Morocco (Arabic: pronunciation: al-magrib, literal translation: “place the sun sets; the west”) is a country located in northwestern Africa. Morocco is situated on the Atlantic Ocean on its west coast and the Mediterranean Sea on its northern coast, along the southern edge of the Strait of Gibraltar. Morocco shares its eastern border with Algeria and, though it has been closed since 1994, the border’s frontier is one of the longest closed borders in the world measuring at around 1,600 km. Located to Morocco’s south is Mauritania, as both countries maintain a border crossing point between each other. Morocco has a total land area of 710,850 square kilometers (274,460 square miles).
Morocco has a Mediterranean climate that becomes hotter further inland nearing the Sahara Desert. Winters along the coast are generally mild with temperatures along the coast ranging from 46°F to 63°F, though lows can reach below 32°F in the interior mountain areas. Summers are mostly mild, with temperatures along the coast ranging from 64°F to 82°F and can reach up to 95°F in the interior. In 2021, the mean annual temperature in the country was 65.26°F. Given these numbers, temperatures are variable throughout the country given its diverse terrains, being much cooler in the Atlas Mountains and warmer toward Western Sahara and the Sahara Desert.
Much of the country is mountainous along the coast, and further inland there are plateaus and mountain valleys that gradually become the Sahara Desert. Due to the extremes of mountainous land and desert, only about 16.8% of Morocco’s land is arable (2018 est.). Northeastern Morocco is also the site of various naturally-occurring earthquakes and rockslides, such as the landslide of April 1982 which affected over 12,216 people, according to the CIA World Factbook.
Morocco currently faces several environmental problems. Overgrazing, soil erosion, and unsustainable farming techniques have contributed to the process of desertification which threatens to eliminate much of Morocco’s arable land. The country is also affected by sand storms specifically in the southern provinces of Morocco.
The country has also been subject to periodic droughts and flash floods. Drinking water has also been limited by pollution from improperly-managed sewage and oil spills along the coast. As of 2020, 80% of Moroccans have reliable access to drinking water according to the World Bank, with this figure steadily increasing throughout the past decade and nearly all Moroccans living in urban areas having access to potable water. The World Bank also reports in a separate article, however, that natural disasters associated with water have become more frequent in recent years with the onset of climate change. While Morocco’s rainy season is set to extend from October through April —often resulting in devastating floods — the past decade has seen flooding of greater intensity and frequency. The new inability to predict flooding has made it difficult to predict and apply appropriate management solutions. Drought frequency and intensity—particularly in the Middle Atlas Mountains of Morocco, namely the Oum er Rbia watershed—have increased in the past decades. These are projected to worsen with the progression of climate change and have severely impacted water availability. Fire incidents have also been increasing in frequency, causing estimated losses in forest products of about US $1.8 million.
In response to these environmental issues, the National Office of Electricity and Potable Water (ONEP) has conducted several feasibility studies to select the best equipment to be used to treat incoming water and prevent further contamination. This office has also been looking into seawater desalination facilities to complement this effort. According to Minister of Equipment and Water Nizar Baraka, the country hopes to install approximately 20 desalination plants by 2030 to alleviate water-related issues.
In 2010, Morocco also announced the implementation of a National Charter for Environmental and Sustainable Development, the first African nation to do so. The charter outlined a blueprint to convert at least half of Morocco’s energy production to sustainable sources by 2030. Morocco has ratified the Paris Climate Agreement, and in November 2016 Morocco hosted the COP22 climate change conference to elaborate on the agreement in Marrakech.
Morocco has received recognition over the past several years for its progressive stance on sustainable and green energy in Africa, the Middle East and beyond. In July 2016, the kingdom banned the use of plastic bags; a few months later Africa’s first bike-share was launched in Morocco. The country has also invested heavily in solar energy and a “cloud fishing” initiative in an arid region of the country allows residents to harvest fog as a source of water. However, the government has received criticism for expropriating land in the Atlas Mountains for mining purposes. Thus, despite the positive attention Morocco has received for its proactive response to climate change, citizens have voiced opposition to what they feel is an exploitation of local natural resources. How these different interests will balance out remains to be seen. Thus far, the country has pledged to convert 50% of its electrical grid to renewable sources by 2050 (more on this under the Economy section).
Morocco’s location on the Mediterranean Sea has made it critically important throughout history. The seafaring Phoenicians expanded their influence to the contemporary country’s location by the 12th century BCE and trade networks to the western end of the Mediterranean. This development brought the indigenous Amazigh (translates to “the free people,” commonly referred to as Berber) population of Morocco into greater contact with the larger Mediterranean cultural network. The Phoenicians established a few small outposts at Chellah, Lixus and Mogador across modern-day Morocco. By the 5th century BCE, the Carthaginian Empire, centered in modern-day Tunisia, had taken control of the coastal regions of much of North Africa including Morocco. Following the fall of the Carthaginian Empire, the Romans annexed the territory in 40 CE and maintained nominal control over the coast until 429, when it was lost to the Germanic Vandal tribe.
The Introduction of Islam to Morocco
The conquest of the region by the Arabs in the 7th century began the conversion of the Amazigh people to Islam. The various Islamic empires appointed governors for their conquered territories throughout the Middle East, and the Amazigh population in Morocco faced high taxes and tribute demands as a result. The people grew increasingly frustrated with this treatment and launched a revolt in 740 CE that successfully expelled the Arab leaders but subsequently caused the region to unravel into a series of small, independent Amazigh states.
In the 900s, the Shia Fatimid dynasty rose to power in North Africa and successfully invaded Morocco, but quickly abandoned its hold on the western end of the Mediterranean to establish a new capital in Cairo, Egypt. The Amazigh once again regained control of the land and established strong dynasties including the Almoravids, Almohads, Marinids and Wattasids, that commanded the area until the 1550s.
The Foundation of Modern Morocco
As the expansion of Islam rose, new leadership in northern Morocco would create the stepping stones needed for the Morocco that stands today. In the late 700s, ‘Alid prince Idris I arrived in the town of Volubilis. His arrival catapulted the first official union between the Amazigh tribes (Berber tribes) and their Arabic-speaking Muslim counterparts. Thus, this marked the unification of northern Morocco as a ‘single state under a new ruler.‘ This came to fruition due to the marriage between Idris I and an Amazigh woman named Kanz, marking Idris I by many as the founding father of present-day Morocco. This intern-cultural marriage became an ideal model to emulate for future Moroccan dynasties, as it allowed the cementation of ties between the government and tribes. Due to this acceptance, Amazigh tribal unrest and conflict decreased tremendously compared to neighboring tribe-related conflicts such as in Algeria.
Morocco, the Ottomans, & the French
Unlike most countries in the Middle East, Morocco never came under the direct control of the Ottoman Turks. The Moroccans and Ottomans jointly expelled a Portuguese occupying force in 1578 at the Battle of Ksar El-Kebir (or the “Battle of the Three Kings”), and Ahmad al-Mansur became the Sultan of the Arab Saadi dynasty which had established its dominance in 1549. Ahmad al-Mansur brought unprecedented prosperity to the region, but his dynasty was divided among his sons following his death in 1603. In 1669, Moulay al-Rashid overthrew the last Saadi ruler in Morocco and united the country by founding the Arab Alaouite dynasty, which remains the current dynasty of the Kingdom of Morocco. In the mid-1800s, Morocco became increasingly influenced by European powers, specifically the French and Spanish. Neighboring Algeria became an official province of France in 1848, and small-scale battles with Spain in 1859 further weakened the ability of Morocco to resist European encroachment.
In the early 1900s, France attempted to establish protectorate status with Morocco, while Germany sought to increase its economic interests in the region and Spain its soft power. Germany and France engaged in a discussion over the status of Morocco, and the result was the Algeciras Conference of 1906 (more information in the Resources section below). The conference of various European powers—France, Germany, Spain, and also the US—allowed for joint control over Morocco between France and Spain. The Treaty of Fez in 1912 further established the country as a protectorate of France and gave the Spanish control over much of the northern coastline along the Strait of Gibraltar.
During the colonial period, Morocco (known at that time as the Cherifien empire) was divided from 1895 to 1912 by colonial powers into several zones administered by France (center) and Spain (north and south) while the city of Tangier was declared as an international zone administered by 12 powers. Morocco’s complex decolonization process was gradual and saw several negotiation processes with various colonial powers to regain its territorial integrity. In 1956, Morocco achieved independence from France and recuperated Tangier. That same year, Morocco launched negotiations with Spain, which led to its withdrawal from the northern part of the Kingdom (with the exception of the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla). Subsequently, Morocco negotiated the withdrawal of Spain from its remaining enclaves and territories in the south: Tarfaya in 1958 (Cintra Agreement), Sidi Ifni in 1969 (Fez Agreement) and the Saqia al Hamra and Oued Eddahab regions, known more as Western Sahara, in 1975, by virtue of the Madrid Agreements.
History & Government Resources
Morocco is a parliamentary constitutional monarchy, wherein the monarch holds honorific governmental powers, and governance is primarily carried out by a democratically elected parliament. Constitutional reforms in 2011 significantly limited the scope of the king’s power and enlarged that of the prime minister, transitioning Morocco from a more traditional monarchy to a hybrid government with significantly more democratic input. The king appoints the prime minister from the party that won the most seats in parliament, is formally the commander of the Moroccan armed forces and is a religious leader as the Commander of the Faithful. The current king of Morocco is King Mohammad VI, who has been in power since July 23, 1999.
The prime minister is the head of government, and answers to a bicameral parliament and an independent judiciary. The lower house of parliament, known as the House of Representatives, is elected directly for five-year terms, the majority through multi-member constituency party lists, and the remainder through national lists that contain only women. While many analysts cite the significant increase in demand for women’s legislators that this system creates, it alone still does not allow women full, equal inclusion into politics. In 2014, however, King Mohammad IV appointed the first female–identifying governor Zineb El Adaoui who governed the province of Kinetra, and later in 2021 went on to be appointed as president of the Court of Auditors. The upper house, known as the House of Councilors, comprised of 120 members, is elected to six-year terms through a variety of methods: 72 members are directly elected to represent different regions, 20 are elected by an electoral college in each region comprised of a variety of professionals in different fields, 8 are elected by an electoral college in each region comprised of professionals in the most prominent field in that region, and 20 are elected nationally by an electoral college made up of employees.
INTERNATIONAL AND REGIONAL ISSUES
Relations within Western Sahara and Algeria
Morocco currently claims and administers Western Sahara as part of its territory. All citizens in the territory have full Moroccan rights, enjoy Moroccan citizenship, and are represented in Moroccan elected bodies. Some Sahrawis, who are Hassaniya-speaking tribes typically of mixed Arab-Amazigh descent, however, reject Morocco’s claim to the territory; the population that maintains this belief is led by a group called the Polisario Front. The Polisario Front define themselves as a liberation movement fighting for sovereignty and aim to get independence and complete sovereignty for the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR).
The Polisario Front and Morocco successfully upheld a U.N. ceasefire for nearly 30 years. However, Brahim Ghali—who is regarded by the Polisario Front as the President of the Sahrawi Republic—declared an end to the previously-established ceasefire in November 2020. The conflict has resulted in a significant refugee population, specifically in the southern Algerian city of Tindouf where most of the 102,000 Sahrawi refugees are sheltered in state-run refugee camps.
The Western Sahara dispute with the Polisario Front, however, is believed by some to be a Morocco-Algeria issue with Western Sahara acting as a proxy. After Spain announced their support of Morocco regarding Western Sahara, for example, Algeria suspended a cooperation treaty with Spain. Historically, Algeria closed its border with Morocco following the outbreak of the Algerian civil war in 1994 and the border has since remained closed. Nevertheless, Morocco and Algeria have maintained diplomatic relations since resolving some of their issues over the status of Western Sahara in 1988.
Internationally, the recognition of Moroccan sovereignty over the territory has increased. In December 2020, the United States became the first country to recognize Moroccan sovereignty over the territory. In exchange, Morocco normalized relations with Israel as established in the Abraham Accords. The US then went on to open its first Moroccan embassy in Western Sahara. Furthermore, in October 2021, various Arab countries such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, and Jordan publicly declared their support for Morocco’s sovereignty over Western Sahara. Among other nations globally, Yemen, Kuwait, UAE, Oman, and also stated their stance in support of Morocco, hoping this will aid the need to find a “political and realistic solution.”
African Relations: African Union and ECOWAS
Another recent regional development is Morocco’s involvement in the African continent. In January 2017, Morocco was allowed to rejoin the African Union (AU) after a 33-year absence and obtained AU membership.
Subsequently, in June 2022, the West African regional group ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States) approved Morocco’s membership application despite the country being in North Africa. Morocco obtained the agreement in principle from all countries including the formal acceptance and support from the President of Nigeria Muhammadu Buhari. Morocco seeks to benefit from reduced costs of transactions, factor productivity, as well as the promotion of economic cooperation with other African states through membership in these regional blocs. In 2022, while Morocco hasn’t yet been fully integrated into ECOWAS, the bloc has expressed its support for the country’s full accession.
Moroccan-Saudi Arabia Relations
Morocco has historically enjoyed a very close political and economic relationship with Saudi Arabia, one of its fellow Arab monarchies, but relations following the 2017 Gulf-Qatar crisis have degraded. Morocco’s attempt to remain neutral in the crisis, even offering to act as a mediator between Qatar and the rest of the GCC, has cost it its close friendship with Saudi Arabia. Between summer 2017 and 2019, Morocco ended its participation in the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen, and did not host a state visit from Saudi emissaries. For its part, Saudi Arabia has decreased financial aid to Morocco and voted against Morocco’s bid to host the 2026 World Cup. Although the cooling relationship has created complications, observers expect that the two countries’ shared identities as Arab Muslim monarchies will prevent more outright hostilities. For example, both countries held a high-level Joint Commission and Strategic Dialogue last June 2022, and it was chaired by both Ministers of Foreign Affairs.
As of July 29, 2022, there have been 1,259,420 confirmed cases of COVID-19 with 16,226 deaths in Morocco that have been reported to the WHO. As of 18 July 2022, a total of 54,924,940 vaccine doses have been administered. In Western Sahara specifically, 766 infections and 2 deaths have been reported as of July 15, 2022, though exact case counts are more difficult to attain for this region.
International & Regional Issues Resources
Morocco’s economy has been steadily improving since the turn of the millennium, and King Mohammed VI inherited a fairly stable economy. Over the past few years (2018, 2019, 2020, and 2021) the GDP real growth rate has been 3.1%, 2.6%, -6.3%, and 7.4%, respectively. In the years prior to 2019, Morocco’s GDP had undergone steady growth at variable rates since 1997. The onset of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020 had a significantly negative impact on the economies of Morocco and the rest of Northern Africa, broadly (UNDP, French). In 2021, however, Morocco saw a monumental increase in GDP, which sources such as the World Bank attribute to “exceptional cereal crop after two consecutive years of drought, solid exports and remittances, supportive macroeconomic policies, and significant progress on COVID-19 vaccinations.”
A driver behind the broader trend of Moroccan economic growth began in 2014 when subsidies on gasoline and industrial fuel were removed. In the same time period, Morocco launched the “Industrial Acceleration Plan” (IPA) which ensured that over 300,000 new industry jobs would be created by 2020. Since its establishment, 120,000 jobs have been created, while 307,000 are engaged, totaling 427,000 posts. These figures transcend Rabat’s initial benchmark.
The most critical challenges facing Morocco include a lack of transparency, corruption, high unemployment and illiteracy rates, and finally, a very difficult regional environment. The judicial system remains susceptible to political influence, which is undermining ongoing anti-corruption efforts. Unemployment in Morocco is 9.23% overall (2018 est.), but 22.2% for young people between the ages of 15 and 24. The figure is not quite as staggering as in neighboring countries, which faced much harsher demonstrations in 2011 during the Arab Spring, but it still remains a big problem for Morocco’s economy. Following the Arab Spring, Rabat pursued wide-scale economic and social reform to tackle the overwhelming unemployment and poverty rates. This has contributed to a decrease in the number of poor people, from 8.9% of the population in 2007 to 4.2% in 2014. In 2020, the national poverty rate was about 4.8%. Structural reform is still needed in areas such as education, governance, and justice in order to reduce unemployment.
To boost exports, Morocco entered into a bilateral Free Trade Agreement with the United States in 2006 and an Advanced Status agreement with the EU in 2008. Due to low energy reserves, Morocco has scaled up green initiatives and growth programs to combat the detrimental environmental effects of hydrocarbon imports. Morocco also seeks to expand its renewable energy capacity with a goal of making renewable more than 52% of installed electricity generation capacity by 2030. Al-Akhawayn University in Ifrane built the first solar-energy site in Africa to generate electricity using photovoltaics. In 2013 King Mohammed VI launched a huge and impressive project to construct the world’s largest concentrated solar power plant. According to the World Bank, the Noor Complex Solar Power Plant, once finished, is expected to reduce Morocco’s fossil fuel dependence by two and a half million tons of oil and supply electricity to 1.1 million Moroccans; the third phase is currently being built.
Tourism is one of the country’s primary industries. In fact, tourism has increased rapidly from 2,602,000 tourism arrivals in 1995 to 9,299,000 in 2010, making it the 24th largest tourist market in the world and the second largest among the Arab countries, after Egypt. The country made over US $2 billion in tourism revenue in the month of May 2022 alone, which amounted to 2.3 million tourists as well as a 53% recovery rate from 2019 pre-pandemic levels. In 2014, Rabat published Vision 2020 with the ambitious goal of making Morocco one of the world’s top 20 tourist destinations, as well as a model of sustainable development. Morocco integrated green initiatives into the tourism sector by launching ecotourism in the Atlas Mountains (ecolodges and desert resorts). The country is projected to have around 8,000,000 visitors by the end of 2022.
Throughout history, different ethnic groups have inhabited Morocco. These include the indigenous Amazigh population (popularly referred to as Berbers), Black Africans, Arabs, Romans, Portuguese, Spaniards, Turks, Phoenicians, Jews and the French. Nearly the entirety of the population (99%) is a mix of both Arab and indigenous ethnic groups. Morocco’s estimated population is 36,738,229 as of 2022 and is growing at a rate of about 1.2% as of 2021. Arabic and Tamazight (the Amazigh language) are the official languages of Morocco; French is often used in business, government, and diplomatic settings. English is also a popular language in schools and among the youth.
Once home to some 300,000 Jews, the largest population in the Arab world for the past over 3,000 years, the Jewish population in Morocco has dwindled in size. However, Morocco is still home to the largest Jewish community in North Africa, housing the highest number of functioning synagogues and Jewish schools. Although the community is spread out throughout the country, Casablanca is the largest Jewish hub in the country and houses Amazigh Jews as well. Furthermore, the country is renewing efforts to safeguard Jewish history and culture in Morocco such as Rabat beginning to fund projects to renovate Jewish neighborhoods and religious sites as well as restore Jewish cemeteries. As of 2020, the country is home to between 3,000 and 3,500 Jewish Moroccans.
Average Life Expectancy (Men)
Average Life Expectancy (Women)
Despite reforms in education in 2004, such as the National Literacy and Non-formal Education Strategy, the quality of education in Morocco needs improvements, according to the Human Development Index (HDI). This index measures life expectancy, education and income for the United Nations Development Program and Morocco is ranked 123 of 189. The average life expectancy is 71.98 years for men and 75.46 for women and the literacy rate in Morocco is 83.3% for men and 64.6% for women (2018 est.). The Moroccan government has been working with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) to improve its educational system. Morocco is rising in the ranks on the HDI, having moved from 129 in 2015 to 123 in 2017.
Education in Morocco is divided into primary and secondary stages. Primary school is free and compulsory for nine years from the ages of 7 to 15. The compulsory requirement is often not enforceable in the remote areas of the Atlas Mountains, but the primary school completion rate has risen to nearly 100% in 2020 from 79% in 2005 and 47% in 1991. Secondary school is also free, but not compulsory, and lasts for an additional three years following primary school. Higher education, also known as the tertiary level, can be pursued at any of Morocco’s 14 public universities and many other private universities, vocational schools, and technical schools. Among the most distinguished universities are the Mohammed V University in Rabat, the American-style university Al-Akhawayn in Ifrane, and the University of Al Karaouine (or Al-Qarawiyyin) in Fez, considered by UNESCO to be the oldest continuously operating, degree-granting university in the world (founded in 859 CE).
Healthcare in Morocco suffers from dated practices and equipment, as well as limited accessibility. In more remote areas in the Atlas Mountains, access to medical facilities is poor. According to Health Ministry figures from other North African countries from 2013, Morocco has one doctor per 1,600 inhabitants, compared with one for every 800 people in Tunisia and one for every 600 in Algeria in that same year. In 2019, this amounted to merely 7.9 physicians for every 10,000 Moroccan citizens. Nearly a third of Moroccans also have little or no access to proper sanitation, putting them at risk of illnesses such as gastrointestinal infections, typhoid, malaria, and trachoma. Tuberculosis also remained widespread until recent years, with 26,000 cases reported in 2015 by the World Health Organization (WHO). In 2020, these numbers increased to 98 reported cases per 100,000 citizens.
However, the Moroccan Ministry of Health is working with the WHO to implement a universal healthcare system, as only approximately half of the population can currently afford either private or public insurance. Morocco also aims at extending health insurance to every Moroccan and plans to increase the number of health professionals to approximately 90,000 by 2025 from the current 68,000.
Article 489 of the Moroccan penal code, established during French colonial times, explicitly outlaws “lewd or unnatural acts with an individual of the same sex.” Punishments for breaking this law range from imprisonment of six months to three years and a fine of 200 to 1,000 dirhams. Likewise, the country has no protections for discrimination against members of the LGBT+ community. While citizens have been jailed for charges of homosexuality, it has also jailed people who have committed homophobic beatings.
However, although homosexuality is illegal in Morocco, first-hand accounts from those visiting the country tell a different story. Morocco does not undertake any sort of witch-hunting against the gay community. One self-identifying gay man who frequented the country reported that “the law is not imposed frequently.” He explained that “homosexuality is an accepted part of Moroccan culture and has been for centuries” with most citizens content with travelers’ respect for Moroccan culture and not adhering to extreme Islamism.
The Moroccan constitution proclaims Islam as the state religion and it is practiced by 99% of Moroccans. Almost all Muslims in Morocco follow the Sunni branch of Islam (fewer than 0.1% of Moroccans identify as Shia Muslims) and King Mohammed VI is stated to be a direct descendant of the prophet Mohammad, proven through genealogy. About 1% of the population practices Christianity, which expanded first under Roman rule and again during Spanish and French colonization. Between 3,000 and 3,500 Jewish Moroccans also comprise this 1%, along with a small population of Baha’i people.
The Moroccan Jewish community is predominantly descended from those who migrated to the region following the destruction of the Second Jewish temple in the Roman province of Palestine in 70 CE. Jewish quarters, known as Mellah, once thrived in numerous cities but the majority of Morocco’s Jews have immigrated to Israel. There are still small but aging Jewish communities in larger cities like Fes and Casablanca with well-preserved synagogues and cemeteries. Israelis with Moroccan ancestry frequently visit the country to tour their families’ homes and towns, which has helped fuel a niche tourism industry. A 2014 documentary, “Tinghir-Jerusalem: Echoes from the Mellah,” explores the connections shared between a lively Amazigh town in the Atlas mountains and a group of Tamazight-speaking Jewish people in Israel who left Morocco in the 1960s.
Moroccans are free to practice any religion they choose, although all proselytism activities of any religion are prohibited in Morocco.
Moroccan culture is influenced by Arab, Islamic, African, Berber, and European traditions. Its mix of Sufi-like spirituality, more relaxed and open Maliki school of Islam, African and Berber legacies, and European style of administration is unlike any other country.
Beginning in the 1940s, Paul Bowles and other Beat artists like William Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg were drawn to the country for its heterogeneous and underground culture. These writers brought attention to the country through their literary works and collaborations with Moroccan artists. The port city of Tangier was a particularly popular destination. During the 1950s and 60s Morocco became a literary sanctuary. Many native Moroccans also bloomed during this time, including Driss El Khori, Mohamed Choukri and Driss Chraibi. Authors such as Mohamed Zefzaf and Abdellah Laroui are noted for writing in Arabic. Driss Chraibi made a massive impact on the Moroccan public with his French novel “Le Passe Simple”, or “The Past Tense”, that was published in 1954 and condemned patriarchal society.
The standard article of clothing in Morocco for both men and women is known as the djellaba. Men wear this loose-fitting robe in muted colors of brown, gray, and green. The djellaba has long sleeves and a hood. Men may be seen wearing the small red cap known as a tarboosh, or fez, on special occasions but more often adorn the kufi skullcap. Brimless hats are common in the region as they are less likely to interfere with the bowing associated with daily prayers than brimmed hats.
Women often wear their own version of the djellaba. These are typically more colorful and decorative than their male counterparts, and sometimes feature silk thread and gold embroidery. Women also occasionally wear a haik, a cloak of fine white cloth worn around the head and body. The haik is often found in rural areas away from the metropolitan lifestyle of the city. Other types of modest clothing such as kaftans, long skirts and tunics are common as is Western attire. Veiling is a personal or family matter in which the state is not involved. People living in rural areas tend to dress more conservatively than in cities.
Moroccan cuisine is quite different than Levantine Middle Eastern food like hummus, falafel, or shwarma. A large variety of spices from the Mediterranean region are used such as cinnamon, cumin, turmeric, and coriander in Moroccan dishes. Couscous is a traditional Moroccan Berber dish featuring tiny balls of pasta served with stewed meat, vegetables and a flavorful broth. Chicken, lamb, and seafood dishes featuring kabobs are also popular. In Morocco, these are referred to as kefta or brochettes; sausages are also common.
The Moroccan national dish is called tagine, named for the large clay pot in which it is cooked. The dish is a spiced stew which includes vegetables and beef, lamb, or chicken. A common tagine is one made with preserved lemons and green olives. Moroccan flat bread (khobz) is served with almost every meal and often is used to scoop food in place of utensils. Morocco is known for its pastries but in homes, families generally eat fresh fruits, like citrus and melons, for dessert.
Moroccan mint tea is the most ubiquitous beverage throughout the country. Using Chinese gunpowder tea, fresh spearmint, and copious amounts of sugar, the drink is boiled several times to maximize the flavors. It is served at every occasion. Morocco’s location in Africa, adjacent to Europe, and on many trade routes from the east, meant that its culture and cuisine reflect a fascinating amalgamation that its people have perfected over time into unmistakably Moroccan traditions.
Moroccans generate several diverse musical styles which highlight the country’s historical complexity. The Berber musical style is community oriented and is performed in open air village squares. This music features flutes and drums and is usually played at large ceremonies such as weddings or festivals. Another traditional style of music is milhun, a type of classical poetry that is sung and typically associated with traders and artisans. The lyrics feature popular folk poems or Islamic verses. This music is traditionally accompanied by an orchestra which utilizes the stringed oud, different varieties of flutes, and several types of cymbals.
A popular musical style which mixes rural and urban folk music is known as chaabi. Chaabi music is often see in communities along the Atlantic coast, and is sometimes performed during private and public celebrations. This music features both a male and female lead singer with a violin and backup vocal accompaniment. Today, this style has incorporated modern musical technology by adding keyboards and electric guitars.
Although more commonly found in Algeria, the rai musical style also enjoys popularity in Morocco. This hip-hop style has spread throughout North Africa; its lyrics often mention social issues such as the negative influences of the European world on Morocco. However, it mostly discusses love and broken hearts.
Gnaoua (Gnawa) music is unique to Morocco though its popularity has spread to surrounding countries and the Diaspora. Heavily influenced by African traditions and instruments, the mystical style was developed among former sub-Saharan African slave communities in Morocco. Consisting of ancient African Islamic spiritual songs, the genre is characterized by its use of repetition and castanets. Groups are led by masters, known as “maâlems”, and consist of several members who clap, dance, and accompany their leader vocally and instrumentally. Gnaouan musicians can often be identified by their dress, typically appearing in matching djellaba and ornate caps with tassels. An example can be seen in the left image above.
The style is very popular among Moroccans and what was once a spiritual experience has become more profane. The tradition is highlighted each summer year in the southern coastal town of Essaouira at the Gnaoua World Music Festival. The festival provides a platform for exchanges and a meeting point of music and dialogue between foreign artists and the mystical Gnaoua. In this celebration of musical fusion, the Gnaoua masters invite players of jazz, pop, rock and contemporary world music to explore new avenues of collaboration. The festival attracts up to 500,000 visitors every year over four days. Le Festival des Musiques Sacrées du Monde (World Sacred Music Festival) is a week-long annual event featuring international spiritual, religious and folk music in the ancient city of Fes. The festival began in 1994 and continues to this day.
Morocco has a rich history of artistic expression. Colorful artistic patters adorn the walls of mosques and shops throughout the country and often utilize repetitions of simple shapes and designs to form complex mosaics. One such design is known as zillij. Zillij is an Islamic tile artwork that was designed to inspire meditation while adhering to Islamic restrictions on visual depictions of representational art. Artists chisel a single colored tile into a precise shape and then replicate this process hundreds of times to create intricate patterns and tessellations. Carpet weaving is also a popular form of art in Morocco and an important source of income for some families. Traditional Berber carpets are often woven together from camel hair or sheep wool and use saffron, mint or pomegranate to add vibrant colors to the yarn. Designs depict daily life but may also feature local tribal motifs. Travelers can often buy these colorful woven carpets and prayer rugs in souks (marketplaces), which are a common site in Moroccan cities. The process of selecting a carpet and negotiating its price with the carpet sellers is an art form in and of itself.
The country is also home to several museums which feature displays of historical relics and artwork from leading Moroccan artists. The Museum of Antiquities, located in Tangier, once served as the kitchen for the Sultan’s palace and today houses numerous artifacts from the time of the Romans. One such artifact is a model of a Carthaginian tomb in one of the museum’s main rooms. The Marrakech Museum also features architecture and mosaics from all periods of Moroccan history. These exhibits occupy the Dar Menebhi Palace, which was built in the 19th century and was converted into a museum in 1997. The interior walls of the palace are lavishly decorated with mosaics and works of Islamic calligraphy and the site is known as the “jewel of Marrakech.”
Confirming Morocco’s reputation as a source of creativity and artistic production, the city of Asilah, on the northwest coast, invites Moroccan and international artists to decorate its white walls each year with bright and elaborate murals. The annual festival attracts visitors from around the world and has gained significant interest in contemporary arts media and communities.
Morocco is home to many popular sites which highlight the diverse history and geography of the region. These vary from religious sites to natural landscapes and architectural wonders. Mausoleums of venerated religious and national leaders are common destinations in Morocco. One such site is the Mausoleum of Mohammad V, completed in 1971, in the capital city of Rabat. This is the final resting place for King Mohammed V and his sons. It features ornate marble carvings of Islamic calligraphy and zillij tile mosaics. The mausoleum was constructed on the site of an unfinished mosque and some relics, like the unfinished Hassan minaret, still adorn the scenery around the mausoleum.
One of the most exquisite displays of natural beauty is the Menara Gardens just west of Marrakech. Located on the foothills of the Atlas Mountains, these gardens were designed and built in the 12th century during the rule of the Almohads. The orchards of the garden feature olive, cypress, and fruit trees and the site holds a large reservoir at its center for irrigation. Morocco is also home to many prominent mosques, including the Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca. Completed in 1993, this mosque is the largest mosque in Morocco and it is the 7th largest in the world, and features the tallest minaret which stands at 210 meters (689 ft). The building and surrounding courtyard can accommodate up to 105,000 worshippers, and much of the structure extends into the Atlantic Ocean.
Morocco also holds an important site in the early history of the United States as Morocco was the first country to recognize the newly independent American colonies in 1777. In 1821, Sultan Moulay Suleiman of Morocco gave the country its first diplomatic property in Tangier, which became America’s first public property in another country. The building stood as the American consulate until 1956 and was converted into a library and education center that houses the Tangier American Legation Institute for Moroccan Studies. The institute serves as a museum and a cultural center with artifacts from the long history of U.S.-Moroccan relations.
Popular Moroccan sports including soccer, skiing, and golf. Morocco also boasts some of the best hiking in the world. Many hiking trips navigate the grand peaks of the Atlas Mountains, while others explore the vast expanses of the Sahara Desert along the eastern border. Some expeditions combine both hiking and skiing for a unique outdoor adventure. Morocco’s diverse topography also contributes to its distinct wildlife; birdwatching is a popular activity.
The country also features several prominent golf courses near Marrakech and along the Atlantic coastline. Some of these courses like the Al Maaden and Samanah courses feature beautiful views of the Atlas Mountains.
Morocco has been successful in several Olympic competitions. The country has competed in almost every summer Olympics since 1960 and has won a total of twenty-two medals. Moroccans have excelled in particular in track and field; distance runner, Hicham el Gherrouj is the current holder of the 1500 meters, mile and outdoor 2000 meters world records, as well as a double Olympic gold medalist. Morocco has also sent athletes to several winter Olympic competitions in 1984, 1988, 1992, 2010, and 2014, but has not won an Olympic medal in those games. The Moroccan national football (soccer in the U.S.) team is known as the “Lions of the Atlas.” Morocco’s team has competed four times in the FIFA World Cup. Their best performance was in 1986 when the team advanced to the second round. The Lions of the Atlas have also won the Africa Cup once in 1976 and the Arab Nations Cup in 2012. Marrakech hosted the 2014 Club World Cup.