Mohammad VI the current King is from the royal ‘Alawi dynasty which has reigned over Morocco since the 17th century. There was that period where the French did their bit at suppression and exploitation but the royal family just passed the crown around a bit. Mohammed V was sultan in 1927 and became king when the French went home and Morocco became independent again in 1956. His son Hassan II became king in 1961 and was a randy, mean bugger. He made human rights abuses a cornerstone of his reign and punished entire cities for any real or perceived slight. He ruined the economy of Fez by cutting off all state funding and projects of any sort because someone said something to offend him. A state from which they are just now recovering as the new king has flowed money and city improvement projects to the city. Hassan died in 1999 and Mohammed VI became king.
The King has almost complete control over the government. There is a parliament but at this time it more a gesture than a real part of the government. Mohammad VI is viewed as a champion of women's rights, which means secular women's rights activists are often in the royalist political camp.
Hailed as a bright hope for Arab modernization when he ascended the throne seven years ago, Mohammed VI has had a mixed track record since. But even his fiercest critics concede that his initiatives supporting women's rights have been a resounding success.
On Oct. 10, 2003, the king presented parliament with a reformed Family Code. A package of personal and family laws covering marriage, divorce and inheritance rights, the code--or "mudawana"-- was a battleground for a decades-long fight between secular modernists and conservative Islamists who called the debate "a war between believers and apostates."
It was the deadly May 16, 2003 terrorist attacks in Casablanca that eventually turned the tide in favor of the modernists. Following a widespread anti-fundamentalist wave after the suicide bombings, the king came down firmly in favor of women's rights, while positioning his arguments within an Islamic rubric.
In a country where the monarch is the final, sacrosanct arbiter of power, the modified code was in effect, a done deal. Months later, parliament approved the code.
Considered one of the most progressive in the Arab world, the code grants women equal gender status, shared family rights and the right to initiate divorce and marry without the permission of a male family member.
In the past royal weddings were secret affairs, no one knew when King Hassan wed his Berber wife Lalla Latifa and she never appeared in pubic or was featured in any family photographs. Hassan maintained an extensive harem who lived in isolated luxury and were never allowed to bear children. I am not certain of this next but I think they now live in a lush compound inside the Fez Medina and it is called “The Place for the Women Who are no longer Allowed to live in the Palace”. I know the compound exist and it is called that, but it is my surmise that it is the old harem of Hassan.
Information about the family life of the late King Hasan was always closely held. Apparently he married at the time of his succession, as did his son Muhammad VI. In Hassan’s case his wife, Lalla Latifa, was not publicly identified until the birth of the first child in 1962. Many Moroccans believe that Hasan maintained one or two additional wives, including a French wife or perhaps mistress, but confirming such stories is most difficult as the King’s family life is a closely guarded secret. Only the children by Lalla Latifa are considered as part of the royal line, in any event.
The eldest son, Sidi Muhammad, is now King. (Moroccan princes are referred to with the title Moulay, “master”, unless their name is Muhammad. Since the only “Master Muhammad” is the prophet, princes named Muhammad are addressed as “Sidi”, “my lord”. Princesses are given the title Lalla.) He is a year younger than his sister, Lalla Mériem, born August 26, 1962. She is married to a prominent businessman. The other children of the late King Hasan II are Lalla Asmaa, born September 29, 1965; Lalla Hasna, born November 19, 1967, and finally another son, Moulay Rachid, born 20 June 1970 who was the Crown Prince until the birth of the son of Mohammad VI.
King Mohammed VI broke with tradition by issuing a communiqué about his engagement and the identity of his future wife on 12 October 2001. The couple met in 1999 at a business conference.
Lalla Salma was born on 10 May 1978 daughter to El Haj Abdelhamid Bennani, a schoolteacher from Fez and his wife who died when Salma was three years old. She has one sister and was brought up at her grandmother’s home. She obtained a Baccalaureate in 1995 in Mathematics and Science. She completed a two-year preparatory course at the Lycee School (very well thought of) in Rabat and graduated valedictorian in 23000 from l’Ecole Nationale Suprieure where she majored in computer science. She was working as a computer scientist at Omnium North Africa (Morocco’s largest private corporation) when she met His Highness.
On 21 March 2002 King Mohammed VI and his fiancé Salma Bennai signed the marriage contract at the Royal Palace in Rabat in a private Muslim ceremony in from of family members. Days before the wedding the first photographs of King Mohammed VI and his bride were issued. In another break with custom she was granted an official title and is known as Her Royal Highness Princess Lalla Salma. She does not bear the title of Queen. The King made it clear he will stick to one wife and not practice polygamy as all his ancestors did. I’m thinking the Princess had something to say on that before the wedding…
The wedding was celebrated with three days of festivities that began 12 April at the royal palace in Marrakech, this is in keeping with the centuries-old traditions of the Royal family and authentic customs which have though time consecrated the bond between the Cherifian Alaouite family and the Moroccan people. It was a fairytale wedding and for the first time in history the Moroccan people were allowed to take part.
Their son, Crown Prince Moulay Hassan, was born in 2003 and is such a cutie; followed by a daughter, Princess Lalla Khadija, in March 2007. You will find photographs of the King and his children in the shops in all the cities. I have a magazine from a couple of months ago featuring the entire royal family. This is such an unheard of thing here you have no idea, and I think from the Moroccans I have spoken with it has made them admire the King. There is much of the bond that king and people had in Britain decades ago when the Throne still held the power present here. You can still be thrown in jail for speaking ill of the King. Hopefully that will change, as Morocco becomes a true republic, which is my hope for the country.
The Morocco Muhammad inherits is a study in contrasts. The Arab country closest to (in fact, within sight of) Europe, and well known to European tourists, it is also very poor, well down the list in rankings of Arab countries. Though it enjoys a Parliament (recently made bicameral) and a plethora of political parties, all major decisions have remained in the hands of the monarch. The Royal Family is said to own about a fifth of the country’s land, and Morocco’s rich phosphate mines are a royal monopoly as well. Nor is the monarchy’s prestige solely political. Moroccan Kings, like their ancestors the Sultans before them, have long claimed the title Amir al-Mu’minin, Commander of the Believers, traditionally a title of the Caliphs of Islam. King Hasan made a particular effort to portray himself as a charismatic religious figure, drawing on the traditional North African veneration for holy men. Though Hasan was a highly Europeanized, golf-loving King, his official portraits often showed him in the traditional Moroccan djellaba or dressed as a pilgrim in Mecca.
The royal family’s private wealth is estimated at 4 – 5 billion usd by Forbes magazine, other estimates place it as high as 20 billion usd. There have been complaints of how the King spends this money in contradiction to his promise to his people but I will save that for another post.
I think the King is trying to move his country forward. You have to understand this is much like moving the Pacific Plate, you have to go slowly or you get earthquakes. The bombings in 2003 were a direct result of his reforms. The Princess is a real inspiration to the women’s movement here and she does a great deal of work for the Moroccan children and education. There are of course faults and many matters that need to be addressed about and to the royal family, but that is not what this post is about.