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The Years of Lead (Template:Lang-ar) is the term used especially by former opponents to the rule of King Hassan II of Morocco to describe a period of his rule (mainly the 1960s through the 1980s) marked by state violence against dissidents and democracy activists.


Hassan II was king from 1961 until 1999. His reign was marked by political unrest and a heavy-handed government response to criticism and opposition. While some perceive the Years of Lead to have begun with Moroccan independence in 1956 under Mohammed V, political oppression plateaued in the 1960s and wound down only in the early 1990s.

During the 1990s, Morocco experienced a slow but notable improvement in its political climate and human rights situation. The pace of reform accelerated with the accession to the throne of Mohammed VI in 1999.

Repression and its victims

During the Years of Lead, dissidents were arrested, executed or "disappeared", newspapers were closed and books were banned. There are few reliable lists of victims for the time, but there were hundreds of political killings and forced disappearances. Arbitrary arrests and torture affected many, including some of those outside the usual opposition networks.

Some examples of government repression include:

  • Targeting of dissidents. Opposition politics was a life-threatening activity in Morocco during the low points of the Years of Lead. Harassment of dissidents was commonplace and several outspoken anti-government activists were jailed or forcibly disappeared by government forces or died mysteriously. Mehdi Ben Barka, founder of the National Union of Popular Forces (UNFP) and leader of the Tricontinental Conference which was supposed to unite anti-colonialist movements through-out the world independently of Moscow and Washington, "disappeared" in Paris in 1965. This led to the resignation of the prefect of Paris, Maurice Papon. Abraham Serfaty, for his part, was imprisoned 17 years and then exiled by Hassan II upon his liberation in September 1991.
  • Crackdowns on protesters. Hundreds were killed and thousands arrested in connection with demonstrations and politicized labor strikes against the government. Protest rioting became so intense during some years in the 1970s that tanks occasionally patrolled the streets of major Moroccan cities[citation needed]. Casualties among demonstrators occurred in Casablanca in 1981 and in Fes in 1990.
  • Purges of the army. After the attempted military coups against the king in 1971 and 1972, officers and other involved putschists were rounded up and sent to secret detention camps such as Tazmamart, where many died. Mohamed Oufkir, Hassan II's right-hand man in the 1960s, convicted in France for the assassination of Mehdi Ben Barka, was himself executed in 1972 after a failed coup attempt.
  • Western Sahara. In 1975, Morocco annexed Western Sahara (then Spanish Sahara) during the Green March. While the nationalist sentiment this engendered helped cool political tension in Morocco proper, the conflict led to hundreds of killed and disappearances among the Sahrawi population. Alleged human rights abuses are denounced by international organizations to this day.
  • Rif Wars. In 1958-59, the Moroccan army fought rebellious Berber tribes in the Rif mountains that resented the Alaouite Dynasty's rule. The uprisings were harshly put down with thousands of casualties. Including these events as forming part of the "Years of Lead" would greatly increase the figures concerning victims. The Rif mountains continue to be semi-autonomous, with the main hashish crop taxed, but not otherwise controlled.
  • The Michelin map of Morocco was banned, since it did not show the government-approved boundary between Morocco and Algeria (three towns on the border are disputed). Historical books such as Lords of the Atlas: The Rise and Fall of the House of Glaoua 1893-1956 by Gavin Maxwell [1] were considered subversive and could not be imported legally.

ERC: Looking into the past

As the more liberal-minded Mohammed VI succeeded his father on the throne in 1999, the period was definitely over. While Morocco is still not considered a democracy in the western meaning of the term and human rights abuses still frequently occur according to rights groups (especially against suspected Islamists and Sahrawi independence seekers)[2][3], important reforms have been instituted to examine past abuses. The press is considerably freer than before and debate on many subjects is intense, although the Monarchy, Political Islam and Western Sahara remain more or less untouchable. Parliament still holds no power over the King, but elections are semi-fair, whereas they were blatantly rigged or suspended for many years during the 1970s and 1980s. Several independent human rights organizations have formed to investigate the impact of state repression during the years of rule and to press claims for damages suffered.

One of the most significant developments was the setting up of the Equity and Reconciliation Commission (ERC, French acronym IER) in January 2004. The ERC is an official government human rights committee authorized to examine human rights abuses committed by the government and administer compensations for victims of unfair policies. While this is almost unprecedented in the Arab world, the ERC's actual independence from the current administration and its ability to reach culprits in the Moroccan elite, known as the "makhzen", has been seriously disputed. The ERC is not mandated to identify or prosecute discovered human rights offenders and there has been no trials against government employees for their actions during the Years of Lead.[4] The situation in Western Sahara, a neighbouring territory that was controversially militarily annexed by Morocco in the 1970s, has been mentioned by rights groups as especially serious. There are complaints that the ERC either cannot or will not examine the cases of disappeared or killed Sahrawis with the same forcefulness as with Moroccans.[5]

On January 6, 2006, King Mohammed VI regretted human rights abuses during his father's reign and called for drawing lessons from the past. [6]

External links

Further reading

See also

ar:سنوات الرصاص es:Años de plomo (Marruecos) fr:Années de plomb au Maroc it:Anni di piombo (Marocco) de:bleierne Jahre (Marokkoo)

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