When teenager Touria Chaoui became the first female pilot in Morocco and the Arab world in 1952, newspapers across the world reported the event. Women’s organizations congratulated her. She captured the attention of a number of prominent personalities in Morocco, and the late King Mohammed V offered her a red-carpet reception at the palace.
Smashing gender stereotypes to become a female pilot meant a lot to many. Chaoui was now a hero for so many girls at a time the country was under the French protectorate. But her success story did attract the wrong people. Some wanted her to fail while others wanted her dead. A few years after her feat, Chaoui was gunned down at the age of 19, cutting short her life and dazzling career. Some historians said French colonizers tried to murder her several times.
Born in Fez on December 14, 1936, to a French-speaking Moroccan journalist, Abdelwahed Chaoui, and mother named Zina, Chaoui was at the age of 13 hired by French film director Andre Zwoboda for a role in his film “The Seventh Gate”. Chaoui’s father had asked the film director to give her a role. Chaoui didn’t disappoint as she performed amazingly well. A moment in that movie inspired Chaoui to pursue a dream of becoming an aviator.
Her father in 1950 sent her to an aviation academy in Tit Mellil near Casablanca, the only aviation school in the country at the time. The school was reserved for the French forces occupying Morocco, a report said. Chaoui became the first Moroccan girl to step into the school, and while authorities thought she would fail, she worked very hard and succeeded.
At the age of 15, Chaoui fulfilled her dream of becoming a licensed pilot to the admiration of many. But others didn’t think she deserved all the praise. The French, especially, were bent on ending her career. Moroccan historian Abdul Haq Almareni said a French colonizer put a bomb near the door of Chaoui’s villa, but his plan did not materialize. Two French policemen also shot at her in 1955 but they did not succeed in hitting their target, according to Almareni.
Sadly, on March 1, 1956, Chaoui was preparing to fly her private plane to Saudi Arabia when she was assassinated. Sources say she was killed by Ahmed Touil, a man who was involved in nationalist resistance and was reported to have been in love with the 19-year-old pilot. To date, her death remains a mystery.
Moroccans and many in the Arab world were heartbroken when news broke that their only female pilot had been killed. Though many today do not know Chaoui’s name, her story indicates that the road to success comes from hard work, determination and personal sacrifice.