A Portrait of Morocco

a portrait of morocco

Introducing Morocco

Morocco is often likened to a tree, with roots embedded in Africa and leaves that breathe European air. This metaphor, coined by King Hassan II (1929-1999), captures the essence of a nation deeply traditional yet irresistibly drawn to modernity. This duality is what imbues Morocco with its rich cultural tapestry.

Unlike any other country in the Muslim world, Morocco boasts a unique and diverse culture forged over 3,000 years. Its heritage is shaped by ancient ethnic groups and its strategic geographical location, bordered by the Atlantic Ocean to the west, sub-Saharan Africa to the south, Europe to the north, and the Mediterranean countries to the east.

Morocco on the map

The Moroccan people navigate the delicate balance between the allure of modernity and a deep-seated desire for Islamic reform. Significant events such as the passing of King Hassan II in 1999, the ascension of his son, King Mohammed VI, the formation of a left-wing coalition government, and the ensuing challenges related to the economy and press freedom, have positioned Morocco at the cusp of a transformative new chapter in its history.

Morocco: An Evolving Society

Since the 1950s, Morocco has experienced profound social changes. Traditional tribal cohesion has given way to the European-style nuclear family, polygamy has become rare, a money-based economy is now standard, and the concept of individuality has emerged.

These transformations have been accompanied by urban population growth and the rise of a bi-cultural elite with traditional roots and a European outlook. With a large percentage of young people, Moroccan society is unmistakably moving away from its past. However, the country still grapples with the challenges posed by sharp contradictions in its social, political, and economic life.

Since gaining independence from France in 1956, Morocco has attempted to address three major issues: illiteracy, unemployment, and poverty. Despite allocating 26.3% of its budget to education, the literacy rate remains low at 55%, one of the lowest in the world. Education no longer guarantees employment, and more than 200,000 high-school graduates are unemployed. Even university education is no longer a sure path to career success.

Berber Culture

Despite its mixed Berber and Arab population, Morocco has successfully maintained ethnic and cultural stability, ensuring equality between the Berber and Arabic languages. While Tamazight, the Berber language, is not taught in schools, it is commonly heard on Moroccan radio and television. The movement to promote Berber language and culture through newspapers, concerts, and other cultural events is vibrant. There are active efforts to encourage the wider use of the language and to foster respect for the rich Berber heritage.

Pilot projects in the southern Souss region, funded by money sent back by Berbers working abroad, have included the construction of mosques, wells, roads, and schools. These initiatives showcase the community’s commitment to preserving and enhancing their cultural identity.

The Status of Women in Morocco

Today, Moroccan women work in diverse fields such as politics, aviation, business, and the media. They serve as political delegates, ambassadors, airline pilots, company directors, royal advisers, Olympic champions, writers, publishers, activists, and journalists. Over the past 30 years, the status and position of women in Moroccan society have undergone a radical transformation.

A significant milestone was the constitution of March 10, 1972, which granted women the right to vote and be elected. By 1994, 77 women were elected to the Chamber of Representatives. However, feminist associations continue to push for further progress. They demand the abolition of the mudawwana, a 1957 statute that restricts women’s rights and prevents them from being treated as fully-fledged adults.

Efforts to improve women’s status in March 1999 faced strong opposition from the Minister of Religious Affairs, the ulemas (religious councils), and Islamic deputies in Parliament. Currently, the desire for progress and modernization championed by Morocco’s new king and his government continues to encounter resistance from various religious bodies.

Political Change in Morocco

Until the death of King Hassan II in 1999, Morocco was under the rule of a distant and autocratic monarch. The attempted coups d’├ętat of 1971 and 1972 led the Moroccan authorities to tighten their control over the government, with Driss Basri, then Minister of the Interior, enforcing these measures.

Towards the end of his reign, Hassan II began to ease his authoritarian rule by involving the left wing in the government. In February 1998, a government of national unity was formed, led by Socialist leader Abderrahmane Youssoufi, although its success has been seen as limited.

Since 1999, King Mohammed VI has introduced a new style of governance, marked by a willingness to listen to his people and a commitment to countering Islamic radicals. He gained popular support by dismissing Driss Basri, the former Minister of the Interior. Breaking with tradition, he has publicly introduced his new wife and has established royal commissions to address economic development, the issue of the southern Sahara, employment, and education.

In the September 2002 parliamentary election, Morocco had more than 20 political parties, many newly formed. This led to the rise of the Islamic Party of Justice and Development (PJD), which became the third largest political party in the country, following the Socialist Union of Popular Forces (USFP) and the Istiqlal Party, the main opposition party to the coalition government. However, the terrorist bombings in Casablanca in May 2003, which claimed 43 lives, have created instability and raised questions about the progress of the democratization process initiated by King Mohammed VI.

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