Morocco , officially known as the Kingdom of Morocco, is a sovereign state in the Maghreb region of North Africa. Morocco is geographically defined by a rugged, hilly interior with large areas of desert. The country also has both Atlantic and Mediterranean coasts.
Morocco has a population of over 33.8 million inhabitants and covers an area of 446,550 km2 (172,410 square miles). The capital of the country is Rabat, while the largest city is Casablanca. As a historically outstanding regional power, Morocco can look back on a history of independence that is not shared by its neighbours. Its distinctive culture is a mixture of Arab, indigenous Berber peoples, African influences from sub-Saharan Africa and European influences.
Morocco considers the non-self-governing area of Western Sahara to be their southern territory. In 1975 Morocco has annexed this territory, which has led to a guerrilla War with the indigenous armed forces until the ceasefire in 1991. Peace processes have not yet managed to break the political deadlock.
Morocco can be described as a constitutional monarchy which has an elected national parliament. The King of Morocco has extensive executive and legislative powers, particularly in the military, foreign policy and religious affairs. Executive power is exercised by the Government, while legislative power is vested in both the Government and the two chambers of Parliament, the House of Representatives and the City Hall. The King may issue decrees, known as dahirs, which have the force of law. He may also dissolve Parliament after consulting the Prime Minister and the President of the Constitutional Court.
The predominant religion in Morocco is Islam, and the official languages are Arabic and Tamazight. The Moroccan dialect, known as Darija, and French are also widely spoken. Morocco is a powerful member of the Arab League and a member of the Mediterranean Union. Its economy is the 5th largest in Africa.
Tourism in Morocco
Tourism is one of the most important sectors of the Moroccan economy, it is well developed and has a strong tourist industry focused on the coast, culture and history of the country. Over 10 million people visited Morocco in 2013. Tourism is the second largest source of foreign exchange in Morocco after the phosphate industry. The Moroccan government is investing heavily in the development of tourism. In 2010, the government launched its Vision 2020, which aims to make Morocco one of the top 20 tourist destinations in the world and double the number of international arrivals to 20 million per year by 2020, in the hope that tourism will then have risen to 20% of GDP.
A major government-sponsored marketing campaign to attract tourists promoted Morocco as a cheap and exotic but safe place for tourists. Most visitors to Morocco are still European, with French citizens accounting for almost 20% of all visitors. Most Europeans visit Morocco in April and autumn, with the exception of Spaniards who will mainly come in June and August 2013. The reason behind the relatively high number of visitors to Morocco is because of the desirability of the place. The proximity of Morocco to Europe and its beaches attracts visitors to Morocco. Because of its proximity to Spain, tourists in the coastal areas of southern Spain make one to three day trips to Morocco.
Air links have been established between Morocco and Algeria, and many Algerians have travelled to Morocco to shop and visit family and friends. The price has been relatively low in Morocco because of the devaluation of the dirham and an increase of hotel prices in Spain. Morocco has an excellent road and rail infrastructure linking major cities and tourist destinations with ports and cities with international airports. Low-cost airlines offer cheap flights into the country.
Tourism is increasingly focused on Moroccan culture, such as the ancient cities. The modern tourism industry makes use of Morocco’s ancient Roman and Islamic sites as well as the country’s landscape and cultural history. 60% of Moroccan tourists visit Morocco for its culture and heritage. Agadir is an important coastal resort and accounts for one third of all Moroccan overnight stays. It is the starting point for excursions into the Atlas Mountains. Other resorts in northern Morocco are also very popular.
Morocco’s most significant port for cruises is Casablanca, which has the one of the most developed markets for visitors to Morocco. Marrakech in central Morocco is a popular destination, but is used by tourists more for one and two-day excursions that give an impression of Morocco’s history and culture. Marrakech’s Majorelle Botanical Gardens is one of the most popular attractions. It was bought in 1980 by the fashion designers Yves Saint-Laurent and Pierre Bergé. Their presence in the city helped to raise its profile as a tourist destination.
Since 2006, active and adventure tourism in the Atlas and Rif mountains is the fastest growing sector of Moroccan tourism. These places offer excellent hiking and trekking opportunities from late March to mid-November. The government is investing in trekking routes. It is also developing desert tourism in competition with Tunisia.
Best time to visit
If you are adventurous, February is a good time to visit Morocco to hike in the desert. In July, you can enjoy coastal areas or beaches in Essaouira. April is the best time to visit the royal cities in Morocco. The high tourist season in Morocco is in July and August.
Demographics of Morocco
Most Moroccans are of Berber, Arab or Gnawad descent. There is a significant minority of people from sub-Saharan Africa and Europeans. Together, Arabs and Berbers represent approximately 99.1% of the Moroccan population. A significant portion of the population is referred to as Haratin and Gnawa (or Gnaoua), black or mixed-race descendants of slaves, and Moriscos, European Muslims who were expelled from Spain and Portugal in the 17th century.
They were expelled in the nineteenth century. Berbers are the indigenous people and still make up the majority of the population, although they have been largely Arabized. Morocco is home to more than 20,000 immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa. Morocco’s once prominent Jewish minority has declined significantly since its peak of 265,000 in 1948 and now stands at about 2,500.
Most foreign residents in Morocco are French or Spanish. Several of them are descendants from colonial-era settlers who work primarily by European multinationals, and some are married to Moroccans or have been retired. Before independence, half a million Europeans lived in Morocco.
There is a large Moroccan diaspora, the majority of which is in France, which has been estimated to have more than one million Moroccans through the 3rd generation. There are also sizable Moroccan populations in Spain ( approximately 700,000 Moroccans), as well as the Netherlands ( approximately 360,000) and Belgium ( approximately 300,000). Other large communities exist in Italy, Canada, the United States, and Israel, where Moroccan Jews are believed to be the second largest Jewish subgroup.
Religious affiliation in the country was estimated by the Pew Forum in 2010 to be 99% Muslim, with all other groups making up less than 1% of the population. Sunnis are the majority at 67%, and non-denominational Muslims are the second largest group of Muslims at 30%. It is estimated that there are between 3,000 and 8,000 Shiite Muslims, most of whom are foreigners originally from Lebanon or Iraq, as well as a few local converts. Followers of several Muslim Sufi orders from the Maghreb and West Africa make annual joint pilgrimages to the country.
Christians are estimated to make up 1% (~380,000) of the Moroccan population. The mainly Roman Catholic and Protestant foreign Christian population is composed of approximately 5,000 believers, though some Protestant and Catholic clerics have estimated the number could be as high as 25,000. The majority of Christians expatriates are located in the urban areas in Casablanca, Tangier, and Rabat. Various local Christian leaders estimate that between 2005 and 2010 there were 5,000 converted citizen Christians (mostly ethnic Berber) who regularly attend “house churches” and live mostly in the south. While some local Christian officials have estimated that there could be as many as 8,000 Christian citizens across the country, however, according to reports, there are many who do not meet on a regular basis because they fear of state surveillance as well as social persecution. The number of Moroccans who have converted to Christianity (most of whom are secret believers) is estimated at 8,000-40,000.
Recent estimates put the size of the Jewish community in Casablanca at about 2,500 and that of the Jewish communities in Rabat and Marrakech at about 100 members each. The remainder of the Jewish population is scattered throughout the country. They are predominantly elderly, with a diminishing number of young people. Located in urban areas, there are between 350 and 400 members of the Baha’i community.
Geography of Morocco
Morocco has a coastline on the Atlantic Ocean that extends into the Mediterranean Sea via the Strait of Gibraltar. It shares borders with Spain on the north (a water border across the strait as well as land borders that include 3 small Spanish-controlled enclaves, Ceuta, Melilla, as well as Peñón de Vélez de la Gomera), with Algeria in the east, and to the south with Western Sahara. Due to Morocco’s dominance over most of Western Sahara, its southern border is virtually the border with Mauritania.
Morocco’s geography ranges from the Atlantic Ocean to mountainous regions to the Sahara Desert. Bordering the North Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea, North African Morocco is situated between Algeria and annexed Western Sahara. It is one of only three countries (along with Spain and France) to have both an Atlantic and Mediterranean coastline.
Much of Morocco is mountainous. The Atlas Mountains are mainly located in the center and south of the country. The Rif mountains are situated in the northern part of the country. Both mountain ranges are mainly inhabited by the Berber people. With 446,550 km2 (172,414 sq mi), Morocco is the 57rd biggest country in the world. Algeria borders Morocco to the east and southeast, although the border between the two countries has been closed since 1994.
The Spanish territory in North Africa has a border with Morocco and consists of 5 enclaves on the Mediterranean coast: Ceuta, Melilla, Peñón de Vélez de la Gomera, Peñón de Alhucemas, the Chafarinas Islands as well as the disputed island of Perejil. On the Atlantic coast, the Canary Islands belong to Spain, while Madeira is Portuguese in the north. To the north, Morocco borders the Strait of Gibraltar, where international shipping has an unimpeded transit passage between the Atlantic and the Mediterranean.
The Rif Mountains extend from the northwest to the northeast across the region bordering the Mediterranean Sea. The Atlas Mountains run from the northeast to the southwest through the backbone of the country. The majority of the south-eastern part of the country is located in the Sahara desert region that is mostly sparsely inhabited as well as economically non-productive. The majority of the population resides north of those mountains. Morocco claims Western Sahara as part of its territory and refers to it as its southern provinces.
Morocco’s capital is Rabat, and its largest city is the main port of Casablanca. The other cities are Essaouira, Fez, Agadir, Marrakech, Mohammedia, Meknes, Oujda, Ouarzazat, Safi, Salé, Tangier and Tetouan.
Morocco is represented by the symbol MA in the ISO 3166-1 alpha-2 geographic coding standard.
Economy of Morocco
Regarded as a relatively liberal economy, the Moroccan economy is regulated by principles of demand and supply. Since 1993, the country has pursued a policy of privatising certain sectors of the economy that were previously in the hands of the government. Africa’s fifth-largest economy by GDP (purchasing power parity), which makes Morocco a central player on the African economic scene. On the Economist Intelligence Unit’s Quality of Life Index, Morocco was the 1st ranked African country, even ahead of South Africa. Since then, however, Morocco has slipped to fourth place behind Egypt but ahead of Angola.
Reforms in government and consistent annual growth of around 4-5% between 2000 and 2007, a period that included 4.9% annual growth between 2003 and 2007, have made Morocco’s economy significantly more robust than just a few years ago. For 2012, the World Bank forecasts a growth rate of 4% for Morocco and 4.2% for the following year 2013.
The service sector accounts for slightly more than half of GDP, and industry, consisting of mining, construction and manufacturing, another quarter. The industries that experienced the strongest growth are tourism, the telecommunications sector, IT and textiles.