Thirty-two years ago, Ahmed Balafrej passed away. Resistance fighter from the beginning, founder of the first non-colonial bilingual Moroccan school, historical writer of the Independence Manifesto, first secretary general of the Istiqlal Party, founder and first editor-in-chief of the daily newspaper Al Alam, negotiator in the shadow of independence, first head of diplomacy and president of the Council of the first and only fully Istiqlalist government, Balafrej is undoubtedly one of the Founding Fathers of post-colonial modern Morocco.
An outstanding academic career
A descendant of the Muslim hornacheros from Extremadura who found refuge in Rabat after the Reconquista in 1610, Ahmed Balafrej was born in 1908, in the medina of Rabat, into a family of notables. A lineage that will allow him to integrate the school of the notables of Bab Laâlou, before integrating the Muslim College of Rabat which will become the Moulay Youssef high school where he pursues his secondary studies. As a result of the Protectorate, he was forced to go into exile in France at an early age in order to obtain his baccalaureate from the Lycée Henri-IV in Paris.
Once the precious sesame was obtained, he moved to Cairo in 1927 where he deepened his Arabic studies at the University Fouad I of Cairo, before returning to Paris where he joined the Sorbonne to obtain a degree in literature and a diploma in political science between 1928 and 1932. This was a pivotal period for Balafrej during which he built his national consciousness and laid the foundation for his future commitment. In 1926, Balafrej founded the Society of Friends of Truth in Rabat, a political debating club that was among the first nationalist organizations in the Kingdom.
A year later, he participated in the creation in Paris of the Association of North African Muslim Students in France (AEMNAF) with Mohamed Hassan Ouazzani. They were later joined by other emblematic figures such as Mohamed El Fassi and Abdelkhalek Torres. Like a good number of independence activists, the episode of the Berber Dahir in 1930 represented a turning point for Ahmed Balafrej. Although he was living in France at the time of the events, he took advantage of his distance to serve as an international spokesperson for the protest movement that was in full swing in Morocco, particularly in the mosques.
In addition to representing one of his first diplomatic actions, this episode will allow him to get in touch with the Emir Chekib Arsalan, emblematic figure of the Nahda established in Switzerland. The current passes immediately between the young Moroccan militant and the Druze emir, who will bind friendship. Arsalan quickly became one of the main international supporters of the protest movement against the Berber Dahir and one of the architects of the union between nationalists of the North and South of the Kingdom. Balafrej creates in the wake, with Mohamed Lyazidi, the rbatie section of the Moroccan Action Committee (CAM). The CAM which gathers young urban nationalists will be the core of the future Moroccan nationalist movement.
He became secretary general of the CAM network in February 1937, before it was banned by the colonial authorities a few months later. A reaction of the protectorate which did not prevent Balafrej from organizing, in April of the same year, the clandestine congress of the “National Party”. 1937 represents, moreover, the year when the total rupture will be consummated between the protectorate and the nationalists. The latter henceforth aimed at the end of the foreign occupation and the total independence of the Kingdom and abandoned the option of sharing power with the colonial authorities, notably following the arrest and banishment of the movement’s leaders, such as the forced exile of Allal El Fassi in Gabon for 9 years.
Two years later, the outbreak of the Second World War and the collapse of France in the face of the German Blitzkrieg in 1940 swept away the status quo and considerably shook the balance of the colonial powers. Based in Tangier during the Battle of France, he witnessed the invasion of the city under international status by the Franco regime, which took advantage of the chaos in Europe to complete its control over the Mediterranean coast in June 1940. The man who was to become the future Minister of Foreign Affairs opposed any alliance with the Nazi regime at an early stage.
Four years later, seeing the decolonization movement coming and the end of the era of empires, Balafrej took action and drafted the Independence Manifesto, which was signed on January 11, 1944 by 67 other nationalist leaders. This historic event represented the founding act of the Istiqlal Party, of which Balafrej became the first secretary general. The Manifesto was submitted to Sultan Mohammed V and led to his arrest by the colonial authorities and his exile in Corsica in May 1944.
He was amnestied at the end of the war and was allowed to return to Morocco in June 1946. Three months later, he founded the daily Al Alam, of which he was the first editor-in-chief. A year later, he took up his pilgrim’s staff again, settling in Madrid from where he defended the cause of independence by leading a diplomatic campaign in the United States, Switzerland, France and Spain.
One of his main achievements was the establishment of the “Moroccan Information and Documentation Office” in New York. This American antenna will allow Balafrej to implement an intense lobbying effort to convince Washington to push Paris and Madrid to abandon their protectorate. One of the main challenges that the unofficial diplomat was able to face with brilliance was to convince the American authorities of the capacities of an independent Moroccan power to defend their interests in the Strait of Gibraltar, in the middle of the Cold War.
At independence, it is quite natural that he becomes the first Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Kingdom. Founder of Moroccan diplomacy, he began by dissociating the MAE from any influence of the Quai d’Orsay with the signing of the Franco-Moroccan convention of May 20, 1956. Balafrej was also at the forefront of negotiations for the liberation of Tarfaya and the return of Tangier to Moroccan sovereignty.
The challenge of independence
He then set about creating a network of Moroccan embassies and consulates and integrating the Kingdom into the major international organizations (UN, League of Arab States and Organization of African Unity) in July 1956. Two years later, he succeeded M’barek Bekkaï as President of the Council and headed the first and only 100% Istiqlali government. Until his resignation in December 1958, he redoubled his efforts to lay the foundations of a constitutional monarchy in Morocco.
After a period of inactivity, he returned to the head of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 1962 before being appointed the King’s personal representative from 1963 to 1972. Following the arrest of one of his children on the orders of General Oufkir in 1972, Ahmed Balafrej resigned from all his official functions and retired from political life, before passing away in May 1990 in Rabat.