This topic of choice will be based on the novel The Black Notebook by Patrick Modiano which will centre around the depiction of the rivalry-like narrative between the late King Hasan II and Mehdi Ben Barka. The author regularly refers to this infamous moment of French history in his book. This will allow me better to understand the increasing tensions between the Moroccan Left, France & King Hasan II regarding his abduction in 1965.Mehdi Ben Barka was born in Rabat, Morocco sometime around January 1920.
Despite it his middle-class Moroccan background, he was able receive French-styled schooling as this form education was widely believed to be only available to wealthy citizens of the state. A highly clever and able student who attained further academic success in higher education, as he was the ‘first Moroccan to receive a degree in mathematics in an official French school in 1950’ (Dr. Y, 2012). This began a career in education which involved a stint at the palace-based Collège Royal, known to have schooled various Moroccan royals including Hassan II. In fact, his first encounter with the future King was ‘as his teacher’ (Throne, 2009). His interest in politics soon followed as he sought to challenge French colonial rule over Morocco as the leader of the leftist movement: The Istiqlal Party. Following the end of the 1950s, the Istiqlal Party experienced a major change its political make-up, Ben Barka, alongside close associates within the party, split from the group to form ‘in 1959 the Union Nationale des Forces Populaires’ (UNFP) (Hamarneh, n.d.
). Despite being viewed as a conservative and monarchical party, certain quarters of the group felt that the King was too involved in their decision-making hence the need ‘to impose on the Moroccan reality a radical change’ (Al Jabri, 1959). This created a period of tension and uneasiness in Moroccan politics, as it its dissident views were in direct opposition of the King’s. This also set a dangerous precedent for Ben Barka’s political career as he was exiled twice, had been sentenced to death by absentia twice and survived multiple assassination attempts prior to his abduction in 1965. This comes as a surprise, as the relationship between the two did not start in such bitter circumstances; a friendship has been retained between the two after the end of the then Prince’s time at Collège Royal (Almiraat, 2010).
It has sparked many conspiracy theories regarding his disappearance including the making of Modiano’s novel The Black Notebook as still to this day, investigations are ongoing. Due to the sensitivity of the affair and France’s determination to maintain a ‘special relationship’ with its former colony, it has raised concerns over its seemingly apathetic approach, with Bachir (the son of Mehdi Ben Barka), still seeking closure after 45 years of uncertainty (Calcutt, 2010a). With various theories and conclusions over his disappearance, Modiano (2012) had used his book to explore the affair from a fictional standpoint, stating that names, characters and places in the novel were used ‘fictitiously’, and that any resemblance to the real world is ‘purely coincidental’.
However, the mystery surrounding Aghamouri’ s disappearance (Modiano’s fictional caricature) is indirect contrast of Ben Barka’s. The novelist may have done it this way the ire of French/Moroccan political figures as it ‘recalls the difficult years under former King Hassan II’ (Calcutt, 2010b) whilst covertly disclosing his opinions on the matter and reigniting public interest. The affair had seemingly strained relations between the then King and Charles de Gaulle, with the latter referring to him as a ‘trou du cul’ (Bencherif, 2017) following Ben Barka’s disappearanceAs Ben Barka’s political stock grew, so did the ire of the King. The Istiqlal movement regularly experienced police resistance due to their direct opposition and undermining of monarchical influence. However, Morocco entered a difficult period economically and politically following decolonisation from France in 1956. Moreover, the Istiqlal party had become a political opponent despite having worked together with the Royal Family to claim Morocco’s independence.
Parallel to his ascension to the throne in 1961, the leftist movement had questioned his ‘lack of legitimacy in comparison to his father’s reign’ (Benmoussa, 2014). On top of that, they were unimpressed with his lack of effort to reclaim territories that were lost during the colonial era. With this in mind, the Moroccan royal knew that his image with the general public was suffering as a result and changes were necessary. In response to his declining image and to compete politically, he issued a new constitution, developed judicial laws and called for a general election in an effort to democratise the state and boost morale.
Moreover, the king formed a new party the FDIC (Front for the Defence of Constitutional Institutions) and took control of another, the Popular Movement in an attempt to monopolise political influence in the country. In spite of the popularity that monarchy managed to attain during the forthcoming elections, it was newly formed UNFP that came out the victor alongside various other leftist parties like the Istiqlal movement, accumulating 56.5% of the voting public. Unsatisfied with the outcome, King Hassan declared political war with his opponents, issuing arrest warrants for various opposition leaders.
This led Ben Barka fleeing the country to Algeria, in the process becoming a political asylum seeker. Like Morocco, Algeria were going through a similar transitional phase of decolonisation. Though, the circumstances were quite different as unlike the former, the latter had just ended a war on its independence against the French sovereignty, and suffered heavily as a result. Ben Barka knew of this and openly emphasised with their cause.