Western Sahara

Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
August 10, 2016

This is the basic text view. SWITCH NOW to the new, more interactive format.

   

Executive SummaryShare    

Moroccan laws and policies regarding religion and religious organizations apply in the approximately 85 percent of the Western Sahara administered by Morocco. The Front for the Liberation of Saguia el Hamra and Rio de Oro (POLISARIO), a Sahrawi independence movement based in Algeria, administers the part of the territory not under Moroccan administration. According to the Moroccan constitution, Islam is the religion of the state, and the state guarantees freedom of thought and expression and the free exercise of beliefs. Moroccan law penalizes the use of enticements to convert a Muslim to another religion, prohibits anyone from criticizing Islam, and prohibits political parties from infringing upon Islam. There were no reports of significant government actions affecting religious freedom in either the territory administered by Morocco or the territory administered by the POLISARIO.

There were no reports of significant societal actions affecting religious freedom.

U.S. embassy officials discussed religious tolerance with the quasi-governmental Moroccan National Council for Human Rights during visits to the territory.

Section I. Religious DemographyShare    

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 571,000 (July 2015 estimate). The majority of the population is Sunni Muslim. There is a small group of Roman Catholics.

There is a small foreign community, many of whose members are non-Muslim, working for the United Nations Mission for a Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO).

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious FreedomShare    

Legal Framework

Morocco maintains administrative control of approximately 85 percent of the territory. In the area administered by Morocco, the constitution and laws of Morocco apply. The POLISARIO administers the part of the territory not under Moroccan administration.

The Moroccan constitution declares Islam to be the religion of the state, but the state “guarantees to all the free exercise of beliefs.” The constitution guarantees the freedom of thought, expression, and assembly.

Moroccan law penalizes anyone who “employs enticements to undermine the faith of a Muslim” or to convert a Muslim to another religion with up to three years in prison plus fines of up to 500 dirhams ($51). It similarly punishes anyone who impedes or prevents one or more persons from worshipping or from attending worship services of any religion. The law prohibits anyone from criticizing Islam and requires all educational institutions to teach Sunni Islam in accordance with the teachings of the Maliki-Ashari school. Other Moroccan law pertaining to the registration of religious groups, their operations, and the application of sharia or civil law also applies.

The Moroccan constitution states the king holds the Islamic title of Commander of the Faithful, Protector of Islam, and is the guarantor of freedom to practice one’s religion. It also states the king must approve all fatwas. According to the constitution, political parties may not be based on religion and may not seek “infringement” of Islam as one of their objectives.

Government Practices

There were no reports of significant government actions affecting religious freedom in either the territory administered by Morocco or the territory administered by the POLISARIO.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious FreedomShare    

There were no reports of significant societal actions affecting religious freedom.

Section IV. U.S. Government PolicyShare    

U.S. embassy officials discussed tolerance of minority religions and other issues related to religious freedom with the Moroccan National Council for Human Rights, a quasi-governmental organization that monitors developments in the Western Sahara.