July 13th, 2009 Headsman
On this date in 1971, four generals, five colonels and a major who had attempted a coup d’etat in Morocco less than three days before were shot without trial at the military barracks in Rabat.
The senior officers* had taken military cadets and stormed the palace where birthday celebrations for King Hassan II were taking place. They captured the monarch himself before the cadets themselves wavered, and loyal troops successfully counterattacked. Ninety-two people, including the Belgian ambassador, were killed in the affair; the king was at their state funeral on this date at the time the putschists were being shot.
This selection of the coup’s leadership gunned down this day in Rabat did not make an end to the reverberations; other trials followed later in the year, and some others who were implicated were simply “disappeared”.
Although we lack the testimony of any of the coup leaders themselves for their motivations, it occurred in the context of political and social upheaval in post-colonial Morocco. Frank H. Braun (“Morocco: Anatomy of a Palace Revolution That Failed”, International Journal of Middle East Studies, Vol. 9, No. 1 (Jan., 1978)) argues that it was rooted in an eclipse of the traditional prerogatives of the military — and especially of the Berber nobility, who can be said to be the authors of the attempt.
So too can its failure be ascribed to the scant support this parochial and backward-looking cause commanded; non-Berber officers didn’t join the plot. Even so, with one of his government’s traditional pillars of support so heavily compromised (and decimated by this day’s executions and other reprisals), the coup led Hassan II to somewhat liberalize Morocco’s constitution the following year.
Which did not exactly still the tumultuous power politics scene in Rabat.
Mohamed Oufkir, the general who had coolly suppressed the 1971 coup** to become the preeminent military officer in the country, mounted his own bid for power in 1972 and suffered the same fate as this date’s doomed rebels.
* Notably, Mohamed Medbouh (French link), “one of my closest collaborators” in the estimation of the king himself (but also of “the mentality of a jackal”). His surname actually meant “cutthroat,” and was earned by his father’s literally having his throat cut — and surviving — in the 1920’s.
** A Berber himself, Oufkir may have been aware of the earlier coup — and cunning enough not to commit himself until he saw which way the wind was blowing.
Also on this date
- 1918: Private David Stevenson, repeat deserter
- 1616: "A gentellwoeman" by exposure, for a eunuch liaison
- 1955: Ruth Ellis, the last woman hanged in England
- 1708: Anne Harris, twice a hempen widow
- 2010: William Garner, arsonist
- 1989: Arnaldo Ochoa and Tony de la Guardia
- 1882: Thomas Egan: 3 tries, 2 ropes, 1 innocent man