Following World War II, which had seen Morocco support the Allied cause with 350,000 troops, the movement in the French protectorate for independence gained momentum. Despite deep ties with the French and with French culture, Hassan and his father were strong nationalists who were eventually forced into exile during 1953–1956. Upon Moroccan independence in 1956 and Mohammad V's return (he began calling himself king in 1957), Hassan was named chief of staff of the royal armed forces and deputy prime minister. More important, Hassan gained the practical political experience to lead the nation through the tumultuous years following independence. Upon the unexpected death of King Mohammed V in March 1961, Hassan became king as Hassan II. He ruled Morocco for the next thirty-eight years, surviving two coups and persistent Islamic fundamentalist insurgency. Although ostensibly a constitutional monarch, in reality King Hassan II controlled nearly all sectors of government through strong executive powers, key appointments, and command of the military. He ruled with an iron fist, and those who opposed his policies often suffered repression. In the 1960s he worked to dismantle the opposition leftist National Union Party (Union Socialiste des Forces Populaires). His heavy-handedness was especially meted out to those supporting independence for Western Sahara, which Morocco unequivocally claims as its own territory and has sought to annex since Spain abandoned the region in the mid-1970s. For these reasons, Hassan often faced international criticism for human rights abuses.
Nevertheless, Hassan increasingly instituted many democratic principles during his leadership. During his reign, literacy, women's equality, education, and economic well-being in Morocco all increased dramatically. He was a progressive leader who, despite lacking the charisma of his father, led Morocco from rural poverty to urban modernity and prosperity. Hassan's key characteristic was his ability to balance relations with both the West, whose economic and political aid helped modernize his country, and the Middle East, whose Islamic heritage was his basis for power. He was a skilled negotiator who mediated numerous contentious issues among his European and Arab neighbors. One of his most prominent accomplishments in this area was his work in the 1980s, which sought recognition for Israel and an end to the Arab-Israeli conflict. During the Persian Gulf War, he sent troops to defend Saudi Arabia despite public opposition and mass demonstrations.
Hassan II died of a heart attack on 23 July 1999 after an extended illness. At the time of his death, he was the Arab world's longest-reigning monarch. He was succeeded by his son, King Mohammed VI.
Mark M. Sanders
Hughes, Stephen O. Morocco under King Hassan. Reading, UK: Ithaca, 2001.