Mr. President, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Circumstances are such that the roundtable on the nationalist movement in Salé organized by the Bou Regreg Association with collaboration from the University Institute of Scientific Research coincides with the release of this new publication about Said Hajji for whom we celebrate the sixtieth anniversary of the day he passed away.
It is hoped that this work will be favorable to those who at heart wish to resuscitate this city's past; one which is fertile with acts of bravery and a city which has always been considered a focal site of the resistance against foreign predatory acquisition and one that recognizes the glory of its valiant defenders of the country.
Allow me to express, to the president of the Bou Regreg Association as well as to its executives and to all its active members, my deepest congratulations and to convey the very high esteem I have for their collective and individual distinguished activities on behalf of our ancient city.
I also would like to express my warmest gratitude to have been offered a precious opportunity to recall the role played by Said Hajji in the 1930s within the framework of the National Movement that this roundtable will address with regards to this movement's activities in the city of Salé.
In the name of the family of the dearly departed Said, represented here by my uncle Abdelkrim, another key figure of the National Movement, we are pleased to express our gratitude to their common friend, Abou Bakr Kadiri, for his refined and moving words in his speech at the opening session on behalf of his two companions in the struggle. For they all were amongst the first to strive for the triumph of our nationalist identity.
My speech will evolve around three principal axes:
The first axis will highlight the objective I sought to achieve by publishing this book about Said Hajji.
The second axis will allow me to review the major stages in the activist life of the deceased.
Along the third axis I will explore the motives that drove Said in 1937 to undertake a number of initiatives to get out of the crisis resulting from the arrest of the leaders of the National Party to which he was affiliated.
The first axis provides me the opportunity to speak to you about this book that I titled, Said Hajji, Birth of the Moroccan Arab Press, whose purpose by pure coincidental luck fits right in the thematic heart of this roundtable. For it brings us back to the third decade of the twentieth century that saw the birth of the National Movement following the outburst in Salé of acts of protest against the Berber Decree. You all are aware that the National Movement was transformed into the National Action Committee then into the National Party following the split that led to the birth of (another) nationalist movement called the Haraka Qawmiya (Nationalist Movement).
Although it did not see the light of day until sixty years after Said Hajji's passing, this book aims above all else to revive the memory of a man who left us in the full bloom of life and whose death was considered an irreparable loss for Morocco and its youth. In addition the book tends to give the current generation a better understanding of the role the deceased played on both the political and cultural fronts.
The current young generation have grounds to ask who was Said Hajji for they did not have the privilege to experience the struggle waged by their elders to recover the dignity of the Moroccan nation which was fully ridiculed during the era of the protectorate. And they can question the objective of a book that takes us back to a bygone period that has fallen into neglect even among friends and life companions of the deceased. The latter had even vowed to "keep recalling him in their memory, to relive at each moment his thoughts, his activities, his acts and his words."
It is true that in 1979, a biography about Said Hajji was published thanks to the efforts of the great patriot Abou Bakr Kadiri who took advantage of his personal archives as well as the documents provided to him by the deceased's family to successfully complete the task he had proposed to accomplish.
This publication was followed by a second volume published in 1982 that was totally dedicated to a selection of articles and various other written work. These volumes were practically the only references that provided a global overview on Said's life and his literary, political and journalistic activities.
We must also mention the poems and panegyrics orated during commemorative ceremonies (in honer of Said) as well as eulogies that were composed from time to time in memory of the departed by all those who knew him well and saw in him a pioneer of a free national press. These (comrades) had fought to regain their country's despoiled rights and raise its moral and material well being. Kacem Zhiri is a case in point; he was a close friend of Said and a trusted repository for much of Said's personal and secret matters. He earned the second leadership spot behind Said in managing the Al Maghrib newspaper and its literary supplement before succeeding him in this task after Said passed away.
If I may, I would also like to mention that several articles and studies were published from time to time by the national press. In particular I cite here the well documented study by Abdessamad Al Achab titled Studies of the Moroccan National Press which were published in six or seven editions of the daily newspaper, Al Alam, and also the article by Baâmrani published in Al Ittihad Al Ichriraki under the title No Future Without Memory.
Such are the references to which it is appropriate to add those that we were able to gather such as the exchanges by mail and articles we were able to use to complete the missing pieces by combining excerpts from the Rabat National Library with those from other private institutions. The latter included the Abdallah Guennoun Institute in Tangiers which was of great help in the collection of material without which it would have been very difficult to carry out the research I set out to accomplish.
With that and after the passage of years and many pens running dry, I took the opportunity presented by the sixtieth year of the passing of the beloved Said to publish this book which I hope will revive the collective memory that appears to be fading with the years and decades gone by. My most dearest wish is that this new publication will allow the current young generation to become informed on what their predecessors achieved in terms of good deeds and the distinguished services they provided to their nation.
This book gives an overview on Said Hajji's life. The first section of the book tackles some of his literary work, a selection of his articles published in newspapers as well as some exchanges of correspondence that we were able to gather. The second section contains important elements of what was said or written related to him after he left us for the other world.
We decided to publish the two sections in one volume to facilitate further research and to acquiesce to the request of the deceased's family to do so in order to recalls this memorable period and to perpetuate the memory of one of its sons. He was their first to have used his words and pen in the service of the fight for public liberties and, in particular, for the freedom of the press. In addition he spared no effort to place our cultural revival on solid foundations and to disseminate his reform ideas across the nation.
The reader will observe how the deceased's personality developed. It will be obvious that Said Hajji's character was the fruit of his period, ripened on one hand by his family's influence on his moral and patriotic development and on the other hand by his detailed observations of the political, economic and social circumstances affecting all of Morocco.
This book which was published abroad and will soon be available in Morocco, will undoubtedly be a useful tool in the hands of all who are interested in studying the physical and moral causes that contributed to his development and his self-fulfillment. Otherwise it will be to say the least, difficult for them to uncover his experiences, his emotions, and his feelings during the revolutionary movement.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
the second axis that I mentioned earlier in this speech will allow me to give a bird's eye view on the key stages of Said's militant history.
Sixty years have passed since he rejoined his Lord, barely reaching the age of thirty. The love of country found in him at a very tender age a natural disposition that took root in his consciousness. His calls for sacrifice to defend the country and restore its liberty were loud and clear.
His father, Ahmed Ben Harti Hajji, was a very discerning person and an alert educator. He noted his son's abilities in all his undertakings and had the premonition that he was like a sprouting grain of wheat whose time for harvesting was not far away. So he allowed him to attend the receptions he held with well educated notables.
These gatherings permitted him to listen to their informal discussions. He enjoyed so much hearing exchanges of views amid these older people that they referred to him as "a youth amongst the adults" while his friends of the same age reversed the formula and described him as "an adult amongst the youth" because the mature thinking and deep reflection that characterized his behavior were rarely found together in youths of his generation.
Said saw in his eldest brother, Abderrahman, a role model to follow because his political acumen earned him the name, "Zaghloul of Morocco" (Saad Zaghloul was an Egyptian statesman and militant hero who spoke out against British occupation around 1918). Among the events that remained engraved in his memory, Said always remembered the demonstration his brother initiated in 1919 only seven years after the protectorate treaty was implemented. His brother called upon the people of Salé,to take part in the demonstration to express their solidarity with the previous Pasha who was exiled for opposing a new tax introduced by the colonial power that hit hard the small merchants and craftsmen of the city.
This demonstration, which was the first to be organized during the protectorate period, earned its instigator an arrest and he was forcibly put in jail where he served a prison sentence of two full weeks.
When the Rif rebellion broke out in 1921 while Said was only nine years old, his admiration for his brother doubled because of his open support for Abdelkrim Khattabi, the Rifian chieftan. Here is what the historian, Mohammed Zniber has to say about this matter:
"We observed his profound sympathy for the Rifian rebellion. He exchanged several letters with its principal leaders. Abdelkrim wrote him or had a letter written to encourage him which incited him to think deeply about the best way to support the war for liberation that was waged in the Rif mountains. He said, referring to his home, This big house could be converted into a clinic to treat the wounded. The adjoining house could be used to recruit volunteers..."
Said was barely fourteen years old when the war in the Rif ended with the defeat of Abdlekrim.The tragic unfolding of the Rifian epic was described in a poem that resonated with his patriotism when he witness how his oldest brother was astonished by the surrender of the Rifian hero who once appeared invincible. The poem ends with these verses that bear testimony to the total allegiance of the Moroccan people to the cause for which the Rifian rebels fought the coalition of European powers:
All parties supported you of their own accord
Barring passage to renegade,impostor, all of ill repute.
From the far ends of meadows each tribe did ford
As orderly troops they honored you with their salute.
Under your bright leadership they came on board
In turmoil, yet preferred death to shame with no dispute.
In 1928 at the age of eighteen, Said established an association whose members besides his brother Abdelkrim, included the beloved Mohammed Hassar, Abou Bakr Kadiri, Haj Haj Ahmed Maâninou and Mohammed Chmaou. Among the principal goals it set for itself, this association sought to go after those means that would raise the consciousness of the youth, and that of people in the liberal professions, as well as in the working class and in all the social classes. It is worthwhile to note that this association released a series of newspapers, all hand written, whose management was entrusted to Said. These papers are Al Widad which was a weekly, Al Widad Monthly which had twenty four pages, the school weekly Al Watan where he dealt with youth and education issues and finally an Illustrated Magazine, with photos of the week that were of political, cultural and artistic merit.
When the Literary Club of Salé was created, Said found it to be an ideal forum for awakening the sleepy and to stimulate the enthusiasts. He chose to use literary conferences as a tool to raise people's consciousness. In one of his talks called The Revival of Arabic Literature he insisted on the need to establish a (friendly) competition between the Arab countries with respect to literature and culture. Other topics of his directed attention to social issues including one interesting talk that should be mentioned titled Morocco as seen by the Middle Eastern Arab World where he lambasted the distorted image of Moroccans held by eastern Arabs.
In 1930, Said and his brother Abdelkrim were preparing to leave for the Middle East in order to pursue their studies at the Islamic Institute in Nablus. However their intervention in the Berber issue and the primary role they played in it consequently led to their interdiction from leaving the country. This measure was not raised until the end of November of that year. So what crime did they commit that forced them to stay under house arrest throughout that period?
When Abdellatif Sbihi, who worked in the worked in the Department of Studies and Legal Documentation of the Bureau of Cheriffian Affairs, became aware of the contents of the Berber Decree, he immediately met with a group of youth in Salé to inform them of the infernal plan conjured up by the protectorate authorities. The decree would create a split between nationals of Arab origin with those of their compatriots of Berber descent. This plan would prevent the Berbers from learning the Arab language and from have recourse to the Islamic based laws so as to be subjected once again to customary law that existed before the arrival of Islam.
That was when Abdelkrim took the initiative to organize a protest movement. The details of this account were given to me directly by the said person. The idea that came to his mind aimed at mobilizing the inhabitants of Salé to invoke the assistance of God in order rid them of this calamity that has befallen them with the announcement of the aforementioned decree.
He took his pilgrim's staff and began to pace back and forth the alleys of the city going from one Koranic school or mosque to the next to request the Imams to recite the Latif prayer explaining to them that Islam was threatened and it was necessary to implore the Lord to spare us from the catastrophic menace to our national and religious identity.
Then he began to invite the faithful public to go in large numbers to the Great Mosque of Salé to the next Friday prayers. The Imams contacted by Abdelkrim responded to his request by having their pupils proclaim the Latif prayer in all the Koranic schools. And when Friday arrived, the Great Mosque was fully packed and the prayer was recited and repeated in unison in an aroused atmosphere.
Imam Bensaid and the Hajji brothers were summoned to the office of the Comptroller of Civil Order and news of their interrogation spread to the four corners of the city where the decree of May 16 became the unique preoccupation in the minds of the public. One began to encourage others to attend each Friday prayers at the Great Mosque to recite the Latif prayer. Exacerbated, the Comptroller of Civil Order requested the Pasha of the city to arrest those at fault for creating disorder. And that is how Said and Abdelkrim Hajji were arrested and taken to jail accompanied by Mohammed Hassar, Mohammed Chmaou, Abdelkrim Sabounji and Abdeslam Aouad.
It is heartening to notice that this modest sized city was the first of all the Moroccan cities to have triggered the movement that gave birth to a true awakening of the political consciousness, not only at the local level but also at the national because the act they initiated was repeated in the same manner across all the mosques in all the big cities. The protest movement did not take long to win over the Arab and Islamic world thanks to the efforts by the Hajji brothers and by members of the Moroccan students in the Middle East to defame the colonial policy the protectorate authority was imposing on our country.
It is incumbent on all interested in the history of the national movement in this country to analyze it impartially and to proceed to evaluate the events so as to render on to Cesar what is Cesar's and onto God what is God's. It is therefore essential to underline certain facts that must be considered in writing our contemporary history to give justice to everyone according to their merit and effective contribution to the national cause.
Along the lines of these thoughts, one could consider Abdelkrim Hajji as the soul of the movement, thanks to his courageous initiative to make the popular masses aware of the misdeeds of blind colonialism and its true intentions. Abdelkrim found in his young brother, Said, the right hand man to carry out the protest movement he initiated. That alone is sufficient to have their names inscribed in the book on Moroccan nationalism given moreover that is precisely this resistance against the Berber decree that is the origin of the birth of the Moroccan National Movement.
The commemoration each year of the fight against the decree of May 16, 1930 has been marked by periodic meetings. The Hajji brothers took advantage of the summer vacations (during their studies abroad) to actively participate in these meetings which became weekly. Their outcome was made concrete in 1932 when the cornerstone of an organized National Movement party was established and a pact was adopted (by its members) to organize activities and to put into action thsoe means to achieve well defined objectives.
One day when he was in Damascus, Said was informed about a project submitted by Mohammed Hassar, a young patriot from Salé, to the executive committee of the National Movement to put together a comprehensive list of grievances of the Moroccan people.
Upon his return to Moroccan in early summer of 1933, he was asked to join to a small group consisting of Mohammed El Yazidi, Haj Omst Ben Abdeljalil and Haj Hassan Bouâyad to draft a list of grievances. For forty days meetings were held in absolute secrecy and stopped at the end of the summer. They were resumed only after the events on May 1934.
Moreover here is what Abou Bakr Kadiri said in his memoirs about the Reform Plan that led to many erroneous commentaries most notably with respect to the authorship of the document:
"In reality all measures were undertaken in secret and only a few we aware of what was being done with the end result being the peddling of versions that had nothing to do with reality, each taking credit. However, in the interest of fairness we must wrong no one of his right and that right imposes on us to not repudiate our brothers in the struggle who have died and who have made great sacrifices in their endeavors for the nation. We owe them all our gratitude even if they at times have different views and take different political courses."
And the author of the aforementioned Memoirs continues:
"I think that those who tackled this topic did so according to their viewpoint and omitted to document accurately a number of historical facts as they unfolded. However irrespective of the circumstances, I must report here events conceived or realized as I lived them or as I participated in them be it up close or far away."
After describing the circumstances and revealing the reasons that drove the drafting of the list of grievances that the National Action Committee presented to the authorities, the author of the memoirs explained how and by whom it was written. He denied allegations that the document was first written in French and then translated into Arabic when in fact it was the inverse that occurred with almost a lapse of two months between the two versions. And Abou Bakr Kadiri attested:
"The grievances were first written in Arabic then translated into French. I can attest to this because, although I did not contribute to the drafting of the list, I followed closely the discussions about them and I read regularly the corrections and revisions that were brought to bear on the list."
When the National Action Committee was banned, its executive leaders created the National Party. However this newly constituted entity was preceded by a split within the ranks of the Moroccan nationalists. One of its leaders, Mohammed Ben Hassan Wazzani decided to challenge the election of Allal El Fassi to head the new political organization that was being developed. Wazzani set up with his sympathizers a new autonomous nationalist movement that he would lead under the name Haraka Qawmiya.
Said and the nationalists from Salé headed by Abou Bakr Kadiri played the role of a good offices provider in attempt to convince the two parties to bypass personal issues so as to present a united, strong and common front to the colonial authority.
Unfortunately this effort failed and Said had no other choice but to side with one or the other and so he finished by deciding to stay with the group supporting Allal El Fassi and affirmed his affiliation with the National Party.
The Al Maghrib newspaper, which was still in its earliest days of release, was the first to publish the communique of the newly formed political organization.
In October of 1937, the new party held its first annual congress in Rabat chaired by its president, Allal El Fassi, who delivered a moving speech on this occasion in which he revealed the deplorable general state of affairs of the country.
He then ceded the podium to Said Hajji who spoke on behalf of the Salé branch of the party sharing with the attendees his pride to see the Moroccan people act with courage and determination in its fight for liberty.
"Today, what we are facing, " he said, "is the price we must pay to resolve our grievances."
Omar Ben Abdeljalil spoke next on behalf of the Casablanca branch. The floor was ceded to Abou Bakr Kadiri who read the text of national pact submitted for approval of the congress, emphasizing the freedom of the press, the right to assemble and any cooperation with the prevailing authority will be contingent upon its renunciation of all impositions and stifling on (our) liberties as well as the start of addressing the most urgent grievances.
I now have arrived to the third axis intended to reveal the motives that drove Said to undertake a number of initiatives in order to get out of the crisis that National Party found itself in after all its leaders were arrested and sent into exile.
The National Pact, once approved by the party congress, was then presented to the French Resident General in Rabat. The reaction of the latter was immediate: calling for the arrest of party leader Allal El Fassi along with Mohammed El Yazidi, Mohammed Mekouar and Haj Omar Ben Abdeljalil.
Said was left alone on the field of battle, asking himself what role was incumbent upon him henceforth and what should be the strategy with respect to the protectorate authority in order to get them to change their policy and set free his imprisoned or exiled comrades. Faced with the political void left by the widespread campaign of arrests, Said found himself left with the following options:
Either he should respect the letter of the National Pact that stipulated in Article Seven that any dialogue with the government will not be renewed until they renounce the policy of political oppression and the stifling of liberties and were beginning to execute plans for urgent reform.
Or to take action to enable a favorable environment for achieving the National Pact's objective by opening up the door to dialogue with the protectorate authorities with the contingency that they change the colonialist strategy of oppressing the nationalists and recognize the legitimacy of the grievances in the party's Reform Plan with priority given to public liberties that were not accorded to the Moroccan people.
The first choice would lead, without a shadow of doubt, to continuation of the arbitrary and oppressive policy. There would be no change in the state of affairs, depriving the nation of the participation of its incarcerated leaders in the fight for liberty. Moreover it would keep the National Party's hands tied for Lord only knows how long before the protectorate shows it is ready to change tactics and take the steps necessary on its own towards a more open policy. Especially since it knows that it will not have someone credible to start talking with. Said deemed that success with this scene could only be conceived in an imaginary world and would never happen on its own in the real world.
So what was left was the second alternative which Abou Bakr Kadiri called a "dangerous turn on the road." It is precisely this turn Said took braving all the dangers he was exposing himself to but counting on his ingenuity to be able to see far ahead.
After careful evaluation of the political state of affairs, he took responsibility by deciding to exploit conflicts within the protectorate. On one hand a change made by the French Resident General to the practice of persecutions had made him a target of a vast publicity campaign orchestrated against him by political circles in France that almost cost him his job. On the other hand he had a difference of opinion that led to a confrontation with the Bureau of Indigenous Affairs (led by French colonialists). The latter supported maintaining the policy of repression and incited those who sought to undermine the nationalists to take action so as to exploit to their advantage the tension that would ensue.
When Said became aware that General Noguès wanted to find a solution to the crisis, Said took into consideration all the information that contributed to creating the tension in which the Resident General found himself so that he could best exploit the campaign against him. He thought the moment was right to open discussions with the colonial administration to the benefit of the National Party through its representatives abroad under the guidance by the great patriot Ahmed Balafrej.
The meeting minutes reveal that French side was disposed to begin acting on a number of complaints from the list of grievances such as reforming the administrative structures; including the reforms to the educational sector, agricultural reforms which called for the distribution of patches of land to Moroccan farmers and a more effective protection of land ownership, improvements in the working conditions in the industrial and craftsman sectors, authorizations to allow groups to form associations, the lifting of the censure placed on the Moroccan national press and the freeing of incarcerated or exiled patriots so as to abate the crisis and stabilize the political state of affairs.
Said made sure to clarify that each item in the meeting minutes would be considered a work in progress and that he would need to travel to Switzerland to present them for approval of one of the principal leaders living abroad, which in this case was Ahmed Balafrej.
He was authorized to go to Geneva to make Ahmed Balafrej aware of all the details of his discussions with the Resident General. When he arrived he found that Balafrej was in a clinic and due for surgery so he would not be able to speak to him directly. However he was able to meet with Emir Chakib Arsalane, a friend of both Said and the bedridden leader, and moreover a person who supported unconditionally the Moroccan cause that he defended vehemently around the Arab and Islamic world. After four hours of discussion, Said asked him to inform Balafrej about the objective of his mission to Switzerland and to contact Said after he leaves the clinic to give him his comments and what decision he judges useful that Said should take with regards to the discussions in Rabat.
Balafrej later engaged in very detailed correspondence exchanges with Said with regards to his discussions in Rabat, asking for clarifications on certain items and advising him to be vigilant and to reserve any judgement on others. Eventually after the exchange of information and a detailed review of the facts submitted for his evaluation, Balafrej approved the audacious path taken by Said on his own which for sure led to alleviating the punishments endured by the political detainees contrary to what others have written on this matter.
So how was it possible to state that Said went to Geneva only to justify the position he took, as some have alleged, when the National Party as Dr. Mohammed Zniber confirmed, had decided to engage in the same direction by forming a committee consisting of Abou Bakr Kadiri, Fqih Ghazi and Said Hajji to get in contact with General Nogues so as to open a new era of dialogue between the French administration and the nationalists? In fact this direction was described as 'the natural result of a practical reflection.
Hence the eldest brother of Said Hajji, Abderrahman Hajji, had reason to state:
Barely they see a gentleman builder suddenly come around
Then behind him a thousand and one demolishers abound.
On this same theme, well before the aforementioned poet, an ancient one wrote
When will this building ever be terminated?
If what you erect is, by others eliminated?
Sleep a just sleep, Said and know that the Lord who never sleeps watches over you. May the following wise words express a deep thought such as those that always occupied your mind:
"To teach oneself it suffices to draw from your experiences and to not neglect the warnings and vicissitudes with the passage of time."