Wednesday, March 06, 2019

International Women's Day - Remembering Touria Chaoui

Touria Chaoui, from Fez, was the first Arab woman to become a pilot in the mid-twentieth century. She was assassinated in 1956, at the age of 19

March 1, was the 63rd anniversary of the death of a Moroccan teenager who, despite her short life, broke all gender stereotypes and proved to the world and herself that hard work and passion eventually pay off.

Touria Chaoui was born in Fez in 1936 to a forward-thinking father, Abdelwahed Chaoui, and mother named Zina.

In 1947, when Chaoui was 13, French film director Andre Zwoboda hired her for a role in his film “The Seventh Gate,” at the request of her father, a French-speaking journalist. The director was delighted at Chaoui’s performance.

One moment in the movie inspired Chaoui to pursue a dream of becoming an aviator.

In 1950, Chaoui’s ever-supportive father enrolled her into an aviation academy in Tit Mellil near Casablanca, the only aviation school in the country at the time—reserved for the French forces occupying Morocco.

The school provided little opportunity for native Moroccans and even less for women. But the school accepted Chaoui’s application in hopes that she would one day give up.

When the school itself was expecting her to fail and made attempts to deter her from participating in the aviation program, Chaoui had all the more reason to work hard.

At age 15 Chaoui became a licensed pilot, fulfilling her dream of flying a plane while also becoming the first woman pilot in the Arab world.

His Majesty King Mohamed v with Touria Chaoui

Upon her success, then Sultan Mohammed V of Morocco gave Chaoui an award at the royal palace.  Chaoui made headlines in international newspapers and captured the attention of high-ranking personalities.

Becoming a successful Moroccan woman and at a very young age in the 1950s had a price. Some wanted to make Chaoui fail, and some wanted her dead.

Common belief is that the French colonisers tried to murder her several times.

According to Moroccan historian Abdul Haq Almareni, a French coloniser put a bomb near the door of her villa, but his plan somehow failed. In 1955, two French policemen also shot at Chaoui but their aim was off, said Almareni.

On March 1, 1956, Chaoui was preparing to fly her private plane to Saudi Arabia when she was assassinated, murdered with a bullet in front of her brother Salaheddine and mother Zina. Other historical sources suggest that she was killed by Ahmed Touil, a man with a troubled past who was involved in nationalist resistance and who was rumoured of being in love with the 19-year-old aviatrix. Regardless of speculations, Touria’s death is still a mystery.

Touria's funeral

News of Chaoui’s death shocked Moroccans and many in the Arab world who loved and had great aspirations for her. Touria is buried at the Ahl Fas cemetery in Casablanca next to her father’s grave.

Today, not many know Touria Chaoui’s name, her remarkable confidence and persistence to succeed, or her inspiring yet tragic story.

As the world celebrates International Women’s Day on March 8 and the achievements of women, it is fitting to remember Touria Chaoui’s accomplishments as inspiration for all women who aspire to fly higher than any obstacle.


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