Mohamed Basri

Moroccan opposition leader
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The Independent Online

Mohamed Basri, politician: born Demnat, Morocco 1927; married (two daughters); died Chefchaouen, Morocco 14 October 2003.

When the veteran Moroccan opposition leader and fighter against French colonists returned home in 1995 after 28 years in exile, 4,000 enthusiastic supporters greeted him at Casablanca airport.

Youngsters from the shanty towns, old independence fighters with their shepherd's crooks, their chilabas and their turbans, children in bright caftans, nationalist leaders, socialists and Communists in suit and tie converged upon Mohamed Basri - known as "Fqih", the Erudite - and smothered him with flowers, placards and cries of joy.

Basri, an implacable opponent of King Hassan II, was condemned to death on four occasions for organising conspiracies against the Moroccan monarch. As a young man he fought against the French protectorate and became a leader of the National Liberation Army. He was imprisoned in Kenitra north of Rabat in 1954, but escaped a year later.

He was on the left of the nationalist Istiqlal party that headed Morocco's resistence to colonial rule. And once Morocco achieved independence in 1957 he founded the Union Socialiste des Forces Populaires (USFP), together with Mehdi ben Barka and Abderraman Yusufi. Ben Barka was kidnapped and assassinated in France in 1965, although neither his body nor his killer was ever found.

King Hassan sidelined the old nationalists, and in 1963 Basri organised the first armed plot against him. He was condemned to death for rebellion and attacking state security. It was the first of four such sentences. Basri fled into exile in France in 1967. He became increasingly radical as years passed, and was considered one of the main opponents of the king, whom he never ceased trying to overthrow. An attempt in 1969 also failed.

In 1973, Basri organised the dispatch to Morocco of a group of guerrilla commandos who were experienced in assaulting military garrisons. That earned him yet another death sentence. Finally, in 1994, his eternal foe King Hassan amnestied him along with some 400 other political prisoners and dozens of exiles, and he returned on 10 June 1995.

His political activity continued, but discreetly, and outside his old party the USFP. In 1998 the king called upon the USFP to join a coalition government headed by Basri's erstwhile comrade Abderraman Yusufi.

But Basri had a final bombshell up his sleeve. In 2000 he published a letter in which he accused Yusufi and USFP members of having participated in a failed military coup attempt of 1972 organised by General Mohamed Ufkir. In the ensuing scandal, Basri crept quietly out of the limelight.

He fell ill in August, and King Mohamed VI paid for Basri to travel to Paris for treatment. The old rebel wrote to the young monarch to thank him for his kindness.

Elizabeth Nash