Bringing it all together: Divergent cultures and peoples converge in the kingdom

Part of the western-most region of North Africa, Morocco is known as Al Maghreb, “the West”, in Arabic. The only monarchy in North Africa, Morocco contains a blend of Arab, African, indigenous Berber and European cultures. The kingdom has long maintained close diplomatic, economic and cultural ties to Europe that it continues to deepen and has a reputation as stable and tolerant state. Even amidst the turmoil of the Arab Spring and the upheaval that shook the country’s neighbours, Morocco managed to maintain a steady hand on the tiller, and as a result benefitted from steady growth and welcome reforms.

GEOGRAPHY: Morocco encompasses a landmass of 446,500 sq km and is located on the north-western tip of Africa, sitting astride both the Mediterranean Sea and Atlantic Ocean, with 1835 km of coastline. The country also has 2018 km of land borders shared with Algeria, the Western/Moroccan Sahara and the Spanish exclaves of Ceuta and Melilla.

The Western Sahara is under Moroccan control and the government regards it as its sovereign territory, referring to as its “southern provinces”. The region has a land surface area of 266,000 sq km and a coastline of 1110 km. It also borders Mauritania to the south. Rabat and Casablanca are respectively the national capital and the largest city, and both are located along the northern part of the kingdom’s Atlantic coast, approximately 85 km apart. Other major urban zones include the eastern town of Fez, the former royal capital; the southern city of Marrakech; and Tangiers on the country’s northern coast.

TOPOGRAPHY & CLIMATE: Morocco can be roughly divided into three major topographical areas. These consist of northern plains where the bulk of the country’s farming takes place, the Atlas Mountain range, and southern and south-eastern desert areas; the Western Sahara is also entirely desert. The Atlas range can be further divided into three sub-ranges, namely the Middle Atlas, the anti-Atlas and the High Atlas; the last of these contains the highest peak in the country (and also North Africa), Jebel Toubkal, which stands at 4165 metres above sea level. Another mountain range, the Rif, is in the north of the country, near Tangiers. The country’s coastal plains have a predominantly Mediterranean climate. In the capital Rabat, July and August are the hottest months, with temperatures spanning an average daily range between 18°C and 27°C. The daily average is between 8°C and 17°C in the coldest month of January. July and August are also the driest months, seeing almost no rainfall on average, while the wettest month of December sees 101 mm of precipitation, on average.

ECONOMY & TRADE: Morocco has one of the more diversified GDP mixes in the region (see Economy chapter), and the mainstays of the economy include agriculture, tourism, and the textiles and garments industry; higher-end manufacturing (such as the automotive and aeronautics industries), information technology and communications, and outsourcing are also all becoming increasingly important. The kingdom has been fortunate and benefitted from a long period of economic stability. According to the International Monetary Fund, annual real GDP growth has remained in positive territory every year since 1998, with growth comparatively unaffected during the 2008-09 global financial downturn. Furthermore, and perhaps more importantly given the regional context of recent years, annual inflation has not exceeded 4% since 1996.

NATURAL RESOURCES: Morocco has yet to make any major oil and gas discoveries and is almost entirely reliant on imports to meet its energy consumption requirements. However, finds off Mauritania to the south in the first decade of the millennium have encouraged exploration efforts, and interest from foreign oil companies in the kingdom has spiked in recent years, with the US oil firm Chevron one of several firms that received new prospecting licences in January 2013. While it continues the search for hydrocarbons deposits, the kingdom is also hoping that sunlight will become an important future energy resource. There are plans for approximately €6.6bn of investment in solar energy farms in southern desert areas, which could generate up to 4.4 GW of power by 2020. Several solar were already under construction or operational as of early 2014.

Morocco is also rich in non-hydrocarbons minerals, in particular phosphates; the country produces around 14% of global phosphate rock production and around 75% of estimated global phosphate reserves are located in the kingdom, according to the US Geological Survey. Agriculture, concentrated mainly in the country’s northern plains, remains a significant contributor to the economy, accounting for approximately 15% of GDP in 2012 and about 39% of employment, according to the World Bank. The country also benefits from large fish stocks along its long coastline.

POPULATION: As of early 2014 the authorities estimated the population at approximately 33.14m people. Northern coastal areas and plains are the most densely populated, with southern and south-eastern areas largely made up of more sparsely populated desert regions. In modern times the kingdom has witnessed large-scale rural-to-urban migration and around 57% of Moroccans now live in towns and cities.

LANGUAGE & ETHNICITY: The official languages of Morocco are Arabic and a Berber language known as Tamazight. This reflects the fact that the national population is made up of a mix of Moroccan Arabs and Berbers, who are also known by their Berber-language name of Imazighen, meaning “free men”, and who constituted the main indigenous population of north-west Africa before the Arab conquest.

While the official forms of each language are modern standardised versions, in practice Moroccans mostly speak a Moroccan colloquial form of Arabic (known as darija) that contains a large amount of vocabulary of French and Berber origin in addition to Arabic vocabulary, and/or one of three major spoken Moroccan Berber languages, namely Tarifit, Tamazight (or Central Atlas Tamazight) and Tashelhit (also known as Shleuh, or Atlas Shilha). The country’s 2004 population census puts the proportion of Moroccans who speak Berber languages at around 28%, with Tashelhit the most widely spoken of the three at 14.6%, though some Berber activists put the size of the Berber population significantly higher, at around half of all Moroccans. As a result of the country’s legacy of colonial rule, French is the most widely spoken European tongue and is the language of instruction for many university courses, as well as being widely used in business and the media; middle and upper class Moroccans also often switch between French and darija in conversation and some primarily use French. Spanish is widely spoken in parts of the north-east that were formerly under Spanish control.

RELIGION: The constitution deems Islam the official state religion and Muslims constitute over 99% of the Moroccan population. Nearly all Moroccan Muslims are Sunni and most belong to the Malekite madhab or rite, the most widespread of the four Sunni Muslim schools of jurisprudence in the Maghreb. The Moroccan king is considered the leader of the mainstream Moroccan religious community through his constitutional titles of “Commander of the Faithful” and “Defender of the Community and the Faith”.

Morocco is a strongly religious country – nine in 10 Moroccans describe religion as very important in their lives, the highest level of seven countries in the Middle East and North Africa surveyed in 2012 by the Pew Research Religion and Public Life Project. Additionally, 67% of Moroccans perform Islam’s five daily prayers and only 2% say they never attend mosque.

Despite the country’s high levels of religious adherence, Moroccan Islam is often viewed as a particularly tolerant or liberal form of the religion, and some survey data appears to bear this out. For example, according to a 2013 survey, 85% of Moroccans say that women should decide whether they wear the Muslim veil, a high proportion by both Middle Eastern and African Muslim standards. However, by contrast, on some other issues, like women’s inheritance, Moroccans appear relatively conservative in comparison to Muslims from other countries.

CULTURE: Moroccan culture blends Arab, Berber, Islamic, African and European influences. Moroccan streets often have a mix of people wearing western and traditional North African clothing, such as the djellaba, a long and often hooded robe worn over other clothes, and a type of slipper known as babouche. Traditional rural Berber clothing, in particular that worn by women, is often brightly coloured and accompanied by ornate jewellery. The country is known for handicrafts, leather goods, silver jewellery, carpets and blankets (often decorated with Berber designs and patterns), and wood and metal-work. Football is the most popular sport. The most prominent local teams are Raja Casablanca and Moghrib Atletico Tetuan, the 2014 champion. Many fans also support European teams. The national team has made it to the World Cup four times and through to the second stage once. It won the African Cup of Nations in 1976.

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This article is from the Country Profile chapter of The Report: Morocco 2014. Explore other chapters from this report.

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