total: 446,550 sq km
land: 446,300 sq km
water: 250 sq km
Total: 2,362.5 km
border countries (3):
Algeria 1,900 km,
Western Sahara 444 km,
Spain (Ceuta) 8 km,
Spain (Melilla) 10.5 km
Total: 4197 km
The Rif and Atlas mountain ranges divide Morocco into two climatic zones;
Western and northern Morocco has a Mediterranean (subtropical) climate, with
The pre-Saharan south has a semiarid climate.
Mountainous northern coast (Rif Mountains) and interior (Atlas Mountains) bordered by large plateaus with intermontane valleys, and fertile coastal plains.
Mean elevation: 909 m
Elevation extremes: lowest point: Sebkha Tah -59 m
Highest point: Jebel Toubkal 4,165 m
Morocco’s store of natural resources is relatively modest, with one notable exception. Morocco is home to two-thirds of the world’s reserves of phosphates, which are used to produce fertilizers. Other resources include copper, iron ore, lead, manganese, salt, silver, and zinc.
Agricultural land: 67.5%
arable land 17.5%; permanent crops 2.9%; permanent pasture 47.1%
Other: 21% (2011 est.)
14,850 sq km (2012)
Population – distribution:
the highest population density is found along the Atlantic and Mediterranean coasts; a number of densely populated agglomerations are found scattered through the Atlas Mountains.
northern mountains geologically unstable and subject to earthquakes;
periodic droughts; windstorms; flash floods; landslides
People and Society
Morocco is undergoing a demographic transition. Its population is growing but at a declining rate, as people live longer and women have fewer children. Infant, child, and maternal mortality rates have been reduced through better health care, nutrition, hygiene, and vaccination coverage, although disparities between urban and rural and rich and poor households persist. Morocco’s shrinking child cohort reflects the decline of its total fertility rate from 5 in the mid-1980s to 2.2 in 2010, which is a result of increased female educational attainment, higher contraceptive use, delayed marriage, and the desire for smaller families. Young adults (persons aged 15-29) makeup almost 26% of the total population and represent a potential economic asset if they can be gainfully employed. Currently, however, many youths are unemployed because Morocco’s job creation rate has not kept pace with the growth of its working-age population. Most youths who have jobs work in the informal sector with little security or benefits.
During the second half of the 20th century, Morocco became one of the world’s top emigration countries, creating large, widely dispersed migrant communities in Western Europe. The Moroccan Government has encouraged emigration since its independence in 1956, both to secure remittances for funding national development and as an outlet to prevent unrest in rebellious (often Berber) areas. Although Moroccan labor migrants earlier targeted Algeria and France, the flood of Moroccan “guest workers” from the mid-1960s to the early 1970s spread widely across northwestern Europe to fill unskilled jobs in the booming manufacturing, mining, construction, and agriculture industries. Host societies and most Moroccan migrants expected this migration to be temporary, but deteriorating economic conditions in Morocco related to the 1973 oil crisis and tighter European immigration policies resulted in these stays becoming permanent.
35,982,000 (July 2017 est.)
Arab-Berber 99%, other 1%
Arabic (official), Berber languages (Tamazight (official), Tachelhit, Tarifit), French (often the language of business, government, and diplomacy
Muslim 99% (official; virtually all Sunni, <0.1% Shia), other 1% (includes Christian, Jewish, and Baha’i); note – Jewish about 6,000 (2010 est.)
Moroccans are primarily of Berber origin, like other neighboring Maghrebians. As such, Berbers are descendants of the prehistoric populations of Morocco through the Iberomaurusian and Capsians. The Afro Asiatic family may have originated in the Mesolithic period, perhaps in the context of the Caspian culture. By 5000 BC, the populations of Morocco were an amalgamation of Iberomaurusian and a minority of Caspian stock blended with a more recent intrusion associated with the Neolithic revolution. Out of these populations, the proto-Berber tribes formed during the late Paleolithic era. Berber-speaking groups include the Riffians, Shilha, and Zayanes. Arabic-speaking groups include the Jebala in the north and Sahrawiya in the southeast.
A small minority of the population is identified as Haratin and Gnawa. These are sedentary agriculturalists of non-Berber origin, who inhabit the southern and eastern oases and speak either Berber or Moroccan Arabic. Between the Nile and the Red Sea were living Arab tribes expelled from Arabia for their turbulence, Banu Hilal, and Sulaym, who often plundered farming areas in the Nile Valley. According to Ibn Khaldun, whole tribes set off with women, children, ancestors, animals and camping equipment.
Morocco’s official languages are Arabic and Berber. The country’s distinctive group of Moroccan Arabic dialects is referred to as Darija. Approximately 89.8% of the whole population can communicate to some degree in Moroccan Arabic. The Berber language is spoken in three dialects (Tarifit, Tachelhit, and Central Atlas Tamazight). In 2008, Frédéric Deroche estimated that there were 12 million Berber speakers, making up about 40% of the population. The 2004 population census reported that 28.1% of the population spoke Berber.
Islam is the official state religion, and the vast majority of Moroccans are Sunni Muslims of the Mālikī rite. The royal house, the ʿAlawite dynasty, has ruled since the 17th century basing its claim to legitimacy on the descent from the Prophet Muhammad. The royal family is revered by Moroccan Muslims because of its prophetic lineage. As in many Islamic countries, Sufism claims adherents, and forms of popular religion—including the veneration of saints and the visitation of tombs—are widely practiced. Moroccan law mandates freedom of religion, but few non-Muslims reside in the country. The country has no indigenous Christian population to speak of, and its Jewish community has dwindled to a few thousand.
Although more than 95 percent of school-aged children in Morocco are now enrolled in primary school, the education system in Morocco faces significant challenges. Drop-out rates are still high and only 53 percent of students enrolled in middle school continue on to high school and less than 15 percent of first-grade students are likely to graduate from high school. Low levels of daily attendance, teacher absenteeism, and a multilingual environment at school contribute to the low literacy rates in Morocco. Those unable to complete a high school education have far fewer employment opportunities.
Given these statistics, Morocco has undertaken an ambitious reform program to increase access to education and improve the performance of the education system. USAID partners with the Moroccan government and other implementing agencies to improve education quality, as measured by learner performance in early-grade reading, by strengthening the capacity of teachers, school administrators, and officials, and by printing and distributing teaching and learning materials.
Education in Morocco is compulsory through to age 15 and free. Notwithstanding this, many children in rural areas (especially girls) fail to attend. Those who do, often drop out before they reach secondary school level, and there are shocking gaps in literacy because of these unfortunate trends. The primary school program is designed to last 6 years. Average dropout rates for boys and girls approximate 21%. Middle school taking place at colleges requires 3 years to complete. Less than 60% of pupils are either able to or wish to finish this phase. In poorer rural areas their hands are needed elsewhere for work, to supplement the family income instead.
During their initial year at secondary school, students follow a core curriculum in either arts & science, mathematics or original education (the pre-French Koranic system). In the two succeeding years, they apply their minds to one of agricultural science, earth & life sciences, mathematics, physics or technical studies. Morocco has an ambitious plan in place to tackle unemployment through targeted vocational training. The program includes doubling institutional capacity, and partnerships with commerce too. Hopefully ,750,000 newly trained employees will have reached a market hungry for their skills by 2013.
There are 14 universities in Morocco, of which the Mohammed V University in Rabat is regarded as the most prestigious, having faculties of law, liberal arts, medicine and sciences. By far the oldest though is the venerable University of Al-Karaouine (or Al-Qarawiyyin), established in 1947 on the foundations of a Mosque School believed founded in 859. It remains one of the leading education and spiritual centers of the Muslim World.
Morocco has capitalized on its proximity to Europe and relatively low labor costs to work towards building a diverse, open, market-oriented economy. Key sectors of the economy include agriculture, tourism, aerospace, automotive, phosphates, textiles, apparel, and subcomponents. Morocco has increased investment in its port, transportation, and industrial infrastructure to position itself as a center and broker for business throughout Africa. Industrial development strategies and infrastructure improvements – most visibly illustrated by a new port and free trade zone near Tangier – are improving Morocco’s competitiveness.
In the 1980s, Morocco was a heavily indebted country before pursuing austerity measures and pro-market reforms, overseen by the IMF. Since taking the throne in 1999, King MOHAMMED VI has presided over a stable economy marked by steady growth, low inflation, and gradually falling unemployment, although poor harvests and economic difficulties in Europe contributed to an economic slowdown. To boost exports, Morocco entered into a bilateral Free Trade Agreement with the US in 2006 and an Advanced Status agreement with the EU in 2008. In late 2014, Morocco eliminated subsidies for gasoline, diesel, and fuel oil, dramatically reducing outlays that weighed on the country’s budget and current account. Subsidies on butane gas and certain food products remain in place. Morocco also seeks to expand its renewable energy capacity with a goal of making renewable more than 50% of installed electricity generation capacity by 2030.
following a sharp slowdown in 2016, real GDP growth rate reached 4 percent in 2017 (from 1.2 percent in 2016), boosted by a strong rebound in agricultural output. Driven by better than average cereal production, the agricultural sector has experienced a strong recovery, with a growth rate of 15.1 percent. However, non-agricultural GDP remained sluggish at around 2.8 percent.
Mining activities contributed the most to growth outside agriculture, mostly driven by the recovery in phosphates. Thanks to prudent fiscal policy, the fiscal deficit was reduced to 3.5 percent of GDP in 2017 and the central government debt ratio has been stabilized at around 65.1 percent. Regarding the current account deficit, it is estimated to have declined to 4 percent of GDP in 2017 (compared with 4.4 percent in 2016). Morocco’s central bank adopted the reform towards a more flexible exchange regime, allowing the currency to fluctuate within a wider band of ± 2.5 percent, compared with the previous band of 0.3 percent.
GDP growth is projected to decline to 3 percent in 2018. Cereal production is projected to return to its historical average and non-agricultural GDP growth is expected to remain around 3 percent in the absence of more decisive structural reforms. The fiscal deficit will continue to narrow and should be further reduced to 3.3 percent of GDP in 2018 in line with the government’s commitment to bring down the deficit to 3 percent of GDP by 2019-2021 and to reduce public debt to 60 percent of GDP by 2021.
GDP (purchasing power parity):
$300.1 billion (2017 est.)
$286.3 billion (2016 est.)
$282.9 billion (2015 est.)
GDP (official exchange rate):
$110.7 billion (2017 est.)
GDP – real growth rate:
4.8% (2017 est.)
1.2% (2016 est.)
4.6% (2015 est.)
GDP – per capita (PPP):
$8,600 (2017 est.)
$8,300 (2016 est.)
$8,300 (2015 est.)
Gross national saving:
29.2% of GDP (2017 est.)
28.2% of GDP (2016 est.)
28.7% of GDP (2015 est.)
GDP – composition, by sector of origin:
services: 56% (2017 est.)
Agriculture – products:
barley, wheat, citrus fruits, grapes, vegetables, olives; livestock; wine
automotive parts, phosphate mining and processing, aerospace, food processing, leather goods, textiles, construction, energy, tourism.
Population below poverty line:
15% (2007 est.)
revenues: $26.63 billion
expenditures: $30.71 billion (2017 est.)
Agriculture contributes around 15 percent of Morocco’s GDP and largely determines the growth level of the economy as agricultural output is highly variable from year-to-year. The agriculture, fishing, and forestry sector employs about 45 percent of the total workforce with a similar portion of the population living in rural areas.
Morocco’s agriculture can be divided into three major sectors:
⦁ Modern, private, irrigated, highly capitalized, and export-oriented farms producing mostly fruit and vegetables
⦁ Agriculture within reorganized large scale dam-irrigated perimeters producing mostly dairy, sugar crops, seeds, fruits, and vegetables mostly for the local market
⦁ Rain-fed agriculture with more favorable land in the northwest (growing mostly grains, olives, pulses, red meat, and dairy) and less favorable land in the south and east (growing mostly grains and non-intensive sheep production)
Moroccan agriculture remains mostly traditional with limited applications of production inputs such as fertilizers, pesticides, and mechanization. Grains account for over 60 percent of agricultural production, and area planted to wheat has expanded with increased government support. The prevalence of small farms complicates inherited land status, and increasing land prices pose serious challenges to agricultural policymakers. Policymakers struggle with the conflicting underlying principles of economies of scale and the capitalization requirements necessary to modernize the agriculture sector and the desire to alleviate poverty and maintain the social structure of the traditional rural society.
In April 2008, the Ministry of Agriculture, Rural Development, and Maritime Fishing launched the Green Morocco Plan (Plan Maroc Vert, PMV) setting out the agriculture development strategy through 2020. It has two pillars:
The accelerated development of modern and competitive agriculture, vital for the national economy, through the realization of thousands of new projects, with a focus on high-value agriculture.
Support to small-holder agriculture through the implementation or professionalization of 545 projects of small farms in difficult rural areas, thereby promoting greater productivity, greater recovery of production and sustainability of farm income. This second pillar also seeks the conversion of cereal crops to higher-value alternatives and as well as value-added processing.
In 2016, Morocco’s exports of agricultural and related products were $4.5 billion, while its imports were $5.7 billion. The European Union is Morocco’s primary trading partner, accounting for about 60 percent of Morocco’s agricultural exports.
population without electricity: 400,000
electrification – total population: 98.9%
electrification – urban areas: 100%
electrification – rural areas: 97.4% (2013)
Electricity – production:
27.37 billion kWh (2015 est.)
Electricity – consumption:
26.83 billion kWh (2015 est.)
Electricity – exports:
165 million kWh (2015 est.)
Electricity – imports:
5.14 billion kWh (2015 est.)
Electricity – from fossil fuels:
67.5% of total installed capacity (2015 est.)
Electricity – from nuclear fuels:
0% of total installed capacity (2015 est.)
Telephones – fixed lines:
total subscriptions: 2,070,173
subscriptions per 100 inhabitants: 6 (July 2016 est.)
Telephones – mobile cellular:
subscriptions per 100 inhabitants: 122 (July 2016 est.)
Internet country code:
percent of population: 58.3% (July 2016 est.)Manufacturing and Industries
Industry constituted 29.7 percent of Morocco’s gross domestic product (GDP) and employed 15 percent of the workforce in 2004. Manufacturing, a subset of industry, accounted for 18 percent of GDP. The Moroccan industrial sector looks set to continue the strong growth it has enjoyed in recent years. Industrial activity recorded a 5.5% increase in 2007, a slight rise over 2006, when the sector grew by 4.7%. The sector also attracts high levels of FDI and authorities have announced initiatives to improve the investment climate, with particular attention to offshoring activities, automotive, aeronautics, electronics, food processing activities, products from the sea and textiles. Other important industrial sectors include mining, chemicals, construction materials and pharmaceuticals.
Two particularly important components of Morocco’s industrial makeup are processing raw materials for export and manufacturing consumer goods for the domestic market. Many operations date to the colonial period. Until the early 1980s, government involvement was dominant and the major focus was on import substitution. Since then the emphasis has shifted to privatizing state operations and attracting new private investment, including foreign sources. Processing phosphate ore into fertilizers and phosphoric acid for export is a major economic activity.
Food processing for export (canning fish, fresh vegetables, and fruit) as well as for domestic needs (flour milling and sugar refining) is also important, and the manufacture of textiles and clothes using domestically produced cotton and wool is a major source of foreign exchange. Morocco’s iron and steel manufacturing industry is small but provides a significant share of the country’s domestic needs. Morocco is the world’s leading exporter of phosphoric acid, which along with fertilizers is the most important product of the chemicals industry. The food-processing industry exports canned fruit, vegetables, and fish; the European Union is a major customer.
The manufacturing sector produces light consumer goods, especially foodstuffs, beverages, textiles, matches, and metal and leather products. Heavy industry is largely limited to the petroleum refining, chemical fertilizers, automobile and tractor assembly, foundry work, asphalt, and cement. Many of the processed agricultural products and consumer goods are primarily for local consumption, but Morocco exports canned fish and fruit, wine, leather goods, and textiles, as well as such traditional Moroccan handicrafts as carpets and brass, copper, silver, and wood implements.
The mining sector is one of the pillars of Morocco’s economy. It represented a turnover of USD 2.7 billion in 2005, including MAD 2.17 billion in exports and 20% of energy consumption. It also employs about 39,000 people with an estimated MAD 571 million in salaries (2005). The Kingdom produces a number of minerals and metals, most importantly, phosphates, silver and lead. Morocco possesses 75 percent of the world’s phosphate reserves. It is the world’s first exporter (28% of the global market) and third producer (20% of global production). In 2005, Morocco produced 27.254 million tons of phosphates and 5.895 million tons of phosphate derivatives.
Tourism in Morocco is well developed, with a strong tourist industry focused on the country’s coast, culture, and history. Morocco has been one of the most politically stable countries in North Africa, which has allowed tourism to develop. The Moroccan government created a Ministry of Tourism in 1985. Tourism is considered as one of the main foreign exchange sources in Morocco and the country was Africa’s top tourist destination of 2017
The Moroccan economy has been growing steadily for the last few years. It has been one of the most politically stable countries and has been working hard to boost the tourism industry, which has a high potential for growth. Morocco is called the land of mystery and a place worth a visit. The sun shines brightly nearly 300 days of the years and makes for a good setting for some great vacations visiting deserts, beaches, and snow-capped mountains. There is such diversity you can hardly want to miss anything. The strong culture lures one and all to explore the colorful lives of the Moroccans.
Under the guidance of King Mohammed VI and his plan of Vision 2020, the Moroccan government is taking great efforts to improve infrastructure that is needed to support about 20 million visitors by 2020. The open skies policy has also allowed more airlines to come in into the country. The airports are being upgraded or new ones build to match the international standard and support for the larger number of air traffic.
Morocco is popular for its pristine beaches rich in natural beauty. Tourists from France, Spain, Britain, Germany, Netherlands, etc love the large beaches resort on the long Atlantic coast. Agadir is one such town that is the favorite of many tourists. Most of the tourists visiting Morocco visit it to glimpse the cultural heritage of the country. The popular regions are Tangier, Agadir, Marrakech, Casablanca, Imperial cities, Ouarzazate and Tarfaya. The Atlas mountains pull the adventure lovers to it. The two of Agadir is known for its coastal resorts and the beautiful beaches but it also forms the base for tours to the Atlas Mountains. Growth in adventure tourism in the Atlas and Rif Mountains has been stupendous.
The castles, gardens and the local markets are a must visit during your stay in Morocco. There is so much to see; nature reserves, sparkling rivers, ancient buildings, handicrafts, colored carpets to name a few. There are several museums that can give a glimpse of the country past glory. You have to visit Morocco to believe and live the beauty of the country’s cultural heritage. There is so much to explore that one trip can hardly be enough to catch up with everything.
The four Imperial cities — the four historical capital cities of Morocco: Fez, Marrakech, Meknes, and Rabat
Casablanca — Morocco’s largest city; home of the Hassan II Mosque, which has the world’s tallest minaret at 656 feet Tangier and the surrounding area
Ouarzazate — a noted film-making location; the fortified village (ksar) of Ait Benhaddou west of the city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site
Agadir and its beach resorts
Tarfaya and its beach resorts
Fez – Moroccan second largest city and it is the science and spiritual capital of Morocco. It contains an old area which is considered as the biggest area in the world where vehicles can’t get in. It is also the home of “Al Qarawiyyin” the world’s oldest university.
Banking and Finance
Among the best-developed banking sectors in Africa is that of Morocco, where penetration is rising rapidly and recent improvements in macroeconomic fundamentals have helped resolve previous liquidity shortages. Morocco’s institutions include some of Africa’s largest banks, and several have become major players on the continent and continue to expand their footprint.
The sector has a reasonably competitive landscape, with a number of large, homegrown institutions with international footprints, as well as several subsidiaries of foreign banks. There are 19 banks operating in Morocco as well as seven offshore institutions. In addition, there are 34 non-banking financial institutions, including 16 consumer credit specialists, 13 microcredit lenders and six leasing companies in Morocco. The sector is dominated by locally owned banks, which account for 82.3% of industry assets. The Bank Reform law of 1993 laid out parameters for banking activities, clarified oversight and control responsibilities, specified legal penalties for violations of banking regulations and established a deposit guarantee fund. Recently passed banking reform legislation will further liberalize the sector and improve oversight coordination and lines of authority.
Since this financial liberalization, credit is allocated freely and the central bank has used indirect methods to control the interest rate and volume of credit. The banking system is still used by the government to channel domestic savings to finance government debt, and banks are required to hold part of their assets in bonds paying below market interest rates. The strength of the banking sector has grown significantly in recent years, and the private sector’s role is more active than in many other African countries. The banking participation rate is approximately 70 percent, with significant opportunities remaining for firms pursuing rural and less affluent segments of the market. Opening a bank account in Morocco is a similar process to the rest of the world. Businesses are supposed to be registered in Morocco in order to open an account.
The Casablanca Stock Exchange is one of the largest and most important in Africa. Privatized in 1996, the CSE is managed by 13 brokerage companies and regulated by an independent oversight commission similar to the SEC.
Archaeological excavations have demonstrated the presence of people in Morocco that was ancestral to Homo sapiens, as well as the presence of early human species. The fossilized bones of a 400,000-year-old early human ancestor were discovered in Salé in 1971. The bones of several very early Homo sapiens were excavated at Jebel Irhoud in 1991, these were dated using modern techniques in 2017 and found to be at least 300,000 years old, making them the oldest examples of Homo Sapiens discovered anywhere in the world. In 2007, small perforated seashell beads were discovered in Taforalt that are 82,000 years old, making them the earliest known evidence of personal adornment found anywhere in the world.
The coastal regions of present-day Morocco shared in an early Neolithic culture that was common to the whole Mediterranean littoral. Archaeological remains point to the domestication of cattle and the cultivation of crops in the region during that period. Eight thousand years ago, south of the great mountain ranges in what is now the Sahara Desert, a vast savanna supported Neolithic hunters and herders whose culture flourished until the region began to desiccate as a result of climatic changes after 4000 B.C. The Berbers entered Moroccan history toward the end of the second millennium B. C. when they made initial contact with oasis dwellers on the steppe who may have been the remnants of the earlier savanna people.
The arrival of Phoenicians on the Moroccan coast heralded many centuries of rule by foreign powers in the north of Morocco. Phoenician traders penetrated the western Mediterranean before the 8th century BC, and soon after setting up depots for salt and ore along the coast and up the rivers of the territory of present-day Morocco. Major early settlements of the Phoenicians included those at Chellah, Lixus, and Mogador. Mogador is known to have been a Phoenician colony by the early 6th century BC
Phoenician traders, who had penetrated the western Mediterranean before the twelfth century B.C., set up depots for salt and ore along the coast and up the rivers of the territory that is now Morocco. Later, Carthage developed commercial relations with the Berber tribes of the interior and paid them an annual tribute to ensure their cooperation in the exploitation of raw materials. By the fifth century B.C., Carthage had extended its hegemony across much of North Africa. By the second century B.C., several large, although loosely administered, Berber kingdoms had emerged. The Berber kings ruled in the shadow of Carthage and Rome, often as satellites.
After the fall of Carthage, the area was annexed to the Roman Empire in A.D. 40. Rome controlled the vast, ill-defined territory through alliances with the tribes rather than through military occupation, expanding its authority only to those areas that were economically useful or that could be defended without additional manpower. Hence, Roman administration never extended outside the restricted area of the coastal plain and valleys. Christianity was introduced in the second century and gained converts in the towns and among slaves and Berber farmers. By the end of the fourth century, the Romanized areas had been Christianized, and inroads had been made as well among the Berber tribes, who sometimes converted en masse. But schismatic and heretical movements also developed, usually as forms of political protest. The area had a substantial Jewish population as well.
The Spread of Islam:
Islamic influence began in Morocco in the seventh century A.D. Arab conquerors converted the indigenous Berber population to Islam, but Berber tribes retained their customary laws. The Arabs abhorred the Berbers as barbarians, while the Berbers often saw the Arabs as only an arrogant and brutal soldiery bent on collecting taxes. In 740 AD, spurred on by puritanical Kharijite agitators, the native Berber population revolted against the ruling Ummayad Caliphate. The rebellion began among the Berber tribes of western Morocco and spread quickly across the region. Although the insurrection petered out in 742 AD before it reached the gates of Kairouan, neither the Umayyad rulers in Damascus nor their Abbasid successors managed to re-impose their rule on the areas west of Ifriqiya.
The Barghawatas were a confederation of Berber groups inhabiting the Atlantic coast of Morocco, who belonged to the Masmuda Berber tribal division. After allying with the Sufri Kharijite rebellion in Morocco against the Umayyads, they established an independent state (CE 744 – 1058) in the area of Tamesna on the Atlantic coast between Safi and Salé under the leadership of Tarif al-Matahari. Once established as Muslims, the Berbers shaped Islam in their own image and embraced schismatic Muslim sects, which, in many cases, were simply folk religion barely disguised as Islam, as their way of breaking from Arab control.
The eleventh and twelfth centuries witnessed the founding of several great Berber dynasties led by religious reformers and each based on a tribal confederation that dominated the Maghrib (also seen as the Maghreb; refers to North Africa west of Egypt) and Spain for more than 200 years. The Berber dynasties (Almoravids, Almohads, and Merinids) gave the Berber people some measure of collective identity and political unity under a native regime for the first time in their history, and they created the idea of an “imperial Maghrib” under Berber aegis that survived in some form from dynasty to dynasty. But ultimately each of the Berber dynasties proved to be a political failure because none managed to create an integrated society out of a social landscape dominated by tribes that prized their autonomy and individual identity.
In 1559 the region fell to successive Arab tribes claiming descent from the Prophet Muhammad: first the Saads, who ruled for about 100 years, and then the Alawis, who founded a dynasty that has remained in power since the seventeenth century. Despite the weakness of its authority, the Alawite dynasty distinguished itself in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries by maintaining Morocco’s independence while other states in the region succumbed to Turkish, French, or British domination. However, in the latter part of the nineteenth century, Morocco’s weakness and instability invited European intervention to protect threatened investments and to demand economic concessions. The first years of the twentieth century witnessed a rush of diplomatic maneuvering through which the European powers and France, in particular, furthered their interests in North Africa.
Morocco was at its most powerful under a series of Berber dynasties, which rose to power south of the Atlas Mountains and expanded their rule northward, replacing local rulers. The 11th and 12th centuries witnessed the founding of several significant Berber dynasties led by religious reformers, each dynasty based on a tribal confederation that dominated the Maghreb and Al-Andalus for more than 200 years. The Berber dynasties of the (Almoravids, Almohads, Marinids, and Wattasids gave the Berber people some measure of collective identity and political unity under a native regime for the first time in their history. The dynasties created the idea of an “imperial Maghreb” under Berber aegis, an idea that survived in some form from another.
With the decline of the local Berber dynasties in the 15th and 16th centuries, the valuable coastal strip of North Africa (known because of the Berbers as the Barbary coast) attracts the attention of the two most powerful Mediterranean states of the time – Spain in the west, Turkey in the east. The Spanish-Turkish rivalry lasts for much of the 16th century, but it is gradually won – in a somewhat unorthodox manner – by the Turks. Their successful device is to allow Turkish pirates, or corsairs, to establish themselves along the coast. The territories seized by the corsairs are then given a formal status as protectorates of the Ottoman empire.
The first such pirate establishes himself on the coast of Algeria in 1512. Two others are firmly based in Libya by 1551. Tunisia is briefly taken in 1534 by the most famous corsair of them all, Khair ed-Din (known to the Europeans as Barbarossa). Recovered for Spain in 1535, Tunisia is finally brought under Ottoman control in 1574. Piracy remains the chief purpose and main source of income of all these Turkish settlements along the Barbary coast. And the depredations of piracy, after three centuries, at last, prompt French intervention in Algeria. This, at any rate, as stated by the French at the time to be the cause of their intervention. The reality is somewhat less glorious.
Beginning in 1549, the region was ruled by successive Arab dynasties known as the Sharifian dynasties, who claimed descent from the prophet Muhammad. The first of these policies was the Saadi dynasty, which ruled Morocco from 1549 to 1659. From 1509 to 1549, the Saadi rulers had control of only the southern areas. While still recognizing the Wattasids as Sultans until 1528, Saadian’s growing power led the Wattasids to attack them and, after an indecisive battle, to recognize their rule over southern Morocco through the Treaty of Tadla. In 1659, Mohammed al-Hajj ibn Abu Bakr al-Dila’s, the head of the Zaouia of Dila, was proclaimed sultan of Morocco after the fall of the Saadi dynasty.
The Alaouite dynasty is the current Moroccan royal family. The name Alaouite comes from the ‘Alī of ‘Alī ibn Abī Ṭālib, whose descendant Sharif ibn Ali became Prince of Tafilalt in 1631. His son Mulay Al-Rashid (1664–1672) was able to unite and pacify the country. The Alaouite family claim descent from Muhammad through his daughter Fāṭimah az-Zahrah and her husband ‘Alī ibn Abī Ṭālib. The kingdom was consolidated by Ismail Ibn Sharif (1672–1727), who began to create a unified state in the face of opposition from local tribes.
The successful Portuguese efforts to control the Atlantic coast in the 15th century did not affect the interior of Morocco. After the Napoleonic Wars, North Africa became increasingly ungovernable from Istanbul by the Ottoman Empire. As a result, it became the resort of pirates under local beys. The Maghreb also had far greater known wealth than the rest of Africa, and its location near the entrance to the Mediterranean gave it strategic importance. France showed a strong interest in Morocco as early as 1830. The Alaouite dynasty succeeded in maintaining the independence of Morocco in the 18th and 19th centuries, while other states in the region succumbed to Ottoman, French, or British domination. In the latter part of the 19th century, Morocco’s instability resulted in European countries intervening to protect investments and to demand economic concessions. The first years of the 20th century saw major diplomatic efforts by European powers, especially France, to further its interests in the region.
In the 1890s, the French administration and military in Algiers called for the annexation of the Touat, the Gourara, and the Tidikelt, a complex that had been part of the Moroccan Empire for many centuries prior to the arrival of the French in Algeria. An armed conflict opposed French 19th Corps Oran and Algiers divisions to the Aït Khabbash, a fraction of the Aït Ounbgui khams of the Aït Atta confederation. The conflict ended by the annexation of the Touat-Gourara-Tidikelt complex by France in 1901.
In 1900 France and Italy make a secret agreement assigning Morocco to France and Libya to Italy. In 1902 a similar arrangement between France and Spain provides for the proposed division between them of Moroccan territory. In 1904 France and Britain make a pact: Britain will allow France freedom of action in Morocco (provided that the coast opposite Gibraltar is not fortified) in return for France’s acceptance of Britain’s role in Egypt. The colonial consensus, amicably agreed between France, Italy, Spain and Britain, is rudely interrupted in 1905 when the German emperor William II makes a flamboyant and provocative visit to Tangier, Morocco’s most international city. Ostensibly visiting the local community of German merchants, he uses the occasion to emphasize that Morocco’s independence must be maintained.
At a conference held in Algeciras, Spain, in 1906, 12 European nations and the United States reaffirmed their respect for Moroccan independence. The protocols of the Algeciras Conference provided that every nation would have equal access to Morocco, but they could not alter the reality that the international community had sanctioned the preeminence of French influence there. In the first decade of the twentieth century, French forces progressively occupied Morocco, and the 1912 Treaty of Fès turned most of Morocco into a French protectorate. Spain was given control of pieces of Morocco in the far north and south and of the Spanish Sahara (now Western Sahara). Tangier received special international status. From a strictly legal point of view, the treaty did not deprive Morocco of its status as a sovereign state. Theoretically, the sultan remained the sole source of sovereignty. He reigned, but he did not rule.
The French and Spanish colonial administrations, reinforced by an influx of about half a million Europeans (many with useful specialist skills), make considerable material progress in fields such as transport, education, and health. But there is constant resistance to foreign rule – most notably, in the early stages, in the five-year rebellion of Abd-el-Krim. Abd-el-Krim wins a sensational victory at Annual, in 1921, over a Spanish army of 20,000. Thereafter he wins control of the Rif (the mountainous coastal area from Tetouan to Melilla) until his final defeat in 1926 by a massive joint French and Spanish force, numbering some 250,000 men.
The Rise of Nationalism
Moroccan nationalism first arose in the 1920s. In December 1934, a small group of nationalists—members of the newly formed Moroccan Action Committee (Comité d’Action Marocaine—CAM)—proposed a Plan of Reforms that called for a return to indirect rule as envisaged by the Treaty of Fès, admission of Moroccans to government positions, and establishment of representative councils. The moderate tactics used by the CAM to obtain consideration of reform—petitions, newspaper editorials, and personal appeals to French officials—proved inadequate, and the tensions created in the CAM by the failure of the plan caused it to split. The rump CAM was reconstituted as a nationalist political party to gain mass support for more radical demands, but the French suppressed the party in 1937.
During World War II, the badly divided nationalist movement became more cohesive and informed Moroccans dared to consider the real possibility of political change in the postwar era. In 1944 the Istiqlal (Independence) party is formed, with the sultan of Morocco (now Muhammad V) giving tacit support. In January 1944, the Moroccan Istiqlal Independence) Party released a manifesto demanding full independence, national reunification, and a democratic constitution. The sultan had approved the manifesto before its submission to the French resident general, who answered that no basic change in the protectorate status was being considered.
In December 1952, a riot broke out in Casablanca over the murder of a Tunisian labor leader; France attempts decisive action against the independence movement. The Istiqlal leaders are arrested. In 1953 the sultan is deposed and sent into exile. This event marked a watershed in relations between Moroccan political parties and French authorities. In the aftermath of the rioting, the residency outlawed the new Moroccan Communist Party and the Istiqlal. In 1953 France exiled the popular Sultan Mohammed V to Madagascar. Mohammed V’s deposition enraged not only the nationalists but also all those who recognized the sultan as the religious leader of the country.
The result is an immediate increase in terrorism, followed by an armed uprising in 1955. This happens to coincide with the onset of France’s greater crisis in Algeria, a colony with a much higher population of French settlers. In the circumstances the French government caves in rapidly. Muhammad V is brought back from exile, and in November 1955 the French government accepts the principle of independence for Morocco. It comes into effect in March 1956, to be followed a month later by the same status for Spanish Morocco. In November agreement is reached to end the international status of Tangier, which by 1960 is fully integrated with the rest of the nation. Morocco is back to its pre-colonial borders and is ruled still by its pre-colonial dynasty.
After Mohammed V successfully negotiated the gradual restoration of Moroccan independence within a framework of French-Moroccan interdependence. The sultan agreed to institute reforms that would transform Morocco into a constitutional monarchy with a democratic form of government. In February 1956, Morocco acquired limited home rule. Further negotiations for full independence culminated in the French-Moroccan Agreement signed in Paris on March 2, 1956. The abolition of the Spanish protectorate and the recognition of Moroccan independence by Spain were negotiated separately and made final in the Joint Declaration of April 1956. Later that year, Morocco regained control over Tangier.
In the months that followed independence, Mohammed V proceeded to build a modern governmental structure under a constitutional monarchy in which the sultan would exercise an active political role. He acted cautiously, having no intention of permitting more radical elements in the nationalist movement to overthrow the established order. He was also intent on preventing the Istiqlal from consolidating its control and establishing a single-party state. In August 1957, Mohammed V assumed the title of king.
Reign of Hassan II:
Following Mohammed V’s sudden death in 1961 from complications after surgery, his 31-year-old son Mulay Hassan assumed power as King Hassan II. The new king took personal control of the government as prime minister and named a new cabinet. Aided by an advisory council, he drew up a new constitution, which was approved overwhelmingly in a December 1962 referendum.
Under its provisions, the king remained the central figure in the executive branch of the government, but legislative power was vested in a bicameral parliament, and an independent judiciary was guaranteed. In May 1963, legislative elections took place for the first time, and the royalist coalition secured a small plurality of seats. However, following a period of political upheaval, in June 1965 Hassan II assumed full legislative and executive powers under a “state of exception,” which remained in effect until 1970. Subsequently, a reform constitution was approved, restoring limited parliamentary government, and new elections were held. However, dissent remained, revolving around complaints of widespread corruption and malfeasance in government. In July 1971 and again in August 1972, the regime was challenged by two attempted military coups. The atmosphere in the country remained tense.
Despite the serious domestic turmoil, the patriotism engendered by Morocco’s participation in the Middle East conflict and by the events in Western Sahara contributed to Hassan’s popularity and strengthened his hand politically. The king had dispatched Moroccan troops to the Sinai front after the outbreak of Arab-Israeli War in October 1973. Although they arrived too late to engage in hostilities, the action won Morocco goodwill among other Arab states. Shortly thereafter, the attention of the government turned to the acquisition of Western Sahara from Spain, an issue on which all major parties agreed.
Spain colonized Western Sahara at a time when Africa was being divided into spheres of influence by the major European powers; it was the only Spanish colony on the African continent. The Popular Front for the Liberation of the Saguia el Hamra and Rio de Oro, known as POLISARIO, declared Western Saharan independence in 1970 but Spain resisted. Four years later, the POLISARIO mustered a force composed predominately of native Saharans supported by Algeria and declared war using guerrilla tactics.
By 1975, the Spanish relinquished control of Western Sahara. In 1975, the United Nations International Court of Justice refuted Moroccan and Mauritanian territorial claims and stated that the Saharans had a right to self-determination. Mauritania rescinded claims, but Morocco cited traditional loyalties of the Saharan elders to the Moroccan monarchy as grounds for maintaining control of the area. United Nations action caused a massive migration of Moroccans into the territory known as the “Green March” and later provoked an invasion by Moroccan forces. By 1978, Mauritania withdrew its military forces, but fighting continued between the POLISARIO and Moroccan forces.
The POLISARIO formed the Saharan Democratic Arab Republic (SADR) in the early 1980s but has received little international recognition; its recognition by the Organization of African Unity (OAU) in 1984 caused Morocco to withdraw its membership from the organization.
In 1991, United Nations efforts brought a cease-fire. The SADR and Morocco agreed to monitor by the United Nations Mission for Organization of a Referendum (MINURSO). MINURSO initiated an Identification Commission in May 1993 to identify eligible voters in the SADR. The POLISARIO requested use of a 1974 Spanish-sponsored census to tabulate a voter list. This census did not include the thousands of Moroccans in the SADR, and Morocco contested the census’ use. The identification process has progressed and stalled since its inception and remains a source of tension between Morocco and the SADR.
Accompanying efforts by MINURSO to reach an agreement over Western Sahara, King Mohammed also seeks to relieve the status of the poor. By addressing some of the human rights abuses that alleged under his father’s reign, he stands to extend his popularity into the disputed territory. He replaced the ineffective police with the army in Western Sahara. The king also officially welcomed the previous regime’s most famous political opponent, Abraham Serfaty; after 18 years in prison and exile in France, Serfaty was authorized to re-enter Morocco. In November 1999, he fired Interior Minister Driss Basri, an individual notorious for human rights abuses the previous 25 years. Despite these improvements, the voter eligibility issue continues in Western Sahara.