13 July, 2000
From Palace To Prison
A year ago, when Morocco's
Crown Prince Sidi Mohammed announced the death of his father
King Hassan II, Malika Oufkir had more reason than most to reflect.
Aged five, Malika had been unofficially adopted by Morocco's
royal family. For 11 years, she grew up in a palace, isolated
from her family.
When her real father, a general in charge of King Hassan's notorious
security services, led a failed coup against the regime, he
was executed. His wife and children, including Malika, were
sent to a secret jail. For more than 15 years, they survived
- but only just. In 1987, having dug a tunnel with no more than
their hands, a spoon, and the lid of a sardine tin, the children
escaped to freedom. But they had to leave their mother behind.
Eventually, they were re-united, and Malika and her family now
live in France.
Outlook's Fred Dove recently met with Malika to discuss
her new autobiography, La Prisonniére, and to
discover how she made the transition from palace to prison.
Mohammed Oufkir, was a powerful minister who led King Hassan
II's security services. He was married with six children, one
of which was a beautiful little girl called Malika, who became
the playmate of the King's half sister, Lalla Mina. At the age
of five it was decided that Malika be removed from her parents
and effectively adopted by the King.
She lived in the palace, surrounded by the King's concubines
and had little contact with her real family. She recalls:
'The only contact I had with my family was in the palace.
A few times my mother was invited to parties and my father when
he came to work with the King. For me it was terrible, because
I looked at them like my parents, but I couldn't go and have
contact with them, because living in the palace means that first
you have to renounce your identity. You can have no past and
Despite her lavish surroundings, Malika felt trapped and at
the age of 16 she asked to be returned home. For the next three
years she lived the high life, she became a party girl, socialising
with celebrities and driving fast sports cars. But then life
Malika's father had spent his professional
life protecting the King, but in 1972 his motives changed. He
began to plan a coup and during a return flight from Paris he
attempted to assassinate the King. His shot failed and General
Oufkir was executed, with the press claiming that he had committed
suicide. As a result of his treachery, Oufkir's family, including
Malika, were taken to the fortress of Bir-Jdid.
Malika was to spend the next 15 years of her life incarcerated
in the desolate prison; existing at the whim of the guards and
surviving on vermin infested soup. The contrast to her highlife
was bizarre and yet her sense of feeling trapped remained, something,
which she feels, will cloud her life forever:
'Today life for me is a big comedy. I can not believe in
life and I can not be affected by the meaning of life. Life
is merely the route to death and everyday life takes you closer
to death. You can say that now I am free; I am married; I built
another life, but I am still a prisoner.'
A Family Incarcerated
can not believe in life and I can not be affected
by the meaning of life'
Between 1978 and 1986 Malika shared her cell with her three
younger sisters. She tried to teach them aspects of science,
geography and history and also tried to develop their creative
minds, spending much of their time composing a tale which they
referred to as The Story.
Having spent so many years apart from her family, she describes
how she made a conscious decision to reintroduce herself to
'In prison I decided to play the role of the oldest sister.
I decided to give them a childhood and try to save them. I knew
something that they never knew - that childhood is very important
and even though you are in prison if you get love you can be
Meanwhile Malika's brothers and mother were kept in adjacent
cells and eight years passed before the family were reunited
in one cell. In her book Malika recalls how emotions became
intensified when the family came together. She describes a torturous
night in 1986 when the family collectively tried to kill themselves
by aiding each other to open their veins with fragments of tin
and knitting needles. She wrote:
'That night, we all passed over to the other side. I don't know
what force, what energy, drove us to survive.'
The shock of what they had experienced that night drove them
onwards. They had reached a level of despair that many of them
would never recover from and their only hope was to escape.
'We were not really normal people, we had not eaten properly
for 47 days.We knew that we had to do something before dying.'
Using any makeshift implement that they could find, the family
began to dig. In 1987 they managed to complete their tunnel
and fled to Tangier. However, their bid to freedom was tainted
by the fact that they had to leave their mother behind. Malika
recalls the moment when she had to leave her:
'My mother shook my hand and she was crying a little, when she
told me "Don't forget they are also your children, so try to
The children's freedom was however short lived. After only a
few days a fearful friend informed the authorities of their
whereabouts. Whilst they never returned to the prison, for the
next four years they were held under house arrest in Marrakech.
In 1991 they were amongst nine political prisoners to be released.
However, having been denied passports and visas, they remained
prisoners of the country. It was only until 1996 when the government,
allowed them official documents that Malika began to feel that
her ordeal was reaching an end.
To Live Again
Twenty-four years after first being incarcerated, Malika moved
to Paris. She is now a married woman of 45 and although her
family, including her mother, also lives in France their meetings
are occasional. Seeing them again brings clear memories of a
life gone by; a life that many of them would like to forget.
But what of her other, 'royal' family? In 1999, King Hussan
II died. Despite being her captor there had been a time when
Malika had once considered him to be her father. Her emotions
on learning of his death were mixed and she recognised that
for both herself and her country to progress they must forget
the past. She explains:
'He didn't really feel like a father, but he was part of my
life and it felt like he was going with my honour and my dignity.
I tried not think about me, but I thought of my country. I tried
to forget what had happened.
All democracies have black pages in their history and, if you
really love your country, you must turn the pages. It is not
the time for Morocco to confront the truth, but we must look
forward and not look back. It is terrible for people like me
who lived in torture and in prison, if you love your country
you must look forward and not dwell in the past.'
the story of Malika Oufkir's life, is published
in English by Doubleday, and in French by Grasset.