Princess Lalla Aicha: Women's-rights activist and first female Arab ambassador

Princess Aicha of Morocco fought all her life for women's rights, and was the first female Arab ambassador.

She appeared on the front cover of Time on 11 November 1957 under the banner "The Emancipation of Moslem Women". Born in 1930 to the Sultan, and later king, Mohammed V, and his first wife Lalla Abla bint Tahar, Aicha supported her father's stand for independence. When he was deposed by the French in 1953 and exiled, she stood by him. He returned in 1955 and brought about independence the following year, later achieving the informal status of Abb al-Watan al-Maghribi [Father of the Moroccan Nation].

She rose to national prominence early, following in her father's footsteps with dramatic effectiveness. In April 1947 on a visit to Tangiers – then an international zone with its own legal system – the Sultan departed from the written speech authorised by the French protectorate. Instead, he declared the unity of the Moroccan nation under his sovereignty, without any reference to the French and Spanish protectorates.

This is regarded as his first public call for independence, although he had discussed the possibility with President Roosevelt when he had hosted the allied powers' Casablanca Conference in 1943. In Tangiers the Sultan was accompanied by his heir, later to become Hassan II, and Princess Aicha. They also both gave speeches, but Aicha's was equally as explosive as her father's.

Unveiled and dressed like a modern Western woman, the young princess spoke to an audience consisting of the conservative Muslim men typical of that period. Her appearance and her words shook them. "Our Sultan, may Allah glorify him, expects that all Moroccan women will persevere on the road to education," she declared. "They are the barometer of our Renaissance." To bring home the message she emphasised how her father had encouraged her to study modern languages and classical Arabic, the lingua franca of public discourse in the Arab world.

After she, her father and brother had left the city, the traditional-minded Mandoub of Tangiers, nominally the representative of the Sultan but in fact responsible for the Arab and Berber inhabitants, was still so scandalised by the princess's words that he issued orders for the arrest of any woman who dared wear western dress. Those who resisted had their clothes ripped. "If our women wear western clothes, they'll try to become totally Western," he fumed. "They'll drink, wear bathing costumes and will lie down next to men on the beach!"

But he was too late: Aicha had come to symbolise Moroccan independence and feminism. Nationalist leaders took her at her word and sent their daughters off for a modern education, without a veil. Others soon followed. There was even a pendant worn by nationalists long after her speech with a picture of the sultan on side and one of her on the other. Modestly, she told Time in 1957 that she had not realised theimpact her speech would make. As a youngster, she hadn't yet understood the realities of life of her fellow countrywomen.

In 1957, shortly after independence, the king set up Entraide Nationale, a national support scheme to help the poor, and Aicha became its first president. It was to play an important role in the Agadir earthquake of 1960, which is said to have broken the heart of the king, who died the following year.

His son, Hassan II, appointed his ister as ambassador to London from 1965-1969 – she exercised considerable influence and got on particularly well with Princess Margaret – and laterto Athens and Rome. Although it has been said that her brother sent her abroad because she was too popular and independently minded at home and brought her home when she became too popular and independently minded abroad, she never spoke a public word against him, and was distressed when he died in 1999.

Highly cultured and intelligent, she was a keen golfer, walker and enjoyed being a hostess. She kept a Pekingese dog called Norbert, and a couple of parrots, which she used to take with her on various trips in separate cages "so that they didn't get too intimate." She headed the Moroccan Red Crescent and was the honorary president of the National Union of Moroccan Women.

In Britain, her example of female leadership in the Arab world continues: her niece, Princess Lalla Joumala, is the current Moroccan ambassador to the UK.

Princess Lalla Aicha, public servant and diplomat: born Rabat, Morocco 17 June 1930; DCVO 1980; married 1961 Moulay Hassan Al-Yaqubi (divorced 1972; two daughters), secondly, HH Moulay Hassan Al Mahdi (died 1984); died Morocco 4 September 2011.

17.06.1930

On the day she was born...

The Lancashire fast bowler Brian Staham was also born. He played in 70 Tests for England, taking 252 wickets at an average of 24.84. He was made CBE, and died in 2000

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
tv
News
Katie Hopkins appearing on 'This Morning' after she purposefully put on 4 stone.
peopleKatie Hopkins breaks down in tears over weight gain challenge
Life and Style
fashionModel of the moment shoots for first time with catwalk veteran
Life and Style
fashionAngelina Jolie's wedding dressed revealed
Sport
Alexis Sanchez, Radamel Falcao, Diego Costa and Mario Balotelli
footballRadamel Falcao and Diego Costa head record £835m influx
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Madame Vastra and Jenny Flint kiss in Doctor Who episode 'Deep Breath'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman topped the list of the 30 most influential females in broadcasting
tv
Life and Style
techIf those brochure kitchens look a little too perfect to be true, well, that’s probably because they are
Arts and Entertainment
Danish director Lars von Trier
tvEnglish-language series with 'huge' international cast set for 2016
Life and Style
tech
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

PPA Cover Teachers Required in Doncaster

Negotiable: Randstad Education Sheffield: Primary PPA Teachers required for wo...

Maths teachers needed for supply work in Ipswich

£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Maths teachers requir...

Executive Assistant/Events Coordinator - Old Street, London

£35000 - £38000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Executive Assistant/Event...

Female PE Teacher

£23760 - £33600 per annum + pre 12 week AWR : Randstad Education Manchester Se...

Day In a Page

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering