The first football encounter between Morocco and its erstwhile colonizer, France, outside of practice matches and friendlies, will take place today in a Qatar World Cup semifinal. Relationships with the countries across the Mediterranean Sea, however, are complicated by their lengthy and complicated past and present.
Based on a French Statistics source, the number of Moroccan descents living in France exceeds 780,000 persons of in 2022. Additionally, it has become challenging for family in Morocco to meet them because of a current visa controversy.
The semifinal is likely to take place with French President Emmanuel Macron, whose administration imposed the discriminating visa rules, watching from the stands.
‘My Protectorate’; Colonization
The Moroccan team has over a century-long history to draw from should they require some extra motivation against France in their first World Cup face-off.
110 years earlier, France and Sultan Abdul Hafiz of Morocco agreed to the Treaty of Fes, recognizing Morocco as a French protectorate and beginning the years-long process of creating a colony there. France enlisted some 40 thousand Moroccan people to serve in its imperial military during WWI.
But as WWII progressed and other former European colonies earned their freedom, anticolonial hatred towards France grew. A Declaration of Independence for Morocco was published in 1944 by the newly founded Istiqlal (independence) Party.
French rulers brutally suppressed an anti-colonial rebellion in Casablanca in 1952. They outlawed the Moroccan Communist and Istiqlal factions and banished Sultan Mohamed V to Madagascar.
This action fueled colonial opposition even more, and France finally agreed to let Mohamed V back to the country. Three years after the suppression, the sultan proclaimed his country’s independence, and the French protectorate terminated a year later.
Following the country’s declaration of independence, a number of internal measures were put into place to aid in the removal of French hegemony while maintaining cordial ties with what remained an essential diplomatic and business ally.
Over half of foreign-owned businesses, the majority of which originated in France, were returned to Moroccan control as a result of a number of private sector structural adjustment implemented by King Hassan II in 1973.
The king adopted an Arabization agenda for the educational system in the 1980s, changing the medium of teaching from French to Arabic. The practice was changed for secondary school levels for unknown reasons.
France has continued to be Morocco’s key trading and investment partner and has made steps to maintain cordial ties as a result. These consist of a number of high-profile diplomatic encounters, such as the 2007 trip to Morocco by the then French President to supervise the commencement of the building of Al Boraq high-speed rail line, of which France was sponsoring a 51% share.
The two nations engaged in a friendly international football match in France in the same year. An interesting 2-2 was the score at game’s finish.
However, complicated relationships rarely take a direct route. After officials in Paris sought to investigate Abdellatif Hammouchi, the chief of Morocco’s internal spy agency, on charges of torture, Morocco terminated its judicial cooperation with France in 2014. Diplomatic tensions subsided and the nations’ collaboration restarted in 2015.
The issues, however, persist. Ties between the nations suffered in September last year after France stated it would decrease the number of visas granted to Moroccan and Algerian citizens by 50% and to Tunisians by 2/3.
The French administration said it was in retaliation for the governments of North Africa’s unwillingness to accept asylum applicants whom French officials had dispatched there.
The Wednesday match has got a history of political and civil overtones for Moroccan people. For a world in which Football is no less political than economy, France-Morocco match is of huge significance.