08 June 2010

Lions and Diplomacy

My sister just moved to D.C. to work for Causes.com, and on her way to work the other day, she passed this!

This picture both excited me for my imminent return, but, more importantly, prompted me to go to the Embassy website. I was surprised to discover a very well-put-together site that offers much information - if somewhat cursory - about Morocco.

I would guess many of you did not know that Morocco has the oldest treaty of friendship with the United States, and Morocco was the first country in the world to recognize the independence of the American colonies in 1777. This fact is one that many Moroccans know off-hand, and they never failed to remind me of what their government did if we ever got to talking about US-Moroccan relations, or US-Arab/Muslim relations, or Arab-Israeli relations for that matter.

Additionally, this means the oldest American consulate in the world is located in Morocco! It is actually the Tangier American Legation Museum now, but it was the site of the American diplomatic mission from 1821 to 1956. After independence in 1956, all of the embassies and such moved to Rabat. The building then served as a consulate, and an Arabic language training school for diplomats and Peace Corps volunteers until 1975. With the help of Marines (painting on their days off) from the Kenitra Naval Base, the museum opened just in time for the bicentennial in 1976.

I visited the museum with volunteer and Moroccan friends during the summer of 2009, and we had a lot of fun looking around at historical artifacts, like a dispatch from Washington notifying the consul of the death of Abraham Lincoln, as well as a letter from the sultan of Morocco to George Washington. It basically said, "Yeah, ok, you guys are the U.S. now. That's cool with us." A rough translation. Obviously, we weren't able to read the Arabic - think of how much trouble you have reading any handwriting from 1777 - but Washington's response began, much to our delight, with "My Great and Magnanimous Friend:" I wish we started letters like that nowadays.

But, as far as letters go, our absolute favorite was one from a 19th century consul to Washington, posted in its original, as well as a typed, form on the wall of one of the conference rooms. (You can see me reading the letter on the wall in this picture to the left.) The consul was panicking because the Sultan (via the Pasha, or Basha, kind of like the mayor of Tangier) had a gift of (2 female, I think) lions delivered to the Consulate, and the delivery boy - and the Pasha - were saying that the Sultan would have them beheaded if the consul did not accept the gift. He describes how he locked the lions in a room as he went to write the letter. The website of the legation museum elaborates more on the situation:

In 1833 James R. Leib, the Resident American Consul in Tangier at the time, had accepted from the Sultan a lion and two horses as gifts to the Untied States. He sent an urgent communication to Washington recommending use of the horses Tangier and seeking authorization to ship the lion to Washington. Washington replied suggesting getting rid of the lion but sending the horses to Washington if they were any good. The cost of feeding the beast was $1 per day, and Leib's salary was only $2,000 a year. By 1835, Leib had spent $439.50 on the animal, but had not received a reply to his appeal to Washington to take the lion off his hands. He could not sell the animals for fear offending the Sultan, and he was in a diplomatic bind.

Leib's successor was persuaded to accept yet another gift of lions from the Sultan, only when the Pasha assured the Consul that he (the Pasha) would lose his head if he did not deliver the lions, and began depositing them on the street in front of the Consulate. This time, however, Washington came promptly to his aid by authorizing shipment to the US.

I wish I could find the text of the original letter online, the wording and the tone were priceless.

Needless to say, American-Moroccan diplomatic relations go back a long way. Professional and personal relationships, although hugely less well-documented, are of no less importance, and I hope to try to illuminate some of the bonds we have throughout the life of this blog.

1 comment:

Maria said...

Ahhh, Moroccan Embassy is not that far at all from Dupont. When you come have me/your sister take you to see it!