Morocco - language, government, economy, cities, history, tourism, people, education, religion, agriculture, climate

Read about Morocco: language, government, economy, cities, history, tourism, people, education, religion, agriculture, climate ...



Morocco, kingdom in North Africa. Morocco is a fabled destination for travelers, known for its spectacular mountain scenery, its colorful bazaars, and its ancient capitals at Fès and Marrakech. Even modern Moroccan sites carry a mystique: Think of Casablanca, made famous by a motion picture (see Casablanca). In Arabic the country’s name is Al Mamlakah al Maghribīyah, meaning “the kingdom of the West.”

Morocco is located at the crossroads of several worlds: African, Mediterranean, Christian, and Islamic. From these varied influences the country has forged a distinctive culture, apparent in its arts and architecture, language, cuisine, and outlook on the world. Spain lies directly across the Strait of Gibraltar from Morocco, only 13 km (8 mi) distant. For 44 years, from 1912 to 1956, Morocco was divided into protectorates and ruled by France and Spain. Even today, two Spanish enclaves—Ceuta and Melilla—on the Mediterranean coast remain within Morocco, and small islands off the coast also belong to Spain.

The people of Morocco are mainly Arabs and Berbers or of mixed Arab and Berber ancestry. Arabic is the official language of the country, but many people speak a Berber language, especially in rural areas. French is also spoken in the cities. Morocco’s economy is based largely on agriculture, but tourism contributes significantly.

Morocco is a constitutional monarchy, with a king as head of state and a prime minister as head of the government. Rabat, where the king lives, is the capital of Morocco. Casablanca, south of Rabat along the Atlantic coast, is the country’s largest city and commercial center. Morocco borders the Mediterranean Sea and Atlantic Ocean to its north and east, and the Sahara to its south. Also south of Morocco lies Western Sahara, a former overseas province of Spain that Morocco has claimed and administered since 1979. The country’s southeastern border with Algeria, in the Sahara, has never been precisely defined.


Morocco has the broadest plains and the highest mountains in North Africa. The country has four main natural regions. An area of highlands, called Er Rif, runs parallel to the Mediterranean coast in the north, from Tangier to the Algerian border. Er Rif forms a barrier, preventing easy access to the coast from central Morocco. The Atlas Mountains, the second region, extend across the center of the country from the southwest to the northeast. The Taza Depression lies between Er Rif and the Atlas Mountains, allowing passage across the northern interior of Morocco into Algeria. Broad coastal plains along the Atlantic Ocean form the third region, framed by Er Rif and the Atlas Mountains. Finally, plains and valleys south of the Atlas Mountains merge with the Sahara along the southeastern border of Morocco. Most Moroccans inhabit the Atlantic coastal plain.

The Atlas Mountains consist of several distinct and parallel ranges. The highest range, known as the High Atlas or Grand Atlas, is in the middle. The next highest range, known as the Middle Atlas, lies to the north of the High Atlas. A lower range, called the Anti-Atlas, lies to the south of the High Atlas. The highest mountain in Morocco is Jebel Toubkal in the Grand Atlas.

Sandy beaches interrupted by rocky outcrops line the Atlantic coast of Morocco, with particularly fine beaches from Agadir south, sharp drops to the Mediterranean along Er Rif, and stunning Mediterranean beaches along the Tangier Peninsula. However, large tourist developments have spoiled many of the beaches along the Tangier Peninsula.

Rivers of Morocco

Morocco has many rivers. Although unimportant for navigation, the rivers are used for irrigation and for generating electric power. The chief rivers are the Moulouya, which drains into the Mediterranean Sea, and the Sebou, which flows into the Atlantic Ocean. Dry valleys called wadis fill with water during the rainy season and can flow torrentially during the rainy winter months. The wadis generally run into the Sahara.

Climate in Morocco

Along the Mediterranean, Morocco has a subtropical climate. An ocean current tempers the climate and gives the coastal cities moderate temperatures. At the port city of Essaouira (formerly known as Mogador), for example, temperatures average 16.4°C (61.5°F) in January and 22.5°C (72.5°F) in August. Toward the interior, winters are colder and summers warmer. Thus, in Fès the average temperature is 10°C (50°F) in January and 26.9°C (80.5°F) in August. Marrakech is often the hottest of the major cities. Temperatures there commonly reach a daytime high of 38°C (100°F), yet nights are dry and comfortable. At high altitudes temperatures of less than -17.8°C (0°F) are not uncommon, and mountain peaks are covered with snow during most of the year.

A hot, dry, and sometimes violent wind, the chergui, accompanies centers of dense low pressure that frequently emerge out of the Sahara, rise over the Atlas, and abut high-pressure zones at the Atlantic. Known as the sirocco in Europe, the chergui can bring stifling, uncomfortable weather that lasts several days.

Rain falls mainly during the winter months. Precipitation is heaviest in the northwest and lightest in the east and south. The average annual precipitation is about 955 mm (about 37.5 in) in Tangier, 430 mm (17 in) in Casablanca, 280 mm (11 in) in Essaouira, and less than 102 mm (4 in) in the Sahara.

Natural Resources of Morocco

Morocco’s resources are primarily agricultural, but mineral resources are also significant. Among the latter the most important is phosphate rock; other minerals include coal, iron, lead, manganese, petroleum, silver, tin, and zinc.

Plants and Animals in Morocco

The mountainous regions of Morocco contain extensive areas of forest, including large stands of cork oak, evergreen oak, juniper, cedar, fir, and pine. Except for areas under cultivation, the plains are usually covered with scrub brush and alfa grass. On the plain of Sous, near the southern border, is a large forest of argan, thorny trees found principally in Morocco.

Moroccan wildlife represents a mingling of European and African species. Of the animals characteristic of Europe, the fox, rabbit, otter, and squirrel abound; of predominantly African types, the gazelle, wild boar, panther, baboon, wild goat, and horned viper are common.

Soils in Morocco

Three general types of soil are found in the semihumid part of Morocco. They are harcha, poor, stony soils with little humus (organic matter); hamri, red soils produced over limestone bedrock with some humus; and tir, sandy-loam, brown-to-black soils with moderate amounts of humus. The densest agricultural settlement is on the most fertile tir soils of the plains. The southern part of the country is mainly desert.

Environmental Issues in Morocco

Population pressures have led to soil erosion and desertification as marginal lands are farmed and ground cover is destroyed by overgrazing. Morocco has a low rate of deforestation relative to other African countries, however. Forests cover 9.8 percent (2005) of the country’s area.

The country uses more than 90 percent of its fresh water for agricultural production. Available drinking water has been further limited by pollution of freshwater sources with raw sewage and industrial waste. Periodic droughts contribute to water shortages in some areas of the country, and the problem of water scarcity is expected to worsen as Morocco’s population continues to grow.

Reserves and national parks cover 1.2 percent (2007) of Morocco’s total land area. The country is home to 50 threatened animal species.

Morocco has ratified international agreements protecting biodiversity, endangered species, wetlands, and the ozone layer. The country has also signed treaties limiting hazardous waste and marine dumping.


The original population of Morocco was Berber, and about three-quarters of all present-day Moroccans are of at least partial Berber descent. Arabs, who constitute the bulk of the inhabitants of the larger cities, form the second largest ethnic group. Considerable intermarriage among Arabs, Berbers, and the country’s small number of black Africans has broken down differences among ethnic groups. There is also a small French community in Morocco. More than half the population lives in urban areas. The rural population in 2005 was 41 percent of the country’s total.

Berbers were the original, pre-Islamic inhabitants of Morocco. Arab armies marched across northwest Africa in the 7th century AD and arrived at the Atlantic Ocean in 682. They brought the Islamic religion with them. Arab settlement in Morocco came in the next century, when the first Islamic colonies were established, Sijilmasa about 760 and Fès about 790. Indigenous Berbers converted to Islam, and over the centuries much admixture of Arab and Berber took place.

Principal Cities of Morocco

Morocco’s capital is Rabat. Other major urban centers are Casablanca, the country’s largest city and main seaport; Marrakech and Fès, both important trade centers; and Tangier, a seaport on a bay of the Strait of Gibraltar. The government has encouraged Moroccans to settle in Western Sahara, where the largest city is El Aaiún.

Religion in Morocco

Islam is the established state religion of Morocco. Almost the entire population is Sunni Muslim. The monarch is the supreme Muslim authority in the country. There is a very small Christian population. Morocco once had a Jewish population, numbering 221,000 in 1956, but nearly all of the country’s Jews emigrated elsewhere during the 1960s and 1970s because of tensions between Arab countries and Israel.

Languages spoken in Morocco

The Berber languages, once dominant throughout Morocco, have declined in importance. Only about a fourth of the people speak Berber as their first language. Many of these people also spoke Arabic, the country’s official language, which is the primary language of about three-fourths of the population. In the cities many Moroccans also speak French. French is also used in higher education.

Berber belongs to the Afro-Asiatic language family (see African Languages) and is spoken across North Africa and throughout the Sahara. In Morocco, three Berber dialects prevail: Tarifit (also called Rifi), Tamazight, and Tachelhit. The dialects are related to specific localities. Tarifit, for example, is spoken in Er Rif and northern Middle Atlas. Tamazight is spoken in the Middle Atlas, and Tachelhit in the High Atlas.

Education in Morocco

Schooling is compulsory in Morocco for children between the ages of 6 and 14. Some 86 percent of girls and 91 percent of boys attend primary school; only 45 percent of secondary-school-age Moroccans actually attend secondary school. Arabic is the main language of instruction, and French is also used in secondary schools and in higher education. In 2007 it was estimated that 56 percent of the population was literate.

Higher education of the traditional type, focused on Islamic law (Sharia) and theology, is centered in Fès at Al Qarawiyin University, which was founded in AD 859. The university system expanded greatly in the 1980s. Modern higher education, in Arabic and in French, is offered at Mohammed V University (1957), at Rabat; Mohammed Ben Abdellah University (1974), at Fès; Cadi Ayyad University (1978), at Marrakech; Hassan II University (1976), at Casablanca; Mohammed I University (1978), at Oujda; Ibn Zohr University (1989), at Agadir; and Al Akhawayn University (1995), at Ifrane in the Atlas Mountains. Rabat also has colleges of fine arts, music, public administration, agriculture, and economics, and the School of Native Arts and Crafts (1921) is in Tétouan.

Culture of Morocco

Morocco has felt the influences of several ancient cultures. Excavations have unearthed elements of the Phoenician, Greek, Carthaginian, and Roman civilizations. Christianity spread to this region in Roman times and survived the Arab invasion, but Arabic influences, which began in the 7th century, were to prove the strongest. The Arabs brought to Morocco a written language that is still the primary language of business and culture. Over the centuries Morocco received an influx of Moors and Jews, who left Spain as a result of the Christian conquest or the Inquisition. As a result of Moorish influence, Morocco developed a style of music and architecture known as Arab-Andalusian. It soon spread to the rest of Islamic North Africa. The western African influence, seen in dances and other arts, spread northward with the establishment of trade routes across the Sahara from the 10th century on. Among more recent cultural influences, the strongest is that of France.

Morocco’s literary legacy goes back to the earliest days of Arab settlement and the foundation of Islamic civilization. The most famous of Morocco’s early writers is Ibn Battūtah, who was born in Tangier in 1304 and lived and worked throughout the then-known world, from Mali to India and China. He completed Rihla (“Travels”), the narrative of his observations, in 1356.

Moroccan literature of the 20th century reflected such concerns as colonialism, nationalism, the survival of traditional cultures framed by Islamic values, and introspective and inventive literary forms. Autobiographical works and treatments of social problems dominated novels in Arabic. Notable Moroccan authors in Arabic included Mohamed Zefzaf and Abdellah Laroui. Among French language novels Driss Chraïbi’s Le Passé Simple (The Past Tense, 1954) shocked Moroccans with its condemnation of patriarchal society. Later novels of Chraïbi were translated into English, including Naissance à l’aube (1986; Birth at Dawn, 1990). Abdelkebir Khatibi wrote on social themes in his autobiographic La Mémoire tatouée (Tattooed Memory, 1971) and his novel Triptyque de Rabat (Rabat Triptych, 1993). Tahar Ben Jelloun, born in Fès and based in France, rose to international fame for his novels in French, especially L’Enfant du sable (1985; The Sand Child, 1988), which was translated into many languages, and La Nuit sacrée (1987; The Sacred Night, 1989), which won the Prix Goncourt, France’s top literary award.

The art of oral storytelling, frequently accompanied by singing and dancing, continues in the countryside and at local festivals. Berber storytellers specialize in recounting odes and songs of local myth and faraway places.

Classical music in Morocco is music of the Arab-Andalusian style. It features an orchestra of traditional stringed instruments, such as the rabab (two-string violin), ‘ud (Arab lute), and qanun (zither), as well as percussion instruments, including the tambourine and drum. Songs in Arabic often accompany this music. A popular music style known as rai (“opinion”) developed in the cities of Algeria and Morocco during the 1970s, as young people sought to break with traditional society and express their views. Its outspoken lyrics are set to a rock beat, and the music is performed on traditional as well as electronic instruments. A folklore festival is held each June in Marrakech, featuring folk music and folk dances from various locales in Morocco.

Handicrafts have long been important in Morocco and are produced both in cities and in the countryside. They were originally made as items for daily use rather than works of art, but are now found in shops and souks (markets) in every city and town. Fine examples can be found in the country’s museums. Morocco’s handicrafts include jewelry, leatherwork, pottery, textiles and carpets, and woodwork. The town of Safi has long been a center for pottery in Morocco.

The Moroccan national library, which was founded in 1920, is located at Rabat. Other libraries in the country include the Library of Casablanca and the University library at Fès. Morocco has a number of major museums. The Archaeological Museum in Tétouan has collections of Carthaginian, Roman, and Islamic art and artifacts. Archaeological museums also are found in Rabat and Larache. Tangier has a Museum of Contemporary Art. The National Museum of Ceramics is at Safi.


Morocco is primarily an agricultural country, and its dependence on agriculture has hampered economic growth. While Morocco was a French colony, the economy was shaped by French interests. Fruits and vegetables, and phosphate rocks for fertilizer, became its chief exports. Morocco’s economic ties to Europe remain strong, and the country hopes to strengthen these ties by joining the European Union (EU). Manufacturing and agribusiness have grown along the coast, which is far more developed than the interior of the country, where traditional farming continues.

Tourism has become increasingly important to Morocco’s economy, with more than 2 million tourists visiting the country each year. Tourist complexes have been built along the coast, and large new hotels have sprung up in Fès, Marrakech, and other popular tourist destinations. Agadir is the chief coastal resort.

In 2007 gross domestic product (GDP) was estimated at $75.1 billion, or $2,434.10 per person. (GDP is a measure of the value of all goods and service a country produces.) The government’s budget in 2007 included revenues of $26.1 billion and expenditures of $21.9 billion.

Agriculture of Morocco

Despite Morocco’s dependence on agriculture, only 19 percent of the land is cultivated. Agricultural output is reliant on weather conditions, particularly rainfall, and income from agriculture depends on agricultural prices, neither of which the country controls. The principal crops of Morocco are cereals, particularly wheat and barley; root crops such as potatoes and sugar beets; vegetables, including tomatoes and melons; fruits, particularly citrus fruits, grapes, and dates; and sugarcane. A wide variety of other fruits and vegetables are also grown. Livestock includes sheep, goats, and cattle.

Forestry and Fishing in Morocco

Forestry is not an important industry in Morocco. Cork oak forests of the Gharb region supply industrial cork. Much of the timber cut is used as fuel.

Fishing has become increasingly important to the economy, and the waters off the coast of Morocco are rich in fish. Conflicts developed with the European Union (EU) in the late 1990s over European, especially Spanish, fishing fleets operating in Moroccan waters. Spanish fishers threatened to block imports of fish from Morocco if their boats were barred from Moroccan waters. An agreement reached with the EU reduced European fish catches to protect endangered stocks of fish and boost Morocco’s fishing industry. The chief fishing centers in Morocco are Agadir, Safi, Essaouira, and Casablanca. The fish catch includes sardines, tuna, mackerel, anchovies, and shellfish. Much of the catch is processed—frozen or canned—for export in Morocco.

Mining in Morocco

Morocco is a leading producer of phosphate rock, used for fertilizer. Morocco has about two-thirds of the world’s known supply of phosphate rock. Output was 8.7 million metric tons in 2007. Other minerals, produced in small amounts, include coal, iron ore, silver, and zinc.

Manufacturing in Morocco

The government has promoted efforts to expand Morocco’s manufacturing sector since the 1980s to reduce the country’s dependence on agriculture and phosphate exports. The major industry is the processing of phosphates. Steel mills were built during the 1980s and 1990s, and petroleum refining has increased in importance. Food-processing and textiles have also become significant industries. Handicrafts are supported by the government, and Moroccan artisans produce fabrics, leather goods, ceramics, rugs and carpets, and woodwork of high quality.

Energy in Morocco

Some 92 percent of Morocco’s electricity production in 2006 was generated in thermal plants, and the remainder was produced in hydroelectric facilities. Morocco’s output of electricity in 2006 was 21.9 billion kilowatt-hours.

Currency and Banking of Morocco

Morocco’s unit of currency is the dirham, consisting of 100 centimes. Currency is issued by the Banque al-Maghrib (1959), the state bank. The country also has a number of large private banks.

Foreign Trade in Morocco

Morocco’s leading exports are phosphates and phosphoric acid. Other exports include citrus fruit, wheat, fish, and minerals. Exports in 2007 earned $13.9 billion. Imports were valued at $30.2 billion. Imports typically consist of industrial equipment, food products, manufactured goods, and fuels. The principal purchasers of Morocco’s exports are France, Spain, the United Kingdom, Italy, and the United States; chief sources of imports are France, Spain, the United Kingdom, Italy, Germany, Saudi Arabia, and the United States. Morocco gains much foreign exchange from remittances by Moroccans working abroad and from the expenditures of the large number of tourists who visit the country each year.

Transportation in Morocco

Nearly all goods move in and out of Morocco by ship, and the country has extensive port facilities. Casablanca remains the most important port. Other ports include Agadir, Kenitra, Mohammedia, Safi, and Tangier. The country has a limited but efficient rail network, with 1,907 km (1,185 mi) of railroad track. The main lines connect Tangier to Fès, Casablanca, and Marrakech; from Fès tracks run east to Oujda and on to Algeria. Morocco 57,493 km (36,786 mi) of roads, 57 percent of which are hard-surfaced. Domestic and international air service is provided by Royal Air Maroc; several major foreign airlines also serve Morocco.

Communications in Morocco

Until the 1980s virtually every aspect of the press—radio, television, newspapers, and magazines—was tightly controlled by the Ministry of the Interior and Information. Radio and television were exclusively in the hands of the government, while the press practiced self-censorship. The situation has since become more open, and the press is freer to investigate social issues than it had been. However, attacks on Islam, the monarchy, or Moroccan territorial integrity—namely, Western Sahara—are offenses punishable by prison sentences.

Radio and television programs are broadcast in several languages in Morocco. The government-run Radio-Television Marocaine (RTM) broadcasts radio programs mainly in Arabic, although the major cities have programming in French. Berber shows also are produced. A commercial radio station, Médi-1, began operation in Tangier in the mid-1980s, and a private cable channel, 2M, began operation in 1989. Television broadcasts are in French and Arabic. The country has 24 daily newspapers and numerous periodicals.

Labor in Morocco

Morocco’s workforce in 2007 included 11.2 million persons. Some 45 percent of the labor force was engaged in agriculture, forestry, and fishing; another 36 percent worked in services; and 20 percent was employed in industry, including manufacturing, construction, and mining.


Morocco is a hereditary monarchy, governed under a constitution promulgated in 1996. Replacing an amended 1972 constitution, the 1996 constitution is nominally more democratic. Under the 1972 constitution, one-third of the members of parliament were indirectly elected, and tended to support the wishes of the monarchy. This existing legislative body was reorganized by the 1996 constitution to become entirely popularly elected. The new constitution also created a second, indirectly elected “advisory” legislative body, however, effectively ensuring the supremacy of the king.

Executive of Morocco

The monarch, who, according to the constitution, must be male, is the head of state of Morocco. He appoints the prime minister and cabinet. He also has the power to call for a reconsideration of legislative measures and to dissolve the legislature. The monarch is commander in chief of the country’s armed forces.

Legislature of Morocco

Under the 1996 constitution, Morocco’s legislature changed from a unicameral house to a bicameral one. The new legislature consists of a 325-member Chamber of Representatives and a 270-member Chamber of Advisers. Members of the Chamber of Representatives are directly elected by universal suffrage to five-year terms. Members of the Chamber of Advisers serve nine-year terms; 60 percent are indirectly elected by local councils, and the remaining 40 percent are selected by representatives of business associations and trade unions. The Chamber of Advisers may initiate legislation on equal footing with the Chamber of Representatives, but the former has the potential decisive advantage of being able to dissolve the government with a two-thirds majority vote. The first elections for these legislative bodies were held in 1997.

Political Parties of Morocco

Morocco has a multiparty political system. Most parties are aligned in three major groupings: centrist parties, such as the Popular Movement (MP) and the National Rally of Independents (RNI); leftist parties, such as the Socialist Union of Popular Forces (USFP); and center-right parties, such as the secular Istiqlal (Independence) Party and the moderate Islamist Party of Justice and Development (PJD).

Local Government of Morocco

Morocco is divided into 16 administrative regions, which are in turn subdivided into 65 provinces and prefectures. The regions are administered by regional councils, whose members are either elected by communal councils or appointed by the minister of the interior. The provinces and prefectures are subdivided into communes.

Judiciary in Morocco

The highest tribunal in Morocco is the Supreme Court, which sits in Rabat. The country also has 15 courts of appeal. Cases involving small sums of money are heard by local tribunals, and more important cases are initiated in regional tribunals. In addition, the country has 14 labor tribunals.

Health and Welfare in Morocco

Health services are fairly well developed in Morocco’s cities, but health conditions in rural areas remain poor. The state-run health-care system offers free care, but is limited in its reach and resources. The private system consists of profit-making clinics. Folk medicine is still practiced in rural areas. The government provides for social security benefits.

Defense of Morocco

Military service of 18 months is compulsory for males in Morocco. The army in 2006 numbered 180,000, the air force 13,000, and the navy 7,800.


The history of the region comprising present-day Morocco has been shaped by the interaction of the original Berber population and the various peoples who successively invaded the country.

Early History

The first of the invaders well known to history were the Phoenicians (see Phoenicia), who in the 12th century BC established trading posts on the Mediterranean coast of the region. They founded a settlement known as Rusaddir, now modern Melilla. The Phoenician colonies in North Africa were later taken over and extended by the Carthaginians (see Carthage). The Carthaginians founded towns on the Atlantic coast at Tangier, Larache, and as far south as Essaouira. Carthaginian inscriptions have been found at Volubilis, the Roman capital of western North Africa, near Meknès.

The conquest of Carthage by Rome, in the 2nd century BC, led to Roman dominance of the Mediterranean coast of Africa. About AD 42 the northern portion of what is now Morocco was incorporated into the Roman Empire as the province of Mauretania Tingitana. Tingis was the name of the town that became Tangier. In the Germanic invasions that attended the decline of the Roman Empire, the Vandals in 429 occupied Mauretania Tingitana. The Byzantine general Belisarius defeated the Vandals in 533 and established Byzantine rule in parts of the country.

Muslim Conquest

Byzantine rule was ended by the Arabs, who invaded Morocco in 682 in the course of their drive to expand the power of Islam. Except for the Jews, the inhabitants of Morocco, both Christian and pagan, soon accepted the religion of their conquerors. Berber troops were used extensively by the Arabs in their conquest of Spain, which began in 711.

The first Arab rulers of the whole of Morocco, the Idrisid dynasty, held power from 789 to 926. The dynasty was named after Idris I, a refugee from the east who was the great-great-grandson of Fatima, daughter of the prophet Muhammad. In 793 Idris died—poisoned, it is said, by an emissary of the Abassid caliph Harun ar-Rashid, from whose usurpation he had fled. Idris I was succeeded by his son, Idris II, who made Fès his capital. This city was to become a center of Islamic and Arab culture throughout the centuries, thanks largely to the settlement there in the 9th century of two large contingents of refugees—one from Kairouan (present-day Al Qayrawān)in Tunisia, the other from Córdoba, cities that were the centers of Muslim civilization in Africa and Spain respectively. The Idrisid dynasty thus gave Morocco a capital, a tradition, and its patron saints in the two founders, Idris I and II.

Almoravids, Almohads, and Merinids

The Idrisid was succeeded by other dynasties, both Arab and Berber. Not until the 11th century can we speak of an independent kingdom of Morocco within its 20th-century frontiers. The unification of the country was the work of Berbers from south of the Tlas, nomads from the country now known as Mauritania. The Berbers were reforming Muslims; their first great leader, Yusuf ibn Tashfin, was an austere Muslim, living on camel flesh and milk and wearing only woolen garments. His followers were known as Almoravids, from the Arabic al-murabit, meaning “hermits.” Yusuf ibn Tashfin extended his rule over all North Africa as far as Algiers (in what is now Algeria), and also into Muslim Spain. The Almoravids ruled from 1062 to 1147.

In the 12th century, after a civil war lasting more than 20 years, the Almoravids were succeeded by another great Berber dynasty, the Almohads. Their name comes from the Arabic al-muwahhid, meaning “those who proclaim the unity of God,” and they ruled from 1147 to 1258. They also extended Moroccan rule and came to control not only Muslim Spain but all North Africa, including Tunisia, from which they expelled the Normans. In 1195 they won a great victory over the Christians in Spain at Alarcos.

The Almohad Empire began to disintegrate after the Battle of Las Navas de Tolosa in 1212, in which the Spanish defeated the Moroccans. By midcentury its power was gone. A third Berber dynasty, the Merinids, followed, but it failed to keep a foothold in Spain or to maintain Moroccan rule in North Africa beyond the frontiers of Morocco. A period of disorder and almost incessant civil war followed the collapse of the Merinids in 1358. Rulers of various dynasties reigned briefly and ineffectually over parts of the country. The Portuguese and Spanish captured a number of Moroccan ports.

The period of these three Berber dynasties—the Almoravids, the Almohads, and the Merinids—was a great age for Moroccan architecture. The finest monuments in Morocco are the mosques, minarets, and gateways built by the Almohads in the Atlas, at Marrakech, and in Rabat, and the madrasas (colleges) of Fès built by the Merinids. These magnificent constructions were the work of Muslim architects from Andalusia in southern Spain, for the Moroccan rulers rapidly adopted the culture of their new subjects and brought craftsmen and artists to Morocco from Spain. Two of Morocco’s great minaret towers—the Koutoubiya in Marrakech and the Hassan Tower in Rabat—were built by a Muslim architect from Spain. The absorption of Spanish Muslims had in fact begun even before the time of the Almoravids, when disturbances in Muslim Spain first led Muslims to seek refuge on the southern shores of the Mediterranean. The process continued until the beginning of the 17th century, with the expulsion of Moriscos (Christian converts from Islam) from Spain.

Sharifian Dyanasties

Morocco experienced a revival under the Saadians, known as the first Sharifian dynasty (1554-1660). The Saadian rulers were sharifs—that is, rulers who claimed descent from the prophet Muhammad. They had reclaimed a number of ports from the Portuguese by 1578. The reign (1579-1603) of Ahmed I al-Mansur is regarded as the golden age of Morocco. It was unified and relatively prosperous; its native arts and architecture flourished.

Al-Mansur not only successfully resisted Turkish attacks on the eastern frontier but also sent an expedition to the south that captured Tombouktou (in Mali) and put an end to the Songhai kingdom. He became master of the gold route from West Africa, and encouraged the cultivation of sugarcane. Morocco became one of the chief suppliers of sugar to England and other parts of western Europe.

The Saadians were succeeded by the second Sharifian dynasty, who have ruled since 1660 and remain on the Moroccan throne to this day. For 55 years, from 1672 to 1727, the able and ambitious Ismail al-Hasani ruled the country. He expanded relations with the European powers, regained the port of Tangier, and built a capital at Meknès. Al-Hasani’s reign was followed by a long period of disorder, which was punctuated with brief interludes of relative peace and prosperity.

European Intrusion

In 1415 Portugal had captured the port of Ceuta. This intrusion initiated a period of gradual extension of Portuguese and Spanish power over the Moroccan coastal region. The Moroccans inflicted a severe defeat on the Portuguese in 1578, and by the end of the 17th century they had regained control of most of their coastal cities. In the 18th and early 19th centuries pirates from Morocco and other so-called Barbary states of North Africa preyed on the shipping that plied the Mediterranean Sea (see Barbary Coast). Because of the depredations of the Barbary pirates and because Morocco shared control of the Strait of Gibraltar with Spain, the country figured with increasing weight in the diplomacy of the European maritime powers, particularly Spain, Britain, and France. Spain invaded Morocco in 1859 and 1860 and acquired Tétouan.

In April 1904, in return for receiving a free hand in Egypt from France, Britain recognized Morocco as a French sphere of interest. Later that year France and Spain divided Morocco into zones of influence, with Spain receiving the much smaller part of Morocco and the region south of Morocco, which would become Spanish Sahara. Germany soon disputed these arrangements, and a conference of major powers, including the United States, met in Algeciras, Spain, in January 1906, to conclude an agreement (see Algeciras Conference). The resultant Act of Algeciras guaranteed equality of economic rights for every nation in Morocco.

In July 1911, the Germans sent a gunboat to the Moroccan port city of Agadir, in a move designed to encourage Moroccan resistance to French dominance. This incident provoked French mobilization and brought Europe to the brink of war, but in later negotiations Germany agreed to a French protectorate over Morocco in return for French territorial concessions elsewhere in Africa.

The Protectorate

In March 1912 the sultan of Morocco recognized the protectorate. Later that year the French, under a revision of the 1904 convention with Spain, obtained a larger share of Moroccan territory.

The Spanish experienced greater difficulties in Spanish Morocco. Abd el-Krim, a leader of Berber tribes, organized a revolt against Spanish rule in 1921. By 1924 he had driven the Spanish forces from most of their Moroccan territory. He then turned upon the French. France and Spain agreed in 1925 to cooperate against Abd el-Krim. More than 200,000 troops under French marshal Henri Philippe Pétain were used in the campaign, which suppressed the revolt in 1926. Rebels in parts of the Atlas Mountains were not fully subdued until the end of 1934, however.

Under the French regime, the whole country was finally brought under control by the central government. A system of roads, railroads, and ports, needed for economic development, was created, and a growing industrial city was built at Casablanca. An educated elite was formed from students who attended modern schools and were introduced to ideas of the 20th century. This generation of educated Moroccans set out to recover the country’s independence.

During World War II, France’s collaborationist Vichy government allowed Morocco to support the German war effort following Germany’s defeat of France in 1940. In 1942, British and American troops landed and occupied Morocco, giving impetus to the independence movement. In 1944, Moroccan nationalists formed the Istiqlal party, which soon won the support of Sultan Mohammed V and the majority of Arabs. It was opposed by most of the Berber tribes, however. The French rejected the plea by the sultan in 1950 for self-government. The sultan was deposed in 1953 by pro-French reactionary notables, organized with the encouragement of French authorities, and exiled to Madagascar. But in 1955 the French permitted him to return to his throne.

Independence and Unification

France recognized Moroccan independence in March 1956. In April the Spanish government recognized in principle the independence of Spanish Morocco and the unity of the sultanate, although it retained certain cities and territories. Tangier was incorporated into Morocco in October 1956. Ifni, in the southwest, was returned to Morocco in 1969.

Sultan Mohammed V assumed the title of king in 1957. After French authority was removed, the sultan as king became an absolute ruler over a country with no constitutional institutions of any kind. This situation increased the difficulty of moving toward a parliamentary form of government, which the nationalist movement desired. The first three governments after independence were formed to a large extent on party lines, although the king retained control of the army, the police force, and the central administration. In forming the fourth government in 1960, the king abandoned the attempt to respect party claims. Ministers were selected instead for their “loyalty, integrity, and ability,” and King Mohammed V himself became premier, naming his son as his day-to-day deputy.

At Mohammed’s death in 1961, the throne passed to his son Hassan II. A royal charter was implemented by Hassan, whereby a constitutional monarchy was established on the approval by referendum of a constitution in December 1962. The nation’s first general elections were held in 1963, and the first parliamentary government was formed afterward. Parliamentary government proved short-lived, however, and was dominated by interparty bickering that impeded legislative action.

In 1965, after serious rioting in Casablanca, the king proclaimed a state of emergency. He dissolved parliament, suspended the constitution, and assumed full executive and legislative power, serving as his own prime minister for two years. Because the state was held together largely by religious fidelity to the king, who was both a temporal and spiritual leader, the politicians and populace accepted royal interference in politics and administration. Hassan gave strong support to the Arab cause in the 1967 Six-Day War with Israel and made subsequent attempts to secure Arab unity.

In 1970, ending the state of emergency, the king introduced a new constitution strengthening royal power and establishing a unicameral parliament. It was approved in a referendum, despite the opposition of the Istiqlal and its offshoot, the USFP (Socialist Union of Popular Forces). Following an attempt, in 1971, by a section of the army to overthrow the monarchy, the king tried to conciliate the opposition. In 1972 he won approval for a new constitution that curtailed his power and increased parliament’s. However, because the Istiqlal and USFP rejected the constitution and its reforms as inadequate, the king suspended parliament and postponed elections indefinitely. In 1973 he issued laws that took over all foreign-owned land and forced most foreign-owned firms to sell Morocco shares in their holdings.

Saharan War and Constitutional Changes

Morocco forced Spain to withdraw from Spanish Sahara in 1976. When the Spanish left, they ceded the northern two-thirds of the colony to Morocco, while Mauritania received the southern third. This disposal of the phosphate-rich territory was disputed by many Sahrawis, nomadic tribespeople who sought independence for Western Sahara and formed the Polisario Front. This Saharan nationalist guerrilla movement proclaimed Western Sahara an independent nation, called the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), and conducted guerrilla warfare from bases inside Algeria. Although burdened by the ensuing guerrilla warfare, Morocco resolved to continue the fight alone after Mauritania decided to withdraw from the conflict in 1979. Relations between Morocco and neighboring Algeria grew strained over Algeria’s support for the Polisario Front.

Faced with mounting international opposition, King Hassan nevertheless committed additional troops and resources to the effort to protect the phosphate mines and major towns from Polisario harassment. In 1984 Morocco quit the Organization of African Unity (OAU) to protest its seating of a Polisario delegation. By 1987 the Moroccan military had enclosed four-fifths of the Western Sahara with a defensive wall that sharply curtailed attacks by Polisario forces. Efforts by the United Nations (UN) to mediate the dispute continued throughout the 1980s and 1990s. A cease-fire was implemented in Western Sahara in 1991, and a UN-sponsored referendum on self-determination was postponed repeatedly due to disagreements over voter eligibility. From the early 1990s on, Morocco was criticized by the Polisario Front for encouraging Moroccans to migrate to Western Sahara in hopes of having them counted as eligible voters.

Western Saharan constituencies were included in 1992 local elections, which followed King Hassan’s promulgation of a new constitution, overwhelmingly approved by referendum. In 1996 a referendum approved the king’s plans for a new legislative upper house, composed of indirectly elected representatives of local government and the professions. The constitutional revisions of 1992 and 1996 expanded the powers of parliament.

A New King

Hassan II died in July 1999 and was succeeded by his son Mohammed VI. The new king promised to continue the reforms begun by his father. Under Mohammed’s leadership, the government pushed through reforms in family law—granting more rights to women—and liberalized economic policies in the hope of attracting more investment from abroad. In 2000 the king started a campaign for Morocco to join the European Union (EU), but the plan met with little EU enthusiasm. Terrorist bomb attacks in Casablanca in 2003 led the government to enact new antiterrorism legislation. An Equity and Reconciliation Commission was established in 2004 to investigate human rights abuses from 1956 to 1999, during the reign of Mohammed’s father. The final report, delivered in 2006, recommended payments for individuals who were tortured and for families of people who disappeared.

Parliamentary elections for the 325-seat Chamber of Representatives were held in September 2007. A total of 23 parties and 5 independents won seats in the new parliament. Taking the largest share of seats were the secular conservative Istiqlal (Independence) Party, followed by the moderate Islamist Party of Justice and Development (PJD). A record-low voter turnout of 37 percent and accusations by the PJD that secular parties had bought votes marred the election results. The victory of Istiqlal ensured that Morocco, an important U.S. ally in the Muslim world, would continue to maintain strong ties with the West.

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