Abraham Serfaty: Political activist who fell foul of the French colonial authorities as well as Morocco's authoritarian King Hassan II

Abraham Serfaty was a leading Moroccan Jewish dissident, who spent his life fighting for independence and democracy in his homeland, first against the French colonial rulers and then King Hassan II's absolute monarchy.

His struggle against all forms of injustice cost him 22 months in hiding, 17 years imprisonment and 13 years in exile, but he succeeded in returning to Morocco a free citizen.

Mohamed Moujahid, the Unified Socialist Party Secretary-General, hailed Serfaty as a man who "worked for the independence of Morocco, and made great sacrifices. He broke records in political detention in his endeavour to spread democracy and achieve social justice... He supported all those in their struggle against injustice and their fight for freedom... He was a true patriot."

Born in 1926 into a middle-class Moroccan-Jewish family originally from Tangier, Abraham Serfaty began his political education at an early age when in February 1944, like many young Moroccans, he joined the Communist Party. He soon found himself involved in fighting against French colonialism. The French Protectorate was established in 1912 with a Spanish Protectorate in the north of the country. Serfaty went to France to study and with his arrival in Paris, joined the French Communist Party. In 1949, he graduated from the École Nationale Supérieure des Mines de Paris, one of France's most prestigious mining engineering schools; following independence, he would help to develop technical education in Morocco.

In 1950, back in Morocco and the ranks of the Moroccan Communist Party, Serfaty continued the struggle against French oppression. However, in 1952 he was arrested and exiled to France under house arrest by the colonial authorities for his role as a nationalist activist. He returned home in 1956, when Morocco won independence.

Upon his return, he became a Special Adviser to the Minister of Economy (1957-60) and was a supporter of the new mining policy in the newly independent Morocco. From 1960 to 1968 he was Director of Research and Development at the Office Moroccan Phosphates. Serfaty was later removed from office for showing solidarity with a miners' strike.

From 1968 to 1972, he taught at the Mohammedia School of Engineering in Rabat, while concurrently collaborating with the writer (and editor) Abdellatif Laâbi on the anti-establishment magazine Souffles/Anfas. This was a magazine that became a conduit for a new generation of writers, artists, and intellectuals to stage a revolution against imperialist and colonial cultural domination.

Although Jewish, Serfaty was also an anti-Zionist Jew who recognised the State of Israel but who demanded the abolition of the so-called "Law of Return" and supported the creation of a Palestinian State. By 1967 heno longer accepted Israeli nationalism and was outraged by the treatmentof the Palestinians and supported their struggle. He remarked in his book Prison Writings, "Zionism is above all a racist ideology. It is the Jewish reversal of Hitlerism... It proclaims the state of Israel 'Jewish above everything', just as Hitler proclaimed an Aryan Germany".

In 1970, Serfaty left the Communist Party, which he now viewed as too doctrinaire and helped establish the Marxist-Leninist left-wing organisation, Ila al-Amam [Forward, or En Avant in French). This move, however, was a source of concern to the authorities and the country's ruler King Hassan II. In January 1972 Serfaty was arrested by the security services and brutally tortured. Student demonstrations ensued, which eventually forced the authorities to release him. He was soon targeted again along with a friend, A Zeroual, who was also wanted by the authorities. Fearing arrest, the pair went into hiding in March 1972, helped by a French teacher, Christine Daure. Serfaty later married her in a Jewish ceremony at the Kenitra high security prison, where he was serving a life sentence.

After months in hiding, Serfaty and Zeroual were arrested again in 1974. Zeroual died in detention, believed to be a victim of torture. In October 1977 Serfaty, along with five other dissidents and anti-establishment figures, was put on trial in Casablanca, officially charged with "plotting against state security". All five were given life sentences. The consensus was that the severity of the sentence stemmed from Serfaty's stance against the annexation of the Western Sahara, although this was never mentioned in the official indictment.

In September 1991, following an international campaign led by Serfaty's wife and Danielle Mitterrand, wife of the French President François, Serfaty was released from Kenitra prison after 17 years. However, at the instigation of the Moroccan Interior Minister, Driss Basri, his Moroccan citizenship was immediately revoked and he and his wife were exiled to France, where he continued to write and criticise the Moroccan government. From 1992 to 1995 he taught at the University of Paris VIII (Department of Political Science) on Identity and Democracy in the Arab World.

With the death of his father in 1999, Mohammed VI became King of Morocco. A more forward thinking and reform-minded leader wanting to implement social reform, tackle corruption and human-rights abuses, he pardoned Serfaty and his citizenship was reinstated. In September 2000, Serfaty returned to his homeland, where he and his wife were given a villa and a modest income. He was later appointed advisor to the Moroccan National Office for Research and Oil (Onarep).

He never compromised his principles and continued to speak out in favour of freedom of the press. In December 2000 he called for the resignation of the Prime Minister Abderrahmane Youssouffi.

Serfaty published six books over the years: Anti-Zionist Struggle and Arab Revolution (1977); Prison Writings on Palestine (1992); In the King's Prisons (1992); The Other's Memory (1993); Morocco in Black and Grey (1998); and The Insubordinate: Jew, Moroccan and Rebel (2001).



Abraham Serfaty, political activist; born Casablanca, Morocco 1926; married Christine-Daure; died Marrakech 18 November 2010.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager - B2B, Corporate - City, London

£45000 - £50000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Recruitment Genius: Head of Content and PR

£35000 - £37000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers in retail'...

Recruitment Genius: PHP Developer - Mid / Senior

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing digital agenc...

Recruitment Genius: E-commerce Partnerships Manager

£50000 - £100000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a newly-created partne...

Day In a Page

Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

Machine Gun America

The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

The ethics of pet food

Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?
11 best bedside tables

11 best bedside tables

It could be the first thing you see in the morning, so make it work for you. We find night stands, tables and cabinets to wake up to
No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell