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POPULATION: 33.7 million (2007)
LANGUAGE: Arabic;French;English;Berber;Spanish
RELIGION: Islam; Christianity; Judaism


Morocco is located in an area called the Maghrib, a region in the western part of North Africa that borders the Mediterranean Sea. (Maghrib is the Arabic word referring to the direction of the sunset.) Morocco is known as al-Maghrib al-Aqsa, the furthest west, or simply al-Maghrib, a fitting name for this country that is located at the extreme western corner of North Africa. Morocco is ruled by a king who claims direct descent from the Prophet Muhammad, the 7th-century messenger of Islam.

Morocco has endured a series of foreign intrusions throughout its history. The inhabitants of Morocco were called Barbari by the Romans—a broad, derogatory term for peoples outside the purview of the Roman Empire—and in time, they came to be called Berbers. During the Punic Wars between Rome and Carthage (located in present-day Tunisia) in the 2nd and 3rd centuries bc, the Berbers sided with the Carthaginians. In 149 bc, the Carthaginians were defeated, and the Romans began to settle in North Africa. The Roman emperor Claudius divided the empire's possessions in ad 42 and established a series of provinces across the northern coast of Africa, naming what is now known as Morocco Mauretania Tingitana. Roman control of the region was never extensive, and the Berber tribes periodically rebelled against the invaders. As a result, Rome abandoned most of Mauretania Tingitana in the period ad 286–304, though it retained control of strategic locations in the north to oversee the Strait of Gibraltar.

In ad 429, the German king Gaiseric, backed by 80,000 Vandals (a German tribe), invaded North Africa from Spain. The Vandals' influence in North Africa was relatively short-lived. Like the Romans, they found that they could not suppress the Berber uprisings and either abandoned the region or were absorbed by the remaining Roman elites. The Byzantine emperor Justinian sent his army to North Africa in 533 and, for a time, regained at least tenuous control over Morocco.

The next invaders were Arab Muslims. Beginning in ad 662, the Arabs, led by Uqba bin Nafi, were by far the most influential conquerors of Morocco. At the time, many Berbers were Jewish, animist, or polytheistic in their religion, and there was strong resistance on the part of the Berber tribes to the new invaders. Eventually, however, the majority of Berbers adopted the Islamic religion. The ruling Arab view of Islam at the time was that Islam was primarily a religion for Arabs, and therefore non-Arab converts were treated as second-class citizens—a practice that fostered tensions between the Arabs and the Berbers. The tensions persisted until 786, when the Arab Moulay Idris, a self-proclaimed descendent of the Prophet Muhammad, followed by his son, Idris II, established a dynasty that would control large sections of the Maghrib for nearly 200 years.

Following the decline of the Isdrisids, Morocco was ruled for almost 500 years by dynasties of Berber origin. The first of these were the Almoravids, who spread Islam further north into southern Spain. Under the Almoravids, Andalusian culture, art, and architecture were brought from Spain to Morocco, marking the beginning of a cross-cultural flowering that would continue until the late 15th century. By 1140, another tribal dynasty, the Almohads, had seized control of Morocco. Under the Almohad caliph 'Abd al-Mu'min, the country became a center of learning, and under Almohad patronage, the study of philosophy, mathematics, and Islamic law, as well as Islamic mysticism (known as Sufism), flourished.

Spain, Portugal, England, and France all had a strong interest in their neighbor to the south, and during the 15th century, each set out to control various coastal areas of Morocco. By this time, small Christian communities from Europe had settled in Morocco. Direct descent from the Prophet Muhammad became the chief source of political authority, replacing the tribal systems that had dominated Moroccan political leadership for centuries. The Sa'adi rulers brought great unity and prosperity to Morocco. They were succeeded in the middle of the 17th century by the ‘Alawis, who, despite substantial colonial interference from the European states, continue to rule Morocco as of 2008.

By the 19th century, Europeans had gained many concessions from the ‘Alawi rulers and virtually controlled Morocco, though they stopped short of political governance. This changed during the early 20th century, when Spain gained control of a northern strip of Morocco, which it would hold until 1956. In 1912, France established a protectorate over the rest of Morocco. The ‘Alawi sultan, Moulay Hafid, authorized the protectorate by signing the Treaty of Fez, which gave France the power to establish civil order in Morocco. The result went beyond mere civil authority—France took over Morocco's foreign and economic policy as well. The European presence expanded in Morocco, and by the mid-1930s, 200,000 Europeans, 75% of them French, were living in Morocco. They built new towns and roads, expanded the existing railroads, modernized agriculture, and built ports.

Anti-French Moroccan nationalism began to grow in the 1920s and strengthened during World War II (1939–45). During the war, the Vichy government that supplanted the French government insisted on the persecution of Jews in Morocco. The Moroccans were unwilling to cooperate in this persecution, and tensions mounted between the colonial French rulers and the Moroccans. Moroccans fought on the side of the Allied powers during the war, and Morocco was liberated by Allied troops in 1942. When Sultan Muhammad V met with the Allied powers at Casablanca in 1943, he expressed his desire for independence from France, but it would be more than a decade before this desire was realized.

In 1947, a national campaign for self-government was launched, and in 1949, Sultan Muhammad V gave the campaign his official backing. In 1953, the sultan was deposed by the French, with some Berber assistance. He was exiled to Madagascar, an action that precipitated a number of anti-French disturbances in Morocco. In 1955, Berbers killed every French person in the town of Oued Zem. In the aftermath of the violence, the French restored Sultan Muhammad V to power. Independence was finally granted to Morocco on 2 March 1956. In the same year, the northern territory under Spanish rule was granted independence as well. In 1957, the sultan adopted the title of king and named his son, Hasan, crown prince. The prince became King Hasan II after his father's death in 1961. Hasan II survived attempted coups in the early 1970s and confronted, in the course of his reign, a number of critical economic and political challenges, notably the emergence of an increasingly influential Islamist movement.

In 1971, Hasan II began a battle to establish sovereignty over the resource-rich Western Sahara, a territory then known as the Spanish Sahara, to Morocco's south. He encountered resistance from Algeria and Libya. In April 1976, an agreement was reached whereby Morocco would retain a section of the disputed territory. Mauritania would control another section, and the remainder of the Spanish Sahara would become independent under the name Western Sahara. Mauritania later relinquished its claim, and Morocco annexed the freed territory. Conflict between Morocco and the Algerian-backed Popular Front for the Liberation of the Sahara and the Rio de Oro (Polisario) continued throughout the 1980s. A cease-fire was brokered in 1991, although sporadic fighting continued. For many years, the international community has sought a resolution to this long-running dispute, but with little success. Formal talks between Morocco and the Polisario resumed in 2007 and continued as of March 2008.

Muhammad VI took the throne upon his father's death in 1999. The early years of his reign were characterized by cautious liberalization—politically, economically, and socially. Generally enjoying broad popular support, Muhammad VI became part of new generation of Arab leaders attempting to maintain a viable balance between tradition and modernization, continuity and change.

The king is head of state and, by virtue of his descent from the Prophet Muhammad, he is known as amir al-mu'minin, or “Commander of the Faithful.” The king appoints a cabinet, known as the Council of Ministers. He also appoints a prime minister as head of the government. A Majlis al-Nuab, or Council of Representatives, is made up of legislators elected by the people. The council is referred to as the Parliament, but it legislates only criminal, civil, and commercial matters and can be disbanded by royal decree.


Morocco, a country divided into 43 provinces, has an area of 446,550 sq km (172,368 sq mi) covering the northwest corner of Africa. It lies 13 km (8 mi) to the south of Spain, separated by the Strait of Gibraltar. The Mediterranean Sea separates Morocco from Europe. Morocco is bordered on the west by the Atlantic Ocean, on the east and southeast by Algeria, and on the south by the Western Sahara. The Moroccan coastline is more than 1,600 km (1,000 mi) long, allowing for a thriving fishing industry (mackerels, anchovies, and sardines) and a tourism industry that features beach resorts on the Atlantic and Mediterranean coasts. The population of Morocco was estimated to be 33,757,175 in 2007.

The Moroccan landscape consists of mountains, rivers, desert, and plains. It has four major mountain ranges. In the north, bordering the Mediterranean Sea, are the Rif Mountains. While the Rif themselves rise only to 2,100 m (6,890 ft), their cliffs drop off sharply to the sea and thus make access by modern transportation difficult. The Rif area has few coastal towns or beaches. South of the Rif are three ranges that makeup the Atlas Mountains. From north to south, these are the Middle Atlas, which rise only to 3,000 m (9,850 ft); the High Atlas, rising to more than 4,000 m (13,130 ft); and the Anti-Atlas, rising only to 2,400 m (7,880 ft). Morocco's highest mountain is Mount Toubkal in the High Atlas range. Mount Toubkal is 4,165 m (13,670 ft).

The northwestern part of the Sahara covers Morocco from the foothills of the Anti-Atlas Mountains to the east. Most of the habitation consists of small groups of people living in the oases.

Morocco's rivers are not navigable, but they are a significant source of irrigation and provide water for 20% of the arable land. Three rivers rise in the Middle Atlas and empty into the Atlantic Ocean. These are the Sebou, Morocco's largest river; the Bou Regreg; and the Oum al-Rabi'. The Moulouya also rises in the Middle Atlas and flows northward into the Mediterranean. To the south are the Tensift, the Sous, and the Dra'a rivers, which flow into the Atlantic Ocean, and the Ziz and Rheris rivers, which flow into the desert.

Several flat, featureless plains lie between the mountain ranges and between the Atlantic coast and the mountains. A variety of crops are cultivated, some of which are processed for export. The most fertile region lies between the Atlas Mountains and the Atlantic Ocean. Here, oranges, figs, olives, almonds, barley, and wheat are grown in abundance. The west-central plain boasts the largest phosphate reserves in the world, and Morocco is responsible for nearly 20% of the world's phosphate extraction.

Morocco has a variety of weather patterns. The desert is hot and dry, cooling off precipitously during winter nights. The coastal plains and coastline enjoy a Mediterranean climate, with mild temperatures attributable to the proximity of the sea. In the low mountain elevations, summers are hot and dry, and winters are cold and rainy. In the higher mountain elevations, summer days are hot and nights are cool. Winters are cold there, and snow is common.


Both Arabic and French are taught in Moroccan schools. English is also taught in some schools. Modern Standard Arabic is the official state language, and it is used in most forms of public discourse. Moroccans speak their own dialect of Arabic, which displays slight regional variations. This dialect is increasingly used in formal contexts such as advertising and public awareness campaigns. Some of the more common Arabic words used in Morocco are religious in nature. When pledging to do something, a Moroccan Muslim often says insha' Allah, or “if God wills it.” Prior to any action, a Muslim will often say bismillah, or “in the name of God.” Common female Arabic names are Fatima, 'Aisha, and Khadija. Common male Arabic names are Muhammad (and variants such as Ahmed or Hamid), Hasan, and 'Ali. All of these are also the names of famous people in Islamic history.

Educated Moroccans are expected to speak French, and French vocabulary words have entered the Moroccan language as a result of years of French colonization. French is commonly used in business transactions and in hotels and resort areas where foreigners congregate. Fluency in French helps Moroccans to climb the social ladder. Spanish is spoken in the northern region of Morocco, which was formerly under Spanish rule.

Berber, among the oldest languages in Africa, is spoken almost exclusively by the Berbers, although some Berber words have made their way into Moroccan Arabic. Berbers speak three distinct dialects: Tarifit in the north, Tamazight in the Middle Atlas region, and Tashelhit in the south. Approximately 55% of Berbers speak both their native dialect and Arabic. In 2001, the Royal Institute of Amazigh (Berber) Culture was founded, and Berber was recognized as an official language. On 11 February 2003, King Muhammad VI declared that Tifinagh would be the official alphabet of written Berber. The language has since been used in computers and word processing programs.

Titles of respect are often attached to names. Thus, an older woman may be referred to as Lalla, which is comparable to “Ma'am.” A man may be referred to as Sidi, or Si for short, which is comparable to “Mr.” A more respectful title, reserved for men of high political status, is Moulay. A man who has undergone the pilgrimage to Mecca is called Hajj, and a woman who has done so is called Hajja.


Morocco has many legends based on the exploits of Muslim leaders who acted as mediators in disputes between families and tribal groups. These leaders often came from religious backgrounds and were considered well educated. These holy men, or murabitin in Arabic, are somewhat analogous to the Christian saints, and they were believed to possess baraka, or divine grace, which allowed them to perform miracles. Their burial sites, small domed structures surrounded by a walled courtyard, are often sites of pilgrimage. Many people visit the murabitin to ask for intercession and hope that they will receive blessings and favors from the popular saints. The burial sites have also become unofficial centers for the collection of alms for the needy. The murabitin are more commonly found in the countryside than in the urban areas.

Some Moroccans believe in spiritual beings called jinn—often translated in English as “genies”—who are said to assume the guise of animals so as not to be recognized. They are thought to frequent public baths and other areas associated with water. To ward off these spirits and to prevent them from meddling in human affairs, Moroccans wear verses from the Quran on an amulet. They also wear the “hand of Fatima,” a charm in the shape of the right hand that protects against the evil eye. In the years following the 2003 terrorist bombings in Casablanca, the hand of Fatima was used as a symbol for anti-terrorism campaigns.

Often, women in the Moroccan countryside believe in (and might practice) sihr, or witchcraft. Sihr is administered orally, usually as a potion mixed with food or drink, with the intention of influencing the behavior of another person. This might involve casting a spell to make someone fall in love or administering a curse to take revenge on someone for hurtful behavior. The victim of such a curse might seek the advice of a religious teacher to undo the spell.

Most folklore in Muslim countries tells stories of important figures in religious history, many of which are found in or derived from material found in the Quran or in later forms of Islamic literature.


The overwhelming majority (99%) of Moroccans are Sunni Muslim, about 69,000 are Christian (mainly Roman Catholic), and a minority of 6,000–7,000 are Jewish. Islam is the state religion, and although many Moroccans do not outwardly practice all of the pillars of Islam, most profess adherence to the religion. The Malaki school of Islamic law, or Shari'a, has traditionally predominated in Morocco. Sufism has historically been an important dimension of Moroccan Islam, and Sufi groups continue to play an important role in both official and popular forms of the religion. The Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca is the second largest mosque in the world (second only to the Great Mosque in Mecca) and can accommodate 25,000 inside and a further 80,000 in its courtyard.


Moroccans commemorate both secular and Muslim religious holidays. One major Muslim holiday is Eid al-Fitr, which comes at the end of the month of fasting called Ramadan. During Ramadan, Muslims refrain from eating, drinking, or having sexual relations during the daytime in order to reflect on God and on the plight of the less fortunate. At the end of the month, Muslims celebrate for three days. The other major Muslim holiday is Eid al-Adha, which commemorates the willingness of the Prophet Abraham, as well as his son, to obey God. This holiday signals the end of the Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca, or hajj, which every Muslim is obliged to undertake at least once during his or her lifetime. Traditionally, each family slaughters a lamb to feast on during Eid al-Adha. Today, because of the high cost of purchasing a sheep, it is not uncommon for poorer families to pool their resources and purchase an animal to share.

Secular holidays include King Hassan II's Coronation Day (March 3), Labor Day (May 1), Independence Day (November 18), and New Year's Day (January 1). Festivals are also held to commemorate anniversaries of the birth or death of saints.


Marriage is the norm in Moroccan society. Weddings are conducted over a period of several days, during which the families of the bride and groom might hold separate parties. These are elaborate affairs featuring food, music, and dancing. Child-bearing is expected of every wife. When the newborn baby is seven days old, a celebration known as the subu' is held. It is common for a lamb to be roasted for the party, and guests bring gifts for the baby and the mother. Circumcision of males is an obligation within Islam. In Morocco, it is usually undertaken while the boy is young, before his sixth birthday.

Upon the death of a relative or a neighbor, the deceased is buried within 24 hours, and family and friends gather together to mourn for a period of three days. This involves ritual recitations from the Quran. Close friends prepare food for the bereaved family during the mourning period. Another mourning period occurs on the fortieth day after the death. Again, friends and relatives gather together to recite the Quran in memory of the deceased. At this time a large meal, known as sadaqa, is offered to guests who join in the mourning.


Moroccans shake with the right hand during greetings and farewells, and they will often touch the hand to the heart to show respect or affection. Close friends of the same sex commonly hug and exchange kisses on the cheek. It is appropriate for persons of the opposite sex to simply shake hands without intimate physical contact. Some very religious women prefer not to shake hands with men, believing that any physical contact is inappropriate. In the home, men and women often sit and converse in separate sections of the room or house. A common greeting among Moroccans is the phrase al-salamu 'alaykum, which means, “May peace be upon you.” The response is wa 'alaykum al-salam, or “May peace be upon you also.” During greetings, Moroccans often exchange a great number of pleasantries and inquiries about one another's families before beginning the conversation.

Homes are shelters against public intrusion, and windows are usually shaded to preserve a family's privacy. Family members are generally courteous to one another, and guests in a Moroccan home characteristically receive gracious attention and respect. Though a Moroccan will show the utmost hospitality to a guest in his or her home, the street or marketplace is a public space in which no such courtesies are necessary. Th us, in public, each person hopes to advance his or her own interests and therefore may show little regard for the interests of others.

Boys and girls are typically kept apart until they are old enough to understand sexuality. Intermingling of the sexes outside marriage is generally considered inappropriate, and perhaps even shameful. Premarital sex is strictly forbidden, and a girl who loses her virginity outside marriage is stigma-tized and brings great shame to her family's reputation. Moroccan men are free to socialize outside the home; the café isa common gathering place. Women are rarely (never, in rural areas) seen at cafés. Homosexuality is illegal in Morocco.


A majority of Moroccans live in urban areas, most of which comprise a precolonial district, or medina, and a colonial or postcolonial area, sometimes called the ville nouvelle. The medina is usually surrounded by high, thick walls that enclose houses ranging in age from medieval to modern. Many Moroccans live in bidonvilles, shantytowns that are erected on the periphery of urban areas. Originally built as temporary settlements for migrant workers, these bidonvilles, in many cases, have become permanent slums with little infrastructure and few public services, if any. The range and quality of the public services available in Moroccan homes varies widely. Houses in the north are frequently white, whereas those in the south are often reddish brown. In the newer, postcolonial towns, houses are built with Western amenities. These may be either single-family detached dwellings or rows of townhouses attached at the sides or rear. Many homes, especially in the city of Marrakech, feature an open courtyard surrounded by several stories of rooms. Most rooftops are flat, and they are used for washing and hanging out laundry, as well as a variety of social purposes. In areas of high elevation, such as in the mountainous Middle Atlas village of Ifrane, roofs are slanted to allow the snow to slide off.

Moroccans generally have access to clean water and to cooking and heating fuel. Cooking stoves range from a common three-burner cooking top to full ovens and ranges. These may be fueled by bottled propane or butane gas. The majority of residential toilets are porcelain-covered holes in the ground. Modern homes have Western-style toilets with seats. Most homes also have electricity, with at least one outlet per room. Some homes, though by no means most, have central heating and telephones. Nearly half of all Moroccans own cellular phones, and approximately 6 million people are connected to the Internet.

Streets are well maintained, and most cities are connected by two-lane roads. As of 2007, there were 507 km (315 mi) of new, multilane expressways, or autoroutes, linking the major cities. At present, there are autoroutes linking Casablanca to Al-Jadida, Tangier, Marrakech, and Fes. Th ose connecting Tangier to Ceuta in the north, and Agadir to Marrakech in the south, were still under construction as of 2008. Railroads built during the era of French colonization continue to operate today. Approximately 1,907 km (1,185 mi) of rail runs east to west and north to south, connecting most of Morocco's major cities and connecting Morocco with Algeria. Cities that cannot be reached by train are serviced by buses, which offer extensive coverage. The country has four major seaports and more than a dozen smaller ones. Morocco is linked to the rest of the world by its seven international airports. There are more than 50 civil airports as well.

Moroccans' median age is 24.3 years; approximately 31% of the population is under the age of 14. Casablanca is the most populous city, with more than 3 million inhabitants. The next most populated city is the capital, Rabat, with approximately 1.7 million people. Morocco's population growth rate is 1.528%, and its life expectancy is 68 years for males and 73 for females. Morocco has an infant mortality of 39 deaths per 1,000 live births.


The family is central to the vast majority of Moroccans' lives. Children live with their families until they marry or go away to school. After a Moroccan man is married, it is common for the husband to bring his wife to his family's home, where they live together with the extended family. The elderly are highly respected, and when they are too old to take care of themselves, they are cared for by their families. Both men and women may play a strong role in decision making, but females are taught early on that they are expected to take care of the home and their siblings. Women generally have more freedom in the cities, whereas more restrictions are placed on rural women.

Marriage is expected of every Moroccan, both men and women. For many women, marriage and childbearing are the ultimate goals in life. Ideally, most women seek to be married before their mid-20s, and most men before they turn 30. Though not all marriages are arranged, parents have great influence over the spousal choices made by their children. Marriage is thus a family decision, not merely an individual one. Generally, the family seeks to make sure that the prospective spouse will bring prosperity and virtue to the family, so that the family's good name and reputation are enhanced. Divorce is seen in a very negative light, but it is not forbidden. Both men and women can initiate divorce proceedings.


The national attire of the Moroccans is a one-piece, floor-length, hooded garment known as a jellaba. It is commonly worn by men and women of every social class, both urban and rural. The wealthy often have their jellabas tailor made, whereas many simply purchase them from a ready-to-wear rack. Western attire is often worn under the jellaba. Western-style—often very fashionable—attire for women and suits and slacks for men are also common, especially in cities. Religious or conservative women cover their hair in public. Berber women wear long, colorful dresses, often covering their heads with straw hats. They often have tattoos on their forehead, cheek, or neck; this custom is slowly fading away, however. Rural men often wear turbans, and a knitted skullcap is common attire for men going to a mosque. The maroon-colored fez, once a ubiquitous sign of respect and wealth, is declining in popularity, especially among younger men. In cold weather, many men cover their jellabas with a hooded cloak called a burnus.


Moroccans generally eat three meals per day. Breakfast consists of bread, olive oil, butter, and preserves. It may also include eggs, croissants, a pancake-like food known as baghrir, and a number of other pastries and breads. Coffee or tea usually accompanies the meal. Lunch, the largest meal of the day, is a time-consuming affair. Dinner may be a light or a heavy meal, with soup and bread being common. Moroccans are avid tea drinkers. Sweet green tea flavored with mint is served all day long. Coffee, usually with much milk and sugar, is also very popular. Moroccans, being Muslim, are prohibited from consuming pork and alcoholic beverages. The latter, however, are served in bars and cafés throughout the country. Despite the Islamic prohibition, Morocco produces its own domestic wines.

Moroccans eat at a low, round table, and they are often served from one platter. Bread is commonly served with every meal; it is used to scoop up food. Berbers bake bread virtually every day. Morocco's national dish is couscous. This is steamed semolina wheat formed into tiny granular particles that are combined with other ingredients to make a main course. Couscous can be accompanied by meat, such as lamb or chicken, or mixed with a variety of vegetables. It is generally served on Friday, the Muslim day of rest. Another favorite Moroccan dish is tajin, which is a stew of vegetables and meat baked in an earthenware pot. Harira, Moroccan soup, is made in many different styles, each often associated with a particular ritual. For example, during Eid al-Fitr, it consists of semolina flavored with anise. After a woman gives birth, she is given harira flavored with wild mint and thyme. Harira is also consumed to break the fast during the month of Ramadan.


Public schools are free and, since 1963, compulsory for children between the ages of 7 and 13. The Moroccan government spends approximately 20% of its budget on education. As of 2005, 85% of girls and 90% of boys attended primary school. Participation in education is markedly higher in urban areas. In 2004, an average of 52.3% of adults were literate—65.7% of men and 39.6% of women. Although the country's schools teach Arabic-language curricula, public schools are modeled on the French system. French is taught in all public schools from the third grade through the completion of secondary school. English is taught in public schools at the secondary level. Morocco has many institutions of higher learning, the largest and most prestigious of which is Muhammad V University in Rabat. An English-language university—Al-Akhawayn—opened in the Middle Atlas region in 1995. Private American schools in Casablanca, Rabat, and Tangier offer courses in English from elementary through secondary school. Private French schools are found in every city. The school year is similar to that in Western countries: Classes begin in September and end in June.


Moroccans enjoy rhythmic music and dancing. Th ough most music on the radio and television is traditional Arab entertainment, an increasing amount of Western music is being broadcast, with a great variety of music channels now available by satellite on television. Traditional Arabic music is dominated by string instruments, such as the rebec, lotar, 'ud, and kamanja. Hand-held drums of different shapes and sizes are played at parties. It is common to see girls and women dancing at informal gatherings. Sometimes, dancers enter a trance-like state that may culminate in fainting. Gnawa music, which is of Berber, Arab, or African origin, is very popular; it features a three-stringed bass-like instrument called the gimbri with percussion accompaniment.

Much dancing and musical entertainment takes place at festivals held in honor of local saints. The festivals often feature horsemen, wearing white robes and white turbans, who gallop toward the audience and then fire their guns into the air.


Morocco's upper class is made up primarily of wealthy merchants and wholesalers or of descendants of the Prophet Muhammad, known as the Sherfa. The latter group includes the royal family. The middle class is made up of educated professionals such as university professors, civil servants, doctors, lawyers, and high school teachers. The less educated tend to fall into a lower socioeconomic status. These Moroccans are employed predominantly in factories and farms. In 2007, the urban unemployment rate was 15%. In 2005, a plan was initiated to reduce poverty and unemployment in Morocco's slums. Many of the unemployed take odd jobs as they become available, find work as day laborers, or beg on the streets. Many Moroccans also seek employment outside Morocco and join the emigrant workforce, or mujahirin. Most of these people find work in France, Belgium, Canada, Italy, Libya, and the Netherlands. The remittances they send to their families in Morocco are a significant source of foreign currency in the country.

The service sector accounts for nearly half of Morocco's gross domestic product. As of 2003, 45% of Moroccans worked in the service sector, 40% in agriculture, and 15% in the industrial sector. Many of Morocco's industries are centered around the city of Casablanca. Berbers in particular engage in small-scale livestock farming, most commonly sheep and goats. Farming methods are not highly developed, although modern equipment and irrigation technology are increasingly being used. The plains of Morocco are cultivated with barley, corn, wheat, tobacco, citrus fruits, olives, tomatoes, and other fruits and vegetables. Though some of these crops are processed for export, Morocco's chief source of export income is phosphate mining and processing. Morocco has the largest phosphate reserves in the world. Other minerals in the country, though not fully exploited, are iron ore, coal, cobalt, copper, lead, manganese, and zinc. The presence there of key resources is one reason for the ongoing conflict over the status of neighboring Western Sahara. Fishing and tourism are also key sources of revenue.


Football (known as soccer in the United States) is popular in Morocco, as it is throughout the Middle East and North Africa. It is both a spectator sport viewed on television and a field sport engaged in by men and boys throughout the country.


Moroccan men spend much of their leisure time socializing at outdoor cafés. Women in rural areas do not go to cafés, although women in urban areas have begun to frequent them. Most socialization among women is done in the home or on the rooftop. There, they might knit, crotchet, or embroider in the company of other women. Women also socialize in public baths. Large cinemas and shopping malls are increasingly found in Morocco's cities, and they are frequented by both men and women.

Morocco has several television stations, with programming in both Arabic and French. Arabic programs come predominantly from Egypt. Satellite transmission has brought a wide range of programming to the country, with tens of thousands of channels to choose from. Even the relatively poor may have access to satellite channels.


Moroccan crafts include rugs, pottery, woodworking, textiles and leatherwork. Rugs and carpets are often woven by hand using a loom; the work is frequently done by women. These rugs have intricate patterns and can take months to complete. Handbags and clothing are crafted from animal skins, which are first prepared and dyed at a leather tannery. Tattooing is an art learned by many women, especially Berbers. Henna, a nonpermanent natural dye that tints the skin a reddish-orange color, is often used to adorn the hands and feet in very detailed, ornate patterns. The construction of the Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca utilized skilled craftsmen from throughout Morocco and features a rich variety of indigenous Moroccan styles and techniques.


The government uses strong tactics against people and groups it considers threats to internal security. Members of political opposition movements have thus become targets of arrest campaigns. Morocco has many political prisoners, drawing criticism from human rights organizations. These include both left-wing and Islamist activists, such as members of movements known as the Islamic Youth, the mujahideen, and Justice and Charity (al-'Adl wa al-Ihsan). International attention prompted the government to release 2,163 political prisoners between June 1989 and April 1990, despite denial of their existence. A 2003 Human Rights Watch report criticized article 489 of the Moroccan penal code, which criminalizes consensual homosexual acts.

Many claim that Morocco's most pressing problem is the lack of socioeconomic opportunities available to the population. Several riots have taken place to protest the rising cost of food and education. Unemployment is widespread, particularly in rural areas. The current unemployment rate is about 15%, but underemployment is much more prevalent. The government discourages people from moving from the countryside to the urban areas in search of job opportunities. These and other socioeconomic concerns have prompted increased numbers of young Moroccan men to join Islamist movements such as al-Qaeda and other groups operating in Iraq and Central Asia.

Crime is common in Morocco, but very little of it is violent. Thefts and burglary are perhaps the most common crimes. Though hard drugs are a rarity, hashish and marijuana are common but illegal.

In the past, the Moroccan government has spent a large proportion of its foreign reserves fighting a war against the Western Sahara's independence movement, the Popular Front for the Liberation of the Sahara and the Rio de Oro (Polisario).


Morocco has historically been a patriarchal society. Since the 1980s, however, women have begun to play a more prominent role in Moroccan public life. In the early years of that decade, approximately 20% of families had female heads as a result of rising divorce rates. By 1990, women constituted more than one-third of the workforce, working as judges, doctors, teachers, and university professors. In 1992, Morocco's constitution was amended to place greater emphasis on the equality of men and women in the political sphere and on human rights generally.

In the late 1990s, the Moroccan government began to draw up the Plan for Action to Integrate Women into Development, a document that proposed changes to the Moroccan mudawwanah, or family code, in order to improve women's legal rights, health, economic development, and education. The plan met with strong resistance from conservative and Islamist groups. On 12 March 2000, organized marches took place in both Rabat and Casablanca. In Rabat, the Moroccan March 2000 for Women demonstrated support for the objectives contained in the Plan for Action and called for banning polygamy, raising the legal marriage age for women from 14 to 18, and improving women's legal rights in cases of divorce. The Casablanca march, in which Islamist groups were the dominant actors, demonstrated in direct response to the Rabat march and in support of more traditional, Islamic roles for women. Accurate numbers for the marches are not available, but large numbers of both women and men participated in both demonstrations.

In January 2004, the mudawwanah was reformed to ensure equality between men and women, particularly in family roles. The reforms abolished the principle of wifely obedience to one's husband, raised the legal marriage age for women to 18, granted wives the right to request a divorce and the right to property in the case of a divorce, granted women the right to retain child custody in the event of remarriage, and included several important items safeguarding the rights of children. Despite these advances, in 2007, the World Economic Forum's Global Gender Gap Report, which measures inequality between men and women in terms of economic participation, educational attainment, political empowerment, and health and survival, ranked Morocco one-hundred-twenty-eighth out of 132 countries studied.


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—revised by J. Henry