Morocco (MA)

Capital

Rabat

Population

35 million

Constitution

Executive monarch and parliamentary democracy

Head of state

HM King Mohammed VI

National Day

November 18th

Morocco's Ambassador to the UK

H.E. Mr Hakim Hajoui

The Embassy of the Kingdom or Morocco, 49 Queen’s Gate Gardens, London, SW7 5NE

UK's Ambassador to Morocco

H.E. Mr Simon Martin

British Embassy Rabat, 28 Avenue S.A.R. Sidi Mohammed, Souissi 10105 (BP 45), Rabat, Morocco

Morocco is located in the western corner of North Africa, bordered by the North Atlantic Ocean, the Mediterranean Sea, Algeria and Western Sahara. The capital, Rabat, is located in the north of the country on the Atlantic coast. Morocco’s largest city and the country’s principal port is Casablanca.

The population of Morocco is an estimated 35 million people. The ethnic breakdown is 99% Arab-Berber, 1% other. The median age in Morocco is 29.1 years and the population is growing at a rate of 0.96%. Life expectancy is 73.3 years. The literacy rate is 73.8%. Unemployment is 10.5%.

Government 

Morocco is a parliamentary constitutional monarchy. The King holds the highest authority in the state, as Commander of the Faithful and highest commander of the Royal Moroccan Armed Forces. The King appoints the prime minister from the majority party following legislative elections.

The Parliament in Morocco is formed of two parliamentary chambers. The House of Representatives has 395 members who are elected directly for a five-year term. The House of Councillors has between 90 – 120 members and these are elected indirectly for a six-year term. Morocco has a mixed legal system of civil law based on French civil law and Islamic (Sharia) law.

Following the establishment of its bicameral legislature in 1997, Morocco’s first opposition-led government came to power in 1998. King Hassan II was succeeded by his son, King Mohammed VI, in July 1999, bringing in a period of social and economic liberalisation.

History

The seat of numerous dynasties from the 11th Century onwards, namely the Almoravids – which at their height controlled the Maghreb and much of present-day Spain and Portugal – Morocco has for most of its history resisted outside invasion.

In 1904, France and Spain carved out their respective zones of influence, with the latter’s focus situated along the Moroccan coast. The Treaty of Fez in 1912 saw Morocco officially become a French protectorate (as opposed to the formal colonies imposed in neighbouring lands), with the Sultan’s status guaranteed.

Morocco gained its independence from France and Spain in 1956, although Spain to this day retains two coastal enclaves, Ceuta and Melilla (see below).

In 1957, Sultan Mohammed adopted the title of King, being succeeded four years later by his son, King Hassan II. 

Religion

99% of Morocco’s inhabitants are Sunni Muslim, which is the state religion. Other minority religions make up the remaining 1%, including Christianity, Judaism, and Bahaism.

Economy

Through privatisation and a series of pro-market reforms, since the mid-1980s Morocco has strengthened its once ailing and heavily indebted economy into one that is now more diverse, open and stable, with steady growth and low inflation.

Its currency is the Moroccan Dirham (MAD). Key sectors of the economy include tourism, mining and processing phosphates for export, the manufacture of textiles and clothes, and agriculture. Although only making up around 14% of GDP, the latter accounts for around 40% of the country’s workforce.

Morocco entered into a bilateral Free Trade Agreement with the US in 2006 and an Advanced Status agreement with the EU in 2008, considerably boosting its export potential. Together, almost 50% of its exports are destined for Spain and France. 

In recent years the Government has invested heavily in infrastructure to drive investment and increase Morocco’s competitiveness, including through a new port and free trade zone near Tangier – the largest in the Mediterranean in terms of container capacity. 

Morocco and the Abraham Accords

In December 2020, Morocco became the third country in the region to sign a normalisation agreement with Israel known as the Abraham Accords, joining Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) which had both signed the Accords three months earlier.

Western Sahara

From the mid-1970s King Hassan II sought to assert Morocco’s claim to Spanish Sahara (subsequently Western Sahara under joint Moroccan-Mauritanian control), leading to a protracted guerrilla war with the Polisario Front, which represents Western Sahara's Sahrawi people.

In November 1975, Rabat encouraged thousands of its citizens to cross over into Western Sahara and demand that Spain expedite its withdrawal from Western Sahara. This brought an angry response from neighbouring Algeria, and the 2 neighbours fought each other in the early stages of Morocco's annexation. 

The UN brokered a ceasefire in 1991 and an agreement included a referendum on self-determination. It was supposed to be held in 1992 but it failed due to disagreement between both sides. In November 2020, the Polisario Front announced the end of its 29 year ceasefire, citing Moroccan border operations as an incitement.

There have been repeated attempts to resolve the differences, including by former US Secretary of State James Bake, but the situation seems as intractable as ever. In November 2020, the Polisario Front ended its 29 year ceasefire, citing Moroccan border operations as an incitement. 

The "berm"

In 1981, Morocco started constructing a buffer strip made primarily out of sand and other materials for fortifications, and bristling with around 5 million landmines. The "berm" stretches the length of the disputed territory and separates the Moroccan-administered western portion of Western Sahara, the so-called "Southern Provinces", from the eastern areas, controlled by the Polisario Front, known as the free zone, or the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic.

The berm is estimated at 1,700 miles in length (2,700 kms.) Moroccan settlers are said to constitute two thirds of the 500,000 or so population of Western Sahara. It is said to be the longest such structure in the world, as well as the world's longest continuous minefield. Approximately 100,000 Moroccan soldiers guard the berm. In places the structure extends several kilometres into official Mauritanian territory.

Morocco occupies an estimated 75% of the total territory of Western Sahara.

Morocco and Algeria don't get on

For nearly 50 years, Morocco has had very poor relations with Morocco and the border between the two countries has been closed since 1994. In August 2021, Algeria severed diplomatic ties with Morocco.

Relations began to sour almost immediately after Algeria won its independence from its former French colonial masters. In October 1963, Morocco attempted to annex parts of two Algerian provinces. The short border conflict that followed was called "the Sand War", and saw the involvement of several foreign powers including Cuba, which backed Algiers. The conflict was resolved in Algeria's favour, recognising pre-conflict frontiers. But suspicion on both sides has simmered severe since.

The issue of Western Sahara is at the core of the bitterness between the two countries. Algeria was furious at Morocco's annexation of the territory in 1975 following its evacuation by Spain. In fact, Algerian president Houari Boumediene ordered the expulsion of 350,000 Moroccans in the wake of Morocco's so-called "Green March" of November 1975. Rabat had encouraged hundreds of thousands of Moroccans to advance in Western Sahara to help the expedite the Spanish withdrawal. Morocco later gained control over most of the territory. (*See Western Sahara page.)

Algeria has no territorial claims on Western Sahara itself, but was averse to any of its neighbours annexing such a large territory and it has supported the Polisario Front of the native Sahrawi people in their fight to found an independent nation. 

Ceuta and Melilla

Spain has retained two tiny enclaves along the north Moroccan coast: Ceuta, opposite Gibraltar, and Melilla, some 250 miles along the coast to the south and east. Together, they cover roughly 12 square miles of territory. Each city has a population of approximately 80,000.

After independence, Morocco had success in regaining a number of Spain's Moroccan possessions, namely Ifni, in 1969, and then by annexing Western Sahara in 1975. However, Ceuta and Melilla have staunchly remained with Spain, as they have for hundreds of years. Spain first conquered Melilla in 1497 and Ceuta remained under Spanish control in 1668 with the formal dissolution of the union of Spain and Portugal.

Both cities now enjoy status as Autonomous Communities within Spain and have a limited degree of self-government. They also share Spain's membership of the European Union. Both both cities are technically "special territories" of the EU, and movements to and from the enclaves are subject to specific rules. These are laid out in the agreement for Spain's accession to the Schengen Convention 

Morocco has claimed these last remnants of Spanish Africa and so they remain as flashpoint between Morocco and Spain to this day. In November 2007, Rabat protested at the visit made to Ceuta by the then Spanish monarch, King Juan Carlos I. 

The two enclaves are also magnets for African migrants. In May 2021, 6,000 migrants managed to cross into Ceuta, many by swimming around the border fences jutting out to sea. Most were returned to Morocco.

Other "plazas de soberania"

Spain has a number of other tiny possessions mainly off the coast of Morocco, which it calls plazas de soberania (strongholds of sovereignty), such as the Chafarinas islets (Islas Chafarinas) and Peñón de Vélez de la Gomera, a small rocky outcrop attached to the Moroccan mainland by a short sandy isthmus.

 

Key dates

40 AD
Rome annexes Morocco, ending 3 centuries of Berber rule
900s to 1600s
Dynasties and religious movements come and go
1556
MELILLA: The north coastal city of Melilla officially comes under Spanish rule, where it remains today
1666
The Alaouite dynasty - the current Moroccan royal family - comes to power
1668
CEUTA: Union of Spain and Portugal ends. The coastal city of Ceuta, on the Strait of Gibraltar, remains under Spain's control, and does to this day
1904
France and Spain carve out spheres of influence
1912
Morocco becomes French protectorate
1956
French protectorate ends, Spain retains coastal enclaves of Cueta and Melilla
1957
KINGDOM OF MOROCCO DECLARED: Sultan Mohammed ben Yusef becomes King Mohammed V
Oct' 1957
"THE FORGOTTEN WAR": Morocco attempts to take back Spanish-held city of Sidi Ifni and surrounding territory in south-western Morocco. Conflict is known as Ifni War, and "The Forgotten War"
April 1958
END OF IFNI WAR: Spain and Morocco sign Treaty of Agra Cintra, in which Spain cedes to Morocco the region of Tarfaya (Cape Jube), but retains colonies of Sidi Ifni and Spanish Sahara (later known as Western Sahara)
1961
Accession of King Hassan II
Jan' 1969
Following a UN resolution 4 years earlier, Spain cedes to Morocco Ifni, the city Morocco had laid siege to during 'The Forgotten War" of 1957-'58
1975-1976
ANNEXATION OF WESTERN SAHARA: Morocco annexes Western Sahara, provoking 15 year Sahrawi uprising led by the Polisario Front
Feb' 1982
SADR ADMITTED TO AFRICAN UNION: The Sahrawi Arabic Democratic Republic (SADR) is admitted to the African Union, to the anger of Morocco
Nov' 1984
BREACH WITH AFRICAN UNION: Morocco leaves the African Union at admission more than 2 years earlier of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR)
1991
CEASEFIRE WITH POLISARIO: UN-brokered peace fire between Morocco and Polisario Front
1998
Morocco's first opposition-led government comes to power
1999
Accession of King Mohammed VI
2011 - Arab Spring
Following country-wide protests King Mohammed introduces constitutional reforms, giving prime minister and parliament more executive powers
Jan' 2017
REJOINS AFRICAN UNION: Morocco is re-admitted to the African Union, becoming its 55th member, after a 33 year absence. It left in 1984 due to AU's admission of Sahrawi Arabic Democratic Republic (SADR)
Nov' 2020
WESTERN SAHARA-CEASEFIRE ENDS: the Polisario Front announces the end of its 29 year ceasefire with Morocco, citing Moroccan border operations as a provocation
Dec' 2020
Trump White House becomes first administration to recognise Morocco sovereignty over Western Sahara. 2 days later, Rabat signs Abraham Accords normalisation agreement with the US and Israel
Dec' 2020
ABRAHAM ACCORDS: Morocco signs normalisation agreement with Israel, called the Abraham Accords. US recognition of Morocco's claim to Western Sahara follows day after signing
July 2021
PEGASUS HACK CLAIMS: Amnesty International claims that Morocco had targeted more than 6,000 Algerian phones, including g those of politicians and high ranking military officers, with controversial Pegasus spyware
Aug' 2021
ALGERIA KABYLIE CLAIMS: Algeria accuses Morocco of supporting the Berberist self determination movement in Kabylie
Aug' 2021
DIPLOMATIC BREAK WITH ALGERIA: Algeria announces break-of of diplomatic relations with Morocco
Sept' 2021
Algeria announces it will close its airspace to Moroccan civilian and military aircraft