The French Protectorate in Morocco (Protectorat français au Maroc in French, or حماية فرنسا في المغرب — Ḥimāyat Faransā fi-l-Maḡrib in Arabic) was established by the Treaty of Fez on March 30, 1912, and existed until November 18, 1955, when it — along with Spanish Morocco and the international zone of Tangier became the independent nation of Morocco. French Morocco comprised the area of Morocco between the Corridor of Taza and the Draa River on the northwest coast of Africa, consisting of 153,870 square miles (398,521 square kilometers). The estimated population in 1954 was 8,340,000. The capital was originally located at Fez but moved to Rabat in 1925.
The full Arabic name al-Mamlakah al-Maghribiyyah (المملكة المغربية) translates to “Kingdom of the West”. The basis of Morocco’s English name is Marrakesh, its capital under the Almoravid dynasty and Almohad Caliphate. The origin of the name Marrakesh is disputed, but is most likely from the Berber words amur akush or “Land of God”. In Turkish, Morocco is known as Fas, a name derived from its ancient capital of Fes. The English name Morocco is an anglicisation of the Spanish Marruecos.
The area of present-day Morocco has been inhabited since Paleolithic times, sometime between 190,000 and 90,000 BC. During the Upper Paleolithic, the Maghreb was more fertile than it is today, resembling a savanna more than today’s arid landscape. Twenty-two thousand years ago, the Aterian was succeeded by the Iberomaurusian culture, which shared similarities with Iberian cultures. Skeletal similarities have been suggested between the Iberomaurusian “Mechta-Afalou” burials and European Cro-Magnon remains. The Iberomaurusian was succeeded by the Beaker culture in Morocco.
Mitochondrial DNA studies have discovered a close link between Berbers and the Saami of Scandinavia. This supports theories that the Franco-Cantabrian refuge area of southwestern Europe was the source of late-glacial expansions of hunter-gatherers who repopulated northern Europe after the last ice age. North Africa and Morocco were slowly drawn into the wider emerging Mediterranean world by the Phoenicians, who established trading colonies and settlements in the early Classical period. Substantial Phoenician settlements were at Chellah, Lixus and Mogador. Mogador was a Phoenician colony as early as the early sixth century BC. The earliest known independent Moroccan state was the Berber kingdom of Mauretania under king Baga dating to at least 225 BC.
Morocco was the first nation to recognize the fledgling United States as an independent nation in 1777. In the beginning of the American Revolution, American merchant ships in the Atlantic Ocean were subject to attack by the Barbary pirates. On December 20, 1777, Morocco’s Sultan Mohammed III declared that American merchant ships would be under the protection of the sultanate and could thus enjoy safe passage. The Moroccan–American Treaty of Friendship, signed in 1786, stands as the U.S.’s oldest non-broken friendship treaty.
As Europe industrialized, North Africa was increasingly prized for its potential for colonization. France showed a strong interest in Morocco as early as 1830, not only to protect the border of its Algerian territory, but also because of the strategic position of Morocco on two oceans. In 1860, a dispute over Spain’s Ceuta enclave led Spain to declare war. Victorious Spain won a further enclave and an enlarged Ceuta in the settlement. In 1884, Spain created a protectorate in the coastal areas of Morocco.
French activity in Morocco began during the latter part of the nineteenth century. A French agency in Tangier passed mail via Oran, using a datestamp from circa 1854. The French post office in Tangier used stamps of France from November 1862 (obliterated 5106). Further offices opened in 1891 at Arzila, Casablanca, El Ksar el Kebir, Fez, Larache, Mazagan, Mogador, Rabat and Safi. The first stamps were issued on January 1, 1891. The offices issued postage stamps of France surcharged with values in pesetas and centimos, at a 1–1 ratio with the denominations in French currency, using both the Type Sage issues, and after 1902, the Mouflon issue was inscribed MAROC (which were never officially issued without the surcharge).
In 1904, the French government was trying to establish a protectorate over Morocco, and had managed to sign bilateral secret agreements with Britain on April 8, 1904, and Spain on October 7, 1904, which guaranteed the support of the powers in question in this endeavor. France and Spain secretly partitioned the territory of the sultanate, with Spain receiving concessions in the far north and south of the country.
The First Moroccan Crisis grew out of the imperial rivalries of the great powers, in this case, between Germany on one side and France, with British support, on the other. Germany took immediate diplomatic action to block the new accord from going into effect, including the dramatic visit of Wilhelm II to Tangier in Morocco on March 31, 1905. Kaiser Wilhelm tried to get Morocco’s support if they went to war with France or Britain, and gave a speech expressing support for Moroccan independence, which amounted to a provocative challenge to French influence in Morocco.
In 1906, the Algeciras Conference was held to settle the dispute, and Germany accepted an agreement in which France agreed to yield control of the Moroccan police, but otherwise retained effective control of Moroccan political and financial affairs. Although the Algeciras Conference temporarily solved the First Moroccan Crisis it only worsened international tensions between the Triple Alliance and the Triple Entente.
In 1911, a rebellion broke out in Morocco against the Sultan, Abdelhafid. By early April 1911, the Sultan was besieged in his palace in Fez and the French prepared to send troops to help put down the rebellion under the pretext of protecting European lives and property. The French dispatched a flying column at the end of April 1911 and Germany gave approval for the occupation of the city. Moroccan forces besieged the French-occupied city. Approximately one month later, French forces brought the siege to an end. On June 5, 1911, the Spanish occupied Larache and Ksar-el-Kebir. On July 1, 1911, the German gunboat Panther arrived at the port of Agadir. There was an immediate reaction from the French, supported by the British.
On March 30, 1912, Sultan Abdelhafid signed the Treaty of Fez, formally ceding Moroccan sovereignty to France, transforming Morocco into a protectorate of France. However, many regions remained in revolt until 1934, when Morocco was declared to be pacified, but in several regions French authority was maintained by cooperation with local chiefs and not military strength. From a strictly legal point of view, the treaty did not deprive Morocco of its status as a sovereign state. The Sultan reigned but did not rule. Sultan Abdelhafid abdicated in favor of his brother Yusef after signing the treaty. On April 17, 1912, Moroccan infantrymen mutinied in the French garrison in Fez, in the 1912 Fes riots. The Moroccans were unable to take the city and were defeated by a French relief force. In late May 1912, Moroccan forces again unsuccessfully attacked the enhanced French garrison at Fez.
In establishing their protectorate over much of Morocco, the French had behind them the experience of the conquest of Algeria and of their protectorate over Tunisia; they took the latter as the model for their Moroccan policy. There were, however, important differences. First, the protectorate was established only two years before the outbreak of World War I, which brought with it a new attitude toward colonial rule. Rejecting the typical French assimilationist approach to culture and education as a liberal fantasy, Morocco’s conservative French rulers attempted to use urban planning and colonial education to prevent cultural mixing and to uphold the traditional society upon which the French depended for collaboration. Second, Morocco had a thousand-year tradition of independence; though it had been strongly influenced by the civilization of Muslim Iberia, it had never been subject to Ottoman rule. These circumstances and the proximity of Morocco to Spain created a special relationship between the two countries.
Morocco was also unique among the North African countries in possessing a coast on the Atlantic, in the rights that various nations derived from the Conference of Algeciras, and in the privileges that their diplomatic missions had acquired in Tangier. Thus the northern tenth of the country, with both Atlantic and Mediterranean coasts were excluded from the French-controlled area and treated as a Spanish protectorate.
Although being under protectorate, Morocco retained — de jure — its personality as a state in international law, according to an International Court of Justice statement, and thus remained a sovereign state, without discontinuity between pre-colonial and modern entities. In fact, the French enjoyed much larger powers. Under the protectorate, French civil servants allied themselves with the French colonists and with their supporters in France to prevent any moves in the direction of Moroccan autonomy. As pacification proceeded, the French government promoted economic development, particularly the exploitation of Morocco’s mineral wealth, the creation of a modern transportation system, and the development of a modern agriculture sector geared to the French market. Tens of thousands of colonists entered Morocco and bought up large amounts of the rich agricultural land. Interest groups that formed among these elements continually pressured France to increase its control over Morocco.
Hubert Lyautey, the first Resident General of the protectorate, was an extraordinary personality with royalist leanings who made it his mission to develop Morocco. Unlike his compatriots, Lyautey didn’t believe that France should annex Morocco like French Algeria but rather civilize Moroccan society and educate it. He promised that in this process that he would:
offend no tradition, change no custom, and remind ourselves that in all human society there is a ruling class, born to rule, without which nothing can be done… enlist the ruling class in our service…. and the country will be pacified, and at far less cost and with greater certainty than by all the military expeditions we could send there
Lyautey’s vision was ideological: a powerful pro-French westernized monarchy that would work with France and look to France for culture and aid. Unlike in Algeria where the entire nobility and government was displaced, Lyautey worked with the Moroccan nobility, offering them support and even building elite private schools where they could send their children (a benefit not given to the majority of Moroccans). Lyautey allowed the sultan to retain his powers: he issued decrees in his own name and seal and was allowed to remain the religious leader of Morocco. He was even allowed an all-Arab court.
The Administration Cherefinne des Postes, Telegraphes et Telephones was established in 1911 under French guidance to handle local mail, using special stamps in 1912-1913. In 1911, the Mouflon designs were overprinted in Arabic with Spanish surcharges, continuing until 1917. The Sherifian post and former French post offices were recognized as one system under the protectorate. Stamps of the 1911-1917 French Offices bearing the name MAROC were overprinted in PROTECTORAT FRANCAIS in French and Arabic starting on August 1, 1914. The first new designs were in an issue of 1917, consisting of 17 stamps in six designs, denominated in centimes and francs, and inscribed MAROC.
Sultan Yusef’s reign, from 1912 to 1927, was turbulent and marked with frequent uprisings against Spain and France. The most serious of these was a Berber uprising in the Rif Mountains, led by Abd el-Krim who managed to establish a republic in the Rif. Though this rebellion originally began in the Spanish-controlled area in the north of the country, it reached to the French-controlled area until a coalition of France and Spain finally defeated the rebels in 1925. To ensure their own safety, the French moved the court from Fez to Rabat, which has served as the capital of the country ever since.\
In December 1934, a small group of nationalists, members of the newly formed Moroccan Action Committee (Comité d’Action Marocaine — CAM), proposed a Plan of Reforms that called for a return to indirect rule as envisaged by the Treaty of Fez, admission of Moroccans to government positions, and establishment of representative councils. The moderate tactics used by the CAM to obtain consideration of reform — including petitions, newspaper editorials, and personal appeals to French. Nationalist political parties, which subsequently arose under the French protectorate, based their arguments for Moroccan independence on such World War II declarations as the Atlantic Charter.
During World War II, the badly divided nationalist movement became more cohesive, and informed Moroccans dared to consider the real possibility of political change in the post-war era. However, the nationalists were disappointed in their belief that the Allied victory in Morocco would pave the way for independence. In January 1944, the Istiqlal Party, which subsequently provided most of the leadership for the nationalist movement, released a manifesto demanding full independence, national reunification, and a democratic constitution. The sultan had approved the manifesto before its submission to the French resident general, who answered that no basic change in the protectorate status was being considered.
The general sympathy of the sultan for the nationalists had become evident by the end of the war, although he still hoped to see complete independence achieved gradually. By contrast, the residency, supported by French economic interests and vigorously backed by most of the colonists, adamantly refused to consider even reforms short of independence. Official intransigence contributed to increased animosity between the nationalists and the colonists and gradually widened the split between the sultan and the resident general.
Mohammed V and his family were transferred to Madagascar in January 1954. His replacement by the unpopular Mohammed Ben Aarafa, whose reign was perceived as illegitimate, sparked active opposition to the French protectorate both from nationalists and those who saw the sultan as a religious leader. By 1955, Ben Arafa was pressured to abdicate ; consequently, he fled to Tangier where he formally abdicated.
Later on, faced with a united Moroccan demand for the sultan’s return, on a great scale, rising violence in Morocco, and the deteriorating situation in Algeria, Mohammed V was returned from exile on November 16, 1955, and declared independence on November 18, 1955. The sultan agreed to institute reforms that would transform Morocco into a constitutional monarchy with a democratic form of government. In February 1956, Morocco acquired limited home rule. Further negotiations for full independence culminated in the French-Moroccan Agreement signed in Paris on March 2, 1956. On April 7 of that year France officially relinquished its protectorate in Morocco. The internationalized city of Tangier was reintegrated with the signing of the Tangier Protocol on October 29, 1956.
The abolition of the Spanish protectorate and the recognition of Moroccan independence by Spain were negotiated separately and made final in the Joint Declaration of April 1956. Through these agreements with Spain in 1956 and 1958, Moroccan control over certain Spanish-ruled areas was restored, though attempts to claim other Spanish possessions through military action were less successful.
In the months that followed independence, Mohammed V proceeded to build a modern governmental structure under a constitutional monarchy in which the sultan would exercise an active political role. He acted cautiously, having no intention of permitting more radical elements in the nationalist movement to overthrow the established order. He was also intent on preventing the Istiqlal from consolidating its control and establishing a one-party state. In August 1957, Mohammed V assumed the title of king.
Scott #131 was part of a large set of 24 stamps in eight designs released between 1933 and 1934. The 25 centime dark blue engraved stamp portrays Moulay Idriss Zerhoune (مولاي إدريس), a town in northern Morocco. Spread over two hills at the base of Mount Zerhoun, the holy town holds a special place in the hearts of the Moroccan people as it was here that Moulay Idriss I arrived in 789, bringing with him the religion of Islam, and starting a new dynasty. In addition to founding the town named after him, he also initiated construction of Fez, continued later by his son, Moulay Idriss II.
The town itself is compact, and its narrow streets will feel familiar to anyone who has spent time in the medinas of other Moroccan cities. Just off the main square is the Mausoleum of Idriss I, a sacred destination that is open only to Muslims. It is said in Morocco that six pilgrimages to Moulay Idriss during the annual festival honoring the saint is equivalent to one Haj to Mecca. Also of note is the round minaret at another mosque in town, the only one in Morocco.
The ruins of the Phoenician and Roman city of Volubilis are located just five kilometers away. Moulay Idriss I took many materials from here in order to build his town. The hills around Moulay offer numerous opportunities for hiking and photography. The fertile plain of the Saiss Valley spreads out beneath the town, and olive groves dot the countryside.