Meanwhile a great Sultan was once more to appear in the land. Moulay-el-Hassan, who ruled from 1873 to 1894, was an able and energetic administrator. He pieced together his broken empire, asserted his authority in Fez and Marrakech, and fought the rebellious tribes of the west. In 1877 he asked the French government to send him a permanent military mission to assist in organizing his army. He planned an expedition to the Souss, but the want of food and water in the wilderness traversed by the army caused the most cruel sufferings. Moulay-el-Hassan had provisions sent by sea, but the weather was too stormy to allow of a landing on the exposed Atlantic coast, and the Sultan, who had never seen the sea, was as surprised and indignant as Canute to find that the waves would not obey him.
His son Abd-el-Aziz was only thirteen years old when he succeeded to the throne. For six years he remained under the guardianship of Ba-Ahmed, the black Vizier of Moulay-el-Hassan, who built the fairy palace of the Bahia at Marrakech, with its mysterious pale green padlocked door leading down to the secret vaults where his treasure was hidden. When the all-powerful Ba-Ahmed died the young Sultan was nineteen. He was intelligent, charming, and fond of the society of Europeans; but he was indifferent to religious questions and still more to military affairs, and thus doubly at the mercy of native mistrust and European intrigue.
Some clumsy attempts at fiscal reform, and a too great leaning toward European habits and associates, roused the animosity of the people, and of the conservative party in the upper class. The Sultan’s eldest brother, who had been set aside in his favour, was intriguing against him; the usual Cherifian Pretender was stirring up the factious tribes in the mountains; and the European powers were attempting, in the confusion of an ungoverned country, to assert their respective ascendencies.
The demoralized condition of the country justified these attempts, and made European interference inevitable. But the powers were jealously watching each other, and Germany, already coveting the certain agricultural resources and the conjectured mineral wealth of Morocco, was above all determined that a French protectorate should not be set up.
In 1908 another son of Moulay-Hassan, Abd-el-Hafid, was proclaimed Sultan by the reactionary Islamite faction, who accused Abd-el-Aziz of having sold his country to the Christians. Abd-el-Aziz was defeated in a battle near Marrakech, and retired to Tangier, where he still lives in futile state. Abd-el-Hafid, proclaimed Sultan at Fez, was recognized by the whole country, but he found himself unable to cope with the factious tribes (those outside the Blad-el-Makhzen, or governed country). These rebel tribes besieged Fez, and the Sultan had to ask France for aid. France sent troops to his relief, but as soon as the dissidents were routed, and he himself was safe, Abd-el-Hafid refused to give the French army his support, and in 1912, after the horrible massacres of Fez, he abdicated in favour of another brother, Moulay Youssef, the actual ruler of Morocco.