Born on March 2, 1912 in Salé, Morroco, a few weeks before the signing of the Treaty of Fez which established French protectorate control over the country, Said Hajji was called upon at a very early age to nurture patriotic aspirations that compelled him to do all he could to liberate his homeland from foreign occupation.
As a member of a patriotic family, he knew he was undertaking a sacred mission following in the footsteps of a family lineage stretching all the way back to his forbearer Sidi Ahmad Hajji. The latter was a great warrior who settled in Sale at the end of the 17th century after liberating Mehdia from Spanish occupation and delivering the city keys to Sultan Moulay Ismael.
Said's nationalism was manifested at age 16 via journalism, the only means at his disposal to denounce and refute the prevailing colonial hegemony. But because of the lack of an established communication media in Arabic to facilitate the propagation of thought and opinion, Said founded his own fully handwritten newspaper and made hundreds of copies that he distributed to all the main cities in Morocco. It was through his newspaper, titled "Al Widad" that he was able to give free reign to his will to express and share his views with his readers on a Morocco he envisioned as a free country, open to progress and open to the modern world.
However it was not until the early 1930s that Said Hajji put himself in the front lines of national politics by participating in the movement to reject the Berber Dahir promulgated on May 16, 1930. The Dahir imposed a strict legal separation between the Arab Muslim community and the indigenous Berber tribes by submitting the latter to a unique judicial code based on customary law and excluded all references to the principles of Islamic law.
This fiercely hostile decree imposed by the French Protectorate administration on the Berber community, led him to postpone his planned departure from the homeland at a time when he was readying himself to go to the Middle East to pursue his studies of higher learning.
When this measure was finally revoked in November of the same year, Said embarked on a journey to Beirut, Nablus and finally Damascus, transforming his living quarters in each city into a public relations bureau advocating the Moroccan cause. He proceeded to distribute detailed reports regularly to the leading press agencies of the region exposing the misdeeds of French colonialism in Morocco.
In 1933 he was requested to join a chartered committee to develop an official report on all social grievances requiring immediate reform to meet Morocco's needs in order to elevate it to the rank of a nation worthy of its past history and fully in command of its political destiny.
In as much as he was the initiator of a significant portion of the grievances in the claims report drawn by the National Movement that was presented to His Majesty the Sultan as well as to the French government and to the French Resident General in Morocco, Said Hajji could hence be considered a true helmsman in the anticolonial struggle. In particular he was one of the first to have claimed on behalf of Moroccans the right to exercise the code of civil liberties especially with respect to the freedom of the press, free speech and the right to organize. These were either were nonexistent or totally scoffed at by the authorities..
Upon his return to Morocco in 1935, he immediately took his place amongst the leaders of the National Movement. He participated in all policy meetings of the movement, voiced his views in major reunions on politics and culture, and chaired conferences as well as thematic discussions on the diverse aspects of social life in Morocco. At the same time he also furnished a number of critical writings, philosophical essays and socio-politically inspired articles to Arabic magazines in Tangiers and the northern zone which was under guardianship of Spain.
During this same year, he filed a request for authorization to proceed in the editing of a publication titled "Marrakech". He explicitly specified that it would be exclusively dedicated to cultural events, emphasizing literary and artistic contributions. However this request was rejected without any due cause. Said Hajji, as project director, took the initiative to respond by sending the French Resident General at Rabat a letter of protest in which he vigorously expressed his regrets noting that France, a country based on the codes of Human Rights and Civil Liberties, tended to forget the most basic principles of tolerance and the respect of its own republican traditions for those under its protectorate.
In 1936, the leaders of the National Movement once again called on his services in the fight to implement civil liberties. Said participated in the workings of a chartered committee charged with entering in a dialogue with the French authorities of the protectorate on the implementation of the demands formulated in the claims report, and in particular those demands relative to the freedom of the press.
But faced with the intransigence of the "Bureau for Indigenous Affairs", the newly organized committee proceeded to criticize the authorities in a detailed document addressed to the Moroccan people. This communiqué provided a review of all the steps taken in attempt to implement in Morocco a code of civil liberties as well as the many roadblocks and uncompromising positions taken by the authorities.
Said Hajji went beyond this document's protest against the authorities and energized a comprehensive set of activities to test the rights of the press while taking into account the restrictions imposed by the prevailing legislation. This challenge became his pet project in all his endeavors including his subsequent speeches and political writings .
Then, due to favorable circumstances, partially tied to the rise to power of the Popular Front in France, and on the other hand due to a change in strategy (which intervened on the existing political course taken by the French authorities with respect to the National Movement) , a number of newspapers in Arabic were authorized to circulate. And so that is how the newspaper "Al Maghreb" founded by Said Hajji in 1937 saw the light of day; opening the way for the publication of a number of analyses and commentaries with the intent of enlightening public opinion on the political, social, economic, and cultural climate of the country.
And yet, it should be noted that the authorizations conceded to the national newspapers in Arabic were accompanied by draconian restrictions severely limiting the practice of journalism. These restrictions led from warnings to confiscation of entire editions in the event where the newspaper owners decided not to comply with orders to eliminate this or that article mentioned by the Censure Committee. Moreover the restrictions also led to criminal pursuit of some authors for subjects in which they espoused a view judged as unacceptable by the protectorate administration and often leading to prosecution by a military tribunal known for the extreme severity of its final verdicts.
Nevertheless, despite all the restrictions, the national press in Arabic was brought to existence. The realization of this event to which Said Hajji contributed significantly, can be considered a victory for the National Movement against its adversaries. In particular it was a victory against those who favored the republican values of France and whose numbers were in the thousands amongst the representatives of the established order.
Post scriptum: To learn more about the life and works of Said Hajji, please consult the work currently being published in Arabic under the title "Said Hajji - Pioneer of the National Moroccan Press in Arabic"