July 24, 1999
Hassan II of Morocco Dies at 70; A Monarch Oriented to the West
Heir to Morocco's Throne Is Playing a Larger Role (June 28)
Man in the News: Hassan II (July 23, 1986)
Morocco from Microsoft Encarta Concise Encyclopedia
By JOSEPH R. GREGORY
ing Hassan II, who ruled Morocco for 38 years, acted as a go-between in Egyptian-Israeli efforts to
make peace and prolonged the life of
his 300-year-old dynasty in an era
when monarchies in Libya, Egypt,
Iraq and Iran fell to socialist revolutions or the force of militant Islam,
died Friday in Rabat. He was 70.
The cause of death was a heart
attack, Crown Prince Sidi Mohammed, the King's eldest son and successor, announced on state television.
The King, who had been in fragile
health since he was hospitalized in
the United States four years ago for
lung problems, had been admitted
earlier in the day to the Avicenne
hospital in Rabat, the capital, with an
acute lung infection, according to a
statement by the palace. Moroccan
television said the funeral would be
Sunday. The White House said that
President Clinton planned to attend.
|King Hassan II of Morocco speaking on his birthday in July. |
As King, Sidi Mohammed is expected to continue his father's policies, including close ties with Washington and active pursuit of peace in
the Middle East.
The United States and its allies
considered King Hassan one of the
most Western-oriented of Arab leaders, a ruler who outmaneuvered Islamic militants in his country and
stood out among his peers for his
openness to rapprochement with Israel.
Through the years he acted as an
intermediary in Middle East diplomacy, helping to arrange a visit to
Jerusalem in 1977 by Egypt's President, Anwar el-Sadat, and during the
1980's, meeting with the Israeli leaders Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres
when other Arabs shunned them.
A master at managing Morocco's
complex quilt of ethnic and ideological forces, he maintained a hold on
power that was by turns iron-fisted
and deftly offhand. He survived half
a dozen assassination attempts and
On one occasion, he intimidated
the leader of rebel troops by looking
him in the eye and reciting the first
verse of the Koran. Another time,
when pilots of his air force attacked
his Boeing 727 jetliner, the King, himself a pilot, seized the radio and
shouted, "Stop firing! The tyrant is
dead!" -- fooling the rebels into
breaking off their attack.
The heir to the Alawite dynasty,
which claimed direct descent from
the Prophet Mohammed and ruled
the Sharifian empire of the Western
Sahara, Hassan II was the author of
Morocco's first Constitution. But he
was at heart an autocrat, and democracy waxed and waned at his pleasure.
He tolerated opposition parties
and a relatively free press that could
offer opinions on policy matters. But
criticism of the monarchy was forbidden, and his ruthlessness in
crushing opponents was criticized by
human rights groups.
Economic and political reform
proceeded steadily through his years
in power. Though the pace was slower than his critics would have liked,
said William Zartman, director of
African Studies at Johns Hopkins
University in Baltimore, many would
agree that the country was better off
during the final years of his reign
than it was when he came to power.
His success lay in an ability to be
different things to different people.
He kept Morocco's elite content with
royal patronage and instituted market-oriented reforms that improved
the lives of the urban middle class.
He used his position as "Commander
of the Faithful" to woo the rural
peasantry, quadruple the number of
mosques and build the world's largest, the Great Mosque of Hassan the
II. Completed in 1993, the 54-acre
complex was built on the edge of the
sea near Casablanca, with a tower
more than 650 feet tall and equipped
with a laser that beamed at night
"He had deep understanding from
the early days of the tribal mentality
of Morocco and the importance of the
throne as a unifying force," said
Robert H. Pelletreau, a former Assistant Secretary of State for Near
Eastern Affairs, who knew the King
well. "He was a superb student, and
he could be exceedingly charming."
Moroccans said of King Hassan
that he had "baraka," or "blessedness," an Arabic expression for a
charismatic person blessed with divine protection. Yet when he ascended the throne on Feb. 26, 1961, most
observers expected him to fail.
Worked With Father to Buttress Monarchy
oulay Hassan ben Mohammed
Alaoui was born on July 9, 1929, the
oldest of six children of Sultan Sidi
Mohammed ben Youssef. Most of
Morocco was then a protectorate of
France, except for sections governed
by Spain in the northwest and southern coast and the city of Tangier, an
As World War II unfolded, resistance to colonial rule grew. After the
fall of France, the Free French
forces promised independence if Morocco would cooperate in the war
against the Axis, a promise that
Paris proved unwilling to keep.
After the war, tension rose between the Sultan and the French, but
the young Prince Moulay Hassan
was educated as befitted the heir of
two traditions: He attended the imperial college at Rabat, where instruction was in Arabic and French.
Later he earned a law degree from
the University of Bordeaux and
served in the French Navy aboard
the battleship Jeanne d'Arc.
But his father's agitation for Moroccan self-government continued,
and in 1953 the French forced the
Sultan into exile. In 1954 and 1955, as
rioting and guerrilla warfare increased, Prince Moulay's father regained his title, and the following
year, Morocco won independence.
Prince Moulay worked with his
father, now Mohammed V, to maintain the monarchy's authority during
a time of social discontent and the
conflicting expectations of those who
fought for Moroccan independence.
In 1957, he became the commander in chief of the Royal Moroccan
Army, which was splintered between
officers who had been loyal to the
French and the former rebels.
Prince Moulay kept the military occupied with civilian projects, and led
it to victory against rebel Berber
tribesmen in the Rif mountains in
But in the shantytowns of Rabat,
Casablanca and other cities, opposition simmered against the royal
house. Though the monarchy looked
to Paris and Washington for financial support, it needed to placate the
leftist opposition. Declaring neutrality in the cold war, the Prince made
overtures to Moscow and accepted
Soviet military aid. "As an Islamic
people," he told The Associated
Press in 1961, "we have the right to
practice bigamy. We can wed East
and West and be faithful to both."
Such comments caused consternation in Western capitals. So did the
reputation of the young Prince,
whom the Western press often portrayed as a playboy who liked gambling and actresses and was overly
concerned with his wardrobe.
After Mohammed V died of heart
failure following what was expected
to be a minor operation, Prince Moulay, who had been named Prime Minister in 1960, moved quickly to establish his rule. His Constitution, which
was ratified in 1962, guaranteed freedom of the press and of religion, and
created an elected legislature.
But the new Parliament, fractured
by bitter rivalries, proved ineffectual. The new King retained the power
to name the Prime Minister, disband
the legislature and control the army.
In the mid-1960's, student agitation
led to a wave of rioting and arrests.
Opposition figures fled abroad or
were imprisoned; some were executed. In 1965 Mehdi Ben Barka, a prominent nationalist and opposition leader, was kidnapped in Paris and never
The King's right-hand man, the
Minister of Interior, Mohammed
Oufkir, was linked to the disappearance, but the case was never
In June of that year, Hassan dissolved Parliament and instituted a
state of emergency, wielding absolute power until a new Constitution
was adopted in 1970. The Constitution
restored limited parliamentary government, but discontent simmered
amid continuing poverty and official
How He Overcame Two Deadly Coups
n July 10, 1971, King Hassan invited some 400 prominent Moroccans, diplomats and other guests to
his seaside palace of Skhirat near
Rabat to celebrate his 42d birthday.
The festivities ended in a burst of
gunfire as more than 1,000 mutinous
troops attacked the palace, hurling
grenades and spraying the grounds
with small-arms fire.
Nearly 100 guests were killed and
more than 125 wounded. The King hid
in a bathroom.
When the firing died down, he re-emerged to find himself face to face
with one of the rebel commanders.
Keeping eye contact, he recited the
opening verse of the Koran, and the
rebel knelt and kissed his hand. Loyal troops crushed the revolt, killing
more than 150 rebels and capturing
900 others, many of them young military cadets.
A dozen high-ranking, conservative officers were executed. Mohammed Oufkir was named Minister of
A little more than 12 months later,
on Aug. 16, 1972, the King was returning from Paris aboard his private
Boeing 727 when it encountered an
unscheduled escort of four Royal Moroccan Air Force F-5 fighters. As the
Boeing approached Rabat's airport,
the fighters fired on the plane, knocking out an engine and scoring other
The Boeing landed safely, but the
renegade pilots continued to strafe
the runway until Hassan radioed
them, saying the King had been
killed. The rebels broke off the attack. Within hours, key participants
in the coup were arrested and shot.
One of their leaders proved to be
General Oufkir, who apparently had
been secretly involved in the earlier
attack on the palace. According to
official reports, the general committed suicide, but his body was supposedly found with several wounds. His
widow and six children were placed
under house arrest and were not
released until February 1991, in an
amnesty marking the King's 30
years in power.
Uniting Moroccans Over Western Sahara
s the 1970's unfolded, the King
took several steps to damp domestic
turmoil. In 1973 he put through measures to increase Moroccan ownership and employment in companies
doing business in Morocco and also
redistributed farmland owned by
foreigners to rural peasants.
"He alternated very cleverly between the kinds of reforms that
would be popular with the people and
the kinds of reforms popular with the
ruling elite and in doing so was popular with both," said Pelletreau,
the former American diplomat.
In November 1975, in a move that
would unite Moroccans against a
common foe, Hassan reasserted his
country's authority over the Western
Sahara, a region claimed by both
Morocco and Mauritania but still officially under Spanish administration, by trucking some 350,000 civilians under army escort to the region,
where they staged a march.
The move help secure Morocco's
claim but ignited a war with guerrillas of the Polisario Front, who had
been fighting for independence from
Spain. Libya and Algeria supported
the guerrillas in their war against
the Moroccan Army. In 1984, the
King signed an accord with Col.
Muammar el-Qaddafi that ended
Libyan backing for the insurgents.
Algeria, plagued by its own domestic
problems, could give them only minimal support. Militarily, Morocco
eventually triumphed, agreeing to a
cease-fire with Polisario in 1991 that
left the country in control of most the
The Polisario Front continues to
hang on, but the United Nations is
scheduling a referendum in March to
determine the future of the region's
Seen as Bridge to the Israelis
ing Hassan was adept at managing Arab-Israeli relations, and he
liked to say he viewed Morocco's
Jewish population, which numbers
around 8,000, as a bridge between
Israelis and Arabs. During World
War II his father, Mohammed V, had
defied the Axis and protected his
In 1956, the year of
Moroccan independence, there were
about 275,000 Jews in Morocco. Most
were allowed to emigrate to Israel,
Europe and elsewhere.
During the Arab-Israeli wars of
1967 and 1973, King Hassan contributed a nominal number of troops to
support Egypt and Syria. Nevertheless, he kept his channels open with
In 1982 he was the host of a meeting of Arab leaders in Fez where he
pushed through agreement on a
peace plan that called for the creation of a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital but implicitly
recognized Israel's right to exist.
The plan, though rejected by Israel,
laid the groundwork for the King to
meet with Prime Minister Peres in
1986, a meeting that caused the King
to be criticized by Arab leaders. He
responded by saying they had neither the ability to make war on Israel
nor the willingness to make peace.
In September 1993, Morocco gave
de facto recognition to Israel by welcoming Prime Minister Rabin,
marking the first official visit by an
Israeli leader to an Arab nation other
Despite such bold gestures, he was
careful to play both sides of a conflict
when necessary. After the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990, he sent 1,300
troops to Saudi Arabia, a gesture
that pleased the West. At the time he
expressed sympathy for the plight of
Iraqi suffering under United Nations
sanctions and ordered members of
the Moroccan royal family to supervise the collection of supplies to ease
Gradual Freedom and Continuing Poverty
espite aid from the West, sporadic reform efforts, and an estimated $2 billion a year sent home by
Moroccans working abroad, the economic situation during the 1990's remained difficult for most of Morocco's 25 million people, two-thirds of
whom are under the age of 25.
In the census of 1994, the urban
population exceeded the rural population for the first time.
Unrest generally declined in the cities, where
most of the economic reforms were
concentrated. Although unemployment remained a problem and the
strains of a relatively slow pace of
development continued, political
freedom gradually increased. In the
early 1990's, pressure from human
rights groups reduced the number of
political prisoners and reports of incidents of torture declined.
In recent years, the King pushed
his version of "Hassanian democracy," which has widened political
freedom while retaining the decisive
power of the King. After elections
last year, in which leftist parties
gained the largest bloc of seats, the
King appointed an old leftist adversary, Abdurrahman Youssufi, as
Prime Minister, but the new Government has been widely criticized for
failing to fulfill election promises to
deal with poverty and other social
Like his father, the Crown Prince
comes to the throne with the reputation of a playboy. At 35, he is still
single in a society that emphasizes
family ties. He was educated in
France, where he received a degree
in law and studied international relations. In addition to Arabic and
French, he speaks Spanish and English. In recent years, as illness
caused the King to withdraw progressively from active public life, the
Crown Prince began to take a more
active role in public as second in
command of the Moroccan military
and in helping to direct Government
aid to the poor.
In February the King sent the
Crown Prince as his representative
to the funeral of King Hussein of
Jordan. With Sidi Mohammed's accession to the throne, his younger
brother Moulay Rashid will become
In addition to his two sons, the
King is survived by his wife, Lalla
Latifa, a commoner who is officially
described as the Mother of the Royal
Children, and three daughters.
Palace officials say the transition
will bring no change in key Moroccan
policies, including the longstanding
alliance with the United States and
strong support for peace between
Israel and its Arab neighbors. The
aides also said Sidi Mohammed
would continue his father's policy of
insisting on Moroccan sovereignty
over the disputed territory of the
Nonetheless, the Crown Prince is
expected to take his distance from
some of his father's closest advisers,
principally the Interior Minister,
Driss Basri, who in his 20 years in
that post has been associated with
hard-line policies toward domestic
opposition from both the left and the
Islamic fundamentalists, who have
been excluded from forming parties
to compete in elections.
Aides to King Hassan said recently
that Sidi Mohammed was likely to
move hard-liners in his father's entourage aside in effort to accelerate
democratic reforms that his father
had initiated in recent years.
Despite his moves toward democracy, throughout his reign King Hassan remained jealous of preserving
the symbols of his monarchy. He
refused, for instance, to abandon the
practice of having his subjects show
their fealty by kissing his hand, even
though advisers urged him to end it.
Whether he donned a business suit
to meet with Western leaders or appeared in traditional white robes to
preside over religious ceremonies,
the King was a leader of commanding presence, an eloquent orator in
Arabic who spoke excellent French
and capable English.
"His golf outings were the picture
of an Oriental potentate," recalled
Pelletreau, the diplomat. "He
would be accompanied by a vast
If he wanted to sit, chairs
would appear, and his guests would
be offered sherbet."
Through intelligence, charm and
cunning, he steered an absolute monarchy into the modern world.
sheltered Morocco from the various
political winds that blew across the
Arab world and caused such turmoil
in other countries," Pelletreau