Hassan II, a “Double-Sided” Leader

           “The style is the man”, Hassan II liked to repeat. A style precisely that leaves no one indifferent. King Hassan II of Morocco has marked history in many ways, and not only Moroccan history. He ruled for 38 years while many thought that he would not last for so long. Hassan II reincarnated the new democratic Morocco, he was a visionary sovereign and a man of peace who has aroused throughout his reign the admiration and amazement of the international community. Within the framework of building modern Morocco, Hassan II had carried out important political and institutional reforms, notably by engaging the country in the direction of a multi-party system and economic liberalism, while opting for coherent social policy.

       Exceptional head of state, the late Hassan II was a visionary King, a great lover of history, arts, philosophy, science and sports, and a fervent supporter of the dialogue between civilizations. However, he was also perceived as a ruthless despot overcoming opposition appealing to drastic measures. King Hassan II of Morocco was a double-sided leader capable of the best for his country and its interests, as well as the worst while protecting his kingdom and sovereignty. 


Early life

          Prince Moulay Hassan was born on July 9, 1929. His father was the Sultan Sidi Mohamed Ben Youssef and the Prince had five sisters and brothers. He went to the Imperial College of Rabat, an elitist primary and secondary institution only reserved for royal family members and their entourage, where instruction was both in French and Arabic. He then left for France for his superior studies and obtained a law degree at the University of Bordeaux. The Prince also served in the French navy aboard the battleship Jeanne d’Arc. From 1912 and until Morocco’s independence in 1956, the country was under a French protectorate established by the treaty of Fez. Except for some sections in north and south of Morocco that were under Spanish control. The city of Tangier was considered as an international zone. Despite colonization, the Sultan pursued self-government in Morocco, and it did not please colonizers.

         In August 1953, French Authorities exiled Prince Moulay Hassan and the entire royal family to Corsica. They were then transferred to Madagascar in January 1954. Prince Moulay Hassan acted as his father’s political advisor during the exile. His father, Sultan Mohamed, and his family returned from exile in 1955. Not even one year later, the Prince participated in the negotiations for Morocco’s independence with his father. This was made possible due to the weakening of France following World War II. Sultan Mohammed later appointed his son Chief of the Royal Armed Forces. Morocco’s history is about to change forever. In 1957, the Prince’s father changed the title of the Moroccan sovereign from Sultan to King Mohammed V and Hassan was proclaimed Crown Prince. He then became King on February 16, 1961, upon his father’s death.



            Hassan II is his new title. He wrote Morocco’s first constitution in 1963. King  Hassan II reaffirmed Morocco’s choice of a multi-party political system, which was a first in the Maghreb area. The constitution dictated large powers to the King, which provoked strong political protest from the UNFP (National Union of Popular Forces) and the Istiqlal parties. By strengthening his rule he provoked the opposition and it planned two assassination attempts in the early 1970s. In 1971, the first coup d’état attempt took place during the King’s 42nd birthday at his Skhirat palace. It was organized by General Mohamed Medbouh and Colonel Ababou and supported by the Libyan government. Around 100 people were killed but the King survived the attack. In 1972, four F-5 military jets from the Royal Moroccan Air Force fired-upon the King’s plane but it failed to bring it down. The King hurried to the cockpit while military jets were firing up, took control of the radio, and shouted: “Stop firing you fools, the Tyrant is dead”. Once again, the King survived, still, eight people have lost their lives. The minister of defense, Mohamed Oufkir was the one orchestrating the second attempt. It was declared that he has committed suicide, however, his body was found with bullets on it.

            Monarch Hassan II is a man who never ceases to haunt the dreams or nightmares of the Moroccan people. A King at once feared and adored by his people. A head of state patronizing with the greatest figures of the 20th century, and one who has left his mark indelibly. Hassan II was able to maintain strong diplomatic relationships with many countries. During the Cold War Ear, Hassan II allied Morocco with most of the West and especially with the United States. Close ties were created between the Moroccan government and the CIA, who helped the country reorganizing its security forces during the 1960s. As for the Arab World, he served as a “backchannel” in the Israeli issue, helping for the negotiations. During Hassan’s II reign he was able to restore Spanish areas. In 1969 he recovered the Ifni area and in November 1975 he was able to militarily two-thirds of the Spanish Sahara with the Green March.

        The Green March was a peaceful demonstration of 350,000 Moroccans walking through the Spanish Sahara holding the Qur’an in one hand and the Moroccan flag in the other. November 6th became a national holiday in Morocco following this spectacular event. Nevertheless, this issue is still at stake regarding Moroccan foreign policy. Even the UN and the Security Council were not efficient or successful in fixing the latter issue. Relations with Algeria and Mauritania were tense and have deteriorated after the Sahara affair. Moreover, the King claimed some territories in both countries and only recognized Mauritania as a sovereign country a decade after its independence.


Years of Lead

          The period going from the 1960s to the 1980s was labeled as “years of lead” because of outrageous killings, exiles, and disappearances of opponents. These years of lead do not only have negative aspects of the economic and political levels. Hassan II emphasized agriculture, tourism, and phosphate regarding the economy and it was a success for the country. As for governmental issues he extended parliamentary functions and released political prisoners in the 1990s. Plus, he allowed the Alternance and opposition could assume power, which was a first in the whole Arab World. He created the Royal Council for Human Rights to protect his people against the State. The King tolerated free press except if it was against the Monarchy.



        Hassan II died in July of 1999 after fighting his sickness. He had a pulmonary-cardiac disease and refused to spend his life going from one hospital to the other around the world. He argued: “I won’t go by plane from the capital to capital, from hospital to hospital, Hassan isn’t Hussein.” The royal family took care of the funerals that were held in the capital of Rabat. Hassan II was buried next to his father and his uncle in the Mausoleum of Mohammed V. Nearly two million Moroccans were gathered in the streets of Rabat, for the funeral of the sovereign. The heads of state of 40 countries attended funerals including the Governor-General, Roméo Leblanc, who represented Canada. Most of the Arab leaders, including Yasser Arafat, also attended the funeral. The president of the U.S. at that time was also present for the funeral. Clinton said: “King Hassan worked tirelessly for the welfare of his people, he had taken important steps to deepen freedom in his country”. The French president, Jacques Chirac stated: “We have lost a man who loved France and the French people, we feel immense pain.” Many other leaders were there such as King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia from Spain, Prince Charles, and Robin Cook from Britain.



          In any case, the political heritage of Hassan II defines what is now called “the Moroccan exception”. That is to say, a country with a double facet, which wishes to keep its traditions intact and at the same time aspires to be anchored in social and political modernity. A singular image that perfectly charmed the media and circles of intellectuals. In his own way, Hassan II has managed to transcend the limits of his own existence and become a timeless character. For this, he acted consciously and unconsciously on posterity. Through his varied policy during his long reign of 38 years, the monarch built the Moroccan Kingdom to the measure of his ambitions.

         As soon as he was enthroned in 1961, he set out to draw the outlines of a newly independent state. The constitutions he wrote for the country have given an institutional and democratic sense to the place he has accorded himself in history. Today, the image of the man and the head of the state merge perfectly. On the one hand, an acute sense of the political strategy, coupled with real qualities of communication. On the other, a monarch frequently subject to serious authoritarian drifts, intolerant and ruthless facing his political opponents and sometimes facing his own people. It is these two aspects of his personality that still fascinate Moroccans, especially the younger generations who have not lived his reign. What is the responsibility of this man in Morocco’s failures and successes?


Charismatic Leader

            “It is better to be feared than loved” (Machiavelli). This quote resumes perfectly Hassan II as he was both feared and adulated by his people. He was ambitious and built Morocco as an independent state. He was a visionary and charismatic, which fascinated people at that time and still is the case nowadays. Many of his interviews and TV appearances are still used as references. This double-side fascinates Moroccans, especially the younger generations who have not lived his reign. He was in power for 38 years and protected his 300-year-old dynasty at a time where monarchies in the Maghreb and Middle East areas where crushing due to socialist revolutions or militant Islam. In Libya, Egypt, Iraq, or Iran, monarchies let place to other forms of the regime while King Hassan II survived assassination attempts and kept his people by his side. The U.S. and the Western world all considered the King as one of the most Western-oriented Arab leaders. The fact that he accepted opposition parties and free press impressed many nations.

         Hassan II constantly worked for the unification of the Kingdom and the consolidation of its independence. He also worked for the territorial integrity with the liberation of the provinces of Tarfaya (1958) and of Sidi Ifni (1969). Father of a five children family, Hassan II never ceased to infuse to his children the acquisition of knowledge and in the action in favor of his country and its people. He was able to keep the Moroccan elite while ensuring royal patronage and he instituted market-oriented reforms that improved the lives of the middle-class.


  Commander of the Believers

           The King possesses the title of “Commander of the Faithful” which is one of the main reasons why his people also supported him. In fact, Morocco is a country with a majority of Muslims, and they believe that the King is sacred because he is a descendant of the prophet Mohammed. Moroccan people say that King Hassan possesses the “Baraka”, it is an Arabic expression for a charismatic person blessed with divine protection. Hassan II used his position to gratify people living in rural areas, he built many new mosques during his reign. The Great Mosque of Hassan the II was completed in 1993. It is Africa’s largest and has a 54-acre complex, a tower of more than 650 feet, and built on the edge of the sea. The Hassan II mosque is located in Casablanca and is one of the most impressive mosques in the world, it even has a laser directing toward Mecca. Nothing has stopped Hassan II from achieving his desires.


Between Modernity & Tradition

            To prepare his son’s reign, he embarked on a policy of democratic openness. Hassan II was between modernist and traditional, feudal and politician, a strategist conciliating the West and the East. Hassan II leaves his son Mohammed VI, with a structured and united Morocco, still, a kingdom where social disparities and inequalities remain present. Contrasted and disputed, his legacy is heavy. Hassan II knew how to mix both tradition and modernity, he charmed both people and Heads of States and is still adulated by generations that did not even know him as a ruler. This is proof that the character does not leave young people, who are not known, completely indifferent.

      I hope that this fascination will push people in a more general way, as well as researchers, to take an objective and rigorous look. The reign of Hassan II is a decisive phase in the history of Morocco. The King has fascinated me and at the same time has aroused many questions in me. Nevertheless, it remains very difficult to understand what has animated him. In Morocco, citizens are still fascinated by King Hassan II. Both those who relieve his “despotism” and those who see him as a Head of State that combines tradition and modernity. Our researchers should now go further than these two images. Not only to study his discourses in-depth but also to interpret all the delicate phases that Morocco underwent during his reign.


Fermented Social Inequalities

          In Morocco at that time, the formal political independence was limited by both continuous, imperialist domination and by the monarchy. Hassan II was unable to resolve any economic, social, and political problems the country had inherited from colonialism. The 38-year rule of the King leaves a country where social problems have fermented. As despots are coming to an end, after taking control of polarized states for decades, they leave behind the Middle East and North Africa on the precipice.

       As for Morocco, in the economic sphere, the agreement with the European Union, which opened the Moroccan market to European products, will mean both bankruptcy for many indigenous enterprises and a considerable surge in unemployment; The United States has its own initiative to establish economic ties with the countries of North Africa. 

          In the political sphere, the long-standing conflict with the Polisario over “Western Sahara” is still awaiting a settlement. To this day, the latter issue is still at stake and neither the UN nor its Security Council was able to fix it. Nowadays, Morocco is considered as an emerging country and no longer a third world country. Still, many political, social, and economic inequalities remain after the Hassan II reign.

         However, Morocco is one of the only countries in the world with a Constitutional Monarchy. Adding to this, the Arab Spring of 2011 had no real impact on the country. While regimes of neighboring countries have failed, Morocco’s regime is still in place and only a few changes were instituted with the new constitution of 2011, answering people’s demands. Moroccan citizens demanded more democratic values rather than the withdraw of the regime. Hassan’s II heritage is an advantage for his successor, who launched several projects of infrastructure development all over Morocco.  Morocco has never seen such a boom and development in the past decade. Hopefully, this will last because no one is safe from uprising.



“Analyse. Ces leaders qui osaient dire non à Hassan II (1).” Telquel.ma. N.p., 2014.  http://telquel.ma/2014/02/13/analyse-ces-leaders-qui-osaient-dire-non-a-hassan-ii-1_11090

“Five Facts You Didn’t Know About Late King Hassan II.” Morocco World News. N.p., 2016. https://www.moroccoworldnews.com/2015/07/163926/five-facts-you-didnt-know-about-late-king-hassan-ii/

Lakhmari Sami. “Que reste-t-il de Hassan II?”. Zamane. 2012. http://zamane.ma/fr/que-reste-t-il-de-hassan-ii%E2%80%89/

“Maroc : mort de Hassan II, la nuit du destin JeuneAfrique.com.” JeuneAfrique.com. N.p., 2014. http://www.jeuneafrique.com/48949/politique/maroc-mort-de-hassan-ii-la-nuit-du-destin/

Gregory Joseph. “Hassan II of Morocco Dies at 70; A Monarch Oriented to the West”. New York Times. 1999. http://www.nytimes.com/learning/general/onthisday/bday/0709.html

Shaoul Jean. “Le roi Hassan II du Maroc: les dirigeants du monde pleurent la disparition d’un despote impitoyable”. World Socialit Web Site. 1999. https://www.wsws.org/francais/News/1999/sept99/1sept_hassan.shtml

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