Fes, Treaty of (1912)

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Document providing for the establishment of the French protectorate over Morocco, initialed in Fez, 30 March 1912.

The signers to the Treaty of Fes (also known as the Treaty of Fez) met in MoroccoEugene Regnault, France's representative in Tangier had negotiated the treaty with the sultan, Mulay Abd al-Hafid. In addition to clauses that accorded Spain control over the Atlantic coastal zone plus the enclaves of Melilla, Ceuta, and Ifni and that established Tangier as an international city, the treaty spoke of "a new regime" in Morocco based on those "administrative, judicial, educational, financial and military reforms which the French Government judged were necessary to introduce into the territory of Morocco." The treaty also provided for the safeguarding of the "traditional prestige of the sultan [and] the exercise of the Muslim faith."

Only a few weeks later, Abd al-Hafid was forced to abdicate by the new French colonial governor Louis-Hubert Gonzalve Lyauteyin favor of his more malleable brother Mulay Yusuf.

The signing of the treaty was the culmination of at least a half century of diplomatic maneuvering to take over Morocco by France, Britain, Spain, and Germany, with other nations including the United States standing by. Since the eighteenth century, systematic piracy and kidnapping had occurred in the Mediterranean, sponsored by corsairs and rulers of the so-called Barbary coast; European and American ships and cargoes were taken and Christian sailors and passengers sold into slavery in the Ottoman Empire and Africa. In the early nineteenth century, the almost unassailable Barbary States were subdued and opened to European concessions. The lure in Morocco became important mineral resources (mainly phosphates). Within Morocco, decades of political fragmentation had left the Alawi sultanate all the more vulnerable to European pressures. By the late nineteenth century, in fact, the rivalry between the Western nations was probably all that allowed Morocco to remain independent.

The first of several crises leading to the Treaty of Fes erupted with the signing of the FrancoBritish agreement of 1904 in which, in effect, France was given free rein in Morocco in exchange for its support of British imperialism in Egypt. The agreement met with opposition from Germany, which had important commercial interests in Morocco. Tensions between the three nations led to the convening of the Algeciras Conference in January 1906 and the Act of Algeciras in April of that year. The act provided for international supervision over Morocco and, specifically, for French and Spanish control over Moroccan ports, police, and commercial affairs; it sparked off acts of protest and violence against Europeans and European interests within Morocco. French and Spanish troops were sent in on the pretext of preserving order, and through 1907 the French gradually extended their military presence. The reigning Moroccan ruler Abd al-Aziz was forced out of office by his brother Abd al-Hafid, who was recognized in 1909 by the French after his acceptance of the Act of Algeciras.

From 1909 to 1911, French forces in the center and west of Morocco and the Spanish in the north expanded their areas of control. In protest, Moroccan tribal forces marched on the city of Fez against Abd al-Hafid, giving the French an excuse to seize both Meknes and Fez following their defeat of the tribes. German opposition, which peaked in a symbolic show of force off the Moroccan Atlantic coast in 1911, was defused with an agreement to cede portions of French-controlled Congo to German authority. The signing of the Treaty of Fes followed shortly thereafter. Insofar as French control over Morocco was concerned, however, the treaty was only the first step in a long and difficult campaign for consolidation and colonialism. Moroccan nationalism eventually prevailed, however, when independence was declared in 1956.

See also Alawite Dynasty; Algeciras Conference (1906); Barbary States; Corsairs; Fez, Morocco; Lyautey, Louis-Hubert Gonzalve; Phosphates.


Hahn, Lorna. North Africa: Nationalism to Nationhood. Washington, DC: Public Affairs Press, 1960.

Pennell, C. R. Morocco since 1830: A History. New York: New York University Press, 2000.

matthew s. gordon