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"Morocco". Microsoft® Encarta® Online Encyclopedia 2001. © 2000 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.



Morocco (Arabic Al Mamlakah al Maghribiyah), kingdom in North Africa, bounded on the north by the Mediterranean Sea, on the east and southeast by Algeria, on the south by Western Sahara, and on the west by the Atlantic Ocean. The southeastern boundary, in the Sahara, is not precisely defined. Within Morocco are the Spanish exclaves of Ceuta and Melilla, on the Mediterranean coast. Several small islands off the northern coast of Morocco are also possessions of Spain. From 1912 to 1956 Morocco itself was divided into French and Spanish protectorates. The area of Morocco is 453,730 sq km (175,186 sq mi). Since 1979 Morocco has also occupied the adjacent region known as Western Sahara (formerly Spanish Sahara).


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, paralleling the Mediterranean coast; the Atlas Mountains, extending across the country in a southwestern to northeastern direction between the Atlantic Ocean and Er Rif, from which the mountains are separated by the Taza Depression; a region of broad coastal plains along the Atlantic Ocean, framed in the arc formed by Er Rif and the Atlas Mountains; and the plains and valleys south of the Atlas Mountains, which merge with the Sahara along the southeastern borders of the country. Most Moroccans inhabit the Atlantic coastal plain. The highest mountain is Jebel Toubkal (4,165 m/13,665 ft), in the Grand Atlas range. Elevations in Er Rif attain heights of 2,450 m (8,040 ft). Morocco has many rivers, which, although unimportant for navigation, 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.

A. Climate

Along the Mediterranean, Morocco has a subtropical climate, tempered by oceanic influences that give the coastal cities moderate temperatures. At Essaouira (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 mean temperature is 10°C (50°F) in January and 26.9°C (80.5°F) in August. 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. 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.

B. Natural Resources

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.

C. Plants and Animals

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.

D. Soils

The soils along the coast of Morocco are halomorphic and humus-carbonate; inland areas have podzolic and steppe soils. The southern part of the country is mainly desert.

E. Environmental Issues

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, with only 0.04 percent (1990-2000) of its forests destroyed each year. Forests cover 6.8 percent (2000) 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 0.70 percent (1997) of Morocco's total land area. The country is home to 39 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 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. Morocco has about 100,000 Europeans, most of them French. The rural population in 2000 was 44 percent of the country's total.

A. Population Characteristics

The estimated population of Morocco in 2002 was 31,167,783, giving the country an overall population density of 69 persons per sq km (178 per sq mi).

B. Principal Cities

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.

C. Religion

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. About 1 percent of the population is Christian, and less than 0.2 percent is Jewish.

D. Language

The Berber languages, once dominant throughout Morocco, have declined in importance, and in the early 1990s about 25 percent of the people used Berber as their first language. Many of these people also spoke Arabic, the country's official language, which is the primary language of some 75 percent of the population. Numerous Moroccans also use French and Spanish.

E. Education

Schooling is compulsory in Morocco for children between the ages of 7 and 16. Some 87 percent of girls and 107 percent of boys attend primary school; only 40 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. In 2001 it was estimated that 69 percent of the population was literate. In the 1998-1999 school year 3.5 million pupils attended primary schools; 1.5 million students were enrolled in secondary and vocational schools.

About 294,500 people were enrolled in schools of higher education in Morocco in the mid-1990s. Higher education of the traditional type is centered in Fès at Al Qarawiyin University, which was founded in AD 859. Modern higher education 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; and Mohammed I University (1978), at Oujda. Rabat also has colleges of fine arts, public administration, agriculture, and economics, and the School of Native Arts and Crafts (1921) is in Tétouan.

F. Culture

Morocco has felt the influences of several ancient cultures. Excavations have unearthed elements of the Phoenician, Hellenic, 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. The western African influence, seen in dances, spread northward with trade. Among more recent influences, the strongest is that of France.

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, one of which, the Archaeological Museum in Tétouan, has collections of Carthaginian, Roman, and Islamic art and artifacts.


Morocco is primarily an agricultural country, although only 19 percent of the land is cultivated. In 2000 gross domestic product (GDP) was estimated at $33.3 billion, or $1,160 per person. The government's budget in 1999 included revenues of $10.4 billion and expenditures of $11.5 billion.

A. Agriculture

The principal crops of Morocco are cereals, particularly wheat and barley (4.8 million metric tons in 2001); root crops such as potatoes and sugar beets (1.1 million); vegetables including tomatoes and melons (3.2 million); fruits, particularly grapes and dates (2.6 million); and sugarcane (1.3 million). A wide variety of other fruits and vegetables are also grown. Livestock in 2001 included 17.3 million sheep, 5.1 million goats, and 2.7 million head of cattle.

B. Forestry and Fishing

Cork is a major forest product of Morocco. Much timber is cut for use as fuel; the total timber harvest in 2000 was 1.1 million cubic meters (39.7 million cubic feet). The chief fishing centers are Agadir, Safi, Essaouira, and Casablanca. The total catch in 1997 was 785,843 metric tons, including pilchard, tuna, mackerel, anchovies, and shellfish.

C. Mining

Morocco is a leading producer of phosphate rock; output was 21.6 million metric tons in 2000. Other minerals produced were coal (290,299 metric tons), iron ore (4,000 metric tons), silver (289 metric tons), and zinc (130,000 metric tons).

D. Manufacturing

Morocco's manufacturing sector is made up mostly of small-scale enterprises. Construction materials, chemicals, textiles, footwear, processed food, wine, refined petroleum, and many other kinds of goods are produced in Morocco. Artisans produce fabrics, leather goods, ceramics, rugs and carpets, and woodwork of high quality. Annual production in the early 1990s included about 1.2 million sq m (about 1.4 million sq yd) of rugs and carpets, 5.8 million metric tons of cement, and 1.1 million tons of phosphoric acid.

E. Energy

Some 89 percent of Morocco's electricity production in 1999 was generated in thermal plants, and the remainder was produced in hydroelectric facilities. Morocco's output of electricity in 1999 was 13.7 billion kilowatt-hours.

F. Currency and Banking

Morocco's unit of currency is the dirham, consisting of 100 centimes (10.63 dirhams equal U.S.$1; 2000 average). It is issued by the Banque al-Maghrib (1959), the state bank. The country also has several large private banks.

G. Foreign Trade

Morocco's leading exports are phosphates and phosphoric acid. Other exports include citrus fruit, wheat, fish, and minerals. Exports in 2000 earned $7.4 billion. Imports were valued at $11.5 billion. Imports typically consist of industrial equipment, food products, manufactured goods, and fuels. The principal purchasers of Morocco's exports are France, Spain, Japan, India, Italy, the United States, and Libya; chief sources of imports are France, Spain, the United States, Germany, Saudi Arabia, and Brazil. 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.

H. Transportation

Morocco has extensive port facilities, concentrated principally at Casablanca. Other ports include Agadir, Kenitra, Mohammedia, Safi, and Tangier. The country has 1,907 km (1,185 mi) of railroad track and 57,707 km (36,786 mi) of roads, 56 percent of which are hard-surfaced. Domestic and international air service is provided by Royal Air Maroc; several major foreign airlines also serve Morocco.

I. Communications

Radio and television programs are broadcast in several languages in Morocco, and there were 247 radio receivers and 115 television sets in use for every 1,000 inhabitants in 1997. The country has 22 daily newspapers and numerous periodicals.

J. Labor

Morocco's workforce in 2000 included 11.5 million persons. Some 6 percent of the labor force was engaged in agriculture, forestry, and fishing; another 61 percent worked in services; and 33 percent was employed in industry, including manufacturing, construction, and mining. About 20 percent of the total workforce is organized; the leading trade unions are the Union Marocaine du Travail, the Union Générale des Travailleurs du Maroc, and the Confédération Démocratique du Travail.


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.

A. Executive

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.

B. Legislature

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 of these legislative bodies were held in November and December of 1997.

C. Political Parties

Morocco has a multiparty political system. Most parties are aligned in three major groupings: The Wifaq bloc consists of pro-government rightist parties, such as the Constitutional Union (UC) and the National Rally of Independents (RNI); the Koutla bloc includes socialist opposition parties, such as the Socialist Union of Popular Forces (USFP); and a third group is made up of centrist parties. In 1997 elections for the Chamber of Representatives, Koutla won 102 seats, Wifaq won 100, and the centrist bloc won 97. The remaining seats were won by independent parties, including the first Islamist parties to gain parliamentary representation. The USFP received the most votes of any single party, and the king appointed its leader as prime minister. Centrist and pro-government parties secured an overwhelming victory in the Chamber of Advisers. In March 1998 the new prime minister formed a coalition government, the first socialist-led Moroccan government.

D. Local Government

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.

E. Judiciary

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.

F. Health and Welfare

Health services are fairly well developed in Morocco's cities, but health conditions in rural areas remain poor. The government provides for social security benefits. The country had on average 1 physician for every 2,174 inhabitants and 1 hospital bed for every 1,020 inhabitants in 1997.

G. Defense

Military service of 18 months is compulsory for males in Morocco. The army in 2001 numbered 175,000, the air force 13,500, and the navy 10,000.


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

The first of the foreign invaders well known to history were the Phoenicians, who in the 12th century BC established trading posts on the Mediterranean coast of the region. These colonies were later taken over and extended by the Carthaginians. 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. 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.

A. 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 subsequent subjugation of Spain.

The first Arab rulers of the whole of Morocco, the Idrisid dynasty, held power from 789 to 926. The Idrisid was succeeded by other dynasties, both Arab and Berber. Among the most notable were the dynasties of the Almoravids, from 1062 to 1147, and the Almohads, from 1147 to 1258. Under the latter, Morocco became the center of an empire that embraced modern-day Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, and large areas of Spain and Portugal.

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 period of disorder and almost incessant civil war between Berbers and Arabs followed. Rulers of various dynasties reigned briefly and ineffectually over parts of the country.

Morocco experienced a revival under the Saadians, known as the first Sharifian dynasty (1554-1660). The reign (1579-1603) of Ahmed I al-Man-sur is regarded as the golden age of Morocco. The country benefited enormously from the influx of nearly a million Moors and Jews who were expelled from Spain after 1492. It was unified and relatively prosperous; its native arts and architecture flourished.

The Saadians were succeeded by the second Sharifian dynasty, who have ruled since 1660. This dynasty reached its peak in the reign of Ismail al-Hasani (reigned 1672-1727). Al-Hasani's reign was followed by a long period of disorder, which was punctuated with brief interludes of relative peace and prosperity.

B. 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 1859-1860 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. Imperial 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. 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 native 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.

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

C. Fight for Independence

The Spanish experienced even greater difficulties in Spanish Morocco. Abd el-Krim, a leader of Rif 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 the French marshal Henri Philippe Pétain were used in the campaign, which ended victoriously in 1926. The country was not fully pacified, however, until the end of 1934.

Following Germany's defeat of France in 1940, France's collaborationist Vichy government allowed Morocco to support the German war effort. In November 1942, American troops landed and occupied Morocco. During the rest of World War II, the country was a major Allied supply base. Casablanca was the site of a meeting of the heads of government of the Allies in 1943.

In 1944, Moroccan nationalists formed the Istiqlal party, which soon won the support of Sultan Muhammed 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 August 1953, but in October 1955 the French permitted him to return to his throne.

D. Unification

The French 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 was returned to Morocco in January 1969.

Sultan Mohammed V assumed the title of king in August 1957. At his 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. In June 1965, however, the king temporarily suspended parliament and assumed full executive and legislative power, serving as his own prime minister for two years. Hassan gave strong support to the Arab cause in the 1967 war with Israel and made subsequent attempts to secure Arab unity. Nevertheless, he was deemed too moderate by extremist elements, and attempts were made on his life in 1971 and 1972.

E. Saharan War and Recent Developments

During 1974 and 1975 Morocco exerted much pressure on Spain to relinquish Spanish Sahara. When the Spanish left in 1976, 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 the Polisario Front, a Saharan nationalist guerrilla movement, which proclaimed Western Sahara an independent nation, called the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR). Although burdened by the ensuing guerrilla warfare, Morocco resolved to continue the fight alone after Mauritania decided to withdraw from the conflict in 1979. 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. 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. In the early and mid-1990s Morocco was criticized by the Polisario Front for encouraging Moroccans to migrate to Western Sahara in hopes of having them counted as eligible voters.

Hassan II died in July 1999 and was succeeded by his son Mohammed VI. The new king pledged to continue his father's policies.

"Morocco". Microsoft® Encarta® Online Encyclopedia 2002 (2 Aug. 2002)

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