11th of January 1944, when the Istiqlal party wrote a Manifesto demanding Morocco’s full independence

On the 11th of January 1944, the Istiqlal party, recently formed, wrote a Manifesto demanding Morocco’s full independence. The party’s struggle against the French protectorate was carried out throughout the years even after the exile of Sultan Mohammed ben Youssef. Flash back.

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The 11th of January is a primordial date for Moroccans back in the 1940s and a turning point in the history of the North African Kingdom controlled at the time by the French. Today, we celebrate the Proclamation of Independence day, commemorating the handing of a manifesto that was signed by 70 nationalists. The day is also an important opportunity to shed light on the national struggle against the French occupation that was led by the Istiqlal party (Independence) created in 1943.

The American landing and hopes of independence

One of most direct triggers that led to the presentation of this manifesto is the Anglo-American landing in North Africa. The national struggle against the French occupation was reinforced after Operation Torch, in which Morocco played a crucial role, helping the allies control the Vichy regime controlling a significant part of France. This was confirmed by Douglas Elliot Ashford, an American writer in his book «Political Change in Morocco» (1961), in which he explains that «the Allied landings in North Africa in November 1942 were the signal for the revival of nationalist activity» in Morocco.

Indeed, the contribution of Morocco and Sultan Mohammed ben Youssef during the American landing have given nationalists a great hope for independence. And by entering war, the United States led by President Franklin D. Roosevelt was there to back Morocco’s will to be independent from France. The American statesman and war leader, who appreciated the Kingdom’s crucial collaboration during the Second World War, has promised in several occasions to help Sultan Mohammed ben Youssef in ending the French protectorate.

In a declassified document released by the Central Intelligence Agency, the President wondered «why does Morocco, inhabited by Moroccans, belong to France ? … Anything must be better, than to live under French colonial rule. Should a land belong to France ? By what logic and what custom and by what historical rule ?»

«When we’ve won the war, I will work with all my might and main to see to it that the United States is not wheedled into the position of accepting any plan that will further France’s imperialistic ambitions».

However these hopes were quickly oppressed by the French. In his account, Ashford, explained that although «hopes were further raised by the historical meeting of the king with Roosevelt, Churchill and Hopkins in mid-1943» the initial optimism was «dispersed with the appointment of a new Resident General, Gabriel Paux, who was well known for his suppression of the independence movements in Syria and Lebanon».

A manifesto presented by the Istiqlal party

One year after the signing of the famous proclamation of independence manifesto, the Istiqlal party, founded initially as the National Party for Istiqlal in April 1937, became the Independence party in December the 10th 1943. In a meeting attended by the «old nationalists, merchants, teachers, high civil servants, and old college graduates from alumni associations of Fés, Rabat, Salé, Marrakech, Azrou, Oujda, Safi and Meknes» the party was formed and its objective was independence.

«The decision was made to ask for full independence in a petition to the King, the Resident General, and the governments of the Allied Powers», said the same book. Encouraged by the international situation, the authors of the Independence manifesto took a courageous step in an era that was marked by the future establishment of the United Nations and the post-war ups and downs.

However their manifesto hasn’t fallen on deaf ears. The Resident General responded to the proclamation and the Istiqlal party’s weight grew by the start of negotiations. According to Ashford, during the consultations with the French authorities, crowds gathered outside the palace and spontaneous meetings were held in several cities throughout the Kingdom. The Resident was planning to arrest Ahmed Balafrej, the founder of the party, Mohammed Lyazidi and other nationalist leaders for collaborating with the Germans. A number of riots and demonstrations took place in numerous cities denouncing the leaked news.

The national struggle after the manifesto

This has made the freshly formed party, manage its ranks and try to take the struggle against the French protectorate to another level. The party, under the initiative of Lyazidi, sent «a new appeal to France on the second anniversary of the 1944 manifesto and also presented a petition to the new Resident General, Labonne, in March 1946», wrote the American author. In their documents, leaders of the Istiqlal recognized the economic contribution of the French in Morocco, and while demanding the release and the return of Allal Al Fassi, Mohammed Hassan Ouazzani, exiled since 1937, and Ahmed Balafrej in exile since 1944.

The party’s wish was granted by the new Resident General, who also enabled the Istiqlal to expand and grow outside the country. In fact, the Independence party established information bureaus in Paris, London, Damascus and Tangier. The Moroccan cause was carried by the party outside the borders of the country, campaigning for independence.

Free Morocco and the Istiqlal's bureau in New York

The party has continued with its struggle for independence, years after the 1944 Manifesto, and its attempts doubled when Sultan Mohammed ben Youssef was exiled. On the 20th of August 1953, French soldiers invaded the Royal Place in Rabat, forcing the royal family to board on a bus to an unknown destination. In less than a month, the Istiqlal party launched a campaign entitled «Free Morocco». In a communiqué issued by the Istiqlal’s Moroccan Office of Information and Documentation, based in New York, and published by «La Grande Encyclopédie du Maroc» (8th volume, 1998, GEI), the party stated that «Morocco will not put up with the ‘Fait Accompli’». signed by Ahmed Balafrej, the secretary general of the Istiqlal party at the time, the statement released on the 25th of September 1953, denounced the maneuvers of the French.

It wrote that «the crisis has begun this year as French propaganda leads us to believe. It goes back to 1947 when, in Tangier, the Sultan addressed the world, asking that the inspirations of the Moroccan people be taken into consideration». Complaining about the exile of the Sultan, the document pointed out that «15 nations of Asia and Africa have attempted to inscribe the Moroccan problem on the Agenda of the Security Council», adding that :

«However, the Great Powers joined their forces against the Moroccan people and did not allow the discussion of this grave problem (…) If the Moroccan people are denied a free discussion of their problems in the International Organs, does it not bring them to the verge of despair and methods of violence?»

And to conclude, the party commented on the exile of the king insisting that he «will remain the sole legitimate sovereign around whom all the forces of the people will be rallied and the national aspirations crystallized».

The Istiqlal party, and after the exile of the sultan and installation of Mohammed Ben Aarafa, was joined by others who saw the king as a religious leader. Morocco’s demand for the sultan’s return was unified resulting in the return of the Sultan.

Back from exile in 1955, the kingdom was proclaimed an independent state one year later. The Istiqlal party, and through its Manifesto of independence, gained a huge respect for its contribution and its leaders were considered instrumental in achieving independence in Morocco.

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