Tangier’s Long Transition: Interzone to Moroccan City

The Frontline Diplomacy collection of oral histories, part of the American Memory project at the Library of Congress, offers priceless insights into the practice of US foreign policy over the latter half of the twentieth century.  The collection was compiled by ADST, the Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training.

We've entered "Tangier" into their search feature and have come up with a valuable trove of recollections by diplomats and their spouses into life at the Legation (or later, Consulate General) mid-twentieth century.  The following excerpts highlight impressions and experiences of diplomats during the leadup to Moroccan independence in 1956, and the subsequent integration of Tangier, International Zone into independent Morocco.

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Late 1940s: Contacts with Moroccan nationalists irk France

TALIM Consul David Fritzlan

Vice Consul Fritzlan (l), courtesy Franklin Koppel

Tangier was the abode of any Moroccan from the French zone, or the Spanish zone, who was out of favor. These people could come to Tangier , and there they were relatively safe. Wanting support for their cause, they'd come to the Legation and wind up in my office. The French representative complained strongly about my receiving these Moroccan nationalists but Childs [note: J. Rives Childs, US Chargé d'Affaires], and later Paul Alling who succeeded him, made it plain that we were not closing our doors to anybody.


Well, the reports that I wrote on the basis of conversations with these people, who later became leaders in the Moroccan government after its independence, were, I think, viewed as of little importance or interest in the Department. The feeling was that the French are there, and were going to stay there indefinitely. Nor were my reports received well by our Embassy in Parisour despatches on the Moroccan nationalists' activities, their aims, their aspirations, their suppression by the French, were viewed with great hostility.

David Fritzlan, US Legation Tangier, 1944-1948

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1952: Rumblings of independence: the Tangier riots

TALIM 1952 Riots Tangier GazetteThis would have been about 1952, I think, more or less in the middle of my tour. The French had promised to turn Morocco over to the Moroccans and they didn't. And the Moroccans had an uprising in Tangier, calling in the Rifs [note: a reference to Berber tribes from the Rif Mountains] from the mountain zone nearby, and really just generally causing trouble. They were turning over parked cars in the streets and burning them. They were shoving Europeans off the sidewalks and, on a couple of occasions, beating up on them, all in resentment over the French breaking their promise. And, of course, bear in mind that an American is more or less indistinguishable from a Frenchman as far as a Moroccan is concerned. So we wound up carrying guns to work. I left my wife at home with a little 22 caliber target pistol, which was the only other gun we had, and I took along a Beretta that I'd picked up during the war. We actually didn't run into any trouble. But we felt safer if, walking down the street in the main part of town, we were carrying something a bit imposing…

Robert F. Franklin, VOA Relay Station Tangier, 1951-1954

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1957: Post-independence transition: dismantling the International Zone

TALIM Cap Spartel w signWith the independence of Morocco in 1956, Embassy Rabat replaced our Legation in Tangier. As Director of the Office of African Affairs, I had been handling Moroccan affairs in the Department. I was assigned to Tangier as Consul General to help facilitate the transition. In addition to the usual functions of a consul general, I was a member of the Committee of Control of the International Zone of Tangier which, together with the Spanish Zone and the French Protectorate, would be dismantled in the process of re-integrating the Sherifian Empire of Morocco. I believe Tangier was one of the last havens of extraterritoriality in the world. Decades of complex international arrangements were unraveled. As US member of the International Commission of Cape Spartel, I signed an international agreement whereby the several signatories returned to the Sultan of Morocco the responsibilities they had assumed in 1865 for the direction and expenses of the Cape Spartel lighthouse. I was pleased to be able to have a part in the re-integration of Tangier into the Sherifian Empire.

Leo G. Cyr, Consul General Tangier, 1957-1960

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Late 50s/early 60s: Tangier smugglers on the wane; Morocco asserts sovereignty

I got there in September or October, 1957. Morocco had become independent the year before. When I arrived, Morocco had a political unification, but it wasn't very effective, had no economic integration. Each of the three areas had its own laws and regulations, each had its own currency area, and most of the effective decisions were made locally rather than in Rabat, the capital. I was there during the time of the economic integration of Tangier and of the northern Spanish zone into the French zone. The Moroccan franc became the only national monetary unit; the Spanish peseta was withdrawn. But the free money market continued for some time in Tangier. And Tangier still had an aura of the old outlaw smuggler's haven. It still had a little bit of that feeling. Europe was still having problems with currency, and with import permits, and all sorts of import restrictions, and Tangier became a smuggling point, primarily for cigarettes to Italy, but also a whole range of goods for Spain where corruption ruled TALIM PT Boatcommerce. The smugglers bought old PT boats from the United States, surplus PT boats, modified them for speed and ran to the beaches of Spain and Italy to unload their cigarettes, or transistor radios and other items in demand, then head back to Tangier.

One of the unusual duties that fell to me in Tangier was the signing of re-export permits. Under the international regime for the territory, the US, like other signatories of the statute of 1923, enjoyed extra-territorial rights. No citizen of the United states could be a defendant in any but the local US court, and no US-origin goods could be transshipped from Tangier without the approval of the US government–mine. So I was the one who signed the re-export permits for US goods, most of which were to be smuggled into Europe. Whole boatloads of cigarettes, cameras, radios and household appliances were approved under a policy of denying permits only to dangerous or embargoed merchandise. But Tangier  was already losing some of that outlaw atmosphere and illicit activity when I got there. With the economic integration, it was almost entirely gone by the time I finished my tour of duty. Morocco was in fact governing Tangier , and the vestiges of the old international administration were being tidied up, and handed over to the Sultan [note: on August 14, 1957 Mohammed V was proclaimed King of Morocco].

Leonardo Neher, US Consulate General Tangier, 1957-1962

1 thought on “Tangier’s Long Transition: Interzone to Moroccan City”

  1. Dear Writer,
    Thank you ineed for this valuable information. I am from Tangier. As I am not happy with the way Morocco is governing my hometwon, I found your article interesting while doing my research on Tangier.

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