What is the red flag with a green star the symbol of? From Morocco, certainly. But still ? What does this emblem of the history of the kingdom tell us and what part of the truth is in the controversies surrounding its construction? These questions are at the heart of Drapeaux du Maroc, the latest work by Nabil Mouline, researcher at the CNRS, with whom Le Monde spoke remotely.

The evolution of flags in Morocco is closely linked to the political, religious and economic tumults that have marked the country’s trajectory since the emergence of the Moroccan state with the Almoravids in the 11th century. As “regalia” [symbolic objects of royalty], these instruments of power embodied the aspirations of each dynasty through their shapes, colors and inscriptions. Initially black, the imperial standard became white between the 12th and 17th centuries. Then the monarchy adopted two new emblems between the 17th and 19th centuries. While green expresses its religious authority, red reveals its political power.

Simultaneously, in Europe, developments towards the formation of nation-states led to a transformation in the design of flags. Each political community must now display its own emblem, which no longer symbolizes the centrality of the ruling house, but more the values ​​and ambitions of the nation. Europe, because of its ideological and organizational superiority, is gradually imposing this concept on the rest of the world. In Morocco, this influence was manifested by the gradual consecration of the red flag as a state symbol from the 1870s. Initially indifferent, the elites of the sultanate, influenced by European ideas, ended up adopting it.

From the early 1870s until 1915, the state flag of Morocco was red, only red. But after the establishment of the protectorate in 1912, a change gradually came. In 1913, customs employees required Moroccan boats to display a tricolor flag on the corner of which was a small red rectangle with a five-pointed star. This new distinctive mark deeply displeases Moroccans, because it does not respect the theoretical sovereignty of the country. To avoid unnecessary conflict, this “innovation” is quickly withdrawn.

Long negotiations then began between the French administration and the Makhzen. The two parties eventually found common ground: maintaining the red emblem by adding a green pentagram. Sultan Youssef ratified this change by promulgating an imperial rescript [dahir] on November 17, 1915. In reality, the authorities only formalized, in a way, the choice of the customs officers, who themselves only repeated a well-known symbol in Moroccan social space for centuries. As available sources show, Hubert Lyautey played a minor role in this process, but some myths die hard.

Stars, particularly the pentagram, the hexagram and the octogram, have constituted one of the pillars of Moroccan decorative art for many centuries. Called indiscriminately “seal of Solomon”, they appear on different media, notably from the 8th century. Although six-pointed and eight-pointed stars have been embroidered on secondary banners and pennants since at least the 12th century, they have never appeared on the main standard of the different dynasties. Lyautey could therefore not modify something which had no prior existence.

In reality, this myth arises from what is called symbolic confusion. Only a few rare visual testimonies allow us to see state red flags bearing hexagrams, after the promulgation of the rescript of 1915. Moreover, the use of the six-pointed star, until then considered as a Muslim symbol , continued throughout the first half of the 20th century, particularly on coins. It was only a few years after the outbreak of the Arab-Israeli conflict that this symbol disappeared from Moroccan artifacts.

The establishment of the protectorate brought about profound transformations within Moroccan society. From the 1920s, nationalism arose among part of urban youth. Political organizations emerged and sought, from 1933, to express and celebrate the seniority, unity and solidarity of the Moroccan nation.

To symbolize its quest for independence, the red flag with a green pentagram will be chosen, notably through the Throne Festival, the first national and secular ritual in the modern sense of the term. This essential political event will play a vital role in the popularization of this object. Thanks to this process of reinvention and appropriation, the distant state insignia became a true national emblem, especially after its definitive adoption by the monarchical institution in 1947.