How France territorially amputated Morocco in favor of Algeria
The consultation of French archives regarding what colonial circles of the time then referred to as the "Question of the Borders," more precisely, the "regions of eastern Morocco that France wanted to attach to its Algerian possession," is clear.
In my previous column, I showed that, for the French authorities in the Protectorate, the belonging of the "Eastern Sahara" to Morocco was evident.
In the next two columns, I will show how these regions were detached from Morocco, which was not a possession of France, in order to territorially favor Algeria, which was then French.
The consultation of French archives regarding what colonial circles of the time then referred to as the "Question of the Borders," more precisely, the "regions of eastern Morocco that France wanted to attach to its Algerian possession," is clear. Once again, the chronology allows us to demonstrate this.
It all began in 1859 when General de Martimprey intervened against the Beni Snassen (Ait-Iznasen), an important Moroccan Berber tribe whose easternmost fraction, that of the Ait Khaled, owned grazing lands extending far to the east, into present-day Algeria.
Then, in 1864, the Arab tribe of the Ouled Sidi Cheikh, divided into two groups, that of the Cheraga living to the east, and that of the Gharaba living to the west, rose up against French encroachment. At the call of their leader Si Slimane, the two components of the tribe united and attacked the detachment of Lieutenant Colonel Beauprêtre, commander of the Tiaret circle.
The uprising ended in 1869, following the expedition decided by Governor General Mac Mahon and carried out by General Louis-Joseph de Colomb, who, starting from Géryville, established a provisional military post in Moroccan territory, at the place that would later bear his name, Colomb-Béchar.
In March 1870, General de Wimpffen, commanding the province of Oran, seized Ain-Chair and the region of the Oued Ghir, thus cutting off the eastern fraction of the Ouled Sidi Cheikh from access to Morocco. In 1884, part of the tribe submitted to France, while, led by Bou Amama, a marabout founder of a zaouia, the majority of its members requested the effective protection of the Sultan of Morocco over the oases of Touat.
On August 5, 1890, under a secret convention, France and Great Britain delimited their spheres of influence in Africa. In exchange for the recognition of British protectorate over the islands of Zanzibar and Pemba in the Indian Ocean, Paris was granted the possibility of occupying the Moroccan regions of Touat, Gourara, and Igli in the Saoura Valley, the axis through which it was envisaged to link West Africa to the Mediterranean by a trans-Saharan railway. However, the territory was Moroccan since the Sultan of Morocco had a caid in Figuig representing him in the oases of Touat.
France did not immediately occupy these regions. Théophile Delcassé, Minister of Foreign Affairs from June 1898 to June 1905, whose priority was to diplomatically isolate Germany by relying on Great Britain, wanted to avoid any military intervention against Morocco that could have given Berlin an opportunity to break this "encirclement."
However, and we will see this in my next column, events put the French government before an almost accomplished fact, and it had to accept the occupation of the oases, a prelude to the dismantling of Morocco in favor of Algeria, then a French territory.
By Bernard Lugan