Sunday 10 July 2022

The "Skhirat coup": Abortive Attempt to Overthrow King Hassan II of Morocco on July 10, 1971

Colonel Mohamed Ababou (1934-1976), one of the key plotters who was put on trial in January 1972. Photo Credit: AFP.

Known as the "Skhirat coup", the rebellion was conceived by General Mohamed Medbouh and Lt. Colonel M'hamed Ababou in reaction to the corruption and maladministration surrounding the rule of King Hassan II.

The rebels stormed the Summer Palace of the King while he was on vacation but failed to kill him and overthrow his government.

Two blunders ensured the failure of the coup.

. After seemingly securing the King's Summer Palace, the rebels turned their attention to the capital city of Rabat where they needed to seize the radio station, the General Staff Headquarters, and other key buildings. But the soldiers who were given this task had no idea about how to get to Rabat and even had to ask policemen for directions.

. The leaders of the coup, General Medbouh and Lt. Colonel Ababou had failed to organise an uprising at the main garrison of the Moroccan Army.

The king also played a crucial part in preserving his throne.

Rebel soldiers had broken down the lavatory door in which Hassan and a group of people were hiding. He and others were led out and forced to squat with their hands above their heads.

The king was not recognised by any of the rebels at the time.

Then he and the others were told to get up and began to be led away. Hassan thought he was going to be shot. According to his account, he entered a brief conversation with one of the rebels who then kissed his hand.

Hassan and the group of soldiers around him then began reciting verses from the Koran and when the group approached other guests who were cowering in the dust of the wrecked summer palace, someone uttered the words: Long live the King!"

Hassan was wily and his quick-thinking saved himself and his regime the following August when Lt. Colonel Mohamed Amekrane led a coup.

On August 16, 1972, King Hassan II's B727, which was returning from a trip to France, was strafed by F-5 jets under the instructions of Lt. Colonel Amekrane who was communicating with the pilots from a control tower.

The King's plane was hit but he is alleged to have grabbed the radio and told the rebel pilots to "Stop firing! The tyrant is dead!".

His intervention apparently fooled them into disengaging.

Vengeance for the July 10 coup was calibrated.

On July 14, the day after loyalist troops were buried in the presence of King Hassan and the visiting King Hussein of Jordan, ten senior military officers were executed by firing squad.

More executions followed a mass trial held in January 1972, although others were jailed.

Colonel Mohamed Ababou, one of the key plotters, was among those put on trial in January 1972. Ababou was sentenced to 20 years imprisonment but was executed in 1976 after a failed attempt to escape. His death certificate is dated July 20, 1976.

His younger brother, Lt. Colonel M'hamed Ababou (1938-1971), who was a co-leader of the coup alongside General Mohamed Medbouh, was killed in a gunfight during the coup. His youngest brother, Chief Sergeant Abdelziz Ababou also died during the coup.

(c) Adeyinka Makinde (2022).

Adeyinka Makinde is a writer based in London, England.

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