, in spite of Morocco’s adventurous and risky behaviour, Great Britain offered assistance, at any time, to counter external dangers:[iv]
On any occasion of this kind, and whenever the Emperor may find himself in difficulties, or threatened with danger from without, he may always have recourse with confidence to the friendship of England, and he may be sure that the British Government will in all such cases assist him with its advice and good offices…
The relations between the two nations became exemplary during the era of the Drummond-Hay consuls in Tangier: Edward Drummond-Hay (1829-45) and his son, Sir John Drummond-Hay (1845-86), who both spoke fluent Arabic and were very much appreciated by the Makhzen to whom they both served as advisor on political and military affairs. They, also, interceded in favour of transporting the son of the sultan to Mecca on a Royal Navy vessel in 1861 and as well as hiring the British military expert McLean, whose services were so much appreciated by the sultan that he was given the prestigious title of Caid and was known, hereafter, as Caid McLean.
Royal Diplomacy at work
After the independence in 1956, Morocco proceeded to strengthen its relations with Great Britain. During the reign of King Mohammed V, the first Moroccan Ambassador was HRH Prince Moulay Hassan Ben Mehdi in 1957. During the reign of King Hassan II, it was Princess Lalla Aicha, the king’s sister in 1965 and in the reign of King Mohammed VI Princess Lalla Joumala in 2009. This shows quite clearly the importance the Moroccan monarchy attaches to the relations with the British crown, today, as previous monarchs and dynasties did over 800 years of common history.
In the website of the embassy, Lalla Joumala states clearly her diplomatic objectives:
As Ambassador of His Majesty King Mohammed VI, I will spare no effort to protect and safeguard, in the best possible way, the interests of the members of the Moroccan community living in the UK, be them individuals or institutions.
I will also endeavour to enhance our bilateral cooperation in all possible fields and give a fresh impetus to the development of a fruitful and mutually advantageous partnership between our two countries, as instructed by His Majesty the King.
Lalla Joumala is very positive about the strength of the Anglo-Moroccan relations, she thinks they have reached a level of strategic importance, as a result, of a long period of solid friendship and genuine exchange and understanding:
Morocco and the UK are bound by long standing historical, political and commercial ties that can be traced as far back as to the 13th century, when King John sent his first envoy to Marrakech; while the First Moroccan Ambassador to the UK, Jaudar Benabdallah was appointed in 1637 and the first commercial and trade exchanges were launched by English private traders in 1551.
Since assuming her diplomatic post, the relations between the two nations have gone crescendo in their political, economic, cultural, military and educational aspects. Today, several British companies have important investments in the Moroccan economy, all over the country, creating much-needed employment, especially for young graduates and initiating possibilities for further win-win economic situations. Because of the political stability of Morocco, making out of it an exception in the MENA region, especially in the aftermath of the Arab Spring, and as a result of its attractive investment environment and low-cost work potential, more and more British business and capital is attracted by Morocco and Lalla Joumala, with her diplomatic flair and economic expertise, has been instrumental in realising such a feat.
At the political level, the very appointment of Lalla Joumala, to the post of Ambassador, shows clearly the importance the Moroccan monarchy attaches to friendship and alliance with the United Kingdom and she has, undoubtedly, been instrumental in strengthening further the relations between the two countries. A proof of this is the various visits of British parliamentarians and officials to Morocco and of Moroccan ministers and MPs to the United Kingdom. The apogee of this positive exchange was the visit undertaken by Prince Charles and his wife Camilla Parker, Duchess of Cornwall, to Morocco from the 28th of March to the 6th of April 2011 which, according to the Prince’s office, was for the purpose of furthering relations:
“…the trip’s main goal is to promote trade and investment opportunities and increase cooperation on climate change.”
Lalla Joumala’s political and diplomatic hard work in the UK has highlighted further the importance of the long and unbroken solid relationship between Morocco and Great Britain for the past 800 years, during which Britain has shown much respect for the culture and the integrity and independence of Morocco and Morocco on its part expressed friendship and understanding for Britain, its institutions, heritage and importance on the international scene. This mutual liking and expression of genuine friendship was officially celebrated in Rabat, on the occasion of the 800 anniversary of Anglo-Moroccan relationships. Indeed, during the celebration of the Queen’s birthday party, attended exclusively by the head of the Moroccan government Abdellilah Benkirane, on 4th of June 2013, the British Ambassador to Morocco, Clive Alderton, in his speech, on this occasion, expressed the dynamic and mutually beneficial nature of this long friendship:
“Despite our being wrapped in the folds of 800 years of friendship, the UK/Morocco relationship is far from being stuck in ancient times. As friends, partners and equals we are working closely with Morocco in a range of areas and finding ways to co-operate for mutual benefit. This means constructing win-win partnerships; seeing the Bigger Picture in order to transcend the boundaries of Faith and Community. It is a principle which remains as valid and important today as it was eight centuries ago,
Today, the relationship with Britain, thanks to the active royal diplomacy of Lalla Joumala, is at its best. The commercial and trade exchanges are estimated at over £ 1 billion, over half million British tourists visit Morocco every year and almost 30,000 Moroccans live in Britain and especially in London, in such areas as Tower Hamlets and South Kensington and work in the services industry.
At the military level, Moroccan and British armies quite often organise war games to improve military cooperation and exchange field knowledge and best practices. Actually, recently, the British army took part in the “African Lion” war games, which are organised by the Americans on a yearly basis. Morocco and Britain, also, exchange intelligence information and coordinate efforts in the fight against terrorism and religious radicalism.
Lalla Joumala’s diplomatic distinguished efforts were recently celebrated by the electronic London-based publication “Diplomat,” which awarded her the “2015 Distinguished Contribution to Diplomacy in London,” a distinction that shows to what extent her diplomatic work is appreciated in the UK:
“Ambassador of the Kingdom of Morocco, Her Highness Princess Lalla Joumala won the 2015 Distinguished Contribution to Diplomacy in London award. Praised as an example of “diplomacy in its finest definition,” Her Highness was described as “not only a bridge between Africa and Europe, but a bridge between Africa and Latin America.””
What for the future?
The appointment of Lalla Joumala, as ambassador to St. James Court, has proven to be a nimble act on the part of King Mohammed VI for the following reasons:
- Sending a royal ambassador to London is a recognition of the importance of this country on the international scene and its relevance to Morocco, too;
- Sending Lalla Joumala, a graduate of the University of London is, also, a strong signal of the willingness of the Moroccan monarchy to develop this old relationship further in various areas;
- Opening high-level channels for continuous communication between officials in the high echelons in both countries; and
- Building a strategic relationship with Great Britain, an important player on the international scene and a solid political and economic power worldwide.
And Lalla Joumala is undoubtedly fulfilling these royal objectives with much gusto and success because of her affection for both countries, inner passion for work well-done and, not to forget, her tremendous skills for inter-cultural communication.
So, with much faith in bringing the two traditional monarchies much closer and making their peoples benefit from this old and fruitful friendship, she has been in the last 6 years busy destroying the walls of apprehension and doubtfulness, that may have existed, and building, instead, bridges of respect and affection in all fields of interest to the two countries.
Having said this, there are certain areas that have to be attended to, in the near future, to further enhance the relationship between Morocco and UK:
– Organise, if possible, a whole year of various activities: cultural, economic, artistic, educational, etc. in Great Britain that could be dubbed: “Morocco goes to Great Britain;”
– Encourage British universities to open campuses in Morocco to allow Moroccan students to study at home;
– Encourage the two governments, as well as British Council and Moroccan British Society to set up a higher education fund to allow Moroccan and British students to study or conduct research in either country;
– Encourage universities in both countries to initiate semesters abroad for students like what the Americans do;
– Help set up rural development schemes involving women empowerment through education, ecological tourism and micro-credits to alleviate poverty in these areas in Morocco;
– Enhance British volunteering service in Morocco, especially in remote areas; and
– Delocalise more British industry to Morocco.
These ideas and schemes might be difficult to put into action for various reasons including mainly funding, but 800 years of excellent relationship between the two monarchies are worth certain sacrifices on both sides to initiate another set of 800 years in the future, with an ambitious start for more friendly and beneficial exchanges.
You can follow Dr Mohamed Chtatou on Twitter: @Ayurinu
[i] Cf. A History of Anglo-Moroccan Relations To 1900, p. 1.
[ii] Ibid, p. 3.
[iii] Cf. Morocco in The Reign of Mawlay Sulayman.
[iv] Foreign Office Papers FO 99/7. A letter sent by the British Foreign Secretary Palmerston to his Consul General, Hay, in Tangier on 12 February 1841, for the attention of sultan Moulay Abderrahmane
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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