Morocco is celebrating Independence Day on Saturday, November 18. The day, which once marked King Mohammed V’s ascension to the throne in 1927, is now a celebration of the country’s long struggle to gain its independence from France and Spain’s colonial rule.
France and Spain’s colonialism of Morocco started on March 30, 1912, after the signing of the Treaty of Fez, which paved the way for the French protectorate and the division of Moroccan territories between Paris and Madrid.
Spain controlled the northern and southern provinces with the exclusion of Tangier, which became an international zone in 1923.
The protectorate systems were met with fierce resistance from local communities, sparking the creation of resistance groups across the country.
Despite sustaining heavy defeat by colonial armies, armed resistance groups in Morocco fought on, with the Rif region in Morocco becoming a prominent example of Moroccan-led resistance movements.
While resistance in Morocco took many forms, the movement took a strong political turn in November 1925, with the debut of the Moroccan nationalist movement. The movement successfully took the cause to the international stage.
In January 1944, Morocco’s struggle for self-determination took a historic turn when 66 members of the Moroccan national movement signed the country’s Manifesto of Independence and presented it to the French and Spanish colonial authorities, as well as to representatives of the US, Great Britain, and the Soviet Union.
Aware of the potential impact of the Manifesto, French colonial forces purged Moroccan nationals and intellectuals, and led a massive arrest campaign against individuals who signed the documents, accusing them of being Nazi spies.
As Moroccans continued to resist French and Spanish colonialism, France exiled Sultan Mohammed V with his family members on the eve of Eid al-Adha in August 1953 to Corsica, and then to Madagascar in 1954. The Sultan had been working closely with the resistance movements.
The forced exile of the Sultan triggered widespread protests and acts of resistance. France finally yielded to the will of the Moroccan people and allowed the Sultan to return on November 16, 1955.
Two days after his return to the throne, the monarch made a famous speech in which he said: “We are delighted to announce the end of the trusteeship system and protectorate and the advent of freedom and independence.”