Following France’s colonization of Algeria, borders took on new meanings in the Maghrib. After the annexation of Algeria to France in 1848, Algerian subjects residing abroad were entitled to the same treatment as other French nationals—subjects and citizens—outside of French territory.
This new legal reality offered an opportunity for Moroccans, both Jews and Muslims, to obtain French protection by crossing the Algerian frontier and procuring documents proving their Algerian subjecthood. By the late nineteenth century, consular protection was a privilege sought by Moroccans in order to avoid taxes, gain access to consular jurisdiction, and generally benefit from the growing influence of foreign diplomats.
Increasing numbers of Moroccans, especially Jews, opted for this type of strategic migration and crossed the border into Algeria in order to obtain passports and acts of notoriety. These documents were usually sufficient proof to convince the French diplomatic authorities in Morocco to grant these Jews patents of protection. Some Jews obtained French nationality through legal means, while others engaged in illegal measures to procure the necessary documents. This paper uses the case of Messaoud Amoyal to examine the phenomenon of “Algerian” Jews in Morocco—that is, Moroccans who had obtained Algerian subjecthood, either legally or illegally.
Amoyal, a Moroccan Jew, successfully convinced the French authorities that he was Algerian and benefited from French protection in his native town of Al-Qsar from 1880 to 1890. His story sheds light on the strategies used by Moroccan Jews to navigate the system of consular protection. Amoyal’s experience is also a testament to how the French bureaucracy, including diplomats in Morocco, colonial officials in Algeria, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Paris, attempted to regulate the border crossings between Morocco and Algeria, often without much success.