The Soilih Regime
Originally an agronomist, Ali Soilih had become politically active as a supporter of RDPC leader Said Ibrahim in 1970. Lasting from January 1976 to May 1978, his rule was marked by continued hostility between France and Comoros. The main issues were the status of Mahoré (particularly after France held a second referendum on the island, on February 7, 1976, in which 99.4 percent of the voters endorsed continued status as a French department) and a radical reform program designed to break the hold of traditional values and French influence on Comoran life. Soilih envisioned accomplishing his revolution in three phases, beginning with independence from France. The second phase, a "social revolution," would abolish such customs as the wearing of veils, the costly grand mariage (great wedding; in Swahili ndola nkuu), and traditional funeral ceremonies. Comoran citizens, including young women, would be mobilized to serve in revolutionary militia and army units in an attempt to create something resembling the Red Guards of China's Cultural Revolution of the late 1960s. The third phase would decentralize government administration by establishing thirty-four local moudirias, or provinces. These would serve not only as administrative centers but would also provide post and telephone service and consumer goods for localities of about 9,000 people on the model of the Chinese people's communes.
Soilih emphasized the central role of young people in the revolution, lowering the voting age to fourteen. He mobilized Comoran youth into a special revolutionary militia (the Moissy), which particularly in the villages, launched violent attacks on conservative elders in Red Guard style.
After the withdrawal of French financial subsidies, the treasury was soon emptied, and in a move having budgetary as well as ideological implications, some 3,500 civil servants were dismissed in 1977. Soilih made a more than symbolic break with the past in 1976 by burning French government archives, which had been kept since the acquisition of Mahoré 135 years before. Tanzanian officers trained the Comoran Armed Forces, and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (North Korea), Saudi Arabia, and other countries provided limited aid.
Soilih, who described himself as a devout Muslim, advocated a secular state and limitations on the privileges of the muftis, or Muslim jurists who interpret Islamic law. These reforms, which were perceived as attacks on Comoran traditions, combined with a deepening economic crisis to erode support for his government. Several attempts were made on Soilih's life, and in a referendum held in October 1977, only 55 percent of the voters supported a new constitution proposed by his government. Attacks by the Moissy on real and imagined political opponents escalated; raids on mosques were common; a number of refugees fled to Mahoré. The eruption of Kartala in April 1977 and the influx of refugees from Madagascar following a massacre of resident Comorans there exacerbated the situation. In March 1978, some fishers in the town of Iconi, south of Moroni, were killed after protesting the government's policy on compulsory sale of their catch to the state. Severe food shortages in 1976-77 required the government to seek aid internationally and forced the young nation to divert its already limited export earnings from economic development to purchases of rice and other staples.
Popular support had dwindled to such a level that when a mercenary force of fifty, consisting largely of former French paratroopers, landed at Itsandra Beach north of the capital on May 12, 1978 the regular armed forces offered no resistance. The mercenaries were led by French-born Bob Denard (an alias for Gilbert Bourgeaud, also known as Said Mustapha M'Hadjou) a veteran of wars of revolution, counterrevolution, and separatism from Indochina to Biafra. (Ironically, Denard had played a role in the 1975 coup that had enabled Soilih to come to power.) Most Comorans supported the coup and were happy to be free of Soilih's ineffective and repressive regime. The deposed head of state was killed under mysterious circumstances on May 29, 1978. The official explanation was that he had attempted to escape.
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