Moroccan diplomats #20 : Driss Al Amraoui, the printing press and the «Parisiennes»

Sent by Alaouite Sultan Mohammed IV to the Court of Napoleon III, Driss Al Amraoui, son of a scholar, left a tale of his wonder for printing machines, new technologies and the situation of women in France.

Paris. / DR
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In 1860, Mohammed IV simultaneously sent two ambassadors to Paris and London in a fairly sensitive period in the history of Morocco. For the French capital, the Alaouite sultan chose Driss Ben Mohamed Ben Driss Al Amraoui, son of a famous poet, for a mission that would last only a few months.

The ambassador, in his book «Touhfat al-Malik Al-Aziz bi Mamlakat Bariz» (Masterpiece to the beloved king in the kingdom of Paris), describes his amazement for the technological advances of France under Napoleon III, as well as for the rights of Parisian women.

The year 1859 : Moulay Mohammed Ben Abderrahman, known as Mohammed IV, has just been crowned Sultan of Morocco following the death of his father, amid a war with Spain. The latter managed to inflict on Morocco a humiliating defeat, especially during the battles of Sierra Bullones, and to impose on the Cherifian empire a heavy financial compensation.

In order to get the Kingdom out of its isolation and open up to European powers, «Moroccan diplomatic activity in Europe flourished and accelerated», especially given that «independent Morocco started to feel the danger of the inevitable advanced and extension of European colonial desire into most Islamic countries», reports Tabish Khair in «Other Routes: 1500 Years of African and Asian Travel Writing de Tabish Khair» (Signal Books edition, 2006).

«Therefore, numerous embassies were sent to the House OF War to account for Morocco's backwarndess and to find answers to the overwhelming question : Why did the West progress ?»

Tabish Khair

Marveled by technological advances

On June the 4th, Moulay Mohammed Ben Abderrahmane appointed Mohamed Ben Taher El Fassi as ambassador to England and Driss Al Amraoui as ambassador to France. The two embassies left Fes the same day to Europe.

«In 1860, Mohammed IV had sent the son of a poet, Idriss Al Amraoui (who died in 1879) as an emissary to Europe», reports John Butler in his «Essays on Unfamiliar Travel-Writing: Off the Beaten Track de John Butler» (Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2017).

Impressed with French technologies, Driss Al Amraoui received the great official tour of Paris and visited all the classic touristic sites.

«He also worried about whether these 'advances' could be adapted to an Islamic society and his strong religious sensibilities, which informed his entire outlook, were, unsuprinsingly, often at odds with the social customs».

John Butler

The Moroccan ambassador was also impressed by the railways and the train, during his trip from Marseille to Lyon, as well as the printing press and the telegraph when he went to the French National Printing Office. He also described his visit to the Palace of Versailles and his meeting with Napoleon III.

Impressed by the situation of women

The trip in France was also an opportunity for Driss Al Amrani to note, in his work, the fact that «French technology such as railways, printing-presses and the telegraph, he was given the officiel grand tour of Paris and saw all the standard tourist sights, but was somewhat taken aback that no-one lived in tents and deplored the fact that women were treated much better in France than horses».

In an article published in newspaper Al Itihad Al Ichtiraki in 2010, it is also said that the ambassador of Moulay Mohammed decried prostitutes. «We have been told that in Paris, there are thirty thousand prostitutes, all in possession of papers from the Makhzen (French authorities, ed) who allow them to practice and organizes this profession», he wrote on page 94 of his work. Driss Al Amrani also indicated that this number could be far from reality as there would be many who would not declare prostitution as their main profession. David Bensoussan reports in «Once upon a time in Morocco», (iUniverse edition, 2012).

«The obedience of Christians to their wives and their docility to follow all their desires are well-known enough not to need to be recalled; the woman is here the true mistress of the house and the man is her subject, so that when one enters the house one must greet the wife before her husband».

Once upon a time in Morocco

After spending nearly 40 days in France, the ambassador returned to Morocco to brief the Sultan on his trip. He then proceeds to ask the Alawite sultan to set up a printing plant in Morocco, and the first printing press opened its doors in 1864, reports media Howiyapress. According to John Butler, Driss Al Amraoui passed away in 1879.

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