Prehistory and Antiquity
The region that today constitutes Morocco has been inhabited since the Paleolithic, between 190,000 and 90,000 years before Christ. In the upper paleoliths, the Maghreb looked more fertile than today, more like a savannah than an arid landscape. 22,000 years ago, the Aterian was replaced by the Iberomaurus culture, which had similarities with the Iberian cultures. Skeletal similarities have been found between the Ibero-Amerindian “Mechta-Afalou” burials and the European remains of Cro-Magnon. The Ibero-Amerindian culture was replaced by the beaker culture in Morocco.
Mitochondrial DNA (MtDNA) studies have uncovered a close link between the Berbers and the Saami in Scandinavia. This supports the theories that the French refuge of Cantabria in south-western Europe was the source of the late expansion of the hunter-gatherers who repopulated northern Europe after the last ice age.
Both North Africa and Morocco have been slowly pulled by the Phoenicians to the emerging Mediterranean world, setting up trading settlements and colonies at the beginning of the Classical period. Important Phoenician colonies were located in Chellah, Lixus and Mogador. Mogador was already a Phoenician colony at the beginning of the 6th century BC.
Morocco later became an empire of the North African civilization of ancient Carthage as part of their empire. The first known independent Moroccan state was the Berber kingdom of Mauritania under King Baga. This ancient kingdom (not to be confused with present-day Mauritania) dates back to at least 225 BC.
Mauritania became a client kingdom of the Roman Empire in 33 B.C. Emperor Claudius directly appointed Mauritania a Roman province under an imperial governor (either aprocurator Augusti or legatus Augusti pro praetore) in 44 A.D.
During the crisis of the 3rd century, parts of Mauritania were reconquered by Berber tribes. Direct Roman domination was limited to a few coastal towns (such as Septum (Ceuta) in Mauritania Tingitana and Cherchell in Mauritania Caesariensis) until the end of the 3rd century.
Beginning of the Islamic period
The Muslim conquest of the Maghreb, which began in the middle of the 7th century, was achieved at the beginning of the following century. It brought the Arabic language and Islam to the region. Morocco, despite being part of a large Islamic empire, was originally organized as a sub-province of Ifriqiyah, with a governor appointed by the Muslim governor of Kairouan.
The indigenous Berber tribes accepted Islam but retained their customary law. They also paid taxes and tribes to the new Muslim administration. The first independent Muslim state in present-day Morocco was the Kingdom of Nekor, an emirate in the Rif Mountains. It was founded by Salih I ibn Mansur in 710 as a client state of the Caliphate of Rashidun. After the Berber rebellion broke out in 739, the Berbers formed independent states such as Miknasa and Barghawata in Sijilmasa.
According to a medieval legend, Idris ibn Abdallah fled to Morocco after his tribe was massacred by the Abbasids in Iraq. He convinced the Ahlabah Berbers to pledge their allegiance to the Abbasid Caliphate in faraway Baghdad, and in 788 founded the Idris dynasty. The Idrissids made Fez their capital and Morocco became a centre of Muslim learning and a great regional power. The Idrissids were ousted in 927 by the Fatimid Caliphate and their allies Miknasa. After Mikhnasa severed ties with the Fatimids in 932, they were exiled by the Maghrawa of Sijilmasa in 980.
From the 11th century onwards, a series of powerful Berber dynasties emerged. Under the Almoravid and Almohad dynasties, Morocco dominated the Maghreb, much of present-day Spain and Portugal, and the western Mediterranean. From the 13th century onwards, the country experienced a massive immigration of Banu Hilal-Arab tribes. In the 13th and 14th centuries, the Merinids held power in Morocco and attempted to repeat the success of the Almohads through campaigns in Algeria and Spain. They were followed by the Wattasides. In the 15th century, the Reconquista put an end to Muslim domination in central and southern Spain and many Muslims and Jews fled to Morocco.
Portuguese efforts to control Atlantic maritime trade in the 15th century did not have much impact on the Moroccan interior, although they did manage to control some possessions on the Moroccan coast but did not penetrate further inland.
In another vein and according to Elizabeth Allo Isichei, “In 1520, Morocco experienced a famine so terrible that it has long dated other events. It has been suggested that between the early 16th and 19th centuries, the population of Morocco fell from 5 to less than 3 million”.
In 1549, the area came under the control of successive Arab dynasties which claimed to be followers of the Islamic Prophet Muhammad: first the Saadi Dynasty, which ruled from 1549 to 1659, and then the Alawite dynasty, which remained in power since the 17th century.
Under the Saadi dynasty, the country repelled Ottoman incursions and a Portuguese invasion at the battle of Ksar el Kebir in 1578. The reign of Ahmad al-Mansurb brought new wealth and prestige to the sultanate, and a great expedition to West Africa inflicted a crushing defeat on the Songhay Empire in 1591. However, the administration of the territories beyond the Sahara proved too difficult. After al-Mansur’s death, the land was divided among his sons.
In 1666, Morocco was reunited by the Alaouite dynasty, which has been Morocco’s mother country ever since. Morocco had to face aggression from Spain and the allies of the Ottoman Empire who turned westward. The Alaouites managed to stabilise their position and, although the kingdom is smaller than the previous kingdoms in the region, it remains quite prosperous. Against the resistance of the local tribes, Ismail Ibn Sharif (1672-1727) began to create a unified state. With his Jaysh of Ahl al-Rif (the Riffian army), he conquered Tangier at the hands of the English in 1684 and drove the Spaniards out of Larache in 1689.
Morocco was the first nation to recognize the young United States as an independent nation in 1777. In the early days of the American Revolutionary War, American merchant ships in the Atlantic were attacked by Barbary pirates. On December 20, 1777, Moroccan Sultan Mohammed III declared that U.S. merchant ships were under the protection of the sultanate and could thus enjoy safe passage. The U.S.-Moroccan Treaty of Friendship, signed in 1786, is considered the oldest unbroken treaty of friendship between the United States.
French and Spanish Protectorates
As Europe industrialised, North Africa was increasingly valued for its colonisation potential. The French had shown a strong interest in Morocco as early as 1830, not just to protect the borders of Algerian territory, but also due to Morocco’s strategic position across two oceans. In 1860, a conflict over the enclave of Ceuta led to a declaration of war by Spain. The victorious Spain obtained another enclave and an enlarged Ceuta in the colony. In 1884, Spain established a protectorate in the coastal areas of Morocco.
In 1904, France and Spain established spheres of influence in Morocco. The recognition of the French sphere of influence by the United Kingdom provoked a strong reaction from the German Empire, and a crisis threatened in 1905. The issue was resolved at the Algeciras Conference in 1906. The Agadir crisis accentuated tensions between the European powers. The 1912 Treaty of Fez made Morocco a protectorate of France and triggered the Fez riots in 1912. 36] Spain continued to exploit its coastal protectorate. By the same treaty, Spain assumed the role of protective power over the Saharan zones in the north and south.
Tens of thousands of settlers came to Morocco. Some bought large amounts of rich agricultural land, others organised the exploitation and modernisation of mines and ports. The interest groups formed among these elements have been exerting constant pressure on France to strengthen its control over Morocco – control made necessary by the constant wars between Moroccan tribes, some of which have sided with the French since the beginning of the conquest. The governor general, Marshal Hubert Lyautey, sincerely admired Moroccan culture and succeeded in imposing a common Franco-Moroccan administration and creating a modern school system. Several divisions of Moroccan soldiers (goumiers or regular troops and officers) served in the French army during the First and Second World Wars and in the Spanish nationalist army during the Spanish Civil War and afterwards (regulars). The institution of slavery was abolished in 1925.
Between 1921 and 1926, a Berber rebellion in the Rif mountains, led by Abd el-Krim, led to the creation of the Rif Republic. The rebellion was finally crushed by French and Spanish troops.
In 1943, the Istiqlal (Independence Party) was formed to push for independence with the discreet support of the United States. This party subsequently provided most of the leadership of the nationalist movement.
In 1953, the exile of French Sultan Mohammed V to Madagascar and his successor, the highly unpopular Mohammed Ben Arafa, triggered a campaign of active opposition to the French and Spanish protectorates. Most notably a piece of violence broke out in Oujda, where the Moroccans not only attacked the French, but also other European nationals on the streets. France authorised the return of Mohammed V in 1955, and the following year negotiations began that led to Moroccan independence. The French protectorate over Morocco ended in March 1956, and the country recovered its independence from France under the name “Kingdom of Morocco. A month later, Spain ceded most of its protectorate in northern Morocco to the new state, but retained its two coastal enclaves (Ceuta and Melilla) on the Mediterranean coast. Sultan Mohammed became king in 1957.
Reign of King Hassan II.
After the death of King Mohammed V, Hassan II became King of Morocco on 3 March 1961. Morocco held its first general elections in 1963. However, Hassan imposed a state of emergency in 1965 and suspended parliament. In 1971, an attempt to dismiss the king and establish a republic failed. A truth commission established in 2005 to investigate human rights abuses during his reign confirmed nearly 10,000 cases, ranging from deaths in custody to forced exile. The truth commission reported that 592 people were killed during Hassan’s reign.
The southern Spanish enclave of Ifni was reclaimed by Morocco in 1969. The Polisario movement was founded in 1973 with the aim of establishing an independent state in the Spanish Sahara. On November 6, 1975, King Hassan launched an appeal for volunteers to settle in the Spanish Sahara. It was reported that about 350,000 civilians participated in the “Green March”. A month later, Spain agreed to leave Spanish Sahara, soon to be called Western Sahara, and place it under the joint control of Morocco and Mauritania, despite objections and threats of military intervention by Algeria. Moroccan forces occupied the territory.
Moroccan and Algerian armed forces were immediately engaged in a series of conflicts in Western Sahara. Morocco and Mauritania share Western Sahara. Fighting between the Moroccan military and Polisario forces continues for many years. The ongoing war is a significant financial burden for Morocco. In 1983, Hassan annulled planned elections amid political unrest and economic crisis. In 1984, Morocco left the Organisation of African Unity to protest against the inclusion of the SADR in that organisation. It is claimed by the Polisario that between 1982 and 1985 they killed over 5,000 Moroccan soldiers.
Estimates from Algerian authorities suggest that the number of Sahrawi refugees in Algeria is 165,000. Diplomatic relations with Algeria were re-established in 1988. In 1991 a UN-supervised ceasefire began in Western Sahara, but the status of the territory remains undecided, and ceasefire violations have been reported. Over the next decade there were numerous disputes over a proposed referendum on the future of the territory, but the impasse was not broken.
In the 1990s, a political reform created a bicameral legislature in 1997, and in 1998, the first government of Morocco was formed under the leadership of an opposition party.
Reign of King Mohammed VI.
After the death of King Hassan II in 1999, his son, King Mohammed VI, succeeded him. He was a cautious moderniser who introduced a degree of economic and social liberalisation.
King Mohammed made a controversial visit to Western Sahara in 2002. Morocco presented an autonomy plan for Western Sahara to the UN in 2007. The Polisario rejected the plan and presented its own proposal. Morocco and the Polisario Front held UN-sponsored talks in New York, but failed to reach an agreement. In 2010, security forces stormed a protest camp in Western Sahara, triggering violent demonstrations in the regional capital, El Aaiún.
In 2002, Morocco and Spain agreed to a settlement negotiated by the United States on the disputed island of Perejil. After Moroccan soldiers landed and set up tents and flags, Spanish troops occupied the uninhabited island. Tensions erupted again in 2005 when hundreds of African migrants tried to storm the borders of the Spanish enclaves of Melilla and Ceuta. Morocco expelled hundreds of illegal migrants. In 2006, Spanish Prime Minister Zapatero visited the Spanish enclaves. He was the first Spanish head of government in 25 years to make an official visit to the territories. The following year, King Juan Carlos of Spain visited Ceuta and Melilla, making Morocco even more angry and allowing it to demand control of the enclaves.
In February 2003, a court in Casablanca sentenced three Saudi members of al-Qaeda to 10 years in prison after they were accused of planning an attack against American and British warships in the Strait of Gibraltar. Three months later, more than 40 people were killed in the 2003 Casablanca bombings, when suicide bombers attacked several locations in Casablanca, including a Spanish restaurant and a Jewish community centre.
Those responsible are said to be followers of the Salafiya Jihadiya, linked to the Moroccan Islamic Fighting Group. One of these extremists was Nourredine Nafia, leader of the GICM (Moroccan Islamic Fighting Group), who was sentenced to 20 years in prison for his role in the attacks.
During the Casablanca attacks in 2007, three suspected suicide bombers blew themselves up a few weeks after a suicide attack in an internet café that injured three people. More than 40 people were sentenced to long prison terms for this attack. Two suicide bombers blew themselves up in front of US diplomatic offices in Casablanca.
In 2008, two Moroccans, Abdelilah Ahriz and Hicham Ahmidan, were sentenced in Morocco to 20 and 10 years in prison respectively for the train bombings in Madrid in 2004. The Islamist Saad Housseini was sentenced to 15 years in prison in 2009 for the Casablanca bombings in 2003. He was also wanted in Spain for the Madrid bombings. Shortly afterwards, the alleged leader of Al-Qaeda in Morocco, Belgian-Moroccan Abdelkader Belliraj, was sentenced to life imprisonment after being convicted of leading a militant Islamist group and committing six murders in Belgium.
In the Marrakech bombing in April 2011, 17 people, mainly foreigners, were killed in a bomb attack in a Marrakech café. The North African branch of al-Qaeda has denied any involvement. One man was subsequently sentenced to death for the bombing.
During the Moroccan demonstrations in 2011-12, thousands of people gathered in Rabat and other cities to demand political reforms and a new constitution that would limit the power of the king. In July 2011, the king won a landslide victory in a referendum on a reformed constitution he had proposed to quell the Arab Spring protests.
Despite the reforms implemented by Mohamed VI, the demonstrators continued to demand far-reaching reforms. Hundreds of people participated in a trade union rally in Casablanca in May 2012. Participants accused the government of not implementing the reforms.