Moroccan history is from an old age closely linked to developments in North Africa as well as to the Mediterranean – and eventually to the spread of Islam, which also linked Muslim North Africa closer to Andalucía, which was that of the Islamic world.
Thanks to its geographical location, Morocco has been a meeting place for European, African and Eastern civilizations, in which Arabs in particular have significantly changed the Moroccan community, including the indigenous Berber population.
Morocco was subject to European influence especially from the 17th century, but both Englishmen and Spaniards were expelled from the area. The Alawitt dynasty managed to maintain independence, but today’s Morocco became partly a French and partly a Spanish protectorate in 1912. Resistance to these was defeated, but the Moroccan king retained his throne. Allied troops landed in Morocco in 1942, accelerating independence in 1956.
- Countryaah: Check to see the location of Morocco on the world map. Also covers major mountains, rivers and lakes in Morocco.
Originally nomadic Berbers were among the first to settle in today’s Morocco, between 4000 and 2000 BCE, and they still form a significant part of the country’s population. Later, several people have settled in the area, from Phoenician traders of ancient times to French settlers in recent times. The Phoenicians explored the coast of North Africa from the 12th century BCE and established trading stations in Morocco; later the Carthaginians did the same. In the year 42, the area was made the westernmost province of the Roman Empire, named Mauritania Tingitana. To see more information other than history, please visit Abbreviationfinder to learn more about climate, population, government, and economy for the country of Morocco.
Having been subject to the vandals and Byzantines, Morocco was invaded by the Arabs in 684-685, and completely subject to their control in the 700s. With the Arabs, the country was transformed into an Islamic society with a strong Arab ruling class. Religious discrepancies led to fragmentation in small provinces, and several dynasties emerged; the Fezids of the Fez (8th century), the Almoravids and Almohads of Marrakesh (11th century), the Saadis (16th century) and the Alawites (17th century).
It was Idris who created the first great empire in Morocco in the period 788-986, but then the internal strife weakened the country again. During the Almoravid, a new empire was established from Andalusia in Spain to sub- Saharan Africa, until it also dissolved in the mid-1100s; the first Amazigh/Berber dynasty in North Africa. The Almoravids were followed by the Almohads, who extended their empire westward to Tripolitania and Kyrenaika in today’s Libya, and who, until the early 1200s, also established themselves in Spain.
After suffering defeat in Spain, the Almohads lost their power, and a new Berber dynasty, the Merinids, took over for a hundred years. The Merinidian regime was followed by the Saudi dynasty (1509–1668), and its power reached south to present-day Mali and eastward to much of Algeria, expelling the Portuguese from Morocco. In 1669, a branch of the Saadis, the present Alawi dynasty, gained power. The Sultan Mulai Ismail (1672–1727) reassembled Morocco in the late 1600s, securing the country’s recognition from the European powers and the Ottoman Empire; a state assembly and position that was not significantly weakened by the power struggle following his death and the resulting civil war.
More exposed was the position of Morocco under Mulai abd al-Rahman (1822–1859), who ruled during a period when the power relations in the Mediterranean changed, significantly with the influence of the emerging colonial powers France and the United Kingdom. The European great powers’ interest in Morocco began in the 1400s, and some of the areas over which they secured control have not yet been declared. It was France and Spain that colonized Morocco in the 19th century, but Portugal was the first to conquer parts of the country. Despite Moroccan resistance, Portugal succeeded in occupying several cities on the Mediterranean and Atlantic coasts; including Ceuta (1415), al-Qasr al-Saghir (1458), Tangier (1471), Safi(1481), Agadir (1505) and Agouz (1507). From here, Portugal controlled the sea trade and parts of the inland.
It was Portugal’s occupation and oppression that led to the rise of the Saudi dynasty, which carried out a jihad against the Christian occupation. It led, among other things, to the conquest of Agadir in 1541 and a collapse of Portugal’s power in Morocco. The Saadis, and the successors of the Alawites, ruled a united Morocco that expanded south and east to secure its trade interests, before being challenged by European imperialism. To secure the trade route between Fez and Egypt, Alawite sultan Mulai Ismail, for example, captured Tlemcen in today’s Algeria, but was beaten back by an Ottoman offensive in 1701.
The French conquest of Alger in 1830 was also important for Morocco. Sultan Abd al-Rahman (1822–1859) took the opportunity to re-capture Tlemcen in 1830–1831, but withdrew quickly and then supported the emir of Algeria and the rebel leader Abd al-Qadir with weapons and soldiers in the fight against invaders. This led to a brief war between Morocco and France in 1844 where the Moroccan forces were defeated, after which Morocco was forced to accept French rule in Algeria at the peace in Tangier that same year. After a dispute over the borders of the Spanish Ceuta enclave, Spain went to war in 1860, and Morocco had to give up a larger area to Ceuta, including Tétouan – the future capital of Spanish Morocco – as well as Ifni territory.
The United Kingdom established diplomatic and economic contacts with Morocco, regulated by the Anglo-Moroccan Treaty of 1856 which opened for European trade and acquisition of real estate in Morocco – and laid the foundation for further European influence. This was further strengthened by the Spanish-Moroccan treaty of 1861, which also ended the war with Spain. An agreement between France and Morocco was signed in 1863 and gave France the opportunity to protect its citizens and interests in Morocco, which was the start of a later colonial control. The sea trade, especially over Casablanca and Rabat, was controlled by British and French; much of the land trade was controlled by the large Jewish people group in Morocco.
Rivalry between the great powers in northern Africa ended with an agreement between the United Kingdom and France in 1904, which gave the French free hands in Morocco against France giving up its interests in Egypt. A similar agreement was made with Italy, which was not challenged in Libya. Germany also sought influence in Morocco, but ended up recognizing the French sphere of interest against French concessions in the Congo. Spain received assurances that northern Morocco would be a Spanish sphere of interest. With these diplomatic clarifications, the European powers met Morocco during the Algeciras Conference in 1906. Here the Sultan’s integrity and Morocco’s independence were recognized and European economic interests accepted.
In protest of Sultan Abd al-Aziz’s cooperation with the Europeans, his brother Abd al-Hafiz led a revolt against him. Attacks on French interests led France to occupy Casablanca and Oujda in 1907, and al-Hafiz was inaugurated as a new sultan in 1909. However, with continued turmoil, he had to ask France for help – and in return signed the Fez Treaty in 1912, which did the majority of Morocco to a French protectorate. Morocco was divided into a French-controlled area, a Spanish-controlled area and Tangier, which was made into an international zone, but still with the Sultan as the formal head of state in Morocco. It revolted against both the Spanish and French governments, especially with the so-called Rif War in the Rif Mountains (1921-1926), led by Abd al Crimea, which was defeated by a combined French-Spanish force. Foreign control over Morocco was finally secured in 1934.
Until the Second World War, there was considerable immigration of French, but not to the same extent as in Algeria; in 1931 there were 115,000 French settlers in Morocco. Spanish Morocco included in the first half of the 20th century the garrisons of Alhucemas, Ceuta and Melilla, with adjacent areas of the Mediterranean and an area inland, as well as Ifni and Tarfaya on the Atlantic coast, where Spain in 1884 established a trading center, Villa Cisneros, later Río de Oro (Western Sahara). A military revolt in Spanish Morocco in 1936 led to civil war in Spain then General Franco returned from Morocco. Tangier was occupied by Spain in 1940–1945, before the city again became an international zone. During World War II, the Vichy regime took control of Morocco, but Sultan Muhammad 5 supported free France and its allies. He also refused to sign anti-Jewish decrees, which would have affected his Jewish subjects. In 1942, allied forces landed in Morocco and Algeria.
A nationalist movement emerged in the 1930s, and an independence party, Hizb al-Istiqlal, was formed in 1943. The demand for independence was first promoted with strength in the 1950s, when weapons were also used against the French government. Spain was more open to independence than France, and the Moroccan nationalists were largely allowed to operate from the Spanish-controlled areas. In 1953, the French deposed and deported Sultan Muhammad, who supported the nationalist movement, to Madagascar. Opposition to this action culminated in an open revolt in 1955, and France agreed to reinstate the Sultan. France’s position was made even more difficult when war broke out in Algeria in 1954.
A Franco-Moroccan agreement of 2 March 1956 – and a similar one with Spain on 7 April – led to Morocco’s immediate independence. In October of that year, Tangier was re- incorporated into Morocco; Tarfaya was returned in 1958 and Ifni in 1969. Despite Moroccan protests, Spain retained Ceuta and Melilla. By independence, Morocco also claimed territories that would recreate the old “Greater Morocco”, with areas from Algeria, Mali and Mauritania, as well as Spanish possessions in North West Africa. This expansionist thought was also behind the occupation of Western Sahara in 1975 after Spain withdrew from the colony.
In 1957, Sultan Muhammad took the royal title. After his death in 1961, he was succeeded by his son, who took the royal name Hassan 2. Even with a politically liberal constitution, the monarchy was strong, and the king had widespread power. King Hassan wanted political pluralism – also because by allowing several parties to split and weaken the opposition – and more political parties emerged. Growing dissatisfaction with the economic conditions led the king in 1965 to declare the state of emergency, where he himself took over all power. In October 1965, opposition leader Ben Barka disappeared in France, and his fate was first clarified after King Hassan’s death in 1999. In 1971, there was a failed attempt by conservative officers to overthrow the king to form a republic, and the following year he survived another coup attempt..
From the mid-1970s, the conflict over Western Sahara escalated (see Western Sahara history). King Hassan used the conflict in Western Sahara to strengthen Moroccan nationalism and his own political position. In response to growing discontent and contradictions, a revised constitution was passed in a referendum in 1992, with somewhat greater political freedom throughout the 1990s – but still with a human rights practice that led to international criticism. After a referendum in 1996, a majority for constitutional amendments gave Morocco a parliament with a two-chamber system. In the 1997 parliamentary elections, over 3000 candidates from 16 parties voted for the 325 seats in a House of Representatives (Majlis al-Nuwab) and 270 in a Senate (Majlis al-Mustasharin). The party Istiqlal and the Union socialiste des forces populaires (USFP) got the most support. After the elections, a coalition government of the opposition was formed, and in 1998 the king appointed Abderrahmane Youssoufi as Morocco’s first prime minister.
Several Islamist groups were active in Morocco in the 1990s, along with the unrest in Algeria, and partly inspired by developments in neighboring countries. Responsibility for the terrorist attack on a hotel in Marrakech in 1994, forces joined in Algeria and North African communities in France. The rise of radical Islamism is linked to the significant economic and social problems and differences in Moroccan society; particularly related to high unemployment among young people, at the same time as a high degree of urbanization. The Islamist groups have particular support in poor areas and places of learning in the big cities. Protests against social policy led to riots in Tangier in 1996. In 2003, a series of suicide bombs went off in Casablanca, killing 45 people. The attack was linked in part to Morocco’s radical Islamist movement, and partly to al-Qaeda, on which a new anti-terrorism legislation was adopted. Several Moroccans were among those arrested following the terrorist bombing in Madrid in 2004.
Islamists became more visible in the 2000s, and in the 2002 election, the Party of la Justice et du développement (PJD) gained significant support. The party is considered to be moderately Islamist, and also received the most votes in the 2011 and 2016 elections. The party took over the government in 2011, and retained it after the 2016 election, with Abdelilah Benkirane as prime minister. Several parties boycotted the election.
On July 23, 1999, King Hassan 2 died after 38 years on the throne and was succeeded by his son, who took the name Muhammad 6. He built a different government style than his father, with greater openness and contact with the people, while continuing the monarch’s strong position of power.
Morocco’s foreign policy is linked to the country’s regional position, the conflict in Western Sahara, relations with the EU, France and Spain – and the Middle East conflict. From the mid-1970s, the Western Sahara issue has been central to Morocco’s relations with countries both in the region and beyond. Morocco’s occupation of Western Sahara in 1975 and the subsequent Moroccan training of UN plans for the former colony have led to much criticism. From the 2000s, criticism became somewhat weaker, while at the same time strengthening cooperation with several Western countries in the fight against international terrorism. In particular, relations with the United States were strengthened from 1991 – and then after 2001 – and the economic and military assistance to Morocco was significantly increased. Morocco joined the US-led forces during the Gulf War in 1991 – despite strong domestic opposition.
The EU is Morocco’s most important trading partner, and in 1996 the two parties signed an agreement to strengthen social and economic development in the area south of the EU. On the other hand, a Moroccan application for entry into the EU was rejected, and European aid to Morocco was limited in the 1990s due to the country’s breach of human rights. Another stumbling block in the relationship between Morocco and the EU has been periodic disagreements over fisheries agreements; Morocco has for several years released EU fishing vessels into their waters.
There was a temporary breach of the strong ties between Morocco and France when Morocco broke off diplomatic relations as a result of the Suez crisis of 1956, as well as during the Algerian war. The relationship with France under King Hassan was good, with some exceptions; notably after the Moroccan nationalization of remaining French property in 1973. Fisheries disagreement has not least affected the relationship between Morocco and Spain, where the issue of Spanish territorial possession in North Africa is also a source of conflict. Spain retained the enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla by Morocco’s independence, but Morocco considers them Moroccan and demands them to be returned – something Spain has still rejected.
Spain has objections to Morocco’s handling of the extensive illegal immigration to Spain from ports in Morocco, and in 2002 a tense situation arose when Morocco deployed soldiers on an uninhabited island – called Leila of Morocco, Perejil of Spain – off the Moroccan coast. The two countries are fighting for the right to the island and have agreed not to occupy it. Spain sent special forces to remove the Moroccan soldiers – without any clashes. Despite disagreement in several areas, Spain is important for Morocco, both as a market and as a bridgehead to Europe. A friendship agreement was signed when King Juan Carlos visited Morocco in 1991.
Morocco’s relationship with the other Maghreb countries has also been heavily influenced by the Western Sahara issue, with Morocco’s neighboring Algeria in particular supporting the Polisario liberation movement. After periods of closed borders in the 1970s and 1980s, diplomatic relations were resumed in 1988, before conditions deteriorated again from 1994, when Morocco restricted the access of Algerians to visit the country. It was considered a security measure against the influence of radical Islamism, which stood strong in Algeria. In 1963, Morocco and Algeria fought a brief border war over disputed areas in today’s southwestern Algeria. The Western Sahara issue isolated Morocco from the other Maghreb states, but in 1984 Libya and Morocco signed a union agreement as the first step towards a united Maghreb. The Union was not realized, but all five states agreed in 1989 on an agreement that in the name meant a union between the five – with limited effect.
King Hassan played an active role during the Middle East peace process in the early 1990s, but Morocco garnered much criticism in the Arab and Muslim world through its contact with Israel from the mid-1990s; About ten percent of Israel’s Jewish population is of Moroccan origin. Morocco curtailed contact with Israel in the early 2000s as a result of Israel’s war against the Palestinian Authority. During the 1967 Six Day War, Morocco sent troops to reinforce the fight against Israel, but they did not advance until the war was over. In 1976 and 1977, King Hassan sent troops in support of Mobutu Sese Seko’s regime in Zaire, along with French intervention. Mobutu was granted exile in Morocco when he was deposed in 1997; got the same Reza Pahlavi, the Shah of Iran, in 1979.