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The Aborted Coup in Morocco

“In the Arab world some people were rather in a hurry to bury me. Others waited…” Those were King Hassan’s first comments on Sunday evening, less than twenty-four hours after he had narrowly escaped the assassins’ bullets, first by hiding in the palace lavatories and then by being made to lie down by his closest companions, with his hands behind his head, while they were killed or turned against him. Therefore Hassan, never known as a forgiving person, is not liable to forget quickly who, among the Arab leaders, proved to be his staunch friends, his avowed enemies–or sat on the fence waiting to see how the tide would turn. Among his friends, unquestionably, stands Hussein of Jordan. Not only did he express at once his support for the Moroccan King, but on Sunday morning he came to Rabat flying his own jet. While his Beauims were once more battering the Palestinian guerrillas around Amman and Jerash, he was in Morocco, wearing khaki fatigues, standing behind Hassan II. Thus he stood at the funerals of the tragedy’s victims, and thus he was seen visiting the scene of the carnage where the blood was still fresh on the floors and walls of the devastated palace.

Well informed sources in Rabat say that Hussein, an acknowledged expert survivor who has out-lived so many coups by his own generals, now advised his fellow King to launch a widespread purge, stressing that the entire Moroccan officer corps must have been “contaminated” by the plotter. Rumors, ripe at present in the Moroccan capital, even have it that Hussein offered his friend the services of “the best intelligence organization in the world, the Israeli Shin Beit,” in order to help prevent any renewed attempt to overthrow his throne. The story does not say what Hassan’s answer was.

Second in line among Hassan’s staunchest friends is Habib Bourguiba, Jr. of Tunisia, who was present at the tragic celebrations and is said to have saved the King’s life by throwing back a grenade which landed a few yards from Hassan’s feet. This was enough to create a new and superb Arab legend and to forge another link in the chain of Maghreb solidarity. Most diplomats here believe that success of the coup would have seen Col. Houari Boumedienne of Algeria rushing to Rabat to support Col. Ababou, or whoever would have taken over the leadership of the junta, and that a possible civil war between the loyalists and the insurgents inside the Army might have led to an intervention by the Algerian armed forces and subsequently to the annexation of the disputed southern border territories. However, unlike the more fiery Khadaffi of Libya, Boumedienne was wise enough to wait for the outcome of the coup and to congratulate the Moroccan sovereign, probably with tongue in cheek, on his narrow escape. Consequently, relations between Morocco and Algeria are outwardly cloudless–whatever may be the reservations of the leadership, both in Rabat and Algiers, as far as the future is concerned.

Things are not quite as smooth as that with Egypt. Never exceedingly cordial, relations between the UAR and Morocco have now further deteriorated. President Anwar Sadat’s special envoy. Assan El Khoury, cooled his heels for two days in the Rabat Hilton swimming pool before being granted an audience by Hassan in order to transmit a message from his master. Among the subjects said to have been discussed at this meeting–rather sharply–were the Cairo newspaper Al Abram’s first edition of July 11 acclaiming the fall of the Rabat monarchy; the rush by Egyptians and Palestinians at the Moroccan Embassy in Cairo to request visas to come to help the insurgents; and above all, Libya’s enthusiasm for the revolt. Apparently, for the first time since the setting up of the Arab Federation, Cairo was held responsible for the indiscretions of its junior partner, and laborious explanations during the Marsa Matruh talks between Sadat and Khaddafi probably centered on the mess created by the offers of the Libyan junta to proffer “armed help” to “the Moroccan people.” Thus Hassan’s pet idea of an early Arab Summit in Algiers–which already was practically doomed, due to the fighting in Jordan–new was dealt a further blow. At the same time. Moroccan police happily arrested a few political opponents who had sought “political asylum” in the Libyan Embassy in Rabat, meanwhile ransacking the Libyan offices.

After what one diplomat in Rabat called “the birthday party to end all birthday parties,” the “Little Summit” of Egypt, Libya, Syria and Sudan expressed shock at the summary executions of the rebel army leaders. This united stand was due more to the renewed round of fighting against the Palestinians in Jordan than to any measure of real unity inside the “Federation” or among its close partners. Even less did one bear, coming from Damascus, Khartoum or Tripoli, a voice proclaiming adherence to the basic rights of man, or to diplomatic usage.

The 26,000 Jews still remaining in Morocco did, of course, take no more part in the happenings than the rest of the civil population of this country. Generally speaking, they see these events as a showdown between rival factions, inside the armed forces, although in the days following the putsch some leaflets denouncing “Zionism” were circulated. Unlike other Arab leaders, the King and his advisers did at no time accuse the “Israeli services” of having participated in dark conspiracies against peace and the realm. There is little doubt, of course, that a new and militantly “progressive” Republican regime, seeking an alignment with the other progressive governments of the Arab world, would have taken a more militant stance against Israel–although most Army leaders, trained by the French as they are, have no more militant feelings on the Palestine issue than the King they tried to overthrow.

As for the near future, it is to be expected that the Monarchy will be too busy at housecleaning to give too much thought to Middle Eastern problems. Thus, the aborted coup will at least have the effect of leaving Morocco, even more than ever before, outside the main current of Arab hostility to the Jewish state.

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