The Sultan’s Declaration of Independence

TALIM Mohamed V Mendoubia 9 April 1947

Sultan Mohammed V with members of Tangier Committee of Control, International Zone

9 April is not a Moroccan national holiday, but it is nevertheless remembered in Tangier and beyond, marking that day in 1947 when Sultan Mohammed V traveled to the International Zone and made a speech which was an important milestone in Morocco's road to regaining its independence.

So it was fitting that Dr. Bernabé López Garcia of the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid, eminent scholar of modern Morocco, chose April 9th to present his research into the context and the impact of the Sultan's speech.

And the venue of the Legation was highly appropriate, as the United States had already, in the early 1940s, made clear its support for the Sultan.  Roosevelt's dinner invitation to Mohammed V during the January 1943 Anfa or Casablanca Conference brought the Sultan to the table with the US President and Prime Minister Churchill, and American diplomats at the Legation incurred the wrath of French officials for opening their door to Moroccan nationalists.

Roosevelt's memory remained dear to Moroccans after the President died in 1945, and the aircraft carrier bearing his name visited Tangier to great fanfare (there was even the creation, in several Moroccan cities, of the "Club Roosevelt al-Moghreb" in honor of the late President).  The Sultan also paid his respects at the second anniversary commemoration of Roosevelt's death.

López Garcia spoke of the largely hostile Spanish reception given to the Sultan's plans to travel to Tangier.  Some imagined a nefarious French hand trying to undermine the Spanish position, and others suspected the US of wanting to extend its influence.

Spanish authorities came up with various plans to delay the trip, citing security and logistical concerns ("where will they all stay?").  Morocco's multiple borders (French Protectorate to Spanish Protectorate to Tangier International Zone) created multiple roadblocks to restrict mass movement on the international city, and Spanish authorities also feared that the event might be exploited by Spanish Republican dissidents who had escaped to Morocco from mainland Spain after their defeat in the Spanish Civil War.

Dr. López Garcia's anniversary presentation revealed a few nuggets about the Legation as well, including Chargé d'Affaires John Goodyear's successful insistence on US precedence in the diplomatic lineup, a not inconsiderable advantage when symbolism meant everything.

According to a contemporary Spanish diplomatic source, Sultan Mohammed V paid an incognito visit to the American Legation after his historic speech to thank the US for its crucial support.  Note to researchers: it would be interesting to check American sources (US National Archives) for confirmation of this historical footnote of interest to scholars of Moroccan – American relations.

We had a capacity audience for Dr. López Garcia's excellent presentation, and are happy that history can be recounted with such verve in the very building where a part of it took place.

Gerald Loftus

Anfa 1943: President Roosevelt’s Geography Lesson

This is the second of two posts (in the first, my remarks on American contacts with Moroccan nationalists) on this week's conference commemorating the 70th anniversary of the Casablanca or Anfa Conference of January 1943.  Below, a photo (courtesy the US Consulate General in Casablanca) of American soldiers mounting the guard at Anfa.

TALIM Anfa US flagOur panel's star power was definitely James Roosevelt, grandson of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, on his first trip to Morocco, along with wife Anne.  Mr. Roosevelt said that if the Anfa conference, with its announcement of Allied terms of unconditional surrender "was bad news for Germany, Japan, and Italy, it was good news for Morocco."  He, like several subsequent speakers, referred to the historic dinner that FDR gave for Sultan Mohammed V, future King of independent Morocco.

James Roosevelt also recalled that his grandfather's views on colonialism were reinforced by  his long, record-making flight (previously, no US president had flown across the Atlantic) to Morocco, stopping in colonial Africa en route.  In fact, de Gaulle was reluctant to take part in Anfa because he knew of the US President's anti-colonial views, even to the point of agreeing with Vichy Resident General Nogues on the threat this posed to the French position in Morocco.  Michael Collins Dunn, in his great MEI blog, quotes the wartime memoirs of Diplomat Among Warriors Robert Murphy, where the latter whispers to Harry Hopkins, the President's adviser, about Nogues' evident displeasure at the dinner table:

Perhaps the President’s approaches to the Sultan also aggravate Nogues’s fears about American designs on the French Empire. From the point of view of any imperialist — including De Gaulle and Churchill— the President’s conversation with the Sultan could seem subversive.

As a young nationalist student in Fez, Abdelhadi Tazi, the grand old man of Moroccan diplomatic history (94 years young and still addressing audiences, God bless him), was very much aware of the significance of the American President reaching out to his Sultan. Tazi traced Mohammed V's forebears' overtures to the United States, and noted that Roosevelt later spoke to Saudi King Abdelaziz of the significance of his talks with the Moroccan Sultan when they met on board a cruiser in the Suez Canal.  Tazi also raised the intriguing question as to whether Roosevelt's literal gesture to Moroccan sovereignty in January 1943 had a direct correlation, almost a year to the day later, to the Moroccan "independence manifesto" of January 1944.  Istiqlal, or independence, became the name of the premier nationalist party that led the country to a return to sovereignty.

Dr. James Miller, who in addition to serving as the Executive Secretary of the Fulbright Commission in Morocco (MACECE) is Professor Emeritus of Geography at Clemson University, also referred to the bookend conferences of 1943 (Casablanca/Anfa in January; Tehran in December) as "Roosevelt's big geography lesson," especially in MENA – Middle East North Africa – geopolitics.  Jim then treated the audience to a British Pathe newsreel of Anfa.  He brought us up to date with a survey of one of the postwar period's greatest peace initiatives, Senator Fulbright's educational exchange scholarships, which have done so much to foster US-Moroccan mutual knowledge.

Finally, Dr. Tarik Tlaty of CMES, the Centre Marocain d'Etudes Strategiques, carried us up to present day bilateral cooperation, laying the stress, as befits his think tank, on security ties.

The Anfa 70th festivities continue, with the Roosevelts taking part.  There was a memorable meal at the legendary (literally) "Rick's Cafe," and there will be a showing of "Casablanca," of course, which has special sentimental resonance to the Roosevelts, but I daresay to millions of others who have seen the film that came out almost as American troops were hitting the shores of the city of the same name.


"Play it again, Issam" – Mr. and Mrs. James Roosevelt at Rick's Cafe, photo courtesy of Rick's proprietor Kathy Kriger

Chaired by Dr. Karim Bejjit, the panel discussion reached the audience and beyond, carried by a wide range of Moroccan print, TV, and radio outlets.  All in all, a very fitting Moroccan-American theme to this "beginning of a beautiful friendship."

Gerald Loftus

“Because this is his country” – FDR & Mohammed V

TALIM Anfa poster

Note: Below are remarks by TALIM Director Gerald Loftus at the January 15 conference commemorating the 70th anniversary of the historic Casablanca – or Anfa, after the hotel where it happened – conference in the aftermath of the Allied landings in North Africa.  A subsequent post will address other parts of the week-long commemoration.

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This panel is charged with considering the past 7 decades, so you will excuse me if I start by looking back a few more years to provide a context of Moroccan-US ties before the Anfa Conference.  I want to focus on American contacts with Moroccan nationalists, pre-independence.  These were at times fragmentary and constrained by diplomatic realities, but nonetheless were an important element in Morocco’s transition from nationalist movement to national governance.

With the Treaty of Fez in 1912, the US at first did not recognize the Protectorate; it was only the French-US alliance in World War I that led to recognition.  After all, the US and Morocco had just, in 1905, elevated their longstanding consular and commercial relations to full diplomatic relations.  In the 1920s, American popular opposition to the Rif War resulted in a French ploy to win over American public opinion: the recreation of the “Lafayette Escadrille” – American pilots who had enrolled in the French Air Force even before US entry into World War I – recreated under the name “l’Escadrille Cherifienne,” the forerunner of the Moroccan Air Force.  The move backfired: the US forbade its citizens to enter a war in which it was neutral, and the Escadrille was disbanded.

In an ironic twist, after less than twenty years, US preparations for the Allied landings in North Africa – Operation Torch in November 1942 – were preceded by OSS agents at the American Legation in Tangier cultivating some of those same Rifian rebels who had been bombarded by the Escadrille Americans.  Why?  Because the Allies feared that General Franco – aided in the Spanish Civil War by Hitler and Mussolini – would join the Axis cause and attack the Torch forces from the Spanish Protectorate.

OSS agent and anthropologist Carleton Coon created a network of Rifian rebels, ready to rise up against the Spanish should they enter the war.  Spain remained officially neutral, and the plan was never enacted.  Tangier Legation Charge d’Affaires J. Rives Childs worried about this OSS officer suffering from “delusions of filling the role of a second Lawrence of Arabia” with his “propaganda work” among Moroccans.  This reached its crescendo when Coon set up shop in Fez “that nerve center of Arab nationalism,” which made French Resident General Nogues livid.  Coon had his say about Childs' overly diplomatic stance in "A North Africa Story," his memoir of his wartime OSS days.

Childs was concerned that seeming US involvement with “undermining France’s position with the native population… could provoke internal disturbances and give a pretext to the Axis to intervene in Morocco for the purpose of preserving order.”  Childs was scrupulously diplomatic: “It was not possible for me to decline to receive Moroccan officials, but whenever I had occasion to entertain them at the Legation, the French Consul General in Tangier was always invited at the same time.”

Despite his concerns over the OSS covert work, Childs ran into difficulties of his own over contacts, in the wartime 1940s, with Moroccan nationalists.  His deputy, David Fritzlan, recalled his time in Tangier:

I had contacts with several political dissidents. Tangier was the abode of any Moroccan from the French zone, or the Spanish zone, who was out of favor. These people could come to Tangier, and there they were relatively safe. Wanting support for their cause, they'd come to the Legation and wind up in my office. The French representative complained strongly about my receiving these Moroccan nationalists but Childs [and his successor] made it plain that we were not closing our doors to anybody.

Fritzlan wrote that these nationalists “later became leaders in the Moroccan government after independence.”

Fritzlan agreed that “during the war nobody wanted to rock the boat” with the French allies, but that contacts with Moroccan nationalists picked up after the war ended.  The Legation’s “despatches on the Moroccan nationalists' activities, their aims, their aspirations, their suppression by the French, were viewed with great hostility by the [American] Embassy in Paris,” according to Fritzlan.

British writer Robin Maugham, in his “North African Notebook,” observed that in 1947 Morocco, “every nationalist we met spoke of the Atlantic Charter; they still believed in the promises of freedom from fear and want which it contained.”  The 1941 Atlantic Charter agreed on by Roosevelt and Churchill had hinted at self-determination for colonized peoples.

And for the ultimate in American-Moroccan pre-independence discussions, there is President Roosevelt and his dinner on 22 January 1943 in Anfa in honor of then-Sultan Mohammed V.  As John Erwin writes in his book – nearing completion – entitled Virtuoso Citizens: Mahlers Roosevelts Gandhis Mohammeds:

As Eleanor Roosevelt would recall her husband telling her, when Prime Minister [Churchill] asked the President why he was organizing a dinner at his villa for Sidi Mohammed he gave F.D.R. the chance to state what was obvious to him but certainly not to either Churchill any more than his French partner in Empire: “…because this is his country.” Yet with unintentionally prophetic irony, the most passionate British spokesman for Empire had assigned to the wartime [Anfa/Casablanca] summit the open, generic code name SYMBOL.

Whatever heat American diplomats in Tangier would take from Paris for contacts with Moroccan nationalists, the dinner would indeed come to symbolize what was just a matter of time: the resumption, along with full Moroccan sovereignty, of direct Moroccan-American relations, just as Sultan Sidi Muhammad ibn 'Abd Allah had intended back in 1777 when he recognized “les Americains.”

Gerald Loftus