Morocco is located in North Africa, world population review estimates Morocco’s population at 36,496,532 (2018). Including the disputed Western Sahara, its area is 710,850 sq. km. Morocco claims the territory of Western Sahara, the political status of which is considered undetermined by the US Government; portions of the regions Guelmim-Es Smara and Laayoune-Boujdour-Sakia El Hamra as claimed by Morocco lie within Western Sahara; Morocco also claims Oued Eddahab-Lagouira, another region that falls entirely within Western Sahara.
Its coast on the Atlantic Ocean moves past the Strait of Gibraltar to the Mediterranean Sea. Across the strait, Spain borders it to the north. Algeria borders to the east and Mauritania to the South.
The country has an elected parliament and is a constitutional monarchy. The King holds a number of executive powers, including the power to dissolve parliament. There are two houses of parliament, the Assembly of Councillors and the Assembly of Representatives. Recent elections for parliament were generally considered free and fair. Rabat is the capital and Casablanca is the largest city.
The English name “Morocco” comes from the Spanish and Portuguese words referring to the former capital, Marrakesh. The country is still called Marrakesh in Persian, Urdu, and Hindi. The Turkish word “Fas” comes from the ancient Marinid and Idrisid capital Fes.
Morocco has been inhabited since Neolithic times when the area was less arid. The area resembled a savannah at that time. Various ethnic groups have contributed to Morocco in addition to the Berbers, including Arabs, Phoenicians, Iberians, Sephardic Jews, and sub-Saharan Africans.
Romans and Berber Morocco
Early settlements and Phoenician trading colonies brought Morocco into the Mediterranean world. Mogador was a Phoenician colony as early as the 6th century BC. The area later formed an important part of the Roman Empire and was called Mauretania Tingitana. When the Roman Empire declined in the fifth century, the area fell to the Vandals, Visigoths, and the Byzantine Empire in quick succession. Most of modern Morocco still was not subdued and were still in Berber hands.
In the seventh century, Islamic expansion began. The Arabs brought Islam and their language. Most Berbers converted. The Berber population asserted its independence after the Great Berber Revolt in 739. They formed states and kingdoms. The country cut ties with Abbasid caliphs in Bagdad under Idris ibn Abdallah. Fes became the Idrisids capital. Morocco became a learning center and regional power.
Under a series of Berber dynasties after the 11th century, Morocco reached its height. Banu Hilal Arab tribes migrated to the area in the 13th century. With their arrival urbanization fell and the country was becoming Arabized. Under several dynasties including the Maghrawa, Almohads, Almoravids, Marinids, Wattasids, and the Saadi, Morocco came to rule most of Northwest Africa and large parts of the Iberia. Muslims and Jews fled to Morocco after the Iberian was reconquered.
The Arab Alaouite Dynasty gained control after the Saadi when the area faced Spanish and Ottoman aggression. The kingdom under the Alaouites was smaller than prior kingdoms but wealthier. They annexed tangier in 1684. Ismail Ibn Sharif organized the kingdom into a unified state.
In 1787, Morocco was the first nation to recognize the U.S. This allowed U.S. merchant ships to enjoy passage through areas subject to Barbary attacks under Moroccan protection. This Moroccan-American Treaty of Friendship is the oldest unbroken friendship treaty in the U.S.
Morocco’s heart on the Mediterranean was not affected by the Portuguese invasion and control of the Atlantic coast in the 15th century. After the Napoleonic Wars, Istanbul could not effectively govern Egypt and North Africa. Morocco’s strategic position and proven wealth led to European interest. In 1904, the U.K. recognized France’s influence in Morocco to which the German Empire reacted. This crisis of 1905 was resolved at the Algeciras Conference in 1906. The Treaty of Fez in 1912 made Morocco a French protectorate. This treaty also allowed Spain to protect the Saharan zones that same year. In World War I and II, Moroccan soldiers were part of the French army. Many also served in the Spanish Civil War as part of the Spanish Nationalist Army.
The French denied Moroccans basic rights during their rule. The French also built their own sections of the cities next to the existing slums. Under this apartheid system, Moroccans were not allowed to travel to the French sections. The education system only taught French art, history, and culture. Native languages and culture were disregarded. A young Moroccan intellectual class started a nationalist movement to restore Morocco to self-government. An Independence Party manifesto in 1944 was one of the first public demands for independence.
Sultan Mohammed V’s exile to Madagascar by the French in 1953 and his unpopular replacement, Mohammed Ben Arafa, provoked active opposition. In Oujda, Moroccans attacked European residents. In 1955, the Liberation Army began operations and the Arab Maghreb Liberation Committee met in Egypt as the resistance movement. The overall goal was Mohammed V’s return and independence for Tunisia and Algeria. After the French allowed Mohammed V’s return in 1955, independence talks began.
In 1956, Morocco earned political independence. Control of Spanish-ruled areas was restored through agreements in 1956 and 1958. Attempts to claim other areas through military action were unsuccessful. In 1956, Tangier was reintegrated. In 1961, Hassan II became king. Political unrest occurred in his early years. In 1969, Ifni was reintegrated. Western Sahara was annexed in the 1970s, but the area’s status is still unresolved today.
In the 1990s, a bicameral legislature was formed. The country became a non-NATO ally in 2004 and has free trade agreements with the EU and U.S.
As stated, Morocco is a constituational monarchy. The parliament is elected. Opposition parties are permitted and several exist. The two chambers of parliament are the Assembly of Representatives of Morocco and the Assembly of Councillors. The constitution sets forth the monarchy, a parliament and an independent judiciary.
The king is the secular leader and a direct descendant of the Prophet Mohammed. After legislative elections, the king appoints the Prime Minister. With the Prime Minister’s recommendations, the king also appoints other government members. The king technically can terminate ministers, dissolve the parliament, and suspend the constitution, but this only happened in 1965. The king also commands the military. In 1961, King Hassan II became king and ruled until he died in 1999. His son, King Mohammed VI, assumed the throne in the same year and continues to rule currently in 2014.
In 1998, a coalition government was formed and headed by opposition socialist leader Abderrahmane Youssoufi. This is the first government drawn from opposition parts in decades. This was also the first time in the Arab world that the opposition assumed power following an election.
Since the 1996 reforms, there are two chambers to the legislature. There are 325 members in the Assembly of Representatives who are elected to five year terms. 270 members are in the Assembly of Councillors who are elected to nine year terms. Parliament’s powers are limited but were expanded in 1992 and 1996 consitutional revisions. A vote of no confidence from the lower chamber can dissolve the government.
The Supreme Court is the highest court whose judges are appointed by the King. Reform programs have developed greater independence of the judiciary.
Morocco has 16 administrative regions which were created in 1997. These are subdivided into 62 prefectures and provinces. There are 37 provinces and wilayas.
The U.N. views Western Sahara as a case of unfinished decolonization. The international community does not recognize Morocco’s rule of the territory. Similarly, the republic proposed by the Polisario is not recognized. The Polisario fought against Spanish rule and later for independence as the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic. A ceasefire has been in place since 1991.
Morocco administers this area as its Southern Provinces. The Polisario Front controls a free zone as the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic.
Morocco recently suggested the region have autonomous status. This was presented to the U.N. Security Council in 2007. While the U.S. and France encouraged the proposal, it was not approved. Instead, the U.N. has requested the parties enter direct negotiation to reach a political solution.
Morocco’s geography starts at the Atlantic Ocean and goes to mountainous areas, then to the Sahara. Mountains span a large part of Morocco, including the Atlas Mountains in the center and south. The Rif Mountains sit in the north. The Berber people are the main inhabitants of the mountains. The country’s area is 446,519 sq. km.
The Canary Islands belong to Spain and are off the Atlantic coast. Madeira to the north is controlled by Portugal. The Strait of Gibraltar is to the north of Morocco.
The Rif Mountains border the Mediterranean from the northwest to the northeast. The country’s backbone is the Atlas Mountains which run from southwest to northeast. The Sahara covers much of the southeast part of the country. The Western Sahara is in the south.
Rabat is the capital while Casablanca is the largest city and main port.
In the north and some of the mountains there is a Mediterranean climate. These areas are the locations of most of the country’s agriculture. 12 percent of Morocco is forested and arable land is 18 percent. Different climates exist in the Atlas Mountains, including Mediterranean and Maritime Temperate. On the eastern side of the Atlas Mountains, the shelter effect of the mountains changes the climate. It is very dry and warm in the summer with a desert climate.
The country is well known for biodiversity, especially birds. There are 454 bird species and 156 of these are rare.
Morocco’s economic freedom score is 62.9, making its economy the 75th freest in the 2019 Index. Its overall score has increased by 1.0 point, with improvements in fiscal health, property rights, and judicial effectiveness outpacing lower scores for government integrity, labor freedom, and trade freedom. Morocco is ranked 6th among 14 countries in the Middle East and North Africa region, and its overall score is above the regional and world averages.
Low labor costs and proximity to Europe have helped Morocco to build a diversified and market-oriented economy. The government is taking additional fiscal consolidation measures to boost growth and improve private-sector competitiveness by strengthening public finances and introducing a more flexible exchange-rate regime. A large part of the labor force remains marginalized by inflexible labor laws, and the government has yet to confront other long-standing challenges that require deeper reforms, particularly in connection with ensuring the evenhanded rule of law.
Morocco’s population is the Arab world’s fourth highest. Most practice Sunni Islam. Arabs and Berbers are 99 percent of the population. There are populations of Haratin and Gnawa, black or mixed race. Most of the foreign residents are French or Spanish. Genetic studies have shown Moroccans are genetically closer to Iberians than those of Bantu ethnicity.
France has the largest Moroccan population outside of Morocco at over 1 million.
Most people live west of the Atlas Mountains where the country is insulated from the Sahara.
The official language is Modern Standard Arabic and its distinctive dialect is Moroccan Arabic. 60 percent speak Berber either as a first language or with Arabic. French is the unofficial second language and is universally taught, it is the commercial language and is used in education and government. In the north, 2 million speak Spanish. English is not widely spoken but is becoming a second language of the educated youth.
Berber is the oldest known native Moroccan language and has an unknown number of speakers. There are three main varieties, Tamazight Tarifit, Tamazight of the Atlas, and Tamazight Tashelhit. In addition to rural areas, there are sizeable Berber speaking populations in the urban areas.
Morocco has a rich culture and civilization mostly due to its ethnic diversity. The different civilizations in the region’s history have impacted Moroccan social structures.
There are regional differences that contribute to the overall culture. The country has protection of diversity as one of its top priorities.
Morocco’s cuisine is one of the world’s most diversified. It mixes Berber, Corsican, Portuguese, Spanish, Moorish, Middle Eastern, African, and Mediterranean.
Spices are used extensively, which were imported into the country over thousands of years. Chicken is the most widely eaten meat and beef is the most common red meat. Lamb is expensive but preferred. The most famous dish is couscous.
Most literature is in Arabic, Berber, and French. During the Almohad dynasty, the country experienced a period of learning. The Marrakech Koutoubia Moswue accommodated 25,000 people but also held books and manuscripts. Abu Yakub, an Almohad caliph, founded a great library.
Modern national literature started in the 1930s due to the ability of intellectuals to exchange works with Arabs and Europeans.
Foreign writers and native ones thrived in the 1950s and 1960s. Oral literature is also important in the country’s culture.
The country’s music is of sub-Saharan and Berber origin. Chabbi bands and trance music are widespread.
Andalusian classical music is based in Morocco and found in North Africa. This likely originated in Cordoba under the Moors. Chaabi descends from folk music and is played at meetings and celebrations.
There are 2,067 km of railways in Morocco, which connect to Algeria and Tunisia. These Tunisian connections have been closed since the 1990s. A railway between Spain and Morocco is proposed to go under the Strait of Gibraltar. Plans also exist for high speed rail lines.
56,395 km of roads, of which 6,105 km are highways, are present in Morocco.
Since 2006, compulsory military service has been suppressed. The reserve obligation lasts until age 50. There is an army, navy, and air force, of which the army is the largest. There are also the National Police Force, the Royal Gendarmerie, and Auxiliary Forces. There is effective internal security. A U.N. observer force is present in the Western Sahara. The Polisario militia have fought the Moroccan army intermittently in the area since the 1980s.
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%.
Football is the most popular sport in Morocco. In 1970, the country was the first African nation to play in the World Cup, however they did not qualify for the latest 2014 world cup in Brazil. National athletes have also won Olympic medals in track and field. Tennis and golf have also become popular.