1971 Moroccan coup attempt
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|History of Morocco|
The 1971 Moroccan coup attempt or the Skhirat coup d'état (Arabic: محاولة انقلاب الصخيرات, Skhirat attempted coup d'état) was an unsuccessful attempt by rebel military leaders to assassinate King Hassan II of Morocco on 10 July 1971, the day of his forty-second birthday. It was the first of half a dozen other attempted coup d'état during the king's regime.
Lieutenant-colonel M'hamed Ababou with, and under the orders of General Mohamed Medbouh, were the main instigators of the attack on Hassan II's summer palace in Skhirat on the Atlantic coast, about 20 kilometres (12 mi) south of Rabat, and ordered the seizing of several key places in Rabat in order to establish a republic. The main motive was the unveiling of several occurrences of corruption inside the Moroccan government and royal family.
Background to coup attempt
At the time, Medbouh was head of the Royal Military Household and commander of the Moroccan Royal Guard.
In April 1971 Medbouh went to the United States for medical treatment. He was also officially charged by Hassan II to prepare his visit to Washington D.C. from April 22nd to 27th, but was secretly told he had to conduct negotiations about secret US military bases in Morocco who pay a rent directly into the royal coffers.
There, he also investigated why Pan American World Airways had decided against building an Intercontinental Hotel in Casablanca. In California, Medbouh discovered the reason: William P. Rogers, Secretary of State had received a file, from his friend the president of the Pan American World Airways, containing photocopies of letters from Morocco. The company had been asked by Moroccan government officials for sizable "commissions". Indeed, a cleric close to Hassan II, Ben Messaoud, had the forgetfulness to write in black and white: "Should also pay 600 million to the king."
On hearing this from Medbouh on his return, the king seized Ben Messaoud (who revealed details on the affair and was released later) and fired four of his cabinet ministers. Some said that the dismissals took place only after the ministers had made enough money from corrupt practices and it was time for others to take their turn. Medbouh felt the dismissals were not sufficient: the ministers should be tried and punished. Medbouh was "disappointed by his king" and "sickened by his country" as he also learned from the same sources in the USA about a huge metal traffic network in Morocco. This was the moment when he considered a putsch.
His main task in the putsch was depleting the palace guard. He plotted with Lieutenant-colonel M'hamed Ababou, the commander of the Military Training Academy of Ahermoumou and his elder brother Commandant Mohamed Ababou who were both tasked with investing the palace with their troops and seizing strategic points in Rabat. Mohamed's given mission was raiding the Skhirat palace from the south, which he did without encountering significant resistance. Colonel Larbi Chelouati was another leader, whose role was rallying the entire army, controlling the country, and coordinating the entire operation and radio broadcasts.
Attack on the palace
On 10 July 1971 at 14:08, about 1,200 cadets from the base of Ahermoumou (300 kilometres (190 mi) from there) stormed the palace of Skhirat during the king's birthday reception and attacked the guests with automatic weapons and grenades. It was subsequently claimed by the Moroccan authorities that the young cadets had been misled by senior officers into thinking that they were doing "maneuvers" in the region, then that they were acting to protect the king, who was "surrounded by enemies". According to eyewitnesses they ran out of control when they saw the luxury of the gathering but in his memoirs the king wrote that the soldiers had been drugged with substituted amphetamine.
Between 400 and 800 senior government members, military officers and other members of the elite were present. Important guests were placed under house arrest, and the king himself was taken to a small pavilion. A total of 92 people were killed during the shooting, including Belgian ambassador Marcel Dupret, the Minister of Justice Muhammed Lazrak, the ex-Prime Minister Ahmed Bahnini and the king's 80-year-old surgeon Henri Dubois-Roquebert. The king's brother, Prince Moulay Abdallah, was among the 133 injured.
Hassan II along with his aides, immediate family, including his eight-year-old son Crown Prince Mohamed, and General Mohamed Oufkir (Interior minister and later responsible for the attempted coup d'état of 1972) escaped unharmed by hiding in a bathroom or a closet. Medbouh came and knocked on the door, asking to negotiate with the king, who replied "I don't have to follow you.". Medbouh ordered a sentinel to guard the door, not letting anyone entering or leaving.
The Interior Ministry, the Army headquarters and Rabat's main radio station (Radio-Maroc) were at the same time taken over by other rebels soldiers and the radio was ordered to broadcast propaganda stating that the king had been murdered and a republic established. But the Moroccan news agency later confirmed he was unharmed as loyalist troops sealed off government buildings and patrolled Rabat's streets in tanks.
In a squabble between the coup leaders, M'hamed Ababou apparently shot Mohamed Medbouh at an early stage. Medbouh wished only for Hassan II to abdicate whereas Ababou had more radical demands. According to historian Michel Abitbol, Medbouh's death occurred "under mysterious circumstances". When the mutineers moved on the Army headquarters, Ababou was killed during an exchange of fire with royal troops led by General Bouhali, who had been dispatched to the palace to rescue the king. It is reported that Ababou was only wounded in this clash, but had asked a fellow conspirator to shoot him so that he would not be taken alive.
The overthrow attempt ended the same day when royalist troops took over the palace in combat against the rebels. Immediately after being freed from the palace, General Oufkir was invested by Hassan II with full military and civilian power in order to seize and punish the rebels and ordered loyalist troops to go to Rabat.
Among the cadets, nearly 200 were caught in the crossfire of their comrades and more than a hundred others were killed in the palace shootings; around 900 others were captured by loyal forces and acquitted. In February 1972, 74 officers and non-commissioned officers were sentenced to prison terms ranging from one year to life imprisonment. Most of them were later transferred from Rabat to the prison of Tazmamart, built between 1972 and 1973. Ten senior officers (including four generals) were executed in the courtyard of a military barracks in Rabat, witnessed by military officers, who "spat on the corpses", and Moroccan journalists. General Oufkir had personally interrogated them.
Mohamed Ababou was arrested, tried and incarcerated along with other coup protagonists (Akka and Mzireg). After a failed escape attempt with a group of prisoners, among whom was Ali Bourequat, he vanished and nothing is known of the circumstances of his supposed death. Although several years later his family received an official death certificate dated 20 July 1976, he is still considered disappeared by the Moroccan state. Mohamed and M'hamed younger brother, chief sergeant Abdelaziz Ababou, died during the coup itself.
Oufkir was named Minister of Defense. King Hassan II was at the state funeral for his supporters killed at the summer palace in the two-and-a-half hour gun battle. In a press conference on July 13th, the king identified the leaders of the coup and said the 1,400 rebels involved had been killed or rounded up. He dismissed the challenge to his authority, saying, "It was all very under-developed," and he pointed to foreign interference as 600 Moroccans had attempted to renew their passports in Cairo on the day of the attack.
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- Le rôle d'Oufkir Nouvel Observateur n° 349 du 19 juillet 1971 (French)
- Et Tu, Oufkir? - TIME(French)
- Morocco: The Almost Perfect Regicide - TIME