Mohammed Laamiri, University of Oujda, Morocco and Sara Mills, Sheffield Hallam University, UK


While towards the end of the 19th century, rival European powers were vying for colonies, an agreement between France and England in 1904 gave England a free hand in Egypt in exchange for its colonial ambitions in Morocco. The Algeciras agreement of 1906 between these European powers sealed the uncertain fate of Morocco and later brought about the French protectorate over the country. Morocco was colonised by France from 1912 to 1956. These are simple historical facts.

Colonies inherit administrative, educational, judicial and economic systems but they also inherit language and colonial writings. French is today Morocco’s second official language after Arabic. This is a fact. But it is also a fact that nations have memories and before the coming of the French there was between Morocco and the United Kingdom a series of shared pages of common historical memories. Their long common history started with mutual awareness which moved to ephemeral contacts, occasional commercial exchanges, sustained diplomatic relations, numerous peace treaties and trade conventions, imperial interests leading to short lived direct colonisation (of Tangier:1662-1684), cooperative alliances against occasional common enemies (Spain and France) coupled with tense relations and even open war (over Tangier and over the British captives in Morocco). The United Kingdom did not colonise Morocco but their relations lasted from the 16th century and went on till the 1912 French occupation of the country. This represents four long centuries of shared history. An important number of texts accompanied these relations and formed a discourse not much different from the French discourse about Morocco and fully in line with the general colonial discourse of the 19th century. Whether England colonised Morocco or not, the characteristics of its discourse on the country is not dissimilar from that of the French.

The last ten or fifteen years have seen an awareness of, and a growing interest in an important –but neglected- body of texts about Morocco written in English over many centuries by British writers. This manifest interest is shown by Moroccan researchers in the English and History departments of Moroccan universities. The same attention is shown by some researchers in the United kingdom. This interest has contributed to the unearthing of forgotten and buried texts and to a post-colonial reading and re-reading of a whole historical and literary discourse by British writers about Morocco covering a period of more than four centuries.

This special issue of Working Papers on the Web focuses on a number of studies by Moroccan writers dealing with some aspects of the English discourse on Morocco. These wide-ranging essays are concerned with analysing the complexity of texts written in English about Morocco. They analyse, among other subjects, drama, travel writing and novel-writing about Morocco from the 16th century until the present day. All of the essays are concerned to draw on post-colonial theory to explicate these texts to some extent, but the use of post-colonial theory is difficult here. Morocco has not been colonised by Britain to the extent that there were no long-term British settlements in Morocco, even at the height of British imperialism in the late nineteenth century. However, there has always been a strong relationship between Britain and Morocco, both in terms of trade and also in terms of attempts at colonial intervention by Britain.

Thus, a simple application of post-colonial theory to these texts will be inadequate and it is clear that perhaps all colonial and post-colonial contexts suffer from the concentration of post-colonial theory on late 19th century imperialism and the assumption that that is the paradigm for all colonial relations. Particularly in relation to pre-nineteenth century texts, it is evident that an analytical framework which assumes colonial settlement cannot simply be `applied' to other contexts. As Clark remarks: "Britain had no overseas territories at the publication of Hakluyt at the end of the 16th." (1)

What these texts force us to acknowledge is the diversity of colonial and imperial relations whilst nevertheless recognising that it was colonialism and the economic strength and political power that this gave Britain from the 18th century onwards which influenced the relations between Morocco and Britain and also at least in part determined the way that texts about Morocco were written.

In 'Encountering the Infidels', Bejjit explores the dominant tendencies in the British colonial discourse on Morocco during the Restoration period. The paper focuses on the historical period during which Tangier was a British colony and in direct contact with the Moors. The colonisers were in need of more knowledge about the Moroccan natives surrounding the colony. This has led Bejjit to argue that Restoration writings 'display a fair knowledge of the natives owing largely to the existence of a British community in Tangier'. In fact the paper shows how the contact between the British colonisers and the native Moors surrounding the city was characterised by mutual cultural negation and by the impenetrability of the two geographical spaces.

Bekkaoui's 'The Moorish Figure and Figures of Resistance' brings to light the representation of Moorish figures in early British drama. His text complements the other contributions in focusing on a genre which reflects the British social awareness of Moors, Barbary and Morocco. For Bekkaoui, British early drama has brought 'a remote country and an alien race before the gaze of the English audience.' He analyses an anonymous 17th century text -Lust's Dominion- in order to critically read the role of the Moors in that play. Rather than assuming, as many critics following Said have done, that the Moor is simply a negative caricature treated contemptuously within the text, in this play the Moor can be seen to mock and transform the systems of power - in short to resist conventional representational practices. Dramatic texts like this, because they need to represent figures on the stage, when Moors are the primary focus of the drama necessarily have to present them as complex figures. Using Bhabha's theory of ambivalence and resistance, Bekkaoui challenges Said's view by showing how "the stage can be explored as …a space where Orientalist ideology is subverted rather than confirmed".

Chaouch provides an annotated bibliography of travel texts about Morocco in English from the mid-16th century until the mid-20th century. Whilst the bibliography does not aim to be exhaustive, it will help researchers to identify trends in travel writing and publishing over time. This bibliography assembles scattered references to travel texts on Morocco and brings together about 102 references. He also makes use of earlier bibliographies and quotes summaries and references from Lebel, Rogers, Benabdellah, Ackerman, etc..

Dellal's paper on Wyndham Lewis' Journey into Barbary adopts a deconstructive approach to a colonial text written at a transitional and critical point of Moroccan colonial history. Dellal proposes to challenge the Eurocentric and supremacist ideology of Lewis' text in its reading of historical and political events in colonised Morocco. The paper is a denunciation of a racist analysis of the Moroccan society under French colonialism based on what the French termed 'The Berber Dahir' which was none other than a colonial strategy to overcome nationalist resistance to colonialism by dividing Moroccans into two distinct racial groups: Arabs and Berbers. Dellal reads Journey into Barbary not only a mere travel text but as a document illustrating some of the political intricacies of French colonialism in Morocco.

Idrissi in `Discordant evangelical visions, ideological intent and the construction of the reader in James Richardson's Travels in Morocco (1860)', draws on Jauss and Iser's reader response theory in order to analyse the way that Richardson's text maps out certain positions for the ideal reader. By applying reader–response theories to a 'marginal' travel text, Idrissi explores new territory in English post-colonial studies on British literature about Morocco. Whilst scrupulously posing as an objective and scientific ethnographic analysis of Morocco, Idrissi draws attention to the fact that Richardson's text is firmly allied to colonial expansion and demonstrates the way that Richardson selectively frames his account, selecting certain types of information in order to present a vision of Morocco ready and waiting for British colonial exploitation. Idrissi's essay shows how Richardson's text moves from travel literature as a peripheral genre to the central position of a 'useful source' of cultural, economic and political information whereby the discursive strategies operating within the travel text negotiate the validation of the implicit colonialist aims of the subtext. Idrissi develops a political, religious and cultural analysis of the text by mapping the cultural distance between the implied reader (white, Christian, British intellectual) and the Moorish culture described.

In 'Barbary in British Travel Texts', Laamiri discusses how British travel texts portrayed Barbary in general and Morocco in particular. While the paper relies on a variety of travel texts covering a long historical period, its approach is based on a survey of thematic portrayals of Moorish culture. After contextualizing the historical frame of British Moroccan relations under which the corpus under study was produced, the paper analyses how British travel texts represented Moorish urban space and architecture. The paper focuses on some of the places which retained the attention of foreign visitors including imperial cities and their fortifications, narrow streets, markets, open spaces, mosques and schools, Moorish houses and their internal architecture.

These diverse papers focus on the way in which colonial discourses can circulate, be affirmed and resisted, even in contexts where there is not a clear material colonial presence. As such, this analysis demands greater contextualisation on the part of post-colonial theorists to examine the specificity of each colonial and imperial context and to examine the way that countries with colonial power are empowered in their relations with others.



1. Clark, S. ed. 1999 Travel Writing and Empire, Zed Books, London, p.5