Morocco (10/04)

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

Morocco flag: red with a green pentacle--five-pointed, linear star--known as Solomons seal in the center of the flag.


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, Fes, Tangier.
Terrain: Coastal plains, mountains, desert.
Climate: Mediterranean, more extreme in the interior.

Nationality: Noun and adjective--Moroccan(s).
Population (2004 est.): 32.2 million.
Annual growth rate (2004 est.): 1.61%.
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(10.7 million, 2003): 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 (2003): $44.52 billion.
Per capita GDP: $1,404.
Natural resources: Phosphates, fish, manganese, lead, silver, copper.
Agriculture (16% 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 (2003): Exports--$8.73 billion: food beverages and tobacco 20.1%, semi processed goods 23.9%, consumer goods 38.6%. Major markets EU 75.4%%, India 3.4%, U.S. 2.9%, Brazil 2.1%.
Imports--$14.16 billion: food, beverages and tobacco 8.4%, energy and lubricants 15.7%, capital goods 21.4%, semi-processed goods 22.9%, consumer goods 23.9%. Major suppliers—EU 59.1%, Saudi Arabia 5.0%, U.S. 4.1%.

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" 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--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 women in rural regions. Morocco had 290,000 students enrolled in 14 public universities in academic year 2002-2003. In some ways the most prestigious university is Mohammed V in Rabat, with faculties of law, sciences, liberal arts, and medicine. Karaouine University, in Fes, 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 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 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 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 head of the military and the country's religious leader. King Mohammed VI assumed the throne in July of 1999, following the death of his father, King Hassan II, who ruled Morocco for 38 years (1961-1999).

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. Parliamentary elections in 2002 and municipal elections in 2003 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 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 low inflation and relatively slow economic growth has characterized the Moroccan economy over the past several years. 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. While overall unemployment stands at 11.6%, this figure masks significantly higher urban unemployment (currently at about 18%).

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 2003 was 1.2%. Despite criticism among exporters that the dirham has become badly overvalued, the country maintains a current account surplus. Foreign exchange reserves are strong, with nearly $13 billion in reserves, the equivalent of 11 months of imports at the end of 2003. 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 $14.3 billion or about 32% 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 15% 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 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) licensesin 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 rate of 18%.

In June 2004, the United States and Morocco signed a bilateral Free Trade Agreement (FTA). The FTA was ratified by the U.S. Congress in July 2004 and signed by President Bush in August 2004. The Moroccan government will take up ratification of the agreement in Fall 2004. The U.S.-Morocco FTA is the second in the Arab world, the first in Africa, and the first under President Bush's Middle East Free Trade Area. The U.S.-Morocco FTA will immediately eliminate tariffs on 95 percent 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 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. . Although no longer a member of the Organization of African Unity (OAU--now African Union), 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 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. Moroccan-Israeli diplomatic contacts continued with Israeli Foreign Minister Shalom's meeting with King Mohammed in Morocco in September 2003 and again in New York later that month.

Morocco has supported efforts to stabilize Iraq following the downfall of Saddam Hussein. Morocco was the first Arab state to condemn Iraq's invasion of Kuwait 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 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 On May 16, 2003, Moroccan suicide bombers simultaneously attacked five sites in Casablanca, killing more than 40 peopleand wounding over 100. More than a million people subsequently demonstrated to condemn the attacks.

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, although there continues to be high-level contact between the two countries.

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 400, even more than 25 years after the conflict began. 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. Former Secretary of State James Baker resigned as the Secretary General's Personal Envoy in June 2004. Alvaro DeSoto is the UN Secretary General's Special Representative based in the Western Sahara capital of Laayoune.

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 Secretary of State Colin Powell's visit to Morocco in December 2003, Prime Minister Jettou's visit to Washington in January 2004, and King Mohammed's latest visit to the United States in July 2004.

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, support for U.S. efforts in Iraq, 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 June 2004, the United States and Morocco signed a comprehensive bilateral Free Trade Agreement (FTA) - America's second with an Arab country and the first in Africa. Under the agreement, customs duties on 95 percent of consumer and manufactured goods will disappear on the first day of implementation.

Morocco was granted Major Non-Nato Ally status in June 2004. In addition to scheduled U.S. Navy port visits, Morocco allows coordinated access by American forces to its facilities and Moroccan air and sea space. Foreign Military Financing (FMF) for FY 04 was $10 million and is programmed for $20 million in FY 05. International Military Education and Training (IMET) was $1.5 million for FY 04 and is programmed for $1.85 million in FY 05. An Article 98 Agreement with Morocco went into force in November 2003. 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 and music channel in Rabat and Casablanca and five other major radio markets in Morocco

The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has had an active and effective program in Morocco since 1953, for a cumulative amount exceeding $2 billion. The amount of USAID assistance to Morocco in FY 03 was $11.9 million. USAID's current multi-sectoral strategy (2004-2008) consists of three strategic objectives in economic growth and job creation, basic education and workforce training, and government responsiveness to citizen needs. Funding for the five-year strategy has been approved at $99.4 million.

The Peace Corps has been active in Morocco for more than 40 years, with the first group of volunteers arriving in the country in 1963. The total number of Morocco Peace Corps volunteers usually averages between 100-130 and they 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--Monica Stein-Olson
Political Counselor--Timothy Lenderking
Economic Counselor--Michael Koplovsky
Agricultural Affairs Officer--Michael Fay
Foreign Commercial Officer--Gail Del Rosal
Public Affairs Officer--vacant; Terry White acting
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.