Independence Day in Morocco, a Brief History

Visitors to Marrakech in late autumn might like to know that Independence Day (Eid Al Istiqulal), is celebrated on 18th November each year to commemorate the return of King Mohammed V from French-imposed exile in Madagascar and the declaration of Moroccan independence from both France and Spain in 1956.

European Interest and Treaties

European interest in Morocco during the late 1800s sparked conflicts between several imperial powers, notably France and Spain. These conflicts resulted in an international conference (the Algeciras Conference) in 1906 during which the US and European states discussed and subsequently solemnised France’s special interest in Morocco. Following this conference, the 1912 Treaty of Fez declared Morocco a French Protectorate. An agreement signed by France and Spain the same year handed control over Tarfaya, south of the river Draa, and Tangiers in the north, as well as Ifni and Rif on the southwest Atlantic Coast, to Spain.

Rebellion

By the mid-1920s, first signs of rebellion against France and Spain’s colonial rule began to surface but the demand for Moroccan independence only gained real momentum at the end of WWII. In 1944, King Mohammed V, backed by the nationalistic Istiqlal (Independence) Party, pressed Morocco’s demand for complete independence. In response, France exiled the highly revered King Mohammed to Madagascar in 1953, replacing him with the widely opposed Mohammed Ben Aarafa.

The Return

The public outcry against King Mohammed V’s exile was such that, eventually, France had no choice but to allow the King to return to Morocco in 1956, an event that was soon followed by declaration of Morocco’s independence from France. The same year, Spain also renounced its claims over Morocco, although the Spanish retained their control over Infi, which did not become part of Morocco again until 1969, and over the Western, or Spanish, Sahara. The claim on the latter territory was not relinquished until 1975 and, even now, the official status of this area remains in dispute.

How Independence Day is Celebrated

Commemorating the sacrifices made by both the royal family and ancestors of countless commoners Morocco’s Independence Day is celebrated across the whole country as a National Holiday. Festivities include, among much else, a grand reception at Morocco’s Imperial Palace, colourful parades and street food vendors doing a brisk trade often alongside singers and dancers in several locations; these combined events make this a November date well worth including in plans to visit Marrakech.

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