The diary of the red prince

The Moroccan Prince Moulay Hicham el Alaoui has penned a diary about his life in the palace and his exile, thereby creating a scandal in the royal household. Astrid Kaminski read the book

By Astrid Kaminski

Religion, the monarchy and Western Sahara – those in Morocco who avoid these three quasi-official taboos can live a politically carefree life. However, for several years now, a prominent member of the Moroccan royal family, of all people, cannot leave well enough alone and has been toying with one of these taboos, namely the status of the monarchy.

Prince Moulay Hicham el Alaoui is the cousin of the present ruler of Morocco, King Mohammed VI, popularly known as "M6". Both men are approximately the same age; in fact, they grew up together. On account of his relatively – with the emphasis on the word "relatively" – common touch, el Alaoui bears the nickname "the red prince". Incidentally, the name "Moulay" means a descendant of the Prophet.

In recent years, he has frequently criticised the policies of his native land in the French press, particularly in "Le Monde Diplomatique". In one of his best-known texts, he predicts a utopian "cumin revolution" for the year 2018. Its essential characteristic is that the people, just like the author himself, call for a parliamentary monarchy. He has finally summed up his views in a book entitled "Journal d'un Prince Banni. Demain, le Maroc" (Diary of a Banned Prince. Tomorrow: Morocco).

As the title of the book indicates, a great number of issues are dealt with in one go. To start with, the diary looks back to the past, while at the same time looking to the future. It can be summed up as follows: el Alaoui believes that his convictions, which led to his cousin banning him from the palace, will form the foundations of the Morocco of the future. Correspondingly, he formulates the conclusion to his book with the words "Voilà, c'est fait" (Behold, it is done).

El Alaoui found out about his banishment from the palace in 1999 after the death of the dictator Hassan II, when he wanted to discuss the democratisation of his country with the heir to the throne, Mohammed VI.

Advocate of the 20 February democracy movement

Photo montage of the cover of Prince Moulay Hicham el Alaoui's book
The red prince versus the "deep state": "Besides the establishment of a parliamentary monarchy, his political ideal is the dissolution of the makhzen, a combination of the royal power structure and the 'deep state'," writes Astrid Kaminski

Since then, the author and his family have lived in the USA. He is a graduate in political science and has degrees from Princeton and Stanford. He founded his own elite philanthropic institute, is an entrepreneur, is actively involved with Human Rights Watch and has worked for the Jordanian prince and, in 2000, for Bernhard Kouchner in Kosovo. In 2011, he supported the Moroccan 20 February Movement, which called for political reforms and democracy. Besides the establishment of a parliamentary monarchy, his political ideal is the dissolution of the makhzen, a combination of the royal power structure and "deep state".

By contrast, Mohammed VI is regarded by some as a "step-by step" reformer and by others as a merely "pseudo" reformer. He has corrected some of his father's mistakes, releasing prisoners, setting up a truth commission to examine past human rights violations and taking certain measures to counter the omnipresent corruption in the country. In addition, he has raised the status of the language and culture of the Berber people, the indigenous people of Morocco. Following the comparatively harmless unrest of 2011, he reformed the constitution. One of the king's greatest feats is that he does not consider himself constitutionally "sacred". He nevertheless remains untouchable.

With the publication of el Alaoui's diary, there is unlikely to be any reconciliation with his cousin. However, contrary to all expectations, the book, which was released by the French publisher Grasset, has not been officially banned in Morocco. Despite this, most Moroccans prefer to read pirate copies of the book. Even the brazen French-language Moroccan magazine "Telquel" has been rather reserved in its assessment of the book.

A "masculine Lady Di of the Maghreb"

Then again, the monarch does not have all that much to fear from el Alaoui's diary. The private sensitivities of the author considerably weaken his political credibility. El Alaoui comes across as a kind of "masculine Lady Di of the Maghreb," a man who would like the media to provide him with the attention he does not get from the palace. He sometimes even plays with rumours such as those relating to the opposition politician Mehdi Ben Barka, who was murdered in Paris in 1965.

When it comes to the topic of money – his own as well as that of the palace – the author maintains a deafening silence. There are, however, many anecdotes relating to money, including the one about the time he attempted in desperation to bolster the student funds provided by Hassan II by stealing sand from his beach house and letting the police buy it back, or the one about the time when Hassan II, in a phase of rapprochement between the two men, attempted to win el Alaoui over as a business partner by paying out his share of five million dollars in cash, which he had delivered in a car.

The prince found this all too mafia-like and sent back the vehicle full of banknotes. Nevertheless, despite many attempts at cutting the umbilical cord, his difficult and equally emotional ties to Hassan II remained intact until the monarch's death and, as it appears, have continued long afterwards. A large part of the "Journal d'un Prince Banni" consists of a private portrait of Hassan II and, in a similar vein, a contrasting portrait of Mohammed VI.

King Mohammed VI addressing the Constituent Assembly in Tunis, Tunisia, 31 May 2014 (photo: picture-alliance/dpa)
Is the king a democratic reformer or just pretending to be one? "One of the king's greatest feats is that he does not consider himself constitutionally 'sacred'. He nevertheless remains untouchable," writes Astrid Kaminski

Out from under the shadow of power

If one reads the book as an attempt by a highly educated man to move out from under the shadow of power, then it certainly is a rewarding work. However, el Alaoui is almost naïve in his candour. At times, this evokes a sense of closeness; at others, alienation.

He writes that when Bernhard Kouchner praised him at the UN Security Council in New York at the end of his Kosovo mission, it was one of "the greatest moments" in his life. "For the first time, I felt as if I were a citizen of the world and useful to my fellow human beings."

His mission to Iraq, however, was an utter failure. During a brief period of co-operation with Hassan II, he took on the task of investigating whether or not Iraq possessed chemical weapons. He paid his informants with cars and nights in luxury hotels. Eventually, the monarch found it all too expensive.

It is difficult to say if the author resorts to a certain degree of self-irony in his depictions; the problem is that el Alaoui's writing style is too uniform. If only a Shakespeare had taken on this material, the result would certainly have been a great drama.

Astrid Kaminski

© 2014

Translated from the German by John Bergeron

Editor: Aingeal Flanagan/

Moulay Hicham el Alaoui: "Journal d’un Prince Banni. Demain, le Maroc", Éditions Grasset Paris 2014, 362 pages