Morocco (11/03)

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


Kingdom of Morocco

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, desert.
Climate: Mediterranean, more extreme in the interior.

Nationality: Noun and adjective--Moroccan(s).
Population (2003 est.): 31.7 million.
Annual growth rate (est.): 1.6%.
Ethnic groups: Arab-Berber 99%.
Religions: Muslim 99.99%, Jewish estimated at 4,000 people, Christians estimated at less than 1,000.
Languages: Arabic (official), several Berber dialects; French is often the language of business, government, and diplomacy.
Education: Years compulsory--9. Literacy--51.7%. Health: Infant mortality rate--37/1,000. Life expectancy--67 yrs. male, 72 yrs. female.
Work force(10.5 million, 2002): Agriculture--50%; services--35%; industry--15%.

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.
Major political parties: Socialist Union of Popular Forces (USFP), Istiqlal (Independence) Party (PI), Party of Justice and Development (PJD), National Rally of Independents (RNI), Popular Movement (MP), National Popular Movement (MNP), Constitutional Union Party (UC), Democratic Forces Front, (FFD), National Democratic Party (PND), Party of Progress and Socialism (PPS), Democratic Union (UD), Democratic and Social Movement (MDS), Social Democratic Party (PSD), The Pact (AHD), Liberty Alliance (ADL), United Socialist Leftists (GSU), Moroccan Liberal Party (PML), Party of Reform and Development (PRD), Citizen Forces (FC), National Itihadi Congress (CNI), Party of Action, Social Center Party (PCS), Party of Environment and Development (PED), Citizens Initiative for Development (ICD), Party of Renewal and Equity (PRE).
Suffrage: Universal starting at 18 years of age.

GDP (2002): $37.15 billion.
Per capita GDP: $1,255.
Natural resources: Phosphates, fish, manganese, lead, silver, copper.
Agriculture (14% of GDP): Products--wheat, barley, citrus fruits, vegetables, olives, livestock, and fishing.
Industry (32% of GDP): Types--phosphate mining, manufacturing and handicrafts, construction and public works, energy.
Trade (2002): Exports--$7.78 billion: food, beverages and tobacco 20.5%, semi processed goods 23.5%, consumer goods 37.3%. Major markets--EU 74.5%, India 4.2%, Japan 3.8%, U.S. 3.4%.
Imports--$11.73 billion: food, beverages and tobacco 11.8%, energy and lubricants 15.6%, capital goods 19.3%, semi-processed goods 22.0%, consumer goods 24.1%. Major suppliers--EU 49.4%, Saudi Arabia 5.9%, U.S. 3.4%.

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 4,000. Most of the 100,000 foreign residents are French or Spanish; many are teachers or technicians.

Classical Arabic is Morocco's official language, but the country's distinctive Arabic dialect is the most widely spoken language in Morocco. In addition, about 10 million Moroccans, mostly in rural areas, speak Berber--which exists in Morocco in three different dialects (Tarifit, Tashelhit, 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. English is 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 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 83 % among girls in rural regions. Morocco had 288,319 students enrolled in 14 public universities in academic year 2001-2002. In some ways the most prestigious university 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 and is the oldest university in Morocco. 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.

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, Morocco restored control over certain Spanish-ruled areas. 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.

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 November 2002, King Mohammed VI named a government headed by former Interior Minister Driss Jettou, and composed of ministers drawn from most major parties in the coalition. The September 2002 parliamentary elections were largely free, fair, and transparent. The highest court in the judicial structure is the Supreme Court, whose judges are appointed by the King. The Jettou government is pursuing a socioeconomic program, including increased housing and education. Morocco is divided into 16 administrative regions (further broken into provinces and prefectures); the regions are administered by Walis and governors appointed by the King.

Principal Government Officials
Head of State--King Mohammed VI
Prime Minister-Driss Jettou
Minister of State for Foreign Affairs and Cooperation--Mohammed Benaissa
Ambassador to the United States--Aziz Mekouar
Ambassador to the United Nations--Mohammed Bennouna

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

Macroeconomic stability coupled with relatively slow economic growth has characterized the Moroccan economy over the past several years. The Youssoufi government introduced a number of important economic reforms. The Jettou government continues to pursue reform, liberalization, and modernization aimed at stimulating growth and creating jobs. Employment, however, remains overly dependent on the agriculture sector, which is extremely vulnerable to inconsistent rainfall. Morocco's primary economic challenge is to accelerate growth in order to reduce high levels of unemployment and underemployment (currently at about 23%).

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 2.5%. 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, the equivalent of 11 months of imports at the end of 2001. The combination of strong foreign exchange reserves and active external debt management gives Morocco ample capacity to service its debt. Current external debt stands at about $13.9 billion or about 30% of GDP.

Economic growth has been hampered by an over-reliance 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. 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 is continuing and intensifying a series of structural reforms begun in recent years. The most promising reforms have been in labor market and financial sectors and privatization has accelerated the sale of Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM) licenses and the sale of the state tobacco company in the last few years. 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%.

In April 2002, President Bush and King Mohammed VI committed to negotiate a bilateral Free Trade Agreement (FTA) by the end of 2003. The U.S.-Morocco FTA, the second in the Arab world and the first under President Bush's Middle East Free Trade Area, is on track to meet this deadline. The negotiations proceeded at a record pace, producing a comprehensive agreement covering not only market access but also intellectual property rights protection, transparency in government procurement, investments, services, and end e-commerce. The FTA will provide new trade and investment opportunities for both countries and will encourage economic reforms and liberalization already under way.

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 Mohammed VI is the chairman of the OIC's Al-Qods Jerusalem Committee.

Morocco is 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. Israeli Foreign Minister Shalom visited Morocco in September 2003 and met with the King; they met again in New York later that month.

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, 2001 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 Organization of African Unity (OAU--now African Union), Morocco remains involved in African diplomacy. It has contributed to UN peacekeeping efforts on the continent.

The major issue in Morocco's foreign relations 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.

Western Sahara
The issue of sovereignty over Western Sahara remains unresolved. The territory, a desert area bordering the Atlantic Ocean between Mauritania and Morocco, is contested by Morocco and the Polisario (an independence movement based in 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 OAU (now African Union) 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 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 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. The Polisario have released many Moroccan POWs but still hold more than 900, even more than 25 years after the conflict began. The UN, under the lead of the Secretary General's Personal envoy James Baker, continues to explore with the parties ways of arriving at a mutually agreed political settlement. Mr. Baker submitted his latest plan to the parties in January 2003.

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.

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 visits to the United States in 2000 and 2002.

The shared interests of the United States and Morocco include the economic prosperity of both countries, countering terrorism and extremism, 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; improving human rights;, developing an increasingly effective administration; and aiding Morocco's domestic, social, and economic progress.

In addition to U.S. Navy port visits, Morocco considers on a case-by-case basis requests from American forces to enter Moroccan air space. Morocco has allowed NASA the use of the airfield at Ben Guerir as an emergency 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. The IBB operates the Radio Sawa FM Arabic news music channel in Rabat and Casablanca and will broadcast in seven major radio markets in Morocco by 2004.

Total U.S. economic assistance to Morocco during 2000-02 was $42.1 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 to Morocco in FY 2002 was $14.5 million. USAID's 5-year multi-sectoral strategy consisted of two strategic objectives in economic growth and water resources management and three special objectives in population, health and nutrition, basic education for girls, and promoting civil society development and local governance. USAID is developing a new program strategy to begin in 2004, which will address Morocco's challenges in economic liberalization and growth, education, democratization, and other issues.

The Peace Corps has been active in Morocco for about 40 years, with the first group of volunteers arriving in the country in 1963. More than 130 Morocco Peace Corps volunteers usually are working in four sector areas: health, youth development, small business, and the environment.

Principal U.S. Embassy Officials
Ambassador--Thomas T. Riley
Deputy Chief of Mission--Wayne Bush
Director, USAID Mission--James Bednar
Political Counselor--Timothy Lenderking
Economic Counselor--Michael Koplovsky
Agricultural Affairs Officer--Merritt Chesley
Foreign Commercial Officer--Gail Del Rosal
Public Affairs Officer--Anne O'Leary
Consul General, Casablanca--Roberto Powers

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

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