Travels in Morocco, by James Richardson

Chapter 1

Policy of the Court of Morocco. — Its strength. — Diplomatic Intercourse with England. — Distrust of Europeans. — Commercial Relations.

Morocco is the China of North Africa. The grand political maxim of the Shereefian Court is, the exclusion of strangers; to look upon all strangers with distrust and suspicion; and should they, at any time, attempt to explore the interior of Morocco, or any of the adjacent counties, to thwart and circumvent their enterprise, is a veritable feat of statesmanship in the opinion of the Shereefian Court. The assassination of Mr. Davidson, some years since, is an odious and enduring stigma on the Moorish Court, notwithstanding the various efforts which have been made to deny the personal responsibility of the Emperor in that transaction.

The Prince de Joinville was once going to open Morocco, as we opened China; but bullets and shot which his Royal Highness showered upon Tangier and Mogador, only closed faster the approaches and routes of this well-guarded empire — only more hermetically sealed the capitals of Fez and Morocco against the prying or morbid curiosity of the tourist, or the mappings and measurings of the political spy. The striking anecdote, illustrating the exclusive policy of the Maroquine Court, is familiar to all who have read the history of the Moorish Sultans of the Mugreb. Years ago, a European squadron threatened to bombard Tangier, unless their demands were instantly satisfied; and the then reigning Sultan sent down from Fez this imperial message:

“How much will the enemy give me if I myself burn to ashes my well-beloved city of Tangier? Tell the enemy, O governor of the mighty city of Tangier, that I can reduce this self-same city to a heap of smoking ruins, at a much cheaper rate than he can, with all his ships, his warlike machines, and his fighting men.”

The strength of Morocco lies in her internal cities, her inland population, and the natural difficulties of her territory; about her coast she cares little; but the French did not find this out till after their bombardments. The unwonted discovery led them afterwards to boast that they had at length opened Morocco by the other and opposite system of a pacific mission. The parties forming the mission, pretended to have obtained from the Emperor permission for Europeans “to travel in Morocco without let or hindrance whithersoever they will.” But the opposition press justly ridiculed the pretensions of the alleged concession, as the precarious and barren result of a mission costing several million of francs. Even an Englishman, but much more a Frenchman — and the latter is especially hated and dreaded in all the Maroquine provinces, would have considerably hesitated in placing confidence in the safe conduct of this jealous Court.

The spirit of the Christian West, which has invaded the most secret councils of the Eastern world, Persia, Turkey, and all the countries subjected to Ottoman rule, is still excluded by the haughty Shereefs of the Mahometan West. There is scarcely any communication between the port and the court of the Shereefs, and the two grand masters of orthodox Islamism, this of the West, and that of the East, are nearly strangers to each other.

All that Muley Errahman has to do with the East, appears to be to procure eunuchs and Abyssinian concubines for his harem from Egypt, and send forward his most faithful, or most rebellious subjects 2 on their pilgrimage to Mecca.

Englishmen are surprised, that the frequent visits and uninterrupted communications between Morocco and Gibraltar, during so long a period, should have produced scarcely a perceptible change in the minds of the Moors, and that Western Barbary should be a century behind Tunis. This circumstance certainly does not arise from any inherent inaptitude in the Moorish character to entertain friendly relations with Europeans, and can only have resulted from that crouching and subservient policy which the Gibraltar authorities have always judged it expedient to show towards the Maroquines.

Our diplomatic intercourse began with Morocco in the reign of Queen Elizabeth; and though on friendly terms more or less ever since, Englishmen have not yet obtained a recognised permission to travel in the interior of the country, without first specially applying to its Government. Our own countrymen know little of Morocco, or of its inhabitants, customs, laws, and government; and, though only five or six days sail from England, it must be regarded as an unknown and unexplored region to the mass of the English nation.

Nevertheless, in spite of the Maroquine Empire being the most conservative and unchangeable of all North African Mussulman states, and whilst, happily for itself, it has been allowed to pursue its course obscurely and noiselessly, without exciting particular attention in Europe, or being involved in the wars and commotions of European nations, Morocco is not, therefore, beyond the reach of changes and the ravages of time, nor exempt from that mutability which is impressed upon all sublunary states. The bombardments of Tangier and Mogador have left behind them traces not easily to be effaced. It was no ordinary event for Morocco to carry on hostilities with an European power.

The battle of Isly has deeply wounded the Shereefians, and incited the Mussulman heart to sullen and unquenchable revenge. A change has come over the Maroquine mind, which, as to its immediate effects, is evidently for the worst towards us Christians. The distrust of all Europeans, which existed before the French hostilities, is now enlarged to hatred, a feeling from which even the English are hardly excepted. Up to the last moment, the government and people of Morocco believed that England would never abandon them to their unscrupulous and ambitious neighbours.

The citizens and merchants of Mogador could not be brought to believe, or even to entertain the idea that the British ships of war would quietly look on, whilst the French — the great rivals and enemies of the English — destroyed their towns and batteries. Most manifest facts and stern realities dissipated, in an hour when they little thought of it, such a fond delusion. From that moment, the moral influence of England, once our boast, and not perhaps unreasonably so, was no longer felt in Morocco; and now we have lost almost all hold on the good wishes and faith of the Mussulman tribes of that immense country.

As to exploring the empire of Morocco, or making it the way of communication with Soudan or Central Negroland, this is now altogether impracticable. The difficulties of Europeans travelling the Maroquine States, always great and perilous, are now become nearly insuperable. This suspicious distrust, or ill-feeling has communicated itself contagiously to the tribes of the South as far as the Desert, and has infected other parts of Barbary. The Engleez, once the cherished friends of the Moors, are looked upon more or less as the abettors of French aggressions in North Africa, if not as the sharers with them of the spoil. In the language of the more plain-spoken Moors, “We always thought all Christians alike, though we often excepted the English from the number of our enemies, now we are certain we were wrong; the English are become as much our enemies as the French and the Spaniards.” The future alone can disclose what will be the particular result of this unfavourable feeling; both with respect to France and England, and to other European nations. However, we may look forward without misgiving. Islamism will wear itself out — the Crescent must wane.

In these preliminary observations, the commercial system of the Maroquine Court deserves especial mention. The great object of Muley Abd Errahman 3 is — nay, the pursuit of his whole life has been — to get the whole of the trade of the empire into his own hands. In fact, he has by this time virtually succeeded, though the thing is less ostentatiously done than by the Egyptian viceroy, that equally celebrated prince-merchant. In order to effect this, his Shereefian Majesty seeks to involve in debt all the merchants, natives, or foreigners, tempting them by the offer of profuse credit. As many of them as are needy and speculative, this imperial boon is without scruple greedily accepted. The Emperor likewise provides them with commodious houses and stores; gives them at once ten or twenty thousand dollars worth of credit, and is content to receive in return monthly instalments. These instalments never are, never can be regularly paid up. The debt progressively and indefinitely increases; and whilst they live like so many merchant-princes, carrying on an immense trade, they are in reality beggars and slaves of the Emperor. They are, however, styled imperial merchants, and wear their golden chains with ostentatious pride.

This credit costs his Shereetian Highness nothing; he gives no goods, advances no moneys, whilst he most effectually impoverishes and reduces to servitude the foreign merchant resident in his empire, never allowing him to visit his native country without the guarantee of leaving his wife and family behind as hostages for his return. The native merchant is, in all cases, absolutely at the mercy of his imperial lord. On the bombardment of Mogador, all the native and resident traders, not excepting the English merchants, were found overwhelmed with debt, and, therefore, were not allowed to leave the country; and they were only saved from the pillage and massacre of the ferocious Berber tribes by a miracle of good luck.

Since the bombardment of Mogador, the Emperor has more strongly than ever set his face against the establishment of strangers in his dominions. Now his Imperial Highness is anxious that all commerce should be transacted by his own subjects. The Emperor’s Jews are, in future, to be the principal medium of commerce between Morocco and Europe, which, indeed, is facilitated by many of the native Jews having direct relations with European Jews, those of London and Marseilles. In this way, the Maroquines will be relieved from the embarrassments occasioned by the presence of Europeans, Jews, or Christians, under the protection of foreign consuls. The Emperor, also, has a fair share of trade, and gets a good return on what he exports; the balance of commercial transactions is always in his favour.

I must add a word on the way of treating politically with the Court of Morocco. The modes and maxims of this Court, not unlike those of the Chinese, are procrastination, plausible delays, and voluminous despatches and communications, which are carried on through the hands of intermediaries and subordinate agents of every rank and degree. You can never communicate directly with the Emperor, as with other Barbary princes and pashas. This system has admirably and invariably succeeded for the last two or three centuries; that is to say, the empire of Morocco has remained intact by foreign influences, while its system of commerce has been an exclusive native monopoly. The Americans, however, have endeavoured to adopt a more expeditious mode of treating with the Maroquine Court. They have something, in the style and spirit of Lynch law, usually made their own demands and their own terms, by threatening the immediate withdrawal of their consul, or the bombardment of ports.

The Shereefs, thus intimidated, have yielded, though with a very bad grace. Nevertheless, the Americans have received no favours, nor have they obtained a nearer approach to the awful Shereefian presence than other people; and it is not likely they ever will succeed beyond their neighbours. The French and English have always negotiated and corresponded, corresponded and negotiated, and been worsted once and worsted again. Somehow or other, the Emperor has, in most cases, had his own way. Neither the American nor our own European system is the right or dignified course. And I am still of opinion, that the Maroquine Court is so far enlightened respecting the actual state of the barbarians or Christian infidels, out of its Shereefian land of Marabouts, out of its central orthodox Mussulman land of the Mugreb, as to be accessible to ordinary notions of things, and that it would always concede a just demand if it were rightly and vigorously pressed, and if the religious fanaticism of its people were not involved in the transaction. Thus far we may do justice to the government of these Moorish princes.

This opinion, however, does not altogether coincide with that of the late Mr. Hay. According to the report of Mr. Borrow, as found in his work, “The Bible of Spain,” the Moorish government, according to Mr. Hay, was “one of the vilest description, with which it was next to impossible to hold amicable relations, as it invariably acted with bad faith, and set at nought the most solemn treaties.” But, if the Maroquine Court had acted in this most extraordinary manner, surely there would now be no Moorish empire of Western Barbary.

2 It has always been the policy of Mahometan States to send their troublesome subjects, such as were not considered rebel enough to decapitate or to imprison, on a pilgrimage to Mecca. Instead of expiating the sins of a buoyant patriotism at the galleys or the Bermudas, they are sent to slake their patriotic ardour at the holy wells of El–Kaaba.

3 The late Emperor of Morocco.

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Last updated Thursday, March 6, 2014 at 15:33