The United Kingdom of Morocco

views updated

The United Kingdom of Morocco

Culture Name


Alternative Names

Local long form: Al Mamlakah al Maghribiyah; local short form: Al Maghrib


Identification. Al Maghrib, the Arabic name for Morocco, means "far west" or "where the sun sets." When the Arabs first arrived in northern Africa in the seventh century c.e., Morocco was believed to be the westernmost point in the world. At that time, the Maghrib region included the countries that are today Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia. The countries of the Maghrib share many common historical and cultural features. All have indigenous Berber populations and a strong Islamic base. Similarly, all were colonized by France, and remain largely bilingual, with both French and Arabic being spoken. Although European influence in Morocco is strong, it is still a country of distinctly Arabic tradition. The vast difference between the crude life on the streets and the hospitality and intimacy found in the home reflect the duality that is deeply ingrained in Moroccan culture. But one aspect of Moroccan life that is distinctly unified is religion. The king has declared that all citizens are born Sunni Muslims, and Islam is an important part of everyday ritual life. The Moroccan government is a constitutional monarchy, with a very powerful king. It is this mix of European and Arab influence, loyalty to the king and a strong Islamic base, that creates the uniquely Moroccan identity.

Location and Geography. Morocco is slightly larger than the state of California, covering approximately 174,000 square miles (447,000 square kilometers), and lies in northern Africa just south of the Strait of Gibraltar. Its bordering countries are Spain to the north, Algeria to the east, and the disputed Western Sahara territory to the south. The northern portion of the country borders the Atlantic Ocean to the west and the Mediterranean Sea to the northeast, resulting in a moderate and subtropical coastal climate. Temperatures in the interior are more extreme, with very hot summers and cold winters. Morocco is comprised of four distinct geographic regions. The Rif Mountains lie in the northern part of the country parallel to the Mediterranean coast and rise to 8,000 feet (2,400 meters). The Rif are home to the Rifi Berbers, one of the largest indigenous tribes remaining in the country. A wide area of coastal plains extends across the western seaboard, a region of phosphate mining and the cultivation of citrus, olives, tobacco, and grains. Many of these resources are processed for export, making the western coast the economic center of the country. The majority of Morocco's heavily populated urban centers also lie in this region, including the capital city of Rabat. The Atlas Mountain region has three distinct ranges, known as the Middle, High, and Anti-Atlas. The High and Middle Atlas are home to the Amazigh Berbers, another of the major tribes, while the Soussi tribe lives in the Anti-Atlas. Vastly different from the bustling cities, the countryside allows these groups to maintain their tribal tradition as farmers. Finally, a corner of the Sahara desert lies in the southeastern part of Morocco, where few nomadic people remain and a desert climate prevails.

Demography. The current population of Morocco is approximately 30 million, half of whom are under the age of nineteen. Out of the total population, 99.1 percent are identified as Arab-Berber. The indigenous tribes who occupied much of northwestern Africa were given the generic title Berber, meaning simply non-Arab, by the Arabs. After centuries of intermingling, most Moroccans today are an Arab-Berber mix, although a few tribes in the countryside identify themselves as purely Berber. The remaining .09 percent of the population is comprised of Jews, white Europeans, and black Africans. (Demographic and other statistics presented in this article do not include Western Sahara.)

Linguistic Affiliation. Moroccan Arabic is the official language of Morocco. It is spoken by roughly three-quarters of the population and differs slightly from modern standard Arabic and other dialects in grammar and vocabulary. Although half a century has passed since the French colonial period in Morocco ended, French remains the official language in business, government, and diplomacy. Before the Arabs spread their language and culture across northern Africa, Berber dialects were spoken in Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia. Although the dialects can still be heard in some rural areas, the Berber linguistic tradition is oral rather than literary, and there is no formal alphabet or standard written form of the language. There are three main Berber dialects in Morocco. Rifan is the dialect spoken in the Rif Mountains as well as in some rural areas of eastern Morocco along the Algerian border. In the High and Middle Atlas region the dialect spoken has many names; it may be called Amazigh, Zaran, or Tamazight. In the southwestern oasis and the Anti-Atlas region, the dialect may be called Soussi, Celha, Tashelhait, or Chleuh. Spanish is widely spoken in the northern parts of the country, and English is commonly spoken to international tourists. Multi-lingualism exists to such a degree that Moroccans may switch from one language to another midsentence.

Symbolism. Perhaps the most famous city in Morocco is Casablanca. Port activities by the French turned this city into the economic capital of the country in the early 1900s. In 1942 the city was the site of an Allied invasion, and in 1943 it was the host city for a conference between Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Winston Churchill. But it was the 1943 Hollywood classic film Casablanca, starring Ingrid Bergman and Humphrey Bogart, that transformed the city into an international symbol of romance and wartime struggle. The black-and-white film was the 1943 Academy Award winner for best picture. Other films with quintessential images of Morocco include Lawrence of Arabia and The Jewel of the Nile. A more eastern symbol of Morocco is the Hassan II Mosque, built in Casablanca in 1993. It is one of the largest and most extravagant mosques in the Arab world.

Dating back to the Alaouite Dynasty in the seventeenth century, a red flag was used as a symbol of the Moroccan state. In Rabat and Salé the flag was raised every morning and lowered every evening. When the French took control in 1912, a five-pointed linear known as Solomon's seal was placed on the flag in order to distinguish the nation's flag from others. Because green is the traditional color of Islam, the star on the flag is green.

History and Ethnic Relations

Emergence of the Nation. The first people to have contact with the Berbers were probably the Phoenicians, who invaded northern Africa in the twelfth century b.c.e. The Phoenicians were essentially a maritime people who established trading posts and simple colonies along the northern coast. The Phoenician colonies were later taken over by the Carthaginians, and expanded as part of the Carthaginian Empire. In the second century b.c.e., the city of Carthage fell to the Romans, and the African Mediterranean coast came under Roman dominance for roughly six hundred years. Following the decline of the Romans, the Vandals, Visigoths, and Byzantine Greeks successively set up their own empires. Finally, in 682 c.e., the Arabs invaded northwestern Africa, and the first Muslim Arab dynasty, the Idrisid, came to power. Pagan and Christian inhabitants of the land were converted to Islam during this period. For centuries to follow, Arab and Berber factions fought a bitter civil war over control of the land. By the fifteenth century, European powers had become aware of the trading and economic potential of their southern neighbor. Britain, Spain, Portugal, and France took turns controlling various coastal areas of Morocco. Finally, at the Conference of Algeciras in 1906, France was recognized as the dominant European power in the area. This conference also established the northernmost city, Tangier, as an international free port, under control of the Spanish.

In 1912, Moroccan Sultan Moulay Hafid signed the Treaty of Fez, establishing Morocco as a protectorate of France. The treaty outlined roughly the same borders that define the country today.

As early as the 1920s, an Islamic fundamentalist movement arose in Fez. The goal of the movement was to create a stronger form of Islam and a central Moroccan government. After World War II, the independence movement began to gain momentum. In 1944, Istiqlal, the Moroccan Independence Party, sent an Independence Manifesto to the sultan and French authorities requesting independence. The French responded by arresting several Istiqlal leaders, and deporting the Moroccan royal family to Madagascar in 1953. The people reacted with violence toward French officials, and demanded the return of the king. In August 1955, Berber tribesmen attacked French troops in the village of Oued Zem, killing every French person in the town. Finally, in December 1956, the Moroccan sultan, Muhammad V, was taken to France where he signed a declaration promising to move the nation toward a democratic state with the establishment of a constitutional monarchy. During the same year, the Spanish signed an agreement to remove the international status of Tangier, making Morocco a completely independent and united nation.

National Identity. The civil war between the Arabs and the Berbers finally began to subside in the 1940s and 1950s. After World War II, the quest for independence from France unified the two groups behind a common cause, and the Arabs and Berbers began to share nationalistic feelings toward Morocco and its sultan. Widespread acceptance of Islam by both sides further strengthened the independence movement. The movement spread the idea that a stronger central government was needed to provide spiritual leadership to a Muslim population. In modern Morocco devotion to Islam and loyalty to the king are still cornerstones of national identity.

Ethnic Relations. Just south of Morocco lies a disputed territory known as the Western Sahara. The indigenous people that live inside the territory are the Saharawi. Because they are nomadic, their exact number is difficult to determine, although it is estimated to be around 250,000. Prior to the mid-1970s, Spain, Mauritania, and Morocco claimed ownership of all or part of the Western Sahara. In 1975, 350,000 Moroccan civilians backed by King Hassan II marched into the northern part of Western Sahara to claim the territory for Morocco. The massive demonstration is remembered as Green March Day. In an attempt to establish the Western Sahara as an independent nation, a guerilla group called the Polisario formed in 1973. The Polisario have historically received financial support from the Algerian government, which has economic interest in the valuable phosphates within the territory. In 1979, the Polisario convinced Mauritania to relinquish its claims on Western Sahara; Spain had already done the same. Morocco is now the only country that claims ownership of the territory. Since 1974 several United Nations referendums have been set to allow the Saharawi population to vote on whether they prefer independence or annexation to Morocco. Each time, the Moroccan government has found reason to postpone the vote, and the territory remains in dispute.

Urbanism, Architecture, and the Use of Space

The eclectic influence of many cultures is strikingly apparent in Moroccan architecture. Typical of all cities is the medina, a large walled area that encloses houses and shops. Medina structures with Arabic-style arches and crenellated walls are usually found in the oldest parts of town. Some buildings within the medina are centuries old, while others are relatively new. Units inside have a wide range of modernity in electricity, water, and sewage services. Other parts of town are constructed like French villages with European-style townhouses and modern plumbing. Also found in every city are traditional Arab mosques, most of which are tall buildings with ornamental geometric patterns covering the doors and walls. In homes, there is a drastic difference between the inside and outside of the building, reflecting the differences Moroccans perceive between public and private life. The outside may be a neglected cement block with a simple door, while inside lie beautiful, ornately decorated rooms. The furniture in homes is usually floor level with plush pillows lining the walls. People come here to eat and lounge, and choose a decorating style that shows the relaxed privacy and intimacy only available in the home.

Food and Economy

Food in Daily Life. Two of the most basic foods in Moroccan daily life are couscous and harira soup. Couscous, a dish made with granulated seminola grains, is usually topped with mutton, veal, or beef and a variety of vegetables such as tomatoes, turnips, and pimentos. It is eaten by all sectors of society, and may be referred to as the national dish. The national soup, harira, is a thick paste that comes in many varieties, although it is classically made from water, bouillon, beef or mutton, onions, saffron, walnuts, and salt. Figs and dates are among the most common fruits eaten on a daily basis. Breakfast in Morocco may consist of bread served with olive oil or butter, and coffee or mint tea. Schools and businesses close at noon each day for two to three hours for a midday meal. A traditional dish that may be served during this time is tajine, a steam-cooked stew made of meat and vegetables in a spicy broth. A light dinner of harira soup and bread is commonly eaten in the evening. Cakes and desserts made of fruits and marzipan, a sweet almond paste, are sold in pastry shops and on the streets. Imported foods that are not typically part of the traditional Moroccan diet are available in major cities at French-style street markets. As dictated by Islamic law, Muslims do not partake of any alcoholic beverages.

Food Customs at Ceremonial Occasions. Moroccans are famous for their hospitality and proudly serve their guests as much food as they can afford. It is considered disgraceful to allow guests to leave a meal unsatisfied. A specialty dish commonly prepared for ceremonial occasions is pastilla, a layered pastry filled with pigeon, eggs, and nuts, topped with cinnamon and sugar. Another specialty dish is mechoui, a whole roasted lamb or calf, usually stuffed with couscous or other fillings. In Moroccan homes, families and their guests eat from a communal bowl, usually without utensils, while seated on the floor. Hearty Moroccan eating habits come to a halt during the thirty days of Ramadan, when every Islamic person in the country must fast from dawn until dusk. Moroccans seen eating or drinking during daylight hours in Ramadan may be arrested. During this time, every house prepares harira soup to be eaten as the first meal when the sun goes down. Late at night, a main meal with several dishes is served.

Basic Economy. Agriculture and forestry form the basis of Morocco's economy. Barley, wheat, citrus, vegetables, olives, and livestock are produced for subsistence and for trade. Since gaining its independence, the state has owned most of Morocco's major industries. In 1993, however, Morocco started a new stage of privatization, attempting to encourage international investors. The government authorized the transfer of 112 enterprises75 companies and 37 hotelsto the private sector. The International Monetary Fund and the World Bank are supporting steps to reform the economy; progress is slow, however, and Morocco remains a heavily indebted developing country.

Commercial Activities. Street markets with local foods and handicrafts, including carpets, traditional dress, pottery, jewelry, and carved wood, can be found in every major city. Intense haggling over the price of most of these goods is the local custom. Maintaining good personal relations with everyone is very important as favors, bribes, kickbacks, and connections all come into play when making the final deal. In the Rif Mountains, large quantities of marijuana, called kif, are grown for profit. Drug trafficking of marijuana and cocaine is on the rise for both domestic and international drug markets.

Major Industries. Morocco is the world leader in the production and exportation of phosphates, with three-quarters of the world's reserves. Other major industrial activities include rock mining, food processing, construction, and the manufacturing of leather goods, mineral ores, and textiles. A significant amount of foreign exchange revenue is brought in by Morocco's tourist industry. Because of the rich cultural and historic heritage and renowned hospitality of the people, tourism is growing rapidly.

Trade. Morocco's primary exports are phosphates and phosphoric acid, citrus fruit, wheat, fish, and minerals. The products go primarily to the members of the European Union (EU), Japan, the United States, Libya, and India. The primary imports are industrial machinery, foods, and fuel. Morocco's primary importers are the EU, the United States, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Russia. Morocco is a member of the World Trade Organization and the Arab League and is an associate member of the EU.

Division of Labor. Unemployment and underemployment are big problems for the unskilled and uneducated. There are a large number of beggars, and 13 percent of all Moroccans fall below the poverty line. Uneducated individuals who have risen slightly above the poverty level have most likely learned a specific trade or skill. For example, a man who learns to become a stone carver provides himself with lifelong work. Uneducated women may find employment by providing domestic services to families other than their own. Those who are fortunate enough to receive university degrees may become doctors, lawyers, university professors, or other professionals. People of the middle and upper classes do not perform any physical labor, and would consider it lowering themselves to do any of their own housework. Physical work must be left to provide jobs for those who have no alternative source of employment.

Social Stratification

Classes and Castes. A wide gap exists between the very rich and the very poor. A strong belief in fatalism, that things are meant to be exactly as they are, and the Islamic principal of giving to those in need, lends to the acceptance of social and economic inequality. At the top level of the class system exists the monarch and royal family, members of the government, and a group of very wealthy Moroccans who do not work. They are joined by wholesale merchants and the owners of large manufacturing, industrial, or international trading companies. The upper class often claims to be Arab, although there are as few pure Arabs as there are pure Berbers remaining. An upper middle and middle class is comprised of professionals, mostly educated in Europe. Another group, called Sherfa, are those who claim descent from the prophet Muhammad. Sherfa typically do not work, and those who have no inherited wealth live off the alms of others. A relatively new class, referred to as the Muhajerin, or emigrants, is comprised of nearly 2 million Moroccans who live and work abroad, in order to send their wages back to support their families in Morocco. Many of the Muhajerin are not likely to ever return to their native country. Berber farmers in the countryside have little access to the education and social climbing available to those in larger cities. Most remain poor and are looked down upon. Jews and other foreigners generally prosper, while sub-Saharan black Africans are often discriminated against.

Symbols of Social Stratification. The number of languages spoken and the proficiency acquired are primary identifiers of social class in Morocco. Well-spoken French is perceived as a characteristic of a refined, sophisticated individual. The inability to speak any French usually signifies a lack of education. Fluency in Arabic is accepted, and rather expected of any respectable individual, while those who speak only Berber dialects are looked down upon. Other symbols of status are headgear and clothing. Moroccans have occasion to wear both traditional and Western clothing, therefore it is not the style of the clothes, but rather the quality of what is being worn that symbolizes one's status. For example, the jellaba, the traditional one-piece hooded garment worn by both men and women, comes in many varieties. Those of a higher class have theirs hand made by a tailor with intricate needlework and fine fabric. The jellaba is also available at corner shops at a much lower quality. Among the rural poor a knit cap is worn, which would never be placed on the head of an upper- or middle-class man. Turbans worn by Berber men are often white while those of Arab men are orange. A more traditional, perhaps ceremonial, hat is the fez, worn by older upper-class men. Women who wish to show that they are Islamic fundamentalist cover their heads to the hairline with a scarf or the hood of the jellaba when in public. Young women are increasingly challenging traditions such as this, some even daring to sit in public cafés and smoke cigarettes with uncovered heads.

Political Life

Government. The Kingdom of Morocco developed a constitutional monarchy based on Islamic law and French and Spanish civil law systems soon after receiving independence. The three branches of the government are the executive, the legislative, and the judicial. The executive branch includes the chief of statethe hereditary position held for life by the kingthe prime minister, and a council of ministers, who are appointed by the king. The legislative branch consists of a bicameral parliament with a Chamber of Counselors and a Chamber of Representatives. The 270 members of the Chamber of Counselors are selected by local councils, professional organizations, and labor syndicates for nine-year terms. The 325 members of the Chamber of Representative are elected by popular vote for six-year terms. A judicial branch, consisting of a Supreme Court of Judges, is presided over by the monarch. Administration is further divided into thirty-seven provinces. Provincial governors are appointed by the king and answer to the central government.

Leadership and Political Officials. The successor to Mohammed V, the first king of the independent Morocco, was his son Hassan II. Upon taking the throne in 1961, Hassan II agreed to recognize the Royal Charter proclaimed by his father, which outlined steps for establishing a constitutional monarchy. Ruling for more than thirty-eight years, King Hassan II was one of the longest serving monarchs in the entire Arab world. In July 1999, King Hassan II died of heart failure at the age of seventy. Mohammed VI, the thirty-five-year-old son of Hassan II, took the throne in 1999 and became the eighteenth king of the Alaouite dynasty.

In Morocco today there are an abundance of political parties, most of which belong to one of two major groupings. The National Entete is the coalition of rightist political parties that was created in 1993 by the National Popular Movement, the Social Democratic Movement, and the Constitutional Union. The Democratic Bloc, the opposition or leftist coalition created in 1992, comprises the Istiqlal Party, the Socialist Union of Popular Forces, the Party of Progress and Socialism, and the Organization of Democratic Popular Action. There are about a dozen Islamic fundamentalist political parties. These groups are not legal although they are unofficially tolerated. Several independent parties also exist. Relations between the king and the many parties have often been stormy, resulting in several attempts at restructuring political control.

Social Problems and Control. The first constitution in 1962 favored a strong monarchy, subordination of all other political institutions to it, and minimal influence from political parties. This constitution was not well accepted and was followed by a period of civil unrest and student riots. In June 1965 the king responded by invoking a state of emergency and assumed all legislative and executive powers. A new government was created with no political parties. In July 1970 the state of emergency ended when the king submitted to referendum a new constitution with an even stronger monarchy. Following the political changes, two unsuccessful military coup attempts took place, one in 1971 and one in 1972. The king responded with another constitution, which increased the number of directly appointed parliamentary representatives. In the early 1990s opposition parties once again began calling for democratization of Morocco's political institutions. The king responded with yet another constitution, this time integrating the opposition parties to a greater degree than ever before. Nevertheless, requests for integration from the opposition have still not been met entirely.

Military Activity. The Moroccan Royal Armed Forces include the Army, Navy, Air Force, Gendarmerie, and Auxiliary Forces. The king is the commander in chief of all armed forces. In 19971998, military expenditures were about US $1.36 million, or 3.8 percent of the national gross domestic product. Since the mid-1970s the Moroccan military has been involved in the ongoing war with the Western Sahara guerilla group, the Polisario.

Social Welfare and Change Programs

Pressure from the French and other European governments to investigate human rights violations against the Saharawi people in Western Sahara have yielded positive results. In eagerness to be accepted as an EU member country, and to divert international attention on the issue, the Moroccan government has taken action. In 1990 King Hassan II created a Consultative Council on Human Rights, composed of representatives from the government and opposition political parties. The council made an offer to provide compensation to the victims of abusive detention and the families of the disappeared. Since King Muhammad VI came to power in 1999, sixty-eight human rights abuse cases have been settled; the council, however, has taken nearly six thousand complaints. Compensation ranged from US $100,000 to US $250,000 per claimant. Many cases remain unresolved, but the council is reacting in a slow and careful manner, attempting to prevent a backlash from conservative forces in the government.

Nongovernmental Organizations and Other Associations

Most of the nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in Morocco came to the country in the early 1990s. The monarch's opening to human rights issues resulted in an inflow of NGOs, especially those concerned with the treatment of the Saharawi people. In 1994 the monarch allowed Human Rights Watch to conduct a fact-finding investigation on violations of human rights and to publicize the results. Some of the major NGOs active in the country include the Moroccan Organization of Human Rights, the Moroccan League for the Defense of Human Rights, and the Moroccan Association of Human Rights. Amnesty International has chapters located in Casablanca, Rabat, and Marrakech, although it is not officially recognized by the central government.

Gender Roles and Statuses

Division of Labor by Gender. In the home, a gender-based hierarchy allows male children far greater freedom and opportunity than female children. Girls as young as four and five are expected to help with household chores and to care for their younger siblings. Cooking, cleaning, and child rearing are the traditional duties assigned to women. Men who are not formally educated find work in a range of positions from taxi driver to artisan to tour guide. Educated men are the rulers of the country and with the right connections may hold any position they wish. Women in higher socioeconomic sectors have greater access to education, resulting in a growing number of female doctors, lawyers, and university professors.

The Relative Status of Women and Men. In almost every aspect of Moroccan life, the status of men is higher than that of women. For the most part, women remain in private, domestic places, and are subject to ridicule and harassment by men in public life on the streets. Worship in mosques is generally reserved for men and all Muslim leaders are male. A few hours, however, are set aside each week to allow women to worship. Within the family, the maintained virginity of a young woman is guarded, as it is vital to her acceptance for marriage. On the other hand, male sexual activity before marriage is regarded as normal. Life is both socially and economically difficult for women with no husband and no education. Female prostitution in the country is widespread.

Marriage, Family, and Kinship

Marriage. Parents still have considerable influence over the choice of their children's spouse, although in some less traditional families this practice is changing. Once a person with the appropriate economic and family background has been agreed upon, the groom offers a bride-price to the family of the bride-to-be. In return, the bride's family negotiates a dowry with the groom's family, and assures them that her virginity is intact. Weddings take place during summer months, and usually last for two or three days, depending on the financial circumstances. At traditional weddings, the bride is carried to the groom on a table, ornately decorated with henna-stained hands and feet. Islamic law dictates that Muslim women must marry Muslim men; it is acceptable, however, for a Muslim man to take a non-Muslim woman as his wife. If divorce occurs, it is likely to be instigated by the man, as a divorced woman has little chance to remarry and may have a difficult time providing for herself.

Domestic Unit. The extended family is of utmost importance as it is a source of status and reputation as well as financial support. One's personal dignity and honor are an extension of the family name. The concept of hshuma, or shame, is spread to the entire family if one member of the family is known to have misbehaved. Therefore, there is great pressure to protect the reputation of all members of the family. Moroccans view married life as the only normal way for adults to live, and the idea of living alone is abhorrent. Polygamy is allowed under Islam, although it is rarely practiced. In such cases, the wives may live together in one house, or depending on the family's economic status, each wife may reside in her own dwelling with her offspring.


Infant Care. Most women still give birth at home with the help of a midwife or other female family members. Modern-style births in hospitals and clinics are becoming available in major cities, but having a child at home is still the norm. Breast-feeding is practiced by almost all women as it is the healthiest and most economic source of nutrition.

Child Rearing and Education. Elementary schools teach subjects in Arabic until the third grade, when education becomes bilingual in both Arabic and French. Officially, education is mandatory from age seven to age thirteen for both girls and boys. Girls, however, are often taken out of school at a young age to assist the older women in their families with domestic duties, especially among the lower socioeconomic sectors. By the end of secondary school, more than three-quarters of the students enrolled are boys.

Higher Education. There are thirteen universities in Morocco with roughly 250,000 students enrolled in all. Both public and private education is available. Public education is free to all citizens through the first undergraduate degree. Wealthy Moroccans often send their children to be educated abroad, usually in Europe. University education is highly valued and is a means to allow individuals to raise their social status and standard of living.


When greeting one another, Moroccans usually shake hands and touch their heart to show personal warmth. Segregation of the sexes is very important in almost every social situation outside the home. Only very modern, Westernized women are active in public life. In the Berber countryside, the appearance of women in public may be slightly more common than in major cities. Traditionally, elders are respected and honored by the entire community.

Moroccans have a very lax concept of punctuality. Dates, appointments, business meetings, and people tend to run behind schedule without concern. Saving face, especially in public, is of the utmost importance and may lead to white lies being told to cover any potentially embarrassing or shameful situation. When tensions do occur, yelling, expressing frustration, and generally creating a public scene is acceptable and quite ordinary.


Religious Beliefs. Nearly 99 percent of Moroccans are Sunni Muslim. Moroccans are tolerant of the small percentage of Christians and Jews living in the country, believing they worship the same God. The five main pillars observed by Muslims are: making a public profession of faith, praying five times a day according to the position of the sun, fasting during the month of Ramadan, giving alms to those in need, and making a pilgrimage to Mecca once in a lifetime. Moroccans have added a few unique features of their own to traditional Islam. Two of these features, whose origins are likely attributed to Berber religious practices, are Baraka and Murabitin. Baraka refers to spiritual power that manifests in the form of a blessing or good fortune, similar to the concept of good karma in Buddhism. Murabitin are the individuals who possess good Baraka, similar to the concept of sainthood in Catholicism. Baraka may rub off on individuals who spend time with Murabitin. Also, most villages and medina neighborhoods have a fortune-teller who will charge to offer a vision, provide a remedy, or put a curse on someone. When news travels that pagan practices are taking place, Muslim missionaries will travel to the area to stop them and bring the people back to Islam.

Religious Practitioners. The king claims to be a descendant of the prophet Muhammad, the founder of Islam. He also holds the position of the religious head of state, and all local religious leaders are subordinate to his decisions.

Rituals and Holy Places. Small dome-shaped temples are constructed for the Murabitin after their death, as they are thought to continue exuding spiritual power. Individuals seeking blessings, such as a woman who wishes to become pregnant, make pilgrimages to Murabitin temples. Muslim mosques are found nationwide. Traditionally, non-Muslim foreigners are not allowed inside mosques. The Mosque Hassan II in Casablanca, however, allows foreigners to tour some facilities.

Death and the Afterlife. Because of the low number of doctors and medical clinics in the country, families in Morocco frequently face death. According to Islam, a body must be buried within twenty-four hours after death. The family of the deceased prepares the body at home, perhaps with the help of an individual in the community experienced in caring for the dead. Men are designated to chant Muslim professions of faith as they carry the body to the burial site. Moroccan women wear white during the grieving period, and must, by Islamic law, abstain from sex for forty days following the death of a spouse. Bodies are buried on the in right side with the head facing south toward Mecca. In this position they are ready for resurrection by Allah on Judgment Day. It will then be decided if the soul will enter heaven or hell. A day or two after the funeral, a formal meal is served while passages from the Koran, the sacred book of Islam, are read aloud. A spirit of charity and giving are important to all during the condolence period.

Medicine and Health Care

Hepatitis A and B, intestinal parasites, and occasional outbreaks of cholera are all health problems in Morocco. HIV and AIDS are present and rapidly spreading. Both urban and rural areas suffer from a shortage of health-care centers, hospitals, and staff. Existing biomedical equipment is often inefficient or outdated. In 1987 a national vaccination project was launched with the goal of immunizing all children under one year of age and all women of procreating age. The Ministry of Health also launched the First Project of Social Priorities to set up health-care centers that would provide education in nutrition, hygiene, and birth control in the thirteen poorest provinces. In the late 1990s life expectancy at birth was seventy years for women and sixty-six for men. Morocco's health-care and life expectancy rates are the lowest in the three countries of the Maghrib, but higher than those of the sub-Saharan African countries to the south.

Secular Celebrations

Moroccans celebrate a number of national holidays and festivals each year. National Day is held on 3 March, in celebration of King Hassan II's accession to the throne in 1961. Independence Day is celebrated on 18 November, commemorating the end of the French Protectorate in Morocco. On 6 November, Green March Day is celebrated to commemorate the Moroccan march into Western Sahara in 1975. Among the most popular festivals are: the National Folklore Festival, held in Marrakech each June; a Festival of Roses, held in El Kelaa des M'Gouna each May; and a Date Festival, held in Erfoud each October.

The Arts and Humanities

Support for the Arts. International tourists are the primary supporters of most Moroccan arts, which include handcrafted pottery, rugs, jewelry, drums, and carved stone. A number of museums that exhibit Moroccan paintings and sculptures are supported by the state. Every year, the state awards the Moroccan Book Prize and the Grand Prize of National Merit.

Literature. Some of the most famous figures in Moroccan legends and literature are Aisha Qandisha and the Djinns, known in English as genies. The legend of Aisha Qandisha is that of a beautiful seductive woman with the legs of a goat, who lives in riverbeds and flames. Aisha often appears to men in dreams and may leave them impotent for life. Moroccan children fear her presence. According to genie legends, these spirits frequent places associated with water to create mischief in human affairs. The Berber tradition holds a long history of storytelling and song.

Performance Arts. Music making is very common at festivals or whenever people are gathered for social events. Men and women sing while drums and stringed instruments, such as the lotar and the kamanja, are played. Musical gatherings are often accompanied by group folk dancing. Women and girls are believed to be susceptible to slipping into a trance while dancing to the rhythm of the drum. Snake charmers perform for tourists in major cities.

The State of the Physical and Social Sciences

In the area of social sciences, Morocco excels in the area of linguistics and human languages. The Arabic Language Institute in Fez (ALIF) offers courses in Modern Standard Arabic as well as Colloquial Moroccan Arabic. ALIF also offers cultural tours, lectures, and classes on Maghreb literature, media, and Islam. The University of Mohamed V and the Al Akhawayn University have schools of humanities and social sciences that offer Master of Arts degrees in international studies and diplomacy as well as advanced language programs. Morocco's largest project in the area of physical sciences is a late-Pliocene vertebrate excavation site, located in Ahl al Oughlam. Ahl al Oughlam has yielded eighty species of vertebrates, mainly mammals and birds. The site was discovered in 1985 and has been under excavation since 1989; it is by far the richest late-Neogene vertebrate in North Africa. Excavations at Ahl al Oughlam are part of a Franco-Moroccan cooperation program between the Casablanca Program of the National Institute of Science and Archeology (INSAP) of Rabat, Morocco, and the Mission Littoral of the French Minister of Foreign Affairs.


Abun-Nasr, Jamil. A History of the Maghrib, 1987.

Alemseged, Z. and D. Geraads. " Theropithecus atlanticus (Cercopithecidae, Mammalia) from the late Pliocene of Ahl al Oughlam, Casablanca, Morocco." J. Hum. Evol. 34: 609621, 1998.

Bacon, Dan. Lonely Planet Moroccan Arabic Phrasebook, 1999.

Bendourou, Omar. "Power and Opposition in Morocco." Journal of Democracy 7 (3): 108122, 1993.

Bentahila, Abdeli. Language Attitudes among Arabic French Bilinguals in Morocco, 1983.

Dwyer, Kevin. Arab Voices: The Human Rights Debate in the Middle East, 1991.

Fernea, Elizabeth. A Street in Marrakech, 1988.

Gibb, Hamilton A. R. Mohammedanism: A Historical Survey, 1969.

Hargraves, Orin. Cultureshock: A Guide to Customs and Etiquette, 1999.

Mernissi, Fatima. Beyond the Veil, 1987.

Munson, Henry. Religion and Power in Morocco, 1993.

Nydell, Margaret K. Understanding Arabs: A Guide for Westerners, 1996.

Rabinow, Paul. Reflection on Fieldwork in Morocco, 1978.

Wolfert, Paula. Couscous and Other Good Foods from Morocco, 1987.

Web Sites

ArabNet. Morocco Culture. Electronic document. Available from

Meda Democracy Evaluation. Human Rights and Democracy in Morocco. Electronic document. Available from

University of Würzburg. Morocco Index: Constitutional Background. Electronic document. Available from

Virtual Tours of the Maghre: Morocco. Electronic document. Available from

Amanda Jill Johnston

About this article

The United Kingdom of Morocco

Updated About content Print Article


The United Kingdom of Morocco