This article examines how the French Protectorate in Morocco enabled a defining institution of social inequality to endure and adapt. Colonial policies and the norms and evaluative beliefs surrounding domestic slavery are probed to explain the lack of political will against, and the resilience of, slavery within twentieth century Morocco. Previously unpublished archival findings are used to reconstruct how the Protectorate’s association with the Moroccan monarchy and slave owning elites entailed not only the suspension of the French ideal of liberty, but also the active management and manipulation of knowledge and representations of slavery. Discussion of Protectorate policy formation, and official controls of how domestic slavery was understood in response to anti-slavery pressures, reveals that administrators remained faithful to the contradictions guiding initial colonial maneuvers to satisfy French and international abolitionist expectations while simultaneously maintaining this form of non-interference in elite Moroccan affairs. The article also considers ways through which the Protectorate accomplished the work of negating domestic slavery. A vague deference to Islam via “Muslim policy” became a standard means of characterizing and approaching the institution; further ambivalence about slavery was reinforced through ongoing selective color-blindness entailing official non-recognition, manipulation, and regulation of blackness. Though French officials and Moroccan slave owners were of unequal powers and frequently divergent interests and spheres of influence, attention to the Protectorate’s handling of the problem of slavery helps illuminate the ambiguous social history within which domestic slavery in Morocco was reframed into lessened significance and transformed, before eventually ending as an institution.


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pp. 101-131
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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