BEN BARKA, Mehdi

Mehdi Ben Barka is a Moroccan nationalist leader and politician (1920-1965). He was one of the younger leaders of the Istiqlal party which led Morocco to independence. He also served as chairman of the country’s Consultative Assembly from 1956 to 1959. Within the Istiqlal he headed a leftist faction opposed to the traditional leadership, and in 1959 he seceded with his faction and founded the Union Nationale des Forces Populaires. He was politically close to Abderrahman Youssoufi, the present Moroccan Prime Minister.

Accused of involvement in subversion and plots, he soon went into exile in France. In 1963-64 he was tried in abstentia and sentenced to death, though King Hassan II later pardoned him. In October 1965 Ben Barka disappeared in France and it was generally assumed that he had been abducted and murdered by the Moroccan secret services (though his body was never found).

In January 1966 the French issued an arrest warrant against Muhammad Oufkir, the Moroccan Minister of the Interior and head of the Secret Services. A trial was held in France (1966-1967) and Oufkir was condemned by default to imprisonment for life. Oufkir died in 1972: instigator of a coup attempt, he was convoked at the king’s residence where he committed a suicide according to the official version.

The « Ben Barka Affair » caused a grave crisis in French-Moroccan relations for several years but was patched up in 1969 after General de Gaulle’s retirement and Pompidou’s election as President.

The scandal was never mentioned officially in morocco since then. Revelations of a former Moroccan Intelligence officer published in french and moroccan newspapers in June 2001 have revived the affair and confirmed that the then Minister of the Interior, Mohammed Oufqir, was directly responsible for the death of Ben Barka and had his body brought back to morocco to be disolved in an acid bath. Human rights groups have demanded that a proper judicial inquiry be made into his disappearance and that of hundreds of other opposition militants.