If you’re in Morocco on July 4th, you won’t see fireworks or likely hear the Star Spangled Banner playing. There won’t be any baseball games on TV and you would be lucky to find Deviled Eggs or Grandma’s Potato Salad anywhere. However, what you should know is that the US as we know it likely wouldn’t be if it weren’t for this humble little nation on the northwest corner of Africa.
American – Moroccan Relations: The Early Years
Way back on December 20, 1777, the Kingdom of Morocco became the first nation in the entire world to recognize US independence from Great Britain, a mere one and a half years after the Declaration of Independence was penned. This was nearly instantaneous in pre-Twitter, pre-Internet, pre-telephone and pre-steam engine times! At the time, the newly formed US was at war against the British crown with the outcome of the fighting very much in doubt.
A few short years later, in 1786, after the US won their independence, Thomas Barclay, the American Consul in France, came to Morocco and negotiated the Moroccan-American Treaty of Friendship with Sultan of Morocco, Mohammed III. This treaty was signed later that year by Thomas Jefferson, the US Minister to France, and John Adams, the US Minister to Great Britain. Morocco was thus the first Arab, African and Muslim state to sign a treaty with the US. In 1787 this treaty was ratified by the US Congress, establishing the longest unbroken treaty in US history.
American – Moroccan Relations: The Pirate Years
After the US secured its independence, American shipping vessles coming through the Mediterranean were under attack from the Barbary pirates – a system of powerful, largely independent, pirate colonies that ranged from Morocco through modern-day Tunisia. Previously, American ships were protected under the British treaty with Morocco. However, after indepdence this treaty was rendered null and American ships came under attack from the pirates. These attacks led directly to the formation of the US Navy in 1794. However, the US was still forced to pay tribute to the Barbary pirates for rights to trade in the Mediterranean. This amount was substantial, amounting to 20% of the US government’s annual expenditures.
Eventually, the US mounted two little-known wars: The First and Second Barbary War to reduce payments and gain more favorable peace terms. Though Morocco was one of the first countries to recognize the US, because of their support of the Barbary Pirates, they were also one of the first places (along with the cities of Tripoli, Algiers and Tunis) that the US warred with as a nascent country. Of course, much of this had to do with the slave trade that fueled the American economies of the southern states. Eventually, Morocco would side with the northern states in the US Civil War.
American – Moroccan Relations: The American Legation
In 1821, Sultan Moulay Suliman gifted the US a traditional, two-story, mud and stone structure in the Tangier medina. The was the first property the US acquired outside overseas and was the home of the US Consulate to Morocco for 140 years. This is a record for longest period any building has been used by the US abroad as a diplomatic post. In 1956, the diplomatic offices were moved to the new capital of Rabat and, for many years, it was thought that the building might be demolished as it fell into disrepair and neglect.
Today, after a lengthy restoration process, the Tangier American Legation Institute for Moroccan Studies is a museum, non-profit center and cultural center. It hosts an area dedicated to Paul Bowles – the famed American expat musician, writer, and grandfather to the Beat Generation – who called Tangier home for over 50 years, as well as paintings by Marguerite McBey and other memorabilia and artifacts cementing the relation between this region and the US.
American – Moroccan Relations: World War Years
Throughout World War I and World War II, Morocco played an integral part in the Allied cause. In the first World War, Moroccan soldiers fought alongside US Marines in Europe at Chateau Thierry, Mont Blanc and Soissons. During World War II, Morocco played an even greater role. Not only did the US establish the Naval base in Kenitra, about 70 miles north of Casablanca, but it was in Casablanca itself where President Roosevelt, Winston Churchill and Charles de Gaulle would meet over four fateful days in 1943 to decide the fate of the world and solidify their strategy against the Axis forces.
It was these dark years during World War II, as free French and Jews migrated from Europe to find solace in Morocco, that would inspire one of the greatest romance movies of all time: Casablanca.
American – Moroccan Relations: The 60s
If you remember the 60s… you weren’t there, right? Or so the saying goes. The popularity of Morocco in hippy and beatnik culture really started in the 50s. Paul Bowles settled in Tangier and many of the Beats – such as Allen Ginsburg, Jack Kerouac, Tennesee Williams and William Burroughs – visited for long stretches. In fact, Burroughs’ seminal work, Naked Lunch, was written while he was in Tangier and Tennessee Williams wrote Cat on a Hot Tin Roof while in Morocco and the setting for his play Suddenly, Last Summer is derived from his time in Asilah.
It wasn’t just writers and artists coming to Morocco, though there were plenty of those, it was also musicians… by the droves. Jimi Hendrix, the Beatles and The Rolling Stones and many, many more all came to the country and came away from it inspired from the gnawa musicians. It is local legend that Hendrix spent a good amount of his time in 1969 with these musicians in the port town of Essaouira. It was also during this time that the Marrakesh Express became a thing… thanks Crosby, Stills and Nash!
American – Moroccan Relations: Where Are We Today?
These days, Morocco and the US are united in the “war on terror.” Morocco has helped the US and other friendly nations gather intelligence in counterterrorism efforts after the attacks of 9/11. In fact, the US uses Morocco heavily to recruit Arabic-speaking spies. In general, the countries work in cooperation at a governmental level and pool their resources.
American busineses, including Hollywood, are finding Morocco attractive. Many big-budget movies and series are filmed in the country (particularly around Ouarzazate), including Game of Thrones. Eponymous chains, such as Starbucks, McDonalds and Pizza Hut, can be found throughout the country, and most major US companies, such as Apple, Boeing, Motorola, HP, and Proctor & Gamble (just to name a few) have regional headquarters or offices in Casablanca.
Though the majority of tourism to Morocco is from France, Germany, Spain and the UK, this is changing. There are more people from North American discovering the country every year and with affordable airtravel, a stronger base of English-speakers throughout the country, and (forgive the super obvious plug here) a few awesome travel companies like Journey Beyond Travel, it’s no surprise.
So happy 4th of July to the United States of America from your oldest and one of your strongest supporters… Morocco!
About the Author
Morocco expert, writer and photographer Lucas Peters curates and edits the Journey Beyond Travel blog and pens the JBT Insider’s Guide series. After spending years traveling to the distant corners of Morocco, he wrote and photographed the best-selling guidebook Moon Morocco. He is now based in Paris, where he lives with his wife and son.