The Cultural Representation of the Sultan in Morocco, part 2

Dr. Mohammed MaaroufBy Mohammed Maarouf*

Historically, the royal charitable model has been institutionalized in what has been termed hibat (donations) and in‘am. The main beneficiary from such donations were zawiyas that increased their capital through “donations” (inam/hibas) they received from sultans in the form of “mortmain land” (al-waqf). The Zawiya Nasirya, for instance, benefited from mortmain land, mortmain salves and houses (Shadili, 1989). Also, there were zawiyas that benefited from “charity” (sadaqat) and “alms taxes” (zakawat) given to them by the nearby tribes. In the long run, powerful zawiyas acquired land and launched commercial investment. Their shaykhs invested in the zawiya’s capital to grow its income like the example of Iligh, Tamgrout and Wazzan, a material propensity that pushed some zawiyas to choose mqaddems (superintendents) on the basis of their experience in commercial transactions rather than on the basis of their religious knowledge (Laroui, 2001).

In the nineteenth century, the most important gifts zawiyas received in return for the services they offered the Sultanate were the iqta‘(land property). Those gift properties called in‘am/hiba usually reinforced the allegiance of zawiyas and evinced the Sultan as a symbol of protection (riaya/himaya) and charity (nima) (Hammoudi, 2000). Those pieces of land, called ‘zibs, had the advantage of being exempted from the institutional alms-tax. Their owners received decrees from the Sultan to be honored and respected ([dahirs li ttawqir wa l-ihtiram] “decrees of honor and respect”).

As for donation decrees, they allowed the shurfa to exploit the land and its occupants. As Halim (2000) argues, “la concession portait sur la terre et sur ses occupants que le souverain livrait au concessionnaire ; d’où leur nom de ‘msellmin’ (livrés). Ces derniers dépendaient, désormais, complètement de leur maître”. Until the beginning of the twentieth century, the occupants, ‘azabbs (tenant farmers), could not leave without the shrif’s permission. Escaping from the shrif’s domain was considered as escaping from the Sultan’s domain. The shrif could lend his azzabs to another shrif for a particular period but could neither sell them, nor offer them, nor yet hire them (as cit in Michel, 2001).

Practically, by honoring the sharifian community, the Sultan won public esteem not only because he was also shrif but because his rule depended on their support. History records that some brotherhoods were more influential than sultans. The shurfa of Wazzan, for instance, used to grant rising sultans their blessing on coming to the throne. Westermarck (1926) heard that in Fez when the new Sultan mounted his horse during the allegiance ceremony, the head of the Wazzan shurfa living in the place where he was proclaimed would hold the stirrup and help him mount his horse, thus bestowing on him the baraka of Dar Dmana (the House of Immunity) Wazzan. The same anthropologist alludes to “a saying that although no Wazzan shereef can rule as sultan, no sultan can rule without the support of the great shereef of Wazzan”.

Sharifism on which we touch contains important elements for understanding the legitimization of monarchic rule in Morocco. The shurfa claim a lineage to the Prophet and rely on their traditional but now also state-mandated symbolic capital to stress social distinction from the commoners (‘amma). Royal decrees of consideration and respect (ttawqir wa l-ihtiram) were issued to support the class of shurfa and, historically, freed them from paying taxes and made of their vicinities asylums for the oppressed. They were granted the right of sanctuary (hurum), by decrees of immunity, extending over vast lands surrounding saints’ lodges, and were declared impervious to assault, “which meant that it was outside the Makhzen’s jurisdiction, and thus any fugitive who might take refuge in such asylums was exempt from pursuit” (EL –Mansour, 1999). Land grants – sometimes with occupant workers – were offered to the shurfa in return for supporting the sultan’s policy.

Decades ago, membership cards edged in green and red resembling official police passes were issued by the Ministry of Interior, at the local level by the Mayor’s administration, to shurfa who owned decrees of consideration and respect, in order to grant them special privileges for opening doors and expediting administrative transactions with local authorities.

Like color and religion, sharifism is thought to be based on inherent characteristics that mark the shrif’s fixed and lasting social status unresponsive to change. As Hammoudi states: “social status was based on criteria which individuals theoretically could not modify; birth, skin color, religion, and to a certain extent occupation” (Hammoudi, 1997). By virtue of their lineage, the shurfa were located at the top of the social scale. Their sharifian lineage bestowed on them the right to rule, to have prerogatives and to own khuddam (servants). This was an inherited social standing that was very difficult to change. A person’s status was clearly defined. One might attain a high social rank by virtue of social capital, wealth or knowledge, but “in practice status emphasized difference while individual effort tended to bring about equality. Such was the rule in a society keen on ‘ontological inequality’” (Hammoudi, 1997).

Thanks to his sharifian social origins, the sultan has never been confused with the profane apparatus called the Makhzen of which he is in charge. Moroccans tend to discern the Mahkzen as being discriminate from the inviolable person of the sultan. Michaux-Bellaire and Gaillard (1909) argue that this traditional form of state was a subsidizer of social anarchy; it worked to fuel the conflicts between tribes and strengthen its role of arbitration. National scholars like Laroui (1997) state that the Makhzen was not only a repressive force or just a tax collector but was also protecting the peace of tribes and handling their political problems. It was not an institution created in colonial times or an anti-colonial apparatus of resistance. Sultanism was rather an ancient form of rule that historically developed from inside Moroccan elites and welcomed its recruits from notables, leaders of tribes and sharifian families.

The profile of the agents of the Makhzen was intended to be a model of conduct for the rest of society. The obedience the royal servants evinced to the sultan was unquestioning. The lexicon used by the sultan when addressing Makhzen officials reinforced the blind trust the ruler demanded of his faithful servants. An expression of address goes: “khadimuna al-arda” (Our obedient servant). The servant like a disciple of a maraboutic master must fulfill the commands to the letter. As a Makhzen official puts it: “I am a closed lock and the key I gave it to Sidna (my Lord).”

Unlike the sultan, the Makhzen is not endowed with benediction. It is rather a profane institution targeted for its positive and negative activities by the population. Represented as an earthly apparatus, it appears more or less secular in that it is a butt of negative and positive attitudes. Its main task is to safeguard civil order and protect the interests of the state. This task may sometimes require the use of violence and the setting of emotions aside. The Makhzen has the power to infiltrate everywhere and every field.

Though the sultan is at the head of the Makhzen and in practice this apparatus has all the time enabled him to exercise his power, he is never equated with it in the popular mind. Even historians sometimes refer to sultans being unaware of the corrupted activities of the Makhzen. The cultural representations shared by Moroccans about the Makhzen never confuse the sometimes illegitimate conduct of the Makhzen with the perennial legitimacy of the sultan.

*Dr. Mohammed Maarouf, Chouaib Doukkali University, Morocco

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