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Diplomacy in Action

Morocco (01/02)


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

PROFILE

OFFICIAL NAME:
Kingdom of Morocco

Geography
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.).
Major cities: Rabat (Capital), Casablanca, Marrakech, Fez, Tangier.
Terrain: Coastal plains, mountains, and desert.
Climate: Mediterranean, more extreme in the interior.

People
Nationality: Noun and adjective--Moroccan(s).
Population (est.): 28.5 million.
Annual growth rate (est.): 1.7%.
Ethnic groups: Arab-Berber 99%.
Religions: Muslim 98.7%, Christian 1.1%, Jewish 0.025%.
Languages: Arabic (official), several Berber dialects; French is often the language of business, government and diplomacy.
Education: Years compulsory--9. Literacy--52%.
Health: Infant mortality rate--53/1,000. Life expectancy--66 yrs. male, 69 yrs. female.
Work force: (9.4 million) Agriculture--47%; services--34%; industry--13%; other--6%.

Government
Type: Constitutional monarchy.
Constitution: March 1972, revised September 1992 and September 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.
Political parties: Socialist Union of Popular Forces (USFP), Istiqlal (independence) Party (PI), Popular Movement (MP), National Popular Movement (MNP), National Rally of Independents (RNI), Constitutional Union Party (UC), National Democratic Party (PND), Party of Progress and Socialism (PPS), Organization for Democratic and Popular Action (OADP), Party of Justice and Development (PJD), Democratic and Social Movement (MDS), Democratic Forces Front (FFD), Democratic Union (UD), Citizen Forces (FC), Liberal Party (PL), National Socialist Congress Party (CNI), Party of Reform and Development (PRD) Social Democratic Party (PSD), National Union of Popular Forces (UNFP), Action Party (PA), Avant-Garde Democratic Socialist Party (PADS).
Suffrage: Universal starting at 21 years of age.

Economy
GDP (2000): $33 billion.
Per capita GDP: $1,181.
Natural resources: Phosphates, fish, manganese, lead, silver, copper. Agriculture (14% of GDP): Products--wheat, barley, citrus fruits, vegetables, olives, livestock, fishing.
Industry (32% of GDP): Types--phosphate mining, manufacturing and handicrafts, construction and public works, energy.
Trade (2000): Exports--$7.4 billion: food and beverages 21.3%, semiprocessed goods 21.6%, consumer goods 37.7%. Major markets--EU 74.5%, India 4.2%, Japan 3.8%, U.S. 3.4%. Imports--$12.5 billion: capital goods 20.7%, semiprocessed goods 19.8%, raw materials 24.3%, food and beverages 11.6%, consumer goods 23.5%. Major suppliers--EU 57.4%, U.S. 5.6%, Saudi Arabia 5%.

PEOPLE
Most Moroccans are Sunni Muslims of Arab, Berber, or mixed Arab-Berber stock. The Arabs invaded Morocco in the 7th and 11th centuries and established their culture there. Morocco's Jewish minority numbers about 7,000. Most of the100,000 foreign residents are French or Spanish; many are teachers or technicians.

Arabic is Morocco's official language (it is the "classical" Arabic of the Qur'an, literature and news media). The country's distinctive Arabic dialect is the most widely spoken language in Morocco. Approximately 10 million Moroccans, mostly in rural areas, speak Berber--which exists in Morocco in three different dialects (Tarifit, Tashlehit, and Tamazight)--either as a first language or bilingually with the spoken Arabic dialect. French, which remains Morocco's unofficial third language, is taught universally and still serves as Morocco's primary language of commerce and economics; it also is widely used in education and government. Many Moroccans in the northern part of the country speak Spanish. English, while still far behind French and Spanish in terms of number of speakers, is rapidly becoming the foreign language of choice among educated youth. As a result of national education reforms entering into force in late 2002, English will be taught 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 Morocco from Spain and also a major port; "Arab" Fez 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--still do not attend school. The country's illiteracy rate has been stuck at around 50% for some years but reaches as high as 90% among girls in rural regions. Morocco has about 230,000 students enrolled in 14 public universities. The oldest and in some ways the most prestigious is Mohammed V in Rabat, with faculties of law, sciences, liberal arts, and medicine. Karaouine University, in Fez, has been a center for Islamic studies for more than 1,000 years. Morocco has one private university, Al-Akhawayn, in Ifrane. Al-Akhawayn, founded in 1993 by King Hassan II and King Fahd of Saudi Arabia, is an English-medium, American-style university comprising about 1,000 students.

HISTORY
Morocco's strategic location has shaped its history. Beginning with the Phoenicians, many foreigners were drawn to this area. Romans, Vandals, Visigoths, and Byzantine Greeks successively ruled the area. 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 Fez (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 subsequently arose under the French protectorate, based their arguments for Moroccan independence on such World War II declarations as the Atlantic Charter (a joint U.S.-British statement that set forth, among other things, the right of all people to choose the form of government under which they live). 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.

France's exile of the highly respected Sultan Mohammed V in 1953 and his replacement by the unpopular Mohammed Ben Aarafa, whose reign was perceived as illegitimate, sparked active opposition to the French protectorate. France allowed Mohammed V to return in 1955, and the negotiations that led to Moroccan independence began the following year.

The Kingdom of Morocco recovered its political independence from France on March 2, 1956. Through agreements with Spain in 1956 and 1958, Moroccan control over certain Spanish-ruled areas was restored. 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 enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla in the north.

GOVERNMENT AND POLITICAL CONDITIONS  
The Moroccan Constitution provides for a monarchy with a Parliament and an independent judiciary. Ultimate authority rests with the King. He presides over the Council of Ministers; appoints the Prime Minster 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 head of the military and the country's religious leader. Upon the death of his father Mohammed V, King Hassan II succeeded to the throne in 1961. He ruled Morocco for the next 38 years, until his own death in 1999. His son, King Mohammed VI, assumed the throne in July 1999.

Since the constitutional reform of 1996, the bicameral legislature consists of a lower chamber, 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 elected directly. The Parliament's powers, though limited, were expanded under the 1992 and 1996 constitutional revisions and include budgetary matters, approving bills, questioning ministers, and establishing ad hoc commissions of inquiry to investigate the government's actions. The lower chamber of Parliament may dissolve the government through a vote of no confidence.

In March 1998, King Hassan named a coalition government headed by opposition socialist leader Abderrahmane Youssoufi and composed largely of ministers drawn from opposition parties. Prime Minister Youssoufi's government is the first government drawn primarily from opposition parties in decades, and also represents the first opportunity for a coalition of socialist, left-of-center, and nationalist parties to be included in the government.

The highest court in the judicial structure is the Supreme Court, whose judges are appointed by the King. The Youssoufi government continues to implement a reform program to develop greater judicial independence and impartiality. Morocco is divided into 16 administrative regions; the regions are administered by Walis and governors appointed by the King.

Principal Government Officials
Head of State--King Mohammed VI
Prime Minister--Abderrahmane Youssoufi
Minister of State for Foreign Affairs and Cooperation--Mohamed Benaissa
Ambassador to the United States--Abdellah Maaroufi
Ambassador to the United Nations--Mohammed Bennouna

Morocco maintains an embassy in the United States at 1601 21st Street NW, Washington, D.C. 20009 (tel. 202-462-7979).

ECONOMY
Macroeconomic stability coupled with relatively slow economic growth characterize the Moroccan economy over the past several years. The present Youssoufi government has introduced a number of important economic reforms over the past several years. The economy, however, remains overly dependent on the agriculture sector. Morocco's primary economic challenge is to accelerate growth in order to reduce high levels of unemployment.

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 in 2000 and 2001 were below 2%. Despite criticism among exporters that the dirham has become badly overvalued, the current account deficit remains modest. Foreign exchange reserves are strong, with more than $7 billion in reserves at the end of 2001. The combination of strong foreign exchange reserves and active external debt management gives Morocco the capacity to service its debt. Current external debt stands at about $19 billion.

Economic growth, however, has been erratic and relatively slow, partially as a result of an overreliance on the agriculture sector. Agriculture production is extremely susceptible to rainfall levels and ranges from 13% to 20% of GDP. Given that almost 50% of Morocco's population depends directly on agriculture production, droughts have a severe knock-on effect to the economy. Two successive years of drought led to a 0.7% decline in real GDP in 1999 and stagnation in 2000. Better rains during the 2000-01 growing season led to an estimated 6% growth rate in 2001. Over the long term, Morocco will have to diversify its economy away from agriculture to develop a more stable economic basis for growth.

The current government has introduced a series of structural reforms in recent years. The most promising reforms have been in the liberalization of the telecommunications sector. This process started with the sale of a second GSM license in 1999. In 2001, the process continued with the privatization of 35% of the state operator Maroc Telecom. Morocco has announced plans to sell two fixed licenses in 2002. 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 below the current rates above 20%.

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), INTELSAT, and the Non-Aligned Movement. King Mohamed is the chairman of the OIC's Al-Qods (Jerusalem) committee.

Morocco is quite active in Maghreb, Arab, and African affairs. It supports the search for peace in the Middle East, encouraging Israeli-Palestinian negotiations and urging moderation on both sides. 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.

Morocco maintains close relations with Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf states, which have provided Morocco with substantial amounts of financial assistance. Morocco was the first Arab state to condemn Iraq's invasion of Kuwait and sent troops to help defend Saudi Arabia. Morocco also was among the first Arab and Islamic states to denounce the September 11, 2000 terrorist attacks in the United States and declare solidarity with the American people in the war against terrorism. Although no longer a member of the OAU, Morocco remains involved in Africa. It has contributed to UN peacekeeping efforts on the continent.

The major issue in Morocco's foreign relations is its claim to Western Sahara (See box below). 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.

Western Sahara
The issue of sovereignty over Western Sahara remains unresolved. The territory--an area of wasteland and desert bordering the Atlantic Ocean between Mauritania and Morocco--is contested by Morocco and the Polisario (an independence movement based in the region of Tindouf, Algeria). Morocco's claim to sovereignty over the Western Sahara is based largely on an historical argument of traditional loyalty of the Sahrawi tribal leaders to the Moroccan sultan as spiritual leader and ruler. 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, known as Rio de Oro. In 1969, the Polisario Front (Popular Front for the Liberation of the Saguia el Hamra and Rio de Oro) 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. 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 altogether.

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 has since asserted administrative control over the territory.

At the Organization of African Unity (OAU) summit in June 1981, King Hassan announced his willingness to hold a referendum in the Western Sahara. Subsequent meetings of an OAU Implementation Committee proposed a cease-fire, a UN peace-keeping 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 Democratic Arab Republic (SDAR), the shadow government of the Polisario; Morocco, consequently, withdrew from the OAU.

In 1988, Moroccan and Polisario representatives agreed on a UN peace plan. A UN-brokered cease-fire and settlement plan went into effect on September 6, 1991. Implementation of the settlement plan, which calls for a popular referendum to determine the territory's final status (integration into Morocco or independence), has been repeatedly postponed because of differences between the parties. The UN continues to explore with the parties ways of arriving at a mutually agreed political settlement.

The United States has consistently supported the cease-fire and the UN's efforts at finding a peaceful settlement. While recognizing Morocco's administrative control of Western Sahara, the United States has not endorsed Morocco's claim of sovereignty.

U.S.-MOROCCAN RELATIONS
Moroccans recognized the Government of the United States in 1777. 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 are characterized by mutual respect and friendship. They have remained strong through cooperation and bilateral contacts and visits, including King Mohammed's state visit to the United States in 2000.

The shared interests of the United States and Morocco include the economic prosperity of both countries, the pursuit of a just and lasting peace in the Middle East region, the maintenance of regional security and cooperation, and sustainable development and protection of the environment. U.S. objectives with Morocco include maintaining cordial and cooperative relations; supporting Moroccan efforts to democratize, improve human rights, and develop an increasingly effective administration; and aiding Morocco's domestic, social, and economic progress.

In addition to U.S. Navy port visits, Morocco has granted rights of transit through its airfields for U.S. forces and conducts joint exercises with various U.S. Armed Forces. Morocco serves as an alternative-landing site for U.S. space shuttles. The $225-million International Board of Broadcaster's (IBB) transmitter in Morocco is one of the world's largest IBB transmitters.

Total U.S. assistance to Morocco during 1999-2001 was $88.1 million. The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has had an active and effective program in Morocco since 1953. The amount of USAID assistance in Morocco in FY2001 was $14.7. USAID's program focuses on four development problems--population and health, water resources management, expanding economic opportunities for the poor, and increasing primary education attainment for girls in rural areas.

The Peace Corps has been active in Morocco for about 40 years, with the first group of volunteers arriving in the country in 1963. The more than 130 Peace Corps volunteers currently in Morocco are working on projects in health care, education, agriculture, and the environment.

Principal U.S. Embassy Officials
Ambassador--Margaret Deb. Tutwiler
Deputy Chief of Mission--Helen La Lime
Director, USAID Mission--James Bednar
Public Affairs Officer--Jack McCreary
Consul General, Casablanca--Nabeel Khoury

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



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