Release Date: August 1, 1999
Eric Margolis, c/o Editorial Department, The Toronto Sun
333 King St. East, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M5A 3X5
Fax: (416) 960-4803 -- Press Contact: Eric Margolis

Funeral In Morocco

by Eric Margolis

TANGIER, MOROCCO -- Death has a remarkable way of making people forget reality. The western and Arab leaders who flocked last week to the funeral of King Hassan II of Morocco produced the same outpouring of fulsome adulation, cloying hypocrisy and general unreality that marked the internment of the late King Hussein of Jordan.

Hassan was 'a great democratic leader,' a man whose 'firm grip led his people to prosperity and security,' who 'worked incessantly for Mideast pace,' and maintained a 'stable, moderate Islamic nation.' There were tears aplenty as western democratic leaders, including Emoter-in-Chief, Bill Clinton, vied to laud their dear friend, the good and kindly King Hassan. Right on the cue, the western media took up the theme, lamenting the loss of the 'moderate' Hassan who had been such a friend to the US and France.

There were only two true points in this outpouring of staged grief: the 'firm grip' and 'friendship' with the west parts.

Hassan ruled Morocco with an iron hand for 38 years, using his 196,000-man armed forces and ubiquitous secret police. Thousands of political or tribal opponents, and those who sought to change Morocco's medieval feudal system, were imprisoned, tortured, sent to remote camps in the desert, or killed. The most important Moroccan political dissident, Mehdi Ben Barka, who called for an end to the monarchy and creation of democracy, was kidnapped in Paris by Moroccan and Israeli Mossad agents and murdered.

Hassan was indeed a great friend to western interests, but he, like so many other rulers of Arab and Muslim nations, was no friend of his own people. Shockingly, today over 50% of Morocco's 29 million are illiterate, this in a nation that has been a center of civilization since ancient Carthage.

Per capita income is only $3,600. Unemployment, 30%. Morocco cities are squalid, disease-ridden and crumbling. Beneath the exotic charm seen by tourists is widespread malnutrition, crime, and suffering. There are no jobs, no housing, and no hope for the onrushing demographic wave of teenagers about to hit Morocco.

Hassan spent his time and treasure keeping himself in power and fending off his many internal and external enemies. Instead of schools, the Defender of the Faithful built a large, tough army that was often employed by his protectors, US and France, in covert military missions in black Africa.

The King of Morocco was indeed active in the Arab-Israeli peace process and maintained close links with Israel. Morocco has a large native Jewish community which was honorably treated and protected. But the king also reportedly received large, secret annual stipends from the world Jewish community to retain his friendship, as well as protection and support from Mossad and the Israeli military. There had been a similar arrangement between Israel and Sudan's former ruler, Gen. Jaffar Nimieri.

France and its intelligence service also played a key role in keeping Hassan in power. Morocco guarded the northern flank of France's neocolonial possessions in black Africa and was a bastion against the spread of militant political Islam. Morocco supplied the US with highly useful air, naval and intelligence facilities.

The only Moroccans to benefit from Hassan's rule were the royal family and its hangers-on, and a small commercial oligarchy that grew rich and, as everywhere in Africa, kicked back a percentage to the ruler.

Hassan's son, Mohammed VI, only now emerging from his father's shadow, is regarded as a rather soft, weak young man, given to night clubs and fast cars. Here and in Spain rumors abound about the new king's sexual proclivities, a serious concern in highly conservative Moroccan society.

The new king will have to face explosive social and economic tensions that have been building for decades. Perhaps he will surprise everyone and rise to the challenge. But he must duplicate his father's renowned skill in juggling Morocco's labyrinthine tribal politics, and keep the armed forces in check by shuffling military commanders. He must contend with the powerful interior minister of 20 years, Driss Basri, who commands the secret police. The king may even face a renewal of the separatism that led, decades ago, to the challenge to his father by the mighty feudal lord, El Glaoui, or even to a general rising by the fierce tribes of the Riff Mountains, whose great Islamic leader, Abd-el-Krim, nearly drove Morocco's French colonial occupiers into the sea in the 1920's.

Eighty years later, Morocco still remains under foreign influence as a joint US-French satrapy. Morocco's regime faithfully aides western strategic and regional interests, it cooperates with Israel and with other autocratic Arab regimes in combating Islamic and secular democratic forces seeking to modernize the backwards region. This is what the western media terms 'stability' and 'moderation.'

But you can smell revolution brewing up in the dank warrens of Morocco's filthy souks, where a people, long-oppressed, intimidated, and ruthlessly exploited by a tiny, western –supported feudal class, seem ready to explode in pent-up fury and violence. This is what happened in the Shah's Iran.

Feudalism is headed for the graveyard of history. But you certainly wouldn't know it watching western democratic leaders praising medieval monarchism at this week's lavish funeral in Morocco.

[Eric Margolis is a syndicated foreign affairs columnist and broadcaster based in Toronto, Canada.]

Copyright © 1999 Eric Margolis - All Rights Reserved
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