The Kingdom of Morocco gained its Independence from France on 2 March 1956. The country’s name is derived from that of the former capital, Marrakesh, the Arabic name is al-Mamlakah al-Maghribiyyah, or ‘The Western Kingdom’ or ‘Maghrib al-Aqsa’ (Farthest West). Morocco is the only Arab Country with both an Atlantic and a Mediterranean coast.
Morocco has Algeria to the east, the Atlantic to the west, and the Mediterranean to the north. Its area is approximately 47,520,000 square kilometres.
Morocco has the highest and most rugged mountains in North Africa. They are divided into four ranges, cut by plateaux and valleys: the Rif; the Middle Atlas; the High Atlas (highest mountain, Jebel Tubkal 13,661 feet / 4,164 metres) and Anti-Atlas. The largest plain area lies along the Atlantic coast, and is sheltered by mountains to the north, east, and south. The north and centre enjoy a Mediterranean climate with hot summers and mild, rainy winters. Further south, it is hotter and drier until the change to a desert climate is made. In summer, the hot desert wind dries up everything before it. But the Atlantic coast has a more temperate climate, with fresh breezes blowing in from the Canaries.
Morocco is the most densely-populated state in the Maghreb with 29,878,000 inhabitants (2000 census: the next one is planned for September 2004). Today, about 49 per cent of Moroccans are Berbers, most of them are living in the Rif, the High and Middle Atlas and the Anti-Atlas. The Arabs are mainly concentrated in the lowlands and in the major cities.
Moroccans are Sunni Muslim of the Malikite school, but there are also small minorities of Christians and Jews.
The official language is Standard Literary Arabic, and French is also used in public administration and commerce, but the spoken language in the street and markets, etc., is Moroccan colloquial Arabic dialect and Berber. Due to modern education, a large number of Moroccans speak French and Spanish and also a good number speak English. These three languages have been taught in all Moroccan schools since independence. In addition, since September 2003, the Berber language has became an official language alongside Arabic, and is taught in schools.
A good number of Moroccans are married to foreign women. Under Moroccan law, the children belong to the father, and are therefore Moroccan citizens regardless of where they were born.
Morocco has been inhabited by Barbers since the beginnings of history, and from the third millennium onwards had close relations with Spain. Phoenicians established trading posts on the coast in about 1100 BC. After a period of rule by native kings, Morocco was annexed to the Roman tributary Kingdom of Mauritania. In 40 AD Caligula declared Mauritania a Roman Province. The Vandals’ invasion in 429 swept destructively through Morocco and Algeria, and they settled in Tunisia, where they remained for about a century.
The Vandals rule was overthrown in 534 by Byzantine forces. The defeated Vandals disappeared, and Roman authority was reimposed, but the Berber inhabitants maintained their opposition and preserved their autonomy and culture through much of the Roman provinces.
In 708, the Arab general, Musa Ibn Nusair, reached the coast of Morocco, seized Ceuta from the Byzantine Count Julian, and ordered his second-in-command, Tariq Ibn Zyad, a Berber, to conquer Spain in the name of the Caliph of Damascus; before the attacks by Muslim soldiers, the Visigothic Kingdom of Spain crumbled.
Morocco first came under the rule of the Ummayyads of Damascus, then of the Idrissid dynasty (788-974) founded by the üif Idriss 1; finally it came under Berber rule. The desert tribe of the Sanhja from which was recruited the Almoravid forces, occupied the oases (1053-4) and the south (1056-9), and the head of the Almoravid movement, Yusuf Ibn Tashfin, founded Marrakesh in 1070-71, conquered Fez in 1075 and Ceuta in 1083, and went on to conquer the south of Spain, which he reunited with Morocco. The Almoravids were succeeded by the Almohads. The Merinids’ rule was extended by the Banu Wattas’ government (1472-1554).
Throughout the 15th and early 16th centuries, the Portuguese gained several Moroccan ports, while in 1497 Melilla was taken by Spain. The Saadian dynasty (1554-1659) was at its height between 1578 and 1603, under Ahmad IV, after defeating the Portuguese at the Battle of the Three Kings (Ksar el-Kebir, 1578).
Since 1664 to the present day, Morocco has bean ruled by the Alawi dynasty. For long, they resisted all foreign invasion, but between 1890-1912 they could no longer resist external pressures, foreign incursion and in 1912 the European Powers agreed to the establishment of a French Protectorate over the greater part of Morocco, while Spain controlled the northern region and a small south-western part.
The revolt against colonialism broke out in the north in 1912 led by Abdelkrim, but before it was put down in 1926 the Spanish Army suffered great losses. A similar revolt also took place in the south led by El-Hiba and the French Army too suffered great losses before the revolt was put down in 1934. This was the beginning of the Moroccan nationalist movement. The Istiqlal (Independence Party) was formed in 1943, and the Democratic Party for Independence in 1946.
Mohamed V who was suspected by the French of collaborating with the nationalists was deposed on 20 August 1953 and he and his family deported first to Corsica and then to Madagascar. The French were unable to hold on to the country and agreed to the Independence. Mohamed V made a triumphal re-entry in 1955 but died unexpectedly of heart failure after a minor operation in February 1961 and his eldest son Crown Prince Hassan succeeded him on 28 February. Like his late father, he died unexpectedly of heart failure on 23 July 1999 and his eldest son Crown Prince Sidi Mohamed succeeded him as Mohammed V1.
Morocco is a constitutional monarchy with a Parliament and an independent judiciary system, but the final authority rests with the King.
Morocco has an economy based largely on agriculture, fishing, light industry, phosphates, tourism and, more importantly, remittances from Moroccans working abroad.
Islam is the state religion. The Moroccan government does not interfere with public worship by the country’s Christian or Jewish minorities. However, while other minorities are allowed to practice freely, some activities, such as distribution of religious literature or encouraging conversion to Christianity is prohibited. Recently, foreign citizens have been detained and expelled for trying to engage Moroccans in debate about Christianity.
Travellers to Morocco must have a valid passport. A visa is required for travellers from some countries. Enquire with Moroccan embassies before travelling. Since the terrorist bombing in Casablanca in May 2003, travellers born in an Arab or Muslim country, but with US, Canadian, and European passport and having Arabic names have experienced delays in clearing immigration upon arrival at airports.