Moroccan diplomats #18 : Ben Othman Al Meknassi, a historian, writer and ambassador

Sent by Alaouite Sultan Mohammed III to the court of King Carlos III of Spain, Mohamed Ben Othman Al Meknassi had to discuss the release of another ambassador who was held hostage in Malta.

Moroccan ambassador Mohamed Ben Othman Al Meknassi with King Carlos III of Spain./Ph. DR
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In 1779, Alaouite Sultan Moulay Mohammed Ben Abdallah, aka Mohammed III, sent Mohamed Ben Othman Al Meknassi to Spain. The diplomat had to negotiate the release of Muslim captives, held by King Carlos III.

He was also tasked with concluding a peace and trade treaty with the Spaniards and end a severe diplomatic crisis that led to the kidnapping of another Moroccan ambassador.

Successfully, Ben Othman helped Morocco sign the treaty of Aranjuez in May the 30th, 1780, and the Spanish-Moroccan treaty in March, 1799.

From Al Qarawiyyin University to Morocco’s first embassy in Spain

Mohamed Ben Othman was born in Meknes in the middle of the 18th century. He was the descendent of a distinguished family as his father was one of the city’s most famous scholars. The Meknes-native went for Islamic studies as a teenager, before joining Morocco’s first university Al Qarawiyyin.

In Fez, the future ambassador, thanks to his diplomatic skills, became the closest advisor of the Sultan’s son, Moulay Ali, wrote researcher Malika Ezzahidi in her article «Le rachat des captifs musulmans à Malte en 1782, d’après le récit de voyage d’Ibn Uthmân Al-Meknassî», (Revue Cahiers de la Méditerranée, 2013). A few years later he was appointed as Moulay Mohammed III’s advisor.

«Ben Othman was taught at the Sidi Mohammed Ben Abdallah’s Diplomatic School (…) During this period he was aware of the things that the Kingdom needed to reinforce and had the skills for it», wrote Moroccan historian Mohamed Bokbot in his book «Rihlat Al Meknassi» (The voyage of the Meknes-native). These skills «allowed Ben Othman to become one of the leading ambassadors at the time», which explains why he was chosen later by Moulay Yazid and Moulay Slimane as their go to diplomat.

Ben Othman, an ambassador who loves traveling

In 1779, Ben Othman was appointed as King Mohammed III’s ambassador to Spain to release Muslim captives (mostly from Algeria) and conclude a treaty. Indeed, the envoy successfully concluded a treaty with the Spanish authorities on May the 30th, 1780 and another peace and trade agreement, dubbed the Aranjuez.

«He led his diplomatic mission (…) and managed to maintain strong ties with the Spanish government».

Historian Malika Ezzahidi

During his first trip as an ambassador, Ben Othman developed a passion for writing and debuted his career as a historian and writer. He wrote a book about his diplomatic voyage which he entitled «Al Iksir Fi Fikak Al Assir» (The Elixir of Captives Liberation) which describes the experiences he went through on his way to Madrid.

In his book, he thoroughly described the Spanish architecture, the buildings, the people, their traditions and manners.

To recognize his achievements while in Spain, the sultan appointed Ben Othman as a minister. He was sent by Moulay Mohammed Ben Abdallah to Malta for a second diplomatic mission.

In Malta, Ben Othman had to free one of his colleagues, Mohamed Al Hafi, a Moroccan diplomat who was captured and held hostage.

An ambassador of Moulay Yazid and Moulay Slimane

In 1785, Ben Othman was again heading a new diplomatic mission in Istanbul, where he met Ottoman Sultan Abdulhamid III before returning to Morocco. This trip was also the subject of a book written by the Moroccan ambassador, who will also visit Syria and Mecca.

After the death of Sultan Mohammed Ben Abdallah in 1970, Ben Othman was appointed by Moulay Yazid to strengthen diplomatic relations with Spain. A year later, on the 27th of January 1791, he was received in Madrid by the King of Spain but failed to warm up ties between the two kingdoms.

He was blocked in Cadiz while a war broke off between Spain and Morocco. Ben Othman returned to the Iberian country after the death of Moulay Yazid, who was killed in February 1792 by his brother Moulay Hicham.

Ben Othman was then appointed as a governor of Tetouan in 1792 by Moulay Slimane and then as a Prime Minister in charge of foreign affairs for the Alaouite court, recalled Malika Ezzahidi.

Mohamed Bokbot reports for his part, in an article entitled «La crise hispano-marocaine de 1790-92 : enjeux et manœuvres», that Mohamed Ben Othman concluded a Spanish-Moroccan treaty in March, 1799, only months before his death.

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