Moroccans are fond of saying it was the first country to recognize the fledgling United States of America. It wasn’t. That was erroneously stated in some article back in the 1950s. The first country to recognize the U.S. was France, which it probably did just to rankle the much-despised British, who, of course, had just lost their colonies.
But what Morocco “can” boast is the longest continuous treaty-related relationship with the U.S. than any other country. And it’s really kind of cool.
It started back in the 1780s. Morocco struck a deal with the United States to protect U.S. ships from Barbary Coast pirates.
That’s right. Morocco had actually been dealing with pirates since the 16th century, when it established Oudaya at the mouth of Bou Regreg River in what is now Rabat, the Moroccan capital.
Pirates weren’t always just pirates. Sometimes they were the navy. Being mercenary at heart, pirates could do a lot to protect a country, and even fight its battles. But when things got slow, and there wasn’t any pay coming from the government, pirates chased down merchant ships from other countries, plundered, captured and sometimes enslaved those they took hostage.
In Morocco the califate found a way to work with pirates, guaranteeing them free reign as long as they shared some of their booty. But when the agreement was struck with the new U.S., and payment was somehow made, it was able to call the pirates off our ships. The details are a little hazy this far past the time, but in fact that treaty was the beginning of an unbroken string of various other agreements that is longer than any other country.
Oudaya is still there, an ancient kasbah — which simply means fort — a living relic of an older time. It is a tourist attraction surrounded by thick walls that enclose the former palace. It is now the place of residence for several hundred people — a neighborhood of Muslims and Christians living in harmony and friendship. The view out over the Atlantic is as spectacular as it was 600 years ago. Narrow paths between the homes wind past doorways unique to each home. Arabs take pride in their doors. Each is different in its design and setting. Many are adorned with a door knocker in the shape of the hand of Fatima, though to keep evil spirits away from the door. Here is a look at some of the doors: