Follow Us

Follow on Twitter    Follow on Facebook    YouTube Channel    Vimeo Channel    SoundCloud Channel    iPhone App    iPhone App

The Moroccan Non-Exception: A Party, an Army, and a Palace (Part II)

[A miniature display depicting a joint operation that both the Moroccan and Algerian Liberation Armies carried out against the French on display at the Moroccan Liberation Army Museum in Rabat. Image by author] [A miniature display depicting a joint operation that both the Moroccan and Algerian Liberation Armies carried out against the French on display at the Moroccan Liberation Army Museum in Rabat. Image by author]

[The following is the final part of "The Moroccan Non-Exception" Jadaliyya roundtable. Read the introduction here. Read the first part of this installment here.]

The interaction of memory and forgetting in the state's construction of the history of the 1950s in Morocco takes on a pervasive form at the site of the Moroccan Liberation Army (MLA) museum. The museum is located within the premises of the Haut Commissariat des Anciens Resistants et Membres de l'Armée de Libération, tucked away in Rabat between a number of ministerial branches in the Agdal neighborhood. It is not the museum's location alone that draws interrogation for this contribution's stated question, but also what lies within the walls of the museum. Four stories high, the museum holds a number of artifacts from the early days of the Moroccan Liberation Army's operations, in addition to artistic renditions of various operations, as well as dozens of portraits and images of the royal family. While it is formerly titled the "National Museum of the Moroccan Liberation Army," not everything within the museum's walls pertains to the MLA. Moreover, it is in what the museum does not display that carries the most significance, such as the invisibility of any memory pertaining to the years after 1956. The museum's utility lies in the fact that it serves as a public and material lens for gauging the state's representation of the events that the state has defined as being the focal points of Morocco's nationalist history. 

Following dahir no°1.73.252, the Haut Commissariat des Anciens Resistant et Membres de l'Armée de Libération (HCAR) was established 15 June 1973. The museum was founded later, in 2001. As a high commission founded based on the demands of a royal decree, HCAR was intrinsically tied to a broader state project that sought to construct a politically driven public memory. The HCAR had two main purposes: to provide compensation to living veterans of the MLA; and to collect and disseminate the history of the MLA. On their website, the high commissioner offers a statement outlining the HCAR's mission:

The HCAR was established in recognition of the sacrifices made by the men and women among the nationalists, the resistance fighters, and the brave heroes of the Liberation Army who gave their lives and stood up to fight colonialism, thus defending the honor and dignity of the country. 

These two representative bodies have also emerged to, firstly, take on the affairs of resistance fighters and members of the Liberation Army by giving them material and social benefits and, secondly, to save the historical memory by disseminating the meanings, teachings, and values ​​among younger future generations.

Among the gains and achievements for the benefit of the family of resistance fighters, we will not fail to mention here, as examples only: full and complementary social security, transportation in the case of needed assistance as well as the possibility of property acquisition, whether a plot of land or ready public housing. In addition, always in the favor of our resistance fighters, an ongoing effort is made to incorporate them and their children in the national effort for economic and social development. Material support and impulsion continue in order to grant them employment in either the public or private sectors, in addition to support for small and medium enterprise development projects economic or social in nature.

In addition to providing medical and social services for veterans of the MLA and their family members, the HCAR produces publications about the MLA, spanning from historical surveys to encyclopedias archiving profiles of MLA members. The HCAR also publishes memoirs authored by MLA veterans. The pedagogical component of the HCAR operates under the Division des études historiques, which includes three branches: the national museum, the research and documentations services, and the publishing and distribution services. 

In embedding the two objectives of material support as well as knowledge production in the historical discipline, the HCAR demonstrates the intersecting elements of what Pierre Nora describes as "lieux de mémoire," or sites of memory. Nora states the following about "lieux de mémoire":

Lieux de mémoire are simple and ambiguous, natural and artificial, at once immediately available in concrete sensual experience and susceptible to the most abstract elaboration. Indeed, they are lieux in three senses of the word--material, symbolic, and functional.[1]

Indeed, the HCAR meets Nora's description of "lieux de mémoire"—material through its support of MLA members; symbolic in its representation of a historical past; and functional in providing pedagogical and research material. It is in the HCAR's museum that the institution takes on another form as a "lieu de mémoire." As mentioned above, the museum was established decades after the 1973 dahir. It was within King Mohammed VI's first years as king in 2001 that the museum was established, extending the politically driven "historical" state project of selectively remembering the Moroccan Liberation Army from under the reign of King Hassan II.

To better understand how the HCAR serves a broader state project, it is imperative to situate it within the historical context that King Hassan II issued the dahir for its establishment. While the attempted coup of July 1971 is largely attributed as being the "first" attempted military coup under Hassan II, there was another attempted coup in July 1963.[2] One of the masterminds behind the July 1963 attempted coup was the aforementioned Fqih Basri, former Moroccan Liberation Army leader and co-founder of the UNFP. Basri relied on Colonel Medbouh, a figure who climbed through the military ranks following his role in "pacifying" the Rif in 1926 against Abdelkarim al-Khattabi, for intelligence on the palace's architectural plan.[3] Medbouh would later be one of the leaders of the July 1971 coup attempt. Later on, not even a full year had passed since the August 1972 military coup attempt had taken place under the leadership of General Mohamed Oufkir before King Hassan II issued dahir no°1.73.252 in 1973, paving the way for the HCAR. The early months of 1973 were no less turbulent in Morocco, with the growing repression of university strikes and demonstrations. Activists previously in exile were mobilizing outside Morocco, preparing to act upon what they perceived as a “revolutionary moment.” A number of the masterminds behind these mobilizations were former members of the MLA who had, since 1960, mostly been in exile in Damascus and, later, Algeria. These mobilizations took on the form of violent acts of resistance in Rabat and Casablanca, sparking a round of arrests and disappearances. During the same month that Hassan II issued dahir no°1.73.252, on 25 June 1973, 149 people accused of taking part in these acts stood trial in the military tribunal in Kenitra. It was under the shadow of these events that in 1973, the Moroccan state’s domestic intelligence agency, the Direction de la Surveillance du Territoire (DST), was created.

Disentangling the context of Hassan II’s issuance of dahir no°1.73.252 from this contentious moment would mean disregarding the politics and power behind establishing the HCAR at such a critical juncture for the monarchy. It is likely no coincidence that Hassan II sought to selectively recollect the role of the MLA in Moroccan history during a moment when its remaining elements were waging a political struggle against the very nation they fought to establish in the face of French and Spanish colonialism. And it is there that the HCAR’s narrative and periodization of the MLA ends—at independence in 1956. Nora's conceptualization of lieux de mémoire as "the ultimate embodiments of a memorial consciousness that has barely survived" illuminates the justifications behind Hassan II's decision to establish the HCAR. For up until Hassan II issued the dahir establishing the HCAR in order to revive a national "memorial consciousness" of the MLA, the existing "memorial consciousness" in Morocco was centered primarily around the monarchy and, to a lesser extent, the Istiqlal Party. The "memorial consciousness" of the monarchy, for example, was manifested through the annual, pompous Throne Day celebrations. The Istiqlal Party found a space in the "memorial consciousness" in public school textbooks and the renaming of major avenues after Istiqlal figures. Examining the establishment of the HCAR through Nora's notion of lieux de mémoire can be understood as an attempt to situate the MLA within a national "memorial consciousness" alongside the monarchy and Istiqlal. And this could have only been achieved through embracing a periodization that ends at 1956, which is exactly what the HCAR succeeded in doing through the Moroccan Liberation Army museum situated within the HCAR premises. 

Constructing this "memorial consciousness" of the MLA through the HCAR alongside the monarchy and Istiqlal came at the expense of a critical political consciousness that had driven and unified the lingering elements of the MLA in mobilizing against the monarchy through the years after independence. In reducing the MLA to a nationalist group that only lasted up until 1956, its history after 1956 that defined its critical political consciousness as a force that threatened the monarchy's monopolization of power is rendered invisible. What best describes HCAR’s agenda is an active and pervasive process of selective memory. This is especially evident in the HCAR’s museum. Located on the same premises, the museum holds its own separate entrance. Upon entry, visitors are faced with two sizable paintings illustrating the Rif War of the 1920s (a war that led to the brief tenure of the Rif Republic under the leadership of Abdelkarim Al-Khattabi). Al-Khattabi’s portrait sits in between the two paintings. Facing this display is a rusted rocket perched on a pedestal, with a description that states, “Large caliber rocket used by the French forces during the Battle of Boughafer in March 1933.” The Battle of Boughafer, however, preceded the mobilization of the MLA by almost a couple of decades, and was a military confrontation that took place between the local Amazigh resistance, led by Assou Oubasslam, against the French and their local liaison Thami El Glaoui.


[Image of Al-Khattabi's portrait in between two paintings at the entrance of the Moroccan Liberation Army Museum in Rabat. Image by author]

Adjacent to these displays stands the more eye-catching exhibit at the entrance, which is the car of Jacques Lemaigre-Dubreuil, former director of Maroc Presse and of French conglomerate Lesieur. The car sits at the center-front of the entrance, surrounded with a velvet rope and a plaque with a brief description. The plaque describes how Lemaigre-Dubreuil was assassinated in this car on 11 June 1955 by a “terrorist organization." The entry point of the bullets through the car’s windows remains intact. The plaque concludes with a note stating that “the Lesieur Company donated this car to the National Museum of the Resistance and the Liberation Army on 28 June 2005.” By 2005, the company’s majority shareholder was and remains the king. The assassination of Lemaigre-Dubreuil was, according to Daoud and Monjib, an act conducted in retaliation to what French extremists perceived as being the threat of an Istiqlal-Moroccan Liberation Army alliance given the increasing connections between Ben Barka and Basri.


[Image of Lemaigre-Dubreuil's car on display at the Moroccan Liberation Army Museum with the remnants of the bullets shot through the windows when he was assassinated. Image by author]

In addition to several royal portraits, none of what is displayed in the entrance of the museum is directly related to the Moroccan Liberation Army. This also applies to the contents on display in the first and second level, which are mostly portraits and photographs of the royal family, as well as various official documents spanning from treaties to declarations. It is an enlarged and framed photograph of Sultan Mohammed V alongside Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill taken during the 22 January 1943 Anfa Conference in Casablanca that is the most prominently displayed object in the second floor. It is not until the third floor of the museum that the objects on display indicate the museum is exclusively dedicated to the MLA. The displays span from weapons used during the height of the MLA's armed resistance while the royal family was in exile between 1953 and 1955, to portraits of various MLA fighters, to lists of those targeted and killed as a result of MLA operations (most of whom were Moroccans perceived as "collaborators" with the French colonial regime). The most recurring contents on display are the various artistic renditions of MLA operations, which include paintings and miniature sculptures. Spread in between and throughout the displays are portraits and photographs of members of the royal family. The top floor marks the end of the exhibits on display, which primarily include images of the royal family returning from exile as well as a sculpture illustrating the royal family's arrival in the Sale airport. Finally, one painting in the top floor marks a nearly two-decade chronological jump to 1975 with a depiction of the Green March.


[A painting on display at the Moroccan Liberation Army Museum depicting an attack carried out against French settlers in Marrakech. Image by author]


[Photographs of the royal family in exile in Madagascar on display at the Moroccan Liberation Army Museum. Image by author.]


[A miniature display at the Moroccan Liberation Army Museum depicting the royal family returning from exile, arriving in the Sale airport. Image by author]

Pierre Nora's description of lieux de mémoire as the following is useful for conceptualizing the MLA museum:

Lieux de mémoire originate with the sense that there is no spontaneous memory, that we must deliberately create archives, maintain anniversaries, organize celebrations, pronounce eulogies, and notarize bills because such activities no longer occur naturally [...] We buttress our identities upon such bastions, but if what they defended were not threatened, there would be no need to build them [...] if history did not besiege memory, deforming and transforming it, penetrating and petrifying it, there would be no lieux de mémoire. Indeed, it is this very push and pull that produces lieux de mémoire--moments of history torn away from the movement of history, then returned; no longer quite life, not yet death, like shells on the shore when the sea of living memory has receded.[4]

The utility of Nora's above conceptualization when considering the MLA museum lies in using his description in the negative sense. While Nora theorizes lieux de mémoire within the context of French memory, lieux de mémoire take on a more pervasive form in the context of a nation emerging from and constructing a national identity against a history and memory of colonial domination. Despite Nora's inadequate discussion of the impact colonialism has had on shaping lieux de mémoire in France, it is impossible to avoid when considering the MLA museum as a lieux de mémoire in post-independence Morocco. Nora suggests that identities are tied around lieux de mémoire and that threats facing these identities drive the construction of lieux de mémoire. With the case of the MLA museum in Morocco, however, it is far more the state's project of upholding a national identity that hinges upon the centrality of the monarchy in the nationalist struggle that drove the construction of the MLA museum, rather than the other away around. The MLA museum was about building a lieux de mémoire for a living and contentious memory intended to fit into a nationalist history constructed against a colonialist history; a history reactively defined by its moments instead of its movements. As such, the MLA museum as a lieu de mémoire is useful for the state when the landscape of that mémoire is one constructed around a nationalist history—when the MLA exerted its energy toward fighting against colonialism. This sheds light on why the museum ends its periodization at 1956, along with the memoirs published by the HCAR. Remembering the MLA beyond 1956 would undermine the state's official narrative that places the monarchy as the central force around which all nationalist movements rallied. It would also highlight the extent to which the monarchy cooperated with the French and Spanish colonial regimes to centralize its authority at the expense of eliminating the MLA. In reality, establishing the HCAR was much less about the MLA as it was about painting the monarchy with the stroke of nationalist resistance at a time when its nationalist character was enduring threats and attacks spanning from the highest echelons of the army to the urban student movements.


[A mannequin depicting a uniform that a Moroccan Liberation Army soldier would have worn. Image by author]

Moreover, if a majority of these visitors are young Moroccan students, as the museum's curator claims, then this expands the "functionality" of the museum as a lieu de mémoire. Its functionality is not limited to simply presenting the state's selective memory of the MLA and its place in contemporary Moroccan history, but it also takes on another layer of functionality through its consumption as a historical source comparable to a textbook in a classroom. And just like any textbook, it has its primary sources. The museum relies on the objects of private memories as sources, which are in turn used to construct the public memory of the MLA. An example of this is how a number of objects on display, such as weapons and uniforms, are placed alongside notes that acknowledge donors, most of whom are families of former MLA members. Nora alludes to the "democratization" of the "materialization of memory" through the emergence of individuals recording and publishing memoirs and testimonies.[5] However in the case of the HCAR and the MLA museum, what may have been an initial "democratization of the materialization of memory" is then absorbed and regurgitated by the state. This also illustrates another aspect of the museum's "functionality" through its nationalization of private memories. Ultimately, however, it is through the ways in which the HCAR and the MLA museum spatiotemporally confound the memory of the nationalist struggle materially, symbolically, and functionally that define it as a lieu de mémoire.


[1] Pierre Nora, "Between Memory and History: Les Lieux de Mémoire," Representations, no. 26 (Spring 1989), 18-19. 

[2] Mehdi Bennouna, Héros sans gloire: Echec d’une révolution, 1963-1973 (Casablanca: Tarik Editions, 2002), 58.

[3] Ibid., 58. Bennouna explains that Medbouh unexpectedly backpedaled, but during the days that followed, a number of networks were dismantled and activists were arrested.

[4] Nora 1989, 12.

[5] Nora 1989, 14.

About the Photography Page

The photography page aims to provide a space for reflection on photography in its various forms and uses in the Middle East. We showcase the work of photographers active in the region and cultivate critical thinking about photographic practices, representations, and history. The page publishes photo essays, articles, interviews, reviews and more. It also provides information on photographic archives, agencies, and institutions, exhibits, events, and publications.