Last Update: 20.08.2015


Source: The World Factbook

Geographical information

The Kingdom of Morocco is located at the extreme west of the North Africa. It overlooks the Atlantic and Mediterranean coastlines, and it is endowed with a strategic location on the Strait of Gibraltar. Morocco shares borders with three countries: Algeria 1,900 km, Western Sahara 444 km and Spain (Ceuta city 8 km and Melilla city 10.5 km).

Morocco’s climate varies depending on the season and region. The country generally has a tropical climate, as temperatures can rise as high as 35°C and drop as low as 5°C in the Sahara region.

Morocco is endowed with several natural resources including phosphates, iron ore, manganese, lead, zinc and fish salt. Morocco suffers water scarcity, and witnesses the shrink of its groundwater reserves. Agriculture in Morocco mostly depends on rains for irrigation.

Society and people

Morocco’s population reaches 32,987,206 (July 2014 est.). Its population is characterized by the coexistence of various cultures, among them the Arab, Berber, European and African cultures. Arabs and Berbers comprise 99%, others 1% of the population. Arabic is the official language, along with Berber languages and French which is the language of business, government, and diplomacy.

Sunni Muslims comprise 99% of the population. 0.1% is Shia, while others represent the remaining 1% (includes Christian, Jewish, and Baha'i and Jewish minority of 6,000 persons) (2010 est.). Morocco has a relatively young population with nearly 86% of its citizens are under 54 years old. Population growth rate estimated at 1.02% (2014 est.), while birth rate was 18.47 births/1,000 and death rate was 4.79 deaths/1,000 (2014 est.).

Berbers also known as (AKA) Amazighs are considered to be the largest minority in Morocco. They are estimated at approximately 60% of the population, as there are no up to date official statics yet.

Morocco kings subdued Berber culture since the independence in 1956. However, Moroccans officially recognized Berber language and culture in the new constitution in 2011.

Morocco still shows a high illiteracy rate of 40%, albeit the fact that education swallows 30% of the Kingdom budget annually.

Historical background

Morocco remained under the French occupation from 1912 to 1956. After the end of the colonialist era Sultan Mohammed fully regained his throne and ruled the kingdom until he was succeeded by his son Hassan II in 1961. His era lasted 38 years as he ruled Moroccans with an iron fist. He also ruthlessly subdued national oppositions. In 1999, Morocco began a new era with King Mohammed VI, as many analysts described him as a cautious modernizer who has phased in some economic and social liberalization gradually.

Although the government’s founding of the Equity and Reconciliation Commission in 2004, an agency tasked to address the abuses people suffered because of past governments, authorities have since shown intolerance of public discussion regarding present violations.

After Arab Spring and recent developments

Inspired by the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, thousands of Moroccans demonstrated to appeal for social justice and democracy. People demanded the King to hand over some of his powers to a newly elected government and to concede more independency to the justice system. The most remarkable aspect during the Moroccan demonstrations was that no one raised any call to demand the ousting of the monarchy. All the slogans focused mainly on restricting royal powers under a constitutional monarchy.

The 20 February Movement is a youth-led network consisting of people from different ideological backgrounds. It took the name from the date of launching the demonstrations that were met with fierce resistance from the authorities. Yet, the protests and the regional developments across the Arab world pushed the King to establish a parliamentary monarchy, impose accountability and grant more independence to the judiciary system:

On 9 March 2011, King Mohammed VI promised a ‘comprehensive constitutional reform’ and established a committee to work on revising the constitution and on writing proposals until June.

Furthermore, the monarch pledged to hand over the authority of appointing a Prime Minister to the parliament, and to provide Morocco’s regions with greater powers, saying it would help consolidate Morocco’s democracy and development; however, the King retained his ultimate authority.

Despite all the King’s promises, the demonstrations continued, and on 22 May Moroccan protesters led by the February 20 Movement, took to the streets in Rabat, Casablanca, Tangiers and Agadir. Moroccans realized that the constitutional amendments did not go far enough and demanded additional democratic reforms.

In November 2011, the Justice and Development Party - a moderate Islamist party - won 107 out of 395 seats that made it the first Islamist party to lead the Moroccan government. Istiqlal Party - a conservative and monarchist party - came second with 60 seats and formed a coalition government with JDP. The Socialist Union of Popular Forces (USFP) that considered to be the largest leftist party only secured 39 seats and remained the fifth largest party in the parliament.

The parliamentary elections of 2011 could be seen as a new step towards democracy, despite the relatively low turnout that did not exceed 45%, according to the official estimates.

Currently, the Prime Minister becomes the ‘President of the Government’, and is able to appoint government officials and to dissolve the parliament, powers previously held by the king; however, Mohammed VI remains a key power-broker in the security, military and religious fields.

The King still chairs the two key councils - the Council of Ministers and the Supreme Security Council - that are in charge of security policy. The Prime Minister can substitute Mohammed VI in chairing these councils, but only by implementing an agenda previously set by the King. The voting system was also amended by increasing the seats from 295 to 305. Additional seats were kept from national party lists in elections, 60 assigned only to female candidates and 30 to male candidates under the age of 40. Despite the new improvements, women’s representation is still below the 30% quota always demanded by women’s movements. On 3 January 2012, Mohammed VI appointed the new members of the government led by the PJD, and headed by Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane. This coalition government, has continued to implement constitutional reforms and has taken bold steps to reduce the fiscal deficit, namely through gradually terminating fossil fuel subsidies.

The PJD strategy yielded its profits in terms of political stability. Surprisingly, of all the Islamist parties that gained power since the Arab spring, the PJD is the only one still in office. Moreover, the government’s approval ratings remain high. The Prime Minster has focused his attention on tackling corruption, although with limited results until now, as he recently acknowledged.

Benkirane successfully carried out several major reforms, including a shakeup at the Caisse de Compensation, a public body responsible for stabilizing the price of essential goods.

In July 2013, Istiqlal party quitted the coalition government, amid a dispute over subsidy cuts and economic policy. Istiqlal criticized the Prime Minister's plan to cut subsidies on basic goods by nearly 20%.

The center-right National Rally of Independents (RNI), which is considered to be a monarchist party, replaced ministers from the conservative Istiqlal party. The King nominated 19 new ministers after Benkirane reached a deal to form a new coalition that weakened the current ruling ministers who were trying to push through reforms of the subsidies and the pensions system. After Istiqlal party withdrawal, the King decided to increase the number of ministers from 30 to 39 and put the RNI in key ministries such as interior, finance and foreign affairs.

Since costs of living have increased dramatically, thousands of workers in Morocco’s three trade union federations waged a general strike to protest against the government’s refusal to discuss essential worker issues in October 2014. The main issues were working conditions, pensions and other benefits. The strike had been the first of its kind since 30 years and it lasted one day, despite governmental interventions to thwart it.

In November 2014, Human Rights Watch criticized Moroccan authorities for blocking more than 15 meetings that the Moroccan Human Rights Association tried to hold in various venues since July 2014. The authorities also refused to offer venues for events organized by the Moroccan League for Human Rights, Amnesty International, and other organizations, which could be considered a sharp setback for the reforms that followed the 2011-demonstrations.

According to Aljazeera news network, the strike among workers did not exceed 40%, albeit trade unions said it succeeded in recruiting more than 83.7% to participate in it. Many important governmental sectors engaged in the strike, such as education and health.

In May 2015, Moroccan Prime Minister Benkirane said, during the 9th Aljazeera news network forum, that Morocco has escaped the Arab Spring wind, as people chose reform instead of changing the monarchy system.

Western Sahara Conflict

The conflict started after Spain’s withdrawal from Western Sahara in 1976, when Morocco chose to extend its de facto administrative control to almost 80% of the 266.000 km2 territory. However, the UN has not recognized Morocco as the administering power for Western Sahara until now.

After 1976, a guerrilla war backed by Algeria was launched by pro-independence forces and ended in 1991. Since then, the UN has monitored a cease-fire between Morocco and the Western Sahara's liberation movement (also known as the Polisario Front). Currently, negotiations are ongoing over the territorial and political status of the Western Sahara.

Morocco shifted the responsibility for the conflict on its Algerian neighbor and asserted that the key of resolving it is mainly in the hands of Algeria. The border between Algeria and Morocco has been closed due to disputes on this conflict since 1992.

Some recognize the large phosphate deposits and fisheries in the Western Sahara as a main reason why Morocco claims ownership to the territory. The natural resources play a central role in strengthening Morocco’s presence. In March 2013, Moroccan security refused to allow four members of the European Parliament to enter the country through Rabat airport. These lawmakers were on their way to study human rights in Western Sahara. The authorities said the refusal was due to a sovereignty decision.

In October 2013, the US, backed by Britain, proposed a human rights mandate to be added to the UN mission in the Western Sahara in the organization’s annual renewal. However, an extensive campaign against this move by Moroccan officials finally resulted in a Security Council resolution that dropped the human rights monitor mandate.

In November 2014, the Polisario Front threatened to return to the armed struggle against the Kingdom, in response to Mohammed VI’s statements that the Western Sahara will remain under Moroccan sovereignty and added that his autonomy initiative is the maximum that Morocco can offer to end the conflict.

Human Trafficking

Morocco is considered to be a source, a destination, and a transit country for the traffic of human beings who are channeled toward illegal labor and prostitution; both adult and young Moroccans are exploited as cheap workers or as prostitution labor in Europe and the Middle East.

Some Moroccan girls employed to work as maids live through dire conditions of forced labor, while teenagers experience forced labor when they work in various economic sectors.

Children and women who came from Africa and South Asia experience the same hardships, as well. They are forced to prostitution or sometimes domestic service.

The dilemma is that the Moroccan law does not contain any article prohibiting human trafficking or smuggling. Furthermore, so far state officials have not demonstrated any willingness to punish trafficking brokers.

The economy

Morocco has benefited from its geographic proximity to the EU and its low labor costs to establish an open market economy. In the 1980s, Morocco’s huge public debt was sharply decreased through the implementation of austerity measures and reforms, supervised by the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Since his rise to the throne in 1999, Mohammed VI has tried to boost the economy which in the following years has been showing steady growth, low inflation, and declining unemployment rates, although poor harvests and economic difficulties in Europe contributed to an economic downturn during the years of the economic crisis.

Adopting novel industrial strategies and improving infrastructure both helped enhancing the Kingdom’s competitiveness. Morocco is also attempting to invest in the renewable energy sector to raise its capacity to more than 40% of electricity output by 2020.

There are various key sectors of the Moroccan economy including agriculture, tourism, aerospace, phosphates, textiles, apparel, and subcomponents. In 2006, Morocco entered into a bilateral Free Trade Agreement with the United States to promote its exports. In addition, the country received the Advanced Status within the European Union’s Neighborhood Policy in 2008. Despite the progress that the economy has seen recently, Moroccans still suffer from high unemployment, poverty, and high illiteracy rates, especially in rural areas. During 2011 and 2012, high prices of fuel strained the Kingdom's budget as the authorities are responsible for subsidizing these basic services.

In 2014, Morocco complied with the (IMF) pressure and opted to end subsidies on diesel, gasoline, and fuel oil, as a necessary step to reduce its budget deficit. At the same time, Morocco retained subsidies on sugar, butane gas, and flour. Nowadays, Morocco’s budget deficit also benefited from the drop in oil prices.

Morocco depends on both tourism and manufacturing, along with an emerging aeronautics industry. Those sectors play a main role in attracting foreign direct investment. Agriculture comprises nearly 15% of GDP and approximately 45% of the labor force is working in this sector.

The Kingdom revenues reached $29.4 billion (2014 est.), while the expenditures estimated at $34.99 billion (2014 est.). Taxes and other revenues total were 26.1% of GDP (2014 est.) Budget deficit estimated at -5% of GDP (2014 est.) and the public debt amounted to 76.6% of GDP (2014 est.).

Unemployment rates rose to approximately 10% while inflation hit its lowest recorded rates at 0.4% because of a rational monetary policy and a fall in international commodity prices.

Morocco's relations with the EU

On October 2008, Morocco became the first southern Mediterranean country to be granted the Advanced Status with the EU, marking a new stage of privileged relations. The Advanced Status focuses on strengthening political dialogue, cooperation in the economic, social, parliamentary, judicial and security field, along with various sectors, mainly agriculture, transportation, energy and environment.

It is also aimed at integrating Morocco into the EU single market as well as at increasing legislation and regulatory convergence.

In March 2013, the EU started negotiations with Morocco over a free-trade agreement. This was the first of many stages aimed at deepening trade ties with North African countries after the Arab uprisings.

There has been intensive cooperation between Morocco, Portugal, Spain and France since early 2013 to tackle illegal immigration, terrorism and drug trafficking, through border controls, and measures against illegal immigration and the exchange of information.

Trade between Morocco and the EU reached roughly 24 billion euros only in goods during 2011, and at that time the EU planned to expand trade in the services sector. Morocco exports clothing, agricultural products and machinery to the EU, while the latter mainly sells goods that reached roughly 15 billion euro in 2011.

Morocco is considered to be one of the largest recipients of the EU aids, with 580.5 million euro in 2011-2013, according to the European Commission.

Security Issues

The security situation in Morocco is considered to be precarious because of active terrorist elements affiliated to or sympathetic with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). The authorities have frequently reported dismantling terrorist cells plotting to carry out attacks across Morocco after security forces performed operations in various cities. In June 2015, interior minister Mohamed Hassad announced that since 2013 his country managed to dissolve 27 terrorist cells. Moreover, Morocco brought in a new legislation that criminalizes and sentences up to 10 years on anyone involved in any activity related to terrorist organizations. Recent reports suggest that approximately 1200 Moroccans are fighting in Iraq and Syria.

At least 246 of them have been killed in Syria and another 40 have died in Iraq, besides 185 Moroccan women had joined the group, along with 135 children.

Moreover, Spanish and Moroccan authorities cooperate to dismantle smuggling networks operating in their territories, and to dissolve ISIL recruitment cells.

Morocco has obtained the status of non-Nato ally from Washington because of its support for the American war on terror. After deadly suicide bombings in Casablanca in 2003, Morocco launched a crackdown on suspected Islamic militants that has lasted until now.

On March 2014, Moroccan King Mohammed VI chose to send a clear message to Salafis via accepting reformed salafi Sheikh Fizazi’s invitation to lead a Friday’s prayer before him at the Tariq Ibn Zyad mosque in Tangier. The symbolism of this event was evident, especially as Fizazi had been jailed to 30 years because of his alleged relation with the 2003 Casablanca terrorist bombings.

On June 2014, Morocco tried to promote its moderate version of Islam as a tool to counterweigh to the widening jihadist threat in the Sahara and has provided hundreds of imams from surrounding countries with special formation by moderate scholars. The king’s initiative is based on 1.300 well-trained moderate imams to teach preachers lacking formal training at approximately 50.000 mosques all over the Kingdom.

Regarding the illegal immigration, the Kingdom outlined eligibility criteria for illegal immigrants to obtain legal stay documents in the Kingdom during the exceptional operation of regularization of illegal immigrants to be held from January through December 2014.

This background paper has been complied by Dina Aboel Maaref, Visiting Fellow in C·A·P’s Middle East Section. The research fellowship is a part of an internship supported by the ifa (Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen) and the Federal Foreign Office of Germany.


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