The Treaty of Fez and the Bloody Days

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he 19th century was a painful moment in the history of the Charifian Empire. Very weakened economically and politically by its debts and defeats due to the wars undertaken against France (in particular the Battle of Isly) or even Spain (Battle of Tetouan) in a context of anti-colonial struggle. The culmination of these colonial ambitions took place on the 30th of March 1912.

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Signature of the Treaty of Fez between Moulay Abdelhafid and the representative of France, Eugène Regnault, March 30th 1912.

The Treaty of Fez

The Treaty of Fez established a Protectorate for the last independent state in North Africa. The text put forward administrative, judicial, educational, economic, financial and military reforms, meticulously organizing the French presence in the Cherifian Empire. The French, anxious to dispel German ambitions after the Agadir Crisis, saw this treaty as a success. However, in Morocco, this treaty will lead to the start of a long process of fighting between the indigenous tribes and the occupying power.

By signing the Treaty of Fez, Moulay Abdelhafid accepted the Protectorate, under the pressure of five thousand French soldiers camped under the walls of his palace in Fez and the occupation of vast areas in the west and east of his kingdom, putting an end on that day to 12 centuries of independence of the Kingdom of the Setting Sun. As soon as the signing was done, the Sultan did not want any news to be spread in the hopes of maintaining a semblance of peace. That was the case, at least until he left the city of Fez...

The news quickly began spreading like wildfire throughout the Kingdom. The very first voices to condemn this treaty were those of the Charifian soldiers present in Fez. Indignation and dismay were general in the spiritual capital of the kingdom to the point that the inhabitants of Fez decided, from the 17th to the 19th of April 1912, to flood the streets in order to voice their anger against the “transfer of Dar El Islam (land of Islam) to Christians”. Faced with the ferocious repression of French soldiers, acting as conquerors rather than pacifiers, the inhabitants of Fez joined the Moroccan soldiers in the protest that would turn into bloody clashes.

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Bloody days in Fez

These clashes, which were very violent, caused a great deal of damage and marked the French to the point that they called this event “bloody days in Fez”. The rioters massacred French civilians and soldiers. The Sultan was rejected by being referred to under the contemptuous term of “Sultan sold to Christians”. The treaty was seen as a betrayal by Moroccans and it would intensify battles against French troops in the rest of the country. After these violent riots, Sultan Moulay Abdelhafid was forced to abdicate and was exiled by the French. His half-brother Moulay Youssef took his place on the throne.

In Fez, the French military corps managed to manage its very first post-Protectorate crisis thanks to the military reinforcements sent. The protectorate forces deplored the death of some sixty French people during these events. The role of the Alawite Sultan was reduced to a simple spokesperson for the Protectorate at a time when General Hubert Lyautey, appointed General Resident in April, reigned over the state.

The fighting raged on, peace was gone, and conflicts continued throughout the empire, be it with the takeover of Marrakech by Ahmed al-Hiba, the revolts in the Chaouia region, or the Rif War.

Excerpt from a comic strip by Marcel Thierry in 1912, showing “The Massacre of Fes”.
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The Franco-Spanish union against Morocco

Faced with the difficulty of maintaining peace throughout Morocco, the French decided to ally themselves with another colonial power. In November 1912, France and Spain reached a common agreement, following which Morocco was divided into three main parts: an area in the center, controlled by France, an area in the north with the Rif and an area in the extreme south with the enclave of Sidi Ifni, Tarfaya and the Sahara. For its part, Tangier will benefit from the status of an international zone. The colonial forces then continued their pacification and occupation operation, which had lasted for almost 22 years since the Treaty of Fez.

Archive images of the “Bloody Days of Fez” by Hubert Jacques:

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