King Hassan II of Morocco has announced that he personally will lead the march which he has called on his people to make into the Western Sahara.
King Hassan II of Morocco has announced that he personally will lead the march which he has called on his people to make into the Western Sahara. He wants 350,000 of them to enter the territory, now administered by Spain,peacefully,because he regards it as belonging to Morocco by right. But this is no more romantic crusade. Behind the king's claim lie hard economic facts. The Western Sahara, like Morocco, is rich in phosphates, which are much in demand for agricultural fertilisers. And if he controlled both territories, King Hassan would have a virtual monopoly of the World export market.
King Hassan,who is now 46, came to throne in March 1961, after the death of his father, King Mohammed. He promised at the time to transform Morocco into a constitutional monarchy,and has taken some step in that direction. His first new constitution, introduced in 1962, gave Morocco its first Parliament -- but he dissolved it two years later, and took over the government himself. Two more constitutions were approved by referendum,in 1970 and 1972. But since then, no general elections have been held, though the king has now promised them in twelve to eighteen months. In the meantime, many features of autocratic rule still persist.
At the same time, the King has used his powers to introduce a number of measures aimed at improving the conditions for his people. Land, much of it foreign-owned, has been distributed to peasant farmers. He has insisted that foreign businesses should be gradually brought under the control of Moroccans.
Twice, King Hassan has survived dramatic attempts on his life. In the first, in July 1971, two senior army officers used military cadets to attack the King's Palace during his birthday celebrations. The revolt was suppressed within twenty-four hours. Then, in August 1972, fighters of the Moroccan Air Force attacked the king's aircraft in the air. The minister of defence, General Qufkir, died immediately afterwards, apparently having committed suicide.
The king has had difficulties in his relations with some of the other North African states. He accused Libya of being concerned in the first of the two attacks on his life. And he had a long-standing border dispute with Algeria. This, however, was settled at the summit meeting of the Organisation of African Unity held in Rabat in 1972, at which king Hassan was also elected Chairman of the Organisation for the year.
Two years later, he also presided over the Arab Summit in Rabat, and he is credited with having persuaded King Hussein of Jordan to fall into line with the rest of the Arab world in recognising the Palestine Liberation Organisation as spokesman for all Palestinians.
Recently, the king has also taken steps to improve relations with France, which was the protecting power in Morocco until it became independent in 1956. These had suffered both from the "Ben Barka affair" in 1965, when a Moroccan party leader disappeared in France,and the French courts found General qufkir guilty of complicity in his absence;and from the effect of the king's land reforms and "Moroccanisation" policies on French-owned property. But the visit of President Giscard d'Estaing to Rabat in May of this year did much to restore good will between the two countries.
Now the king is at centre of the crisis about the western Sahara,involving Spain,Mauritania and Algeria as well as Morocco. He personally called for the massive march which is now gathering strength in southern Morocco. And, as he told the National Broadcasting Company of America this week, he personally intends to lead it: