Morocco is bordered by Algeria to the east and the western Sahara to the south, with a coastline on both the Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea. The largest city is Casablanca. The capital city is Rabat. Some of the other large cities in Morocco are Marrakech, Tanjier, and Safi.
Moroccans are predominantly Sunni Muslims of Arab, Berber, or mixed Arab-Berber ancestry. The Arabs brought Islam, along with Arabic language and culture, to the region from the Arabian Peninsula during the Muslim conquests of the 7th century. Today, there remains a Jewish community of approximately 5,000, and a largely expatriate Christian population of 5,000, who enjoy religious freedom and full civil rights. Morocco is also home to a 300-500-person Baha'i community which, in recent years, has been able to worship free from government interference.
Arabic is Morocco's official language, but French is widely taught and serves as the primary language of commerce and government. Moroccan colloquial Arabic is composed of a unique combination of Arabic, Berber and French dialects. Along with Arabic, about 10 million Moroccans, predominantly in rural areas, also speak one of the three Moroccan Berber dialects (Tarifit, Tashelhit, and Tamazight). Spanish is also used in the northern part of the country. English is rapidly becoming the foreign language of choice among educated youth and is offered in all public schools from the fourth year on.
Most people live west of the Atlas Mountains, a range that insulates the country from the Sahara Desert. Casablanca is the center of commerce and industry and the leading port; Rabat is the seat of government; Tangier is the gateway to Spain and also a major port; "Arab" Fes is the cultural and religious center; and "Berber" Marrakech is a major tourist center.
Education in Morocco is free and compulsory through primary school (age 15). Nevertheless, many children--particularly girls in rural areas--do not attend school. The country's literacy rate reveals sharp gaps in education, both in terms of gender and location; while country-wide literacy rates are estimated at 39% among women and 64% among men, the female literacy rate in rural areas is only 10%.
Morocco is home to 14 public universities. Mohammed V University in Rabat is one of the country's most famous schools, with faculties of law, sciences, liberal arts, and medicine. Karaouine University, in Fes, is a longstanding center for Islamic studies and is the oldest university in the Maghreb. Morocco has one private, English language university, Al-Akhawayn, in Ifrane, founded in 1993 by King Hassan II and King Fahd of Saudi Arabia. The curriculum is based on an American model.
- Population (2007): 33,757,175. (The population of disputed territory Western Sahara is 350,000.)
- Annual growth rate (2007): 1.528%. Birth rate (2007 est.)--21.64 births/1,000 population; death rate (2007 est.)--5.54 deaths/1,000 population.
- Ethnic groups: Arab-Berber 99%.
- Religions: Muslim 99.99%, Jewish population estimated at 4,000 people, Christian population estimated at less than 1,000.
- Languages: Arabic (official), several Berber dialects; French functions as the language of business, government, and diplomacy.
- Education: Years compulsory--9. Literacy (age 15 and over can read and write)--total population 51.7%; female 39.4% (2003 est.).
- Health: Infant mortality rate (2007 est.)--38.85/1,000. Life expectancy at birth (2007 est.)--total population 71.22 yrs., male 68.88 yrs., female 73.67 yrs.
- Work force (2006): 11.25 million.
- Unemployment rate (2006 est.): 7.7%.
Like most of the middle east, the current population in modern Morocco is by Arabs that have Arabized the indigenous people, the Berbers are considered to be the real natives to north Africa.
Morocco's strategic location has shaped its history. Beginning with the Phoenicians, many foreigners were drawn to this area. Romans, Visigoths, Vandals and Byzantine Greeks ruled successively. Arab forces began occupying Morocco in the seventh century CE, bringing their civilization and Islam. The Alaouite dynasty, which has ruled Morocco since 1649, claims descent from the Prophet Muhammad.
Morocco's location and resources led to early competition among European powers in Africa, beginning with successful Portuguese efforts to control the Atlantic coast in the 15th century. France showed a strong interest in Morocco as early as 1830. Following recognition by the United Kingdom in 1904 of France's "sphere of influence" in Morocco, the Algeciras Conference (1906) formalized France's "special position" and entrusted policing of Morocco to France and Spain jointly. The Treaty of Fes (1912) made Morocco a protectorate of France. By the same treaty, Spain assumed the role of protecting power over the northern and southern (Saharan) zones.
Nationalist political parties, which took shape under the French protectorate, began a strong campaign for independence after World War II. Declarations such as the Atlantic Charter (a joint U.S.-British statement set forth, among other things, the right of all people to choose the form of government under which they live), served as a base for the independence movement. A manifesto of the Istiqlal (Independence) Party in 1944 was one of the earliest public demands for independence. That party subsequently provided most of the leadership for the nationalist movement and remains a dominant political force.
In 1953, France exiled the highly respected Sultan Mohammed V and replaced him with the unpopular Mohammed Ben Aarafa. Ben Aarafa's reign was widely perceived as illegitimate, and sparked active opposition to French rule. France allowed Mohammed V to return in 1955, and by 1956, Morocco had regained its independence.
In the year 2006, Moroccans celebrated their 50th year of independence from France. After gaining independence on March 2, 1956, Morocco regained control over certain Spanish-ruled areas through agreements with Spain in 1956 and 1958. The internationalized city of Tangier was reintegrated with the signing of the Tangier Protocol on October 29, 1956. The Spanish enclave of Ifni in the south became part of Morocco in 1969. Spain, however, retains control over the small coastal enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla in the north.
During the 1990s, King Hassan made great strides toward economic and political liberalization. King Hassan died on July 23, 1999, and was succeeded by his son, Mohammed VI, who pledged to continue these reforms. Under Mohammed VI, the Moroccan Government has undertaken a number of economic, political, and social reforms, including the 2003 Moudawana, a reform of the family status code, and the 2006 Equity and Reconciliation Commission, which investigated allegations of human rights abuse from 1956 to 1999.
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