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Morocco (03/09)


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For the most current version of this Note, see Background Notes A-Z.

PROFILE

OFFICIAL NAME:
Kingdom of Morocco

Geography
Location: North Africa, bordering the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea, southern border with Western Sahara, eastern border with Algeria.
Area: 446,550 sq. km. (172,413 sq. mi.) slightly larger than California. (The disputed territory of Western Sahara comprises another 267,028 sq. km or 102,703 sq. mi.)
Cities: Rabat (capital), Casablanca, Marrakech, Fes, Meknes, Tangier.
Terrain: Coastal plains, mountains, desert.
Climate: Mediterranean to more extreme in the interior and south.
Land use: Arable land, 19%; permanent crops, 2%; other, 79%.

People
Nationality: Noun and adjective--Moroccan(s).
Population (July 2008 est.): 34,343,220 (The population of disputed territory Western Sahara is 350,000.)
Annual growth rate (2008 est.): 1.505%. Birth rate (2008 est.)--21.31 births/1,000 population. Death rate (2008 est.)--5.49 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 (definition--age 15 and over can read and write)--total population 52.3%; male 65.7%; female 39.6% (2004 census).
Health: Infant mortality rate (2008 est.)--38.22/1,000. Life expectancy at birth (2008 est.)--71.52 yrs. total population; 69.16 yrs. male; 74 yrs. female.
Work force (2008 est.): 11.5 million.
Unemployment rate (2008 est.): 9.9%.

Government
Type: Constitutional monarchy.
Constitution: March 1972, revised 1980, 1992, and 1996 (creating a bicameral legislature).
Independence: March 2, 1956.
Branches: Executive--King (head of state), Prime Minister (head of government). Legislative--Bicameral Parliament. Judicial--Supreme Court.
Major political parties: Istiqlal (Independence) Party (PI), Party of Justice and Development (PJD), Socialist Union of Popular Forces (USFP), National Rally of Independents (RNI), Popular Movement (MP), Constitutional Union Party (UC), Party of Progress and Socialism (PPS).
Suffrage: Universal starting at 18 years of age.

Economy
GDP (2008 est.): $88.3 billion.
GDP growth rate (2008 est.): 5.8%.
Per capita GDP (PPP, 2008 est.): $4,309.
Natural resources: Phosphates, fish, manganese, lead, silver, and copper.
Agriculture: Products--barley, citrus fruits, vegetables, olives, livestock, and fishing.
Industry: Types--phosphate mining, manufacturing and handicrafts, construction and public works, energy.
Sector information as % GDP (2007): Agriculture 12.4%, industry 29%, services 58.5%.
Monetary unit: Moroccan dirham.
Trade: Exports (2008 est.)--$20.6 billion f.o.b.; Major partners (2007)--France 22.5%, Spain 17.6%, India 6.6%, Italy 4.2%, U.K. 3.6%. Imports (2008 est.)--$42.34 billion c.a.f. Major partners--France 15.6%, Spain 10.1%, Saudi Arabia 6.8%, Italy 6.5%, China 5.7%, Russia 5.1%.
Budget (2009): Revenues--$28.64 billion; expenditures--$30.21 billion.
Debt, external (2008 proj.): $18.8 billion.

PEOPLE
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, Darija, 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 becoming an increasing foreign language of choice among educated youth and is offered in many 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 39.6% among women and 65.7% 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. Founded over 1,000 years ago, Karaouine University, in Fes, is the oldest center for Islamic studies in the Maghreb. Morocco’s most prestigious private English-language university, Al-Akhawayn, was founded in 1993 by King Hassan II and King Fahd of Saudi Arabia in Ifrane. Its curriculum is based on an American model.

HISTORY
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 A.D., 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 strong political party.

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 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 into Morocco 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, social, and political 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.

GOVERNMENT AND POLITICAL CONDITIONS
Morocco is divided into 16 administrative regions (further broken into provinces and prefectures); the regions are administered by Walis (governors) appointed by the King.

The Moroccan Constitution provides for a strong monarchy, but a weak Parliament and judicial branch. Dominant authority rests with the King. The King presides over the Council of Ministers; appoints the Prime Minister following legislative elections; appoints all members of the government taking into account the Prime Minister's recommendations; and may, at his discretion, terminate the tenure of any minister, dissolve the Parliament, call for new elections, or rule by decree. The King is the Commander in Chief of the military and holds the title of Amir al-Mou’minin, or Commander of the Faithful, the country's religious leader.

Since the constitutional reform of 1996, the bicameral legislature consists of a lower chamber called the Chamber of Representatives, which is directly elected, and an upper chamber, the Chamber of Counselors, whose members are indirectly elected through various regional, local, and professional councils. The councils' members themselves are directly elected. Parliament's powers are limited, but were expanded under the 1992 and 1996 constitutional revisions to include some budgetary matters, approval authority, and establishment of commissions of inquiry to investigate the government's actions. Though never used, the lower chamber of Parliament may dissolve the government through a majority vote of no confidence.

Since early in his reign, King Mohammed VI has called for expanded employment opportunities, economic development, meaningful education, and increased housing availability. The government has been pursuing an ambitious program of modernization and revitalization of the country’s infrastructure (such as roads, trains, communications, and water) and national economy (such as support for Moroccan businesses, preparations for competition, and modernization of modes of production).

In order to create employment opportunities, the government is promoting investment in the tourism, industrial, fishing, and service industries, and is ameliorating the education system.

The most recent parliamentary elections were held in September 2007 and were regarded by international observers to be free and fair. However, voter turnout was disappointing, with only 37% of registered voters casting ballots. Abbas El Fassi of the winning Istiqlal Party was appointed to be Prime Minister by the King. The Islamist Party of Justice and Development (PJD) won the popular vote, but came in second behind Istiqlal in the number of parliamentary seats. El Fassi formed a government based on a minority coalition composed of the Istiqlal, the leftist USFP and PPS, and the centrist RNI. A special election to fill eight seats in Morocco’s lower house of parliament was held in September 2008.

Principal Government Officials
Head of State--King Mohammed VI
Prime Minister--Abbas El Fassi
Minister of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation--Taieb Fassi Fihri
Ambassador to the United States--Aziz Mekouar
Ambassador to the United Nations--Mohammed Loulichki

Morocco maintains an embassy in the United States at 1601 - 21st Street NW, Washington, DC 20009 (tel. 202-462-7979). The embassy’s website is at: http://dcusa.themoroccanembassy.com/default.aspx.

ECONOMY
The Moroccan economy has been characterized by macroeconomic stability, with generally low inflation and an acceleration in growth rates over the past several years. Recent governments have pursued reform, liberalization, and modernization aimed at stimulating growth and creating jobs.

While economic growth has historically been hampered by an over-reliance on the agriculture sector, these reforms have made the economy more resilient, even in years of poor rainfall. Thus in 2007, continued strong performance by non-agricultural sectors ensured a positive growth rate, even as agricultural production contracted by nearly 20%. Growth in 2008 is estimated to have been close to 6%.

Morocco's primary economic challenge is to accelerate growth and sustain that improved performance in order to reduce high levels of unemployment and underemployment. While overall unemployment stands at 9.9%, this figure masks significantly higher urban unemployment, as high as 33% among urban youths.

Through a foreign exchange rate anchor and well-managed monetary policy, Morocco has held inflation rates to industrial country levels over the past decade. Inflation was 2.5% in 2007, but did spike to 3.9% in 2008 as a result of rising international commodity prices. Despite criticism among exporters that the dirham had become badly overvalued, the country maintained an account surplus until 2007, thanks to transfers from Moroccans resident abroad, tourism revenue, and foreign investment. Morocco has since run a slight deficit, but foreign exchange reserves remain strong, with over $28 billion in reserves, the equivalent of 6.8 months of imports at the end of 2008. The combination of strong foreign exchange reserves and active external debt management gives Morocco ample capacity to service its debt. Current external debt is estimated to have stood at about $18.6 billion at the end of 2008.

The current government is continuing a series of structural reforms begun under its predecessors. The most promising reforms have been in the financial sector, and privatization has reduced the size of the public sector. Morocco also has liberalized rules for oil and gas exploration and has granted concessions for many public services in major cities. The tender process in Morocco is becoming increasingly transparent. Many believe, however, that the process of economic reform must be accelerated in order to reduce urban unemployment.

In January 2006, the bilateral Free Trade Agreement (FTA) between the United States and Morocco went into effect. The FTA represents an important step towards a Middle East Free Trade Area. The U.S.-Morocco FTA eliminated tariffs on 95% of bilateral trade in consumer and industrial products with all remaining tariffs to be eliminated within nine years. The negotiations produced a comprehensive agreement covering not only market access but also intellectual property rights protection, transparency in government procurement, investments, services, and e-commerce. The FTA provides new trade and investment opportunities for both countries and will encourage economic reforms and liberalization already underway.

FOREIGN RELATIONS
Morocco is a moderate Arab state which maintains close relations with Europe and the United States. It is a member of the UN and belongs to the Arab League, Arab Maghreb Union (UMA), Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), the Non-Aligned Movement, and the Community of Sahel-Saharan States (CEN-SAD). King Mohammed VI is the chairman of the OIC's Al-Quds (Jerusalem) Committee. Although not a member of the African Union (formerly the Organization of African Unity--OAU), Morocco remains involved in African diplomacy. It contributes consistently to UN peacekeeping efforts on the continent.

Morocco is active in Maghreb, Arab, and African affairs. It supports the search for peace and moderation in the Middle East. In 1986, then-King Hassan II took the daring step of inviting then-Israeli Prime Minister Peres for talks, becoming only the second Arab leader to host an Israeli leader. Following the September 1993 signing of the Israeli-Palestinian Declaration of Principles, Morocco accelerated its economic ties and political contacts with Israel. In September 1994, Morocco and Israel announced the opening of bilateral liaison offices. These offices were closed in 2000 following sustained Israeli-Palestinian violence, but Moroccan-Israeli diplomatic contacts continue.

Morocco was the first Arab state to condemn Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990, and sent troops to help defend Saudi Arabia. Morocco maintains close relations with Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf states, which have provided Morocco with substantial amounts of financial assistance. Morocco has supported efforts to stabilize Iraq following the downfall of Saddam Hussein.

Morocco was among the first Arab and Islamic states to denounce the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States and declare solidarity with the American people in fighting terrorism. Morocco has seen its own terrorism at home as well. On May 16, 2003, Moroccan suicide bombers simultaneously attacked five sites in Casablanca, killing more than 40 people and wounding over 100. More than a million people subsequently demonstrated to condemn the attacks. In April 2007, a series of suicide bomb attacks occurred in central Casablanca, one taking place near the U.S. Consulate General and one near the American Language Center. The bombings demonstrated Morocco’s vulnerability to extremists who capitalize on widespread poverty and social exclusion. In February 2008, Moroccan authorities arrested nearly 40 members of an alleged terrorist network, led by Abdelkader Belliraj, confiscating weapons found in members’ possession.

Morocco's top foreign relations priority is its claim to Western Sahara. As a result of Algeria's continued support for the Polisario Front in the dispute over Western Sahara, relations between Morocco and Algeria have remained strained over the past several decades, although they have full diplomatic relations and there is periodic high-level contact between the two countries.

Western Sahara
For more than 30 years, Morocco and the independence-seeking Popular Front of the Liberation of Saguia al Hamra and Rio de Oro (Polisario Front) have vied for control of the Western Sahara, a former Spanish territory. Morocco's claim to sovereignty over the Western Sahara is based largely on an historical argument of traditional loyalty of Sahrawi tribal leaders to the Moroccan sultan. The Polisario claims to represent the aspirations of the Western Saharan inhabitants for independence. Algeria claims none of the territory for itself but maintains that Sahrawis should determine the territory's future status.

From 1904 until 1975, Spain occupied the entire territory, which is divided into a northern portion, the Saguia el Hamra, and a southern two-thirds, the Rio de Oro. In 1969, the Polisario Front was formed to combat the occupation of the territory. In November 1975, King Hassan mobilized 350,000 unarmed Moroccan citizens in what came to be known as the "Green March" into Western Sahara. The march was designed to both demonstrate and strengthen Moroccan claims to the territory, and it is celebrated to this day. On November 14, Spain, Morocco, and Mauritania announced a tripartite agreement for an interim administration under which Spain agreed to share administrative authority with Morocco and Mauritania, leaving aside the question of sovereignty. With the establishment of a Moroccan and Mauritanian presence throughout the territory, however, Spain's role in the administration of the Western Sahara ceased.

After a period of hostilities, Mauritania withdrew from the territory in 1979 and signed a peace treaty with the Polisario, relinquishing all claims to the territory. Moroccan troops occupied the region vacated by Mauritania and later proclaimed the territory reintegrated into Morocco. Morocco subsequently built a fortified berm around three-fourths of Western Sahara and exercises de facto administrative control over 80% of the territory.

At the OAU (now African Union) summit in June 1981, King Hassan announced his willingness to hold a referendum in Western Sahara. Subsequent meetings of an OAU Implementation Committee proposed a cease-fire, a UN peacekeeping force, and an interim administration to assist with an OAU-UN-supervised referendum on the issue of independence or annexation. In 1984, the OAU seated a delegation of the Sahara Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), the shadow government of the Polisario, which provoked Morocco to withdraw from the OAU.

In 1988, Moroccan and Polisario representatives agreed on a joint UN/OAU settlement proposal for a referendum, but, due to disagreements about who could vote and what options of self-determination could be voted on, it never took place. In 1991, the UN brokered a cease-fire and settlement plan, and established the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (known by its French acronym, MINURSO), which deployed a roughly 200-person monitoring force to the territory.

The UN continues to explore with the parties ways of arriving at a mutually agreed political settlement and to promote confidence-building measures between the parties in the interim. In 2003, former Secretary of State James Baker, working as UN Secretary General Kofi Annan’s Personal Envoy, put forward a peace plan calling for a referendum on issues of autonomy or integration with Morocco. While the Polisario Front and the Algerian Government accepted the plan, Morocco rejected it. After a seven-year effort to assist the parties in coming to an agreement, James Baker resigned as Personal Envoy in June 2004. In August of the same year, Kofi Annan appointed Alvaro de Soto Special Representative for the Western Sahara, to continue Baker’s work. Special Representative de Soto left his position in May 2005, and was replaced in July 2005 by Peter van Walsum of the Netherlands. Van Walsum oversaw four rounds of talks and retired in August 2008. A retired U.S. diplomat, Ambassador Christopher Ross, was named the Secretary General’s new Western Sahara envoy in January 2009.

The Western Sahara dispute remains the primary impediment to regional integration and development goals. The parties were able to set aside some of their differences when, in August 2004, U.S. Senator Richard Lugar led a mission to the region that resulted in the release of 404 Moroccan prisoners of war who had long been held by the Polisario. Today, approximately 90,000 Sahrawi refugees live in camps around Tindouf, Algeria. The exact number of refugees living in these camps is not known since there has never been a reliable census of the population. Several thousand Sahrawis also live in the Moroccan-controlled area of Western Sahara among a large number of Moroccan settlers. Morocco considers the Western Sahara part of its national territory, while the Polisario insists on the right of the people of the Western Sahara to self-determination. Algeria supports self-determination for the Sahrawis. The issue remains a major stumbling block to Moroccan-Algerian relations and regional integration.

The United States has consistently encouraged the parties to work with the United Nations, and with each other, in a spirit of flexibility and compromise, to find a mutually acceptable settlement. In this regard, the U.S. welcomed Morocco’s 2007 introduction of a serious and credible autonomy initiative, which would grant the Western Sahara regions substantial autonomy within sovereign Morocco. The U.S. believes autonomy to be the realistic solution for Western Sahara, and have urged the parties to the Western Sahara dispute to engage in dialogue on this basis. In June and August 2007 and January and March 2008, the Moroccans and the Polisario, with Algeria and Mauritania participating as interested neighbor states, met for direct talks on a resolution of the Western Sahara conflict in Manhasset, New York, mediated by the United Nations; a fifth round of talks is anticipated, but has not yet been scheduled. In April 2008, the UN Security Council passed a resolution calling for Morocco and the Polisario to negotiate with realism and a spirit of compromise.

U.S.-MOROCCAN RELATIONS
Morocco was the first country to seek diplomatic relations with the Government of the United States in 1777, and remains one of our oldest and closest allies in the region. Formal U.S. relations with Morocco date from 1787, when the two nations negotiated a Treaty of Peace and Friendship. Renegotiated in 1836, the treaty is still in force, constituting the longest unbroken treaty relationship in U.S. history. As testament to the special nature of the U.S.-Moroccan relationship, Tangier is home to the oldest U.S. diplomatic property in the world, and the only building on foreign soil that is listed in the U.S. National Register of Historic Places, the American Legation in Tangier (now a museum).

U.S.-Moroccan relations, characterized by mutual respect and friendship, have remained strong through cooperation and sustained high-level dialogue. King Hassan II visited the United States several times during his reign as King, meeting with Presidents Kennedy, Johnson, Carter, Reagan, Bush, and Clinton. King Mohammed VI has continued his father’s tradition; he made his first trip to the U.S. as King on June 20, 2000. Prime Minister Jettou visited Washington in January 2004, and King Mohammed came to the United States in July 2004. Secretary of State Colin Powell traveled to Morocco in December 2004 to co-chair with Foreign Minister Benaissa the first meeting of the G8-BMENA "Forum for the Future." In August 2007, Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Karen Hughes visited Morocco to meet with Moroccan officials, Moroccan non-governmental organizations, and students.

As a stable, democratizing, and liberalizing Arab Muslim nation, Morocco is important for U.S. interests in the Middle East. Accordingly, U.S. policy toward Morocco seeks sustained and strong engagement, and identifies priorities of economic, social, and political reform; conflict resolution; counterterrorism/security cooperation; and public outreach. In August 2007, the U.S. and Morocco signed a Millennium Challenge Compact totaling $697.5 million to be paid out over five years. The Compact was designed to stimulate economic growth by increasing productivity and improving employment in high-potential sectors, such as artisanry and fishing.

The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and its predecessor agencies have managed an active and effective assistance program in Morocco since 1953, for a cumulative amount exceeding $2 billion. The amount of USAID assistance to Morocco in FY 2007 was $19.9 million, with an estimated $20.3 million allotted for FY 2008. USAID’s current multi-sectoral strategy (2004-2008) consists of three strategic objectives in creating more opportunities for trade and investment, basic education and workforce training, and government responsiveness to citizen needs.

The Peace Corps has been active in Morocco for more than 40 years, with the first group of 53 volunteers arriving in the country in 1963. Since that time, nearly 4,000 volunteers have served in Morocco, and have served in a variety of capacities including lab technology, urban development, commercial development, education, rural water supply, small business development, beekeeping, and English language training. In 2007, 197 volunteers served in Morocco, working in four sectors: health, youth development, small business, and the environment.

Principal U.S. Embassy Officials
Chargé d’Affaires--Robert Jackson
Director, USAID Mission--Monica Stein-Olson
Political Counselor--Craig Karp
Economic Counselor--Stuart Smith
Agricultural Affairs Officer--Hassan Ahmed
Foreign Commercial Officer--Rick Ortiz
Public Affairs Officer--Mary Jeffers
Consul General, Casablanca--Elisabeth Millard

The U.S. Embassy in Morocco is located at 2 Avenue de Marrakech, Rabat tel. 212 (37) 76-22-65.



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