Friday, 20 July 2007

The Moroccan Royal Family

I am broken. Ow ow ow. I was (foolishly) sitting on a stool (alright it was a small cocktail table but here a tea table I should think) talking with Q and watching the cat play with his new toy (so much better than the telly) when the bloody thing crashed under me dumping me to the stone floor on the base of my spine (you know that bone … right ‘there’). In my defense the table looked sturdy enough but when I turned it over the third leg had apparently broken before and was tethered in with three nails. I didn’t feel a thing until late yesterday after we had been to the English (used) Bookstore down by the train station. We were only going to stay and look, but books are to us as shoes are to some women and catnip is to cats – addicting and expensive. I swung myself into the taxi and Oh My Giddy Aunt! I almost came up off the seat. The point of sharing this little ditty with you all is that I am having a difficult time… well… sitting. Sitting is required for typing, you with me here?. I am also telling you because Q is coming up very short on sympathy in this instance. Actually she keeps making fun. (Sigh, where did I go wrong?) So in the best tradition of the Highlands I shall solider on. Glenlivet anyone?

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.

Ciao.

24 comments:

scarlettscion said...

Actually "Lalla" is just a nice way of saying "Ma'am" or "Lady," I call women "Lalla" on the street.

scarlettscion said...

And I'd be careful mentioning the harem, the last newspaper that tried to do an article on it was severely punished! Apparently it isn't discussed...but you aren't Moroccan so you should be safe enough.

scarlettscion said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Omega Mum said...

Blimey. I am impressed. How did you manage to write all that with a hurting back? How interesting. Hassan II sounds like a Roman emperor or fairytale king. Mind you, I can quite see how much fun it must be punishing entire cities when you get a bit hacked off with your life. Would I do it if I had the power? Mmmmmm.

Annie said...

Did you write this long post standing up? ;)

Wishing you and your coccyx a speedy recovery!

I Beatrice said...

Very interesting and impressive history - especially in view of the discomfort you must have felt whilst writing it.

There seem to be many very likeable things about Morocco - but on the whole I'm still quite happy to remain British...

Except for the rain of course. You've never seen anything like the deluge we suffered in the south today!

jmb said...

Lady Mac, that was fascinating. Very well researched I'm sure and just the thing for our inquiring minds. I am so glad to hear that at least in one country Muslim women's rights are advancing. The treatment of women by the majority of Muslims sets my blood pressure off the scale but someone said something to me the other day that made me think. She said that Muslims are just a few hundred years behind the times and a few hundred years ago Western women didn't have any rights either.

Have you read Shirin Abadi's book Iran Awakening? She tries to juggle her religion with her quest for women's rights in Iran. I wasn't totally convinced but thought it an extremely interesting book.
I hope you c.... bone recovers soon, it must be very painful.
regards
jmb

The Good Woman said...

Hi Lady M. Fascinating post- oh the many things i know nothing about...

On the bahookie front (or rear, as the case may be) I sustained a similar injury earlier this year falling down some stairs. My advice is to arch your back while sitting. Of course this can cause lower back issues. But I find those easier to explain...

xoussef said...

shortly after the French left, King Hassan II inherited a country pretty much similar at what it was in the middle age. the French left nothing behind, no infrastructure and more importantly no educated people and no health care. Moreover, the Moroccan Jews and among them a lot of doctors lawyers and skilled craftsmen left to Israel or Europe about the same time.
He had to build a modern state in a one of the rare Arab countries that had no Oil. during his rain, Phosphates prices dropped, drought stroke and population rose at an incredible rate. He went through several assassination attempts, had to complete decolonization and keep the unity of the country. He managed to keep keep Algerians within their borders and resist Arab "brothers" who actively wanted to export their Revolution model.
He wasn't a despot, he became one. but if he didn't, there might be no Morocco now.
He is responsible of the tribute that Moroccans paid, but i don't think he was much aware of what his zealous advisers and ministers did. we now know that he was several times manipulated and lied to by his entourage, pretty much the way it happened to his son in the Talsint oil fields story.
All in all, i think he was a great king despite the human rights record.

xoussef said...

i spent much time writing that comment that i forgot to wish you a prompt recovery !

and a couple of comments too:

*Lalla Meryem is divorced, her ex-husband is Fassi too. i don't know if she married someone else though, i am no good at palace gossips :p.

*The Office Chérifien des Phosphates (OCP) is a state owned company that has the monopole of the Phosphates mining. The king don't own it, it belongs to the state.

*Political parties that are simply incompetent and have no real intention do the job. Virtually, the king have too much power, but practically, I bet he would love spend more time playing jet-ski than supervising ministers if actually gov and parliament did their job.

lady macleod said...

scarlettscion,


thank you dearest, and I assume you will bring the Ambassador should I be taken to the prisons or organize a break out:-)

lady macleod said...

omega mum

Pure grit my dear...(shameless eh?)

I don't know if you would do it, but I am fairly certain you would enjoy it!

lady macleod said...

annie

almost (trolling for more sympathy). *sniff*

thank you for the get well and thank you for coming by.

lady macleod said...

i beatrice

I'm with you on the citizenship issue! but I MISS THE RAIN!!

thank you for coming by.

lady macleod said...

jmb

I'm pleased you enjoyed it. No, I have not read that, I will put it on my list (that is now the length of my leg!). Have you read "Lolita In Teheran" by Azar Nafisi? Excellent for an insight into the women of Iran.

Yes *sniff, sniff* it is very painful... could be worse, it can always be worse yes?

thank you for coming by.

lady macleod said...

good woman

Falling down stairs? ow! You are exactly right, it hurts less when sitting up very straight which would make my old governess really happy as it enforces the great posture.

thank you for coming by.

lady macleod said...

xoussef

Thank you so much. I always appreciate your comments. As it is your country your view is valuable to me. Thank you for taking the time to write such a long and informative comment.

It is good to have another view of Hassan; history books are not kind to him. I think they reflect the results of his reign rather than the intent. Again, I am pleased and grateful to have your input.

Thank you for the good health wishes and thank you for coming by.

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

Lady M, I'm so sorry about the fall and the pain. It must be excruciating. What a lot I have learned from this post - a real history and cultural lesson. Thank you. That's fascinating about the old harem possibly still existing. I have seen pics of the Crown Prince in Paris Match and he does seem, as you say, a cutie. It is good to hear that progress is being made in the matter of women's rights.

mutterings and meanderings said...

I think I cracked my coccyx sitting down very hard in the plastic bit of a seat belt. Utter agony. For few eyars afterwards, it would start to hurt if I sat in a certain position for too long - but rest assured, it does improve after a few yeasrs!

lady macleod said...

welshcakes

Thank you for the sympathy! I am watching "The Magnificent Seven" to ease my pain.

I'm very pleased you enjoyed the post. I learned a lot as well.

thank you for coming by.

lady macleod said...

M&M

YEARS?! YEARS?! I can't tell you how much better you have made me feel - NOT.

Back to the movie...

thank you for coming by.

jenny said...

Ouch ouch ouch!! Poor you! Hope you are feeling better soon and it wont hurt to sit tomorrow.

Fascinating about the Royal family. Who needs to go to school?? I'll send the kids here for their world history lessons!! :o)

lady macleod said...

jenny

It still hurts *sniff*. Bugger!

Send them over! I would love to influence another generation with MY world view! My own secret plan for taking power..

thank you for coming by.

Charles said...

Very interesting article. I was at school at teh Lycee in London and have 8mm film of myself with Princess Kultum Hasan. Ilost track of her when we moved from London but I gathered she married and has svereal children. Can you tell me where she fits in with King Hasan II? and what is of her. I was 9 years at the time - so was she (late 1950's) Best Charles