Background Notes: Morocco

Contributed By RealAdventures

Most Moroccans are Sunni Muslims of Arab, Berber, or mixed Arab-Berber stock. The Arabs invaded Morocco in the 7th and 11th centuries and established their culture there. Morocco's Jewish minority numbers about 7,000. Most of the 100,000 foreign residents are French or Spanish; many are teachers or technicians.

Arabic is the official and principal language, but French is widely used in government and commerce, except in the northern zone, where Spanish is spoken. In rural areas, any of three Berber dialects--which are not mutually intelligible--are spoken.

Most people live west of the Atlas Mountains, a range which insulates the country from the Sahara Desert. Casa-blanca is the center of commerce and industry and the leading port; Rabat is the seat of government; Tangier is the gateway to Morocco from Spain and also a major port; "Arab" Fez is the cultural and religious center; and "Berber" Marrakech is a major tourist center.

Education is free and compulsory through primary school. Education now surpasses national defense as the largest item in the government's budget. Of Morocco's several universities, the most important is Muhammad V University in Rabat. Its students study medicine, law, liberal arts, and the sciences. Most university students benefit from government stipends. In Fez, Morocco's religious capital, students from around the world study Islamic law and theology at Karaouine University, which is more than 1,000 years old.

Morocco's strategic location has shaped its history. Beginning with the Phoenicians, many foreigners have come to this area, some to trade or settle, others as invaders sweeping the land and dominating it. Romans, Vandals, Visigoths, and Byzantine Greeks successively ruled the area. Arab forces began occupying Morocco in the seventh century A.D., bringing with them Arab civilization and Islam. Other invasions followed. The Alaouite dynasty, which has ruled Morocco since 1649, claims descent from the Prophet Muhammad.

Morocco's location and resources led to early competition among European powers in Africa, beginning with successful Portu-guese efforts to control the Atlantic coast in the 15th century. France showed a strong interest in Morocco as early as 1830. Following recognition by the United Kingdom in 1904 of France's "sphere of influence" in Morocco, the Algeciras Conference (1906) formalized France's "special position" and entrusted policing of Morocco to France and Spain jointly. The Treaty of Fez (1912) made Morocco a protectorate of France. By the same treaty, Spain assumed the role of protecting power over the northern and southern (Saharan) zones.

The first nationalist political parties based their arguments for Moroccan independence on such World War II declarations as the Atlantic Charter (a joint statement issued by President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Prime Minister Winston Churchill that sets forth, among other things, the right of all people to choose the form of government under which they will live). A manifesto of the Istiqlal (Independence) Party in 1944 was one of the earliest public demands for independence. That party subsequently provided most of the leadership for the nationalist movement.

France's exile of the highly respected Sultan Muhammad V in 1953 and his replacement by the unpopular Muhammad Ben Aarafa, whose reign was perceived as illegitimate, sparked active opposition to the French protectorate. France allowed Muhammad V to return in 1955; negotiations leading to independence began the following year.

The Kingdom of Morocco recovered its political independence from France on March 2, 1956. By agreements with Spain in 1956 and 1958, Moroccan control over certain Spanish-ruled areas was restored (see box, p. 2). On October 29, 1956, the signing of the Tangier Protocol politically reintegrated the former international zone. Spain, however, retained control over the small enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla in the north and the enclave of Ifni in the south. Ifni became part of Morocco in 1969.

After the death of his father, Muhammad V, King Hassan II succeeded to the throne on March 3, 1961. He recognized the Royal Charter proclaimed by his father on May 8, 1958, which outlined steps toward establishing a constitutional monarchy.

A constitution providing for representative government under a strong monarchy was approved by referendum on December 7, 1962. Elections were held in 1963. In June 1965, following student riots and civil unrest, the king invoked article 35 of the constitution and declared a "state of exception." He assumed all legislative and executive powers and named a new government not based on political parties. In July 1970, King Hassan submitted to referendum a new constitution providing for an even stronger monarchy. Its approval and the subsequent elections formally ended the 1965 "state of exception."

An unsuccessful coup on July 10, 1971, organized by senior military officers at Skhirat, was followed by Morocco's third constitution, approved by popular referendum in early 1972. The new constitution kept King Hassan's powers intact but enlarged from one-third to two-thirds the number of directly elected parliamentary representatives.

In August 1972, after a second coup attempt by Moroccan Air Force dissidents and the King's powerful Interior Minister General Oufkir, relations between the opposition and the Crown deteriorated, due to disagreement on opposition participation in elections. The king subsequently appointed a series of nonpolitical cabinets responsible only to him.

Stemming from cooperation on the Sahara issue (see box), rapprochement between the king and the opposition began in mid-1974 and led to elections for local councils, with opposition party participation, in November 1976. Parliamentary elections, deferred because of tensions with Spain and Algeria over the Sahara dispute, were held in 1977, resulting in a two-thirds majority for the government- backed independent candidates and their allies, the Istiqlal and the Popular Movement. The Constitutional Union finished first in local elections in June 1983 and parliamentary elections in 1984.

The King is head of state, and his son, the Crown Prince, is heir apparent. Under the 1992 constitution, a prime minister appointed by the King is head of government. Of the 333-seat unicameral parliament, two-thirds of the members are chosen directly by universal adult suffrage; the remaining one-third is indirectly elected by community councils and business, labor, artisan, and farmer groups. The parliament's powers, though limited, were expanded by the 1992 constitution and include budgetary matters, approving bills presented by the King and establishing ad hoc commissions of inquiry to investigate actions by the executive branch.

The highest court in the independent judicial structure is the Supreme Court, the judges of which are appointed by the King. Each province is headed by a governor appointed by the King. Morocco has divided the former Spanish Sahara into four provinces.

The pro-government RNI and UC parties won the largest number of seats in local elections in 1992. In 1993, parliamentary elections gave 50% of the vote to the six parties of the previous governing coalition but the two largest opposition parties, the Istiqlal and USFP, which ran common candidates, received the highest individual party vote totals. Together they took 41% of the seats contested (four smaller parties and independents won the remainder). These elections demonstrated a significant increase in the opposition's representation. The expansion of parliament's authority under the September 1992 constitution was another indicator of Morocco's political liberalization.

The most prominent political parties are:

-- The Istiqlal (PI), Morocco's oldest political party, was founded in 1944 and helped lead the fight for independence from French and Spanish colonial domination. The party retains its strongly nationalistic philosophy and also is among the most active on pan-Arab issues.

-- The Union of Socialist Popular Forces (USFP), established in 1974, is to the left of the Istiqlal, and its leaders present it as being in the tradition of the social democratic parties in Europe. It is strong in urban centers, among organized labor, and among youth groups.

-- The Berber-based Popular Movement (MP) and breakaway National Popular Movement (MNP) have as their main issue the promotion and protection of Berber culture and interests.

-- The National Rally of Independents (RNI) was founded in 1977 by then Prime Minister Ahmed Osman, who continues to lead the party.

-- The Center Right Constitutional Union Party (UC), was founded in April 1983. Its president is former Prime Minister Maati Bouabid.

-- The National Democratic Party (PND) was formed in 1981 when it broke off from the RNI. Led by former cabinet member Arsalane El Jadidi, it is principally rural based.

-- The Party of Progress and Socialism (PPS) is the latest label for the small Moroccan communist party. Although tolerated, the party has been officially illegal at various times since its founding in 1943, the latest from 1969 to late 1974. The party bases its main support in urban areas and among younger, disaffected elements of society, and is led by Secretary General Ali Yata.

-- The Organization for Democratic and Popular Action (OADP), has traditionally adopted strongly leftist positions on most domestic issues. However, like all the other Moroccan parties, it strongly sup-ports Morocco's claim of sovereignty over the Western Sahara. Party Secretary General Mohammed Ben Said leads the formation.

The Moroccan economy is becoming increasingly diversified. Morocco has the largest phosphate reserves in the world. Other mineral resources include copper, fluorine, lead, barite, iron, and anthracite. It has a diverse agricultural (including fishing) sector, a large tourist industry, a growing manufacturing sector (especially clothing), and considerable inflows of funds from Moroccans working abroad.

The export of phosphates and its derivatives account for more than a quarter of Moroccan exports. Morocco is increasing production of phosphoric acid and fertilizers. About one-third of the Moroccan manufacturing sector is related to phosphates and one-third to agriculture with virtually all of the remaining third divided between textiles, clothing, and metalworking. The clothing sector, in particular, has shown consistently strong growth over the last few years as foreign companies established large-scale operations geared toward exporting garments to Europe.

Agriculture plays a leading role in the Moroccan economy, generating between 15 and 20% of GDP (depending on the harvest) and employing about 40% of the work force. Morocco is a net exporter of fruits and vegetables, and a net importer of cereals; over 90% of agriculture is rain-fed. Fishing is also important to Morocco, employing more than 100,000 people, including the canning and packing industries, and accounting for $520 million of exports in 1992.

The Moroccan Government has pursued an economic reform program supported by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank since the early 1980s. It has restrained spending, revised the tax system, reformed the banking system, followed appropriate monetary policies, lifted import restrictions, lowered tariffs, and liberalized the foreign exchange regime. Over the last decade, the reforms have contributed to rising per capita incomes, lower inflation, and narrower fiscal and current account deficits.

Nonetheless, population growth, rural-urban migration, and higher labor force participation rates (particularly among women) are contributing to rising urban unemployment, in spite of generally strong economic growth and job creation. The rapid increase in secondary and university (but not primary) enrollments in the 1980s exceeded the economy's capacity to create jobs, resulting in rising unemployment rates for graduates, which are about 33% for high school graduates and 11% for university graduates.

As part of its IMF program, the Moroccan Government has reduced its budget deficit. The central bank operates as an independent entity, and, following economic reform measures, has been remarkably successful in restoring domestic and international confidence in the value of the kingdom's currency. The government has made the dirham convertible for an increasing number of transactions over the last few years. The central bank sets the exchange rate for the dirham against a basket of currencies of its principal trading partners. The rate against the basket has been steady since a 9% devaluation in May 1990, with changes against the dollar being due to movement of the dollar against major European currencies.

The Moroccan Government actively encourages foreign investment. It has opened virtually all sectors (other than those reserved for the state such as air transport and public utilities) to foreign investment. The government also has made a number of regulatory changes designed to improve the investment climate in recent years, including tax breaks, streamlined approval procedures, and access to foreign exchange for the repatriation of dividends and invested capital.

Since Morocco attained independence, its foreign policy has been sympathetic to the West. Long-term goals are to strengthen its influence in the Arab world and Africa and to maintain its close relations with Europe and the United States. It is a member of the UN and some of its specialized and related agencies, including the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Morocco served a two- year term as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council from January 1992 to December 1993. It also belongs to the Arab League; Arab Maghreb Union (UMA); Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC); INTELSAT; and Non-Aligned Movement.

The major issue in Morocco's foreign relations is its claim to the Western Sahara relinquished by Spain in 1976. This has involved the country in a costly war against the Polisario forces seeking creation of an independent Saharan Republic. Since September 1991, Moroccan and Polisario forces have observed a cease-fire, established under the UN Secretary General's plan to hold a referendum in the Western Sahara in order to resolve the dispute. No date has been set for holding the referendum because of differences between the two parties over voter eligibility, although identification of potential voters by the UN has begun. The U.S. Government fully supports the efforts of the UN Secretary General to work with the parties to overcome these differences.

In 1984, Morocco signed a Treaty of Union with Libya, primarily aimed at ensuring a cessation of Libyan support for the Polisario. This disturbed some of Morocco's traditional friends, including the United States. Morocco described the union as a limited tactical alliance, and the King terminated the agreement in mid-1986.

Morocco adheres to sanctions imposed by the UN Security Council on Libya in April 1992 in the wake of the Pan Am 103 bombing. Relations between Morocco and Algeria have improved in recent years, as reflected in the 1988 resumption of diplomatic relations and in King Hassan's 1992 ratification of the long-pending border agreement with Algeria.

Morocco continues to play a significant role in the search for peace in the Middle East, participating in the multilateral phase of the peace talks and urging Arab moderation in the bilateral phase. King Hassan is Acting Chairman of the Arab League until the next regular Arab League Summit and Chairman of the Organization of the Islamic Conference's (OIC) Jerusalem committee. In 1986, he took the daring step of inviting then-Israeli Prime Minister Peres for talks, becoming the second Arab leader to do so. Following the September 1993 signing of the Israeli- Palestinian Declaration of Principles, Morocco's economic ties and political contacts with Israel accelerated. In September 1994, Morocco and Israel announced the opening of liaison offices in each other's countries.

Morocco has expanded its regional role. In May 1989, the King hosted the Casablanca summit which reintegrated Egypt into the Arab fold and endorsed a moderate Palestinian approach to the peace process. In February 1989, Morocco played a leading role in the formation of the Arab Maghreb Union (UMA) made up of Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Mauritania, and Morocco. The UMA's formation owed much to the May 1988 restoration of diplomatic relations between Morocco and Algeria after a 13-year hiatus.

Morocco has close relations with Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf states, which have provided Morocco with substantial amounts of financial assistance. Morocco was the first Arab state to condemn Iraq's invasion of Kuwait and sent troops to help defend Saudi Arabia. Morocco follows the UN Security Council-imposed sanctions on Iraq. Morocco remains active in African affairs, contributing troops to the UN peace-keeping force in Somalia in 1992. The Moroccans have worked to promote reconciliation between the Angolan Government and UNITA.

Moroccans are proud to have recognized the Government of the United States in 1777. Formal U.S. relations with Morocco date from 1787, when the two nations negotiated a Treaty of Peace and Friendship. Renegotiated in 1836, it is still in force, constituting the longest unbroken treaty relationship in U.S. history.

U.S.-Moroccan relations are characterized by mutual respect and friendship. They were strengthened by King Hassan's visits to the United States in March 1963, February 1967, November 1978, and May and October 1982, and September 1991.

The U.S. and Morocco share key foreign policy objectives, such as promoting regional peace and development. Morocco's strategic location on the Strait of Gibraltar, its moderate and constructive positions on Middle East issues, its religious tolerance, and its past opposition to communist aggression are factors contributing to harmonious bilateral relations.

U.S. objectives include maintaining cordial and cooperative relations; promoting respect for human rights and continued- democratization; supporting Moroccan efforts to develop an increasingly effective administration; and aiding its domestic, social, and economic progress.

In addition to U.S. Navy port visits, Morocco has granted rights of transit through its airfields for U.S. forces and conducts joint exercises with various U.S. Armed Forces. The recently completed $225-million Voice of America (VOA) transmitter in Morocco will be the world's largest VOA transmitter.

Since independence, more than $1.5 billion in U.S. grants and loans has been provided to Morocco. Total U.S. economic and military assistance (foreign military funds, economic support funds, development assistance, and PL 480 loans) to Morocco has averaged around $100 million annually. The assistance programs are aimed at increasing the food supply, improving food distribution, reducing population growth, improving health care, promoting the private sector, and assisting Morocco in meeting its legitimate defense needs.

The Peace Corps has been active in Morocco for more than 30 years, and its program is among the largest in the world, with 100-140 volunteers in 1994. Peace Corps volunteers are involved in English language instruction, medical and veterinary care, sanitation, and environmental education.

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