Morocco is often called Europe's gateway to Africa. It takes you to an exotic and magical land where you witness the wonderful fusion of the Islamic, Arabic and African traditions. From medina and minarets to deserts and mountains, Morocco’s charm lies in its diversity. Lovers of sun-kissed shores need not to be disheartened either as a long coastline along the Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea offers miles of beautiful beaches. The trekkers or hitchhikers can have a great time out among the snow-capped Atlas Mountains. Art connoisseurs and admirers of the bygone era will be mesmerised by the stunning array of medieval buildings and ethnic artefacts spread all over the Moroccan cities. So, whether it is gazing at ancient wonders or marvelling the desert dawn in Sahara, this North African nation never falls short of captivating your senses. Rabat is the capital of the nation while Agadir, Essaouira, Fes, Marrakech, Meknes, Oujda, Ouarzazat, Safi and Tangier are other important cities. Casablanca is the chief port of Morocco and a thriving commercial centre.
Situated on the north west of Africa, Morocco is officially addressed as the Kingdom of Morocco. The country’s name is arguably derived from its former capital city of Marrakech meaning “the land of God”. It shares its land borders with Algeria and Western Sahara, the latter being claimed as a Moroccan region. The maritime borders are guarded by the Atlantic Ocean, the Mediterranean Sea and the Strait of Gibraltar. It is believed that the Moroccan people are the pulse of a nation and they are known to be a very friendly and warm populace. The population of Morocco is basically descent of the Berbers or a cross-section of origins including Berbers, Arabs, Moors and Jews. They are predominantly Muslim with Jewish and Christian minorities. The official language is Arabic, but a large minority speaks Berber too. French and Spanish is also widely spoken throughout Morocco and English is also understood.
Camel in desert
Morocco is located on the westernmost tip of northern Africa. The country is encompassed by Algeria to the east and southeast, Western Sahara to the south, the Atlantic Ocean to the west and the Mediterranean to the north. Spain is the off-the-shore neighbour of Morocco that is separated from the country by the narrow Strait of Gibraltar. The Moroccan maritime territories include Spanish enclaves of Ceuta, Melilla, Peñón de Vélez de la Gomera and Peñón de Alhucemas and islands of Perejil and Chafarinas. Morocco also claims authority over the region of Western Sahara and parts of Strait of Gibraltar.
The inland of Morocco is basically mountainous and the Sahara Desert covers a major part in the southern side. Among the main mountain ranges, the Atlas mountain range virtually segregates the topography of the nation. Running through the middle of the country from south west to north east, the arid sandy terrains of Sahara Desert are halted on the southern foothills of this mountains. The fertile plains and sandy beaches of the Atlantic coast lie on the northern side and are home to most of the population. Agriculture also flourishes on this upper half of the Atlas Mountains. The Rif Mountains acts like a ’headband’ for landscape of Morocco while covering the entire Mediterranean coast on the north. The regions of Western Sahara, which the Moroccan authorities proclaim as the Southern Province, are also desert and hence, non-productive. The total area of Morocco sprawls over 446,550 sq km.
Sand dunes of Erg Chebbi in the Sahara Desert near Merzouga
The climate in Morocco varies from area to area. The coast has a warm, Mediterranean climate tempered on the eastern coast by southwest trade winds. Inland areas have a hotter, drier, continental climate. In the south of the country, the weather is very hot and dry throughout most of the year, with the nights being the coolest in the months of December and January. The climate is cooler in the mountains.
The holy town of Moulay Idriss
Morocco is home of the oldest surviving monarchy in the African continent. The nation owes its diversity to the cross-cultural influences that appeared due to the proximity to European shores. During the course of history, the Berbers, original inhabitants of Morocco, experienced a series of invasions and political breakthroughs. They made their presence felt in the nation around 8000 BC and were attacked for the first time by the Phoenicians in the 12th century BC. The Carthaginians were the next to arrive and reign over Moroccan territories. However, the Romans subjugated them in the second century BC and the region was ruled as Mauretania Tingitana under the Roman Empire. Then starting from 429 AD, throughout the 5th century, the territories of Morocco were conquered by the Vandals and the Byzantines in rapid succession. The first Arabs arrived from the west around ending decades of the seventh century and brought along the faith Islam. They established a series of dynasties which have ruled Morocco ever since. However, even today, in this part of North Africa, the conflict between the Arabs and Berbers remains a perennial issue.
By the early 15th century, the maritime powers of southern Europe like the Spanish and Portuguese started to make aggressive moves towards North Africa. In early phase, the struggle for control over Morocco between the Arabs and Europeans was manipulated by the former. This victory heralded an illustrious period of Moroccan history, during which the country became a major centre of artistic and scientific endeavour, thereby enjoying a considerable economic prosperity.
However, Morocco failed to oust the growing European influence from the Spanish and then the French. At the end of the 19th century, the French occupied Morocco and became a Protectorate of France in 1912 with the Treaty of Fez. At this time, the Alaouite dynasty was the ruling monarchy of Morocco and the royal family backed discreetly the independence movement that was building up throughout the nation. Morocco finally achieved independence on March 2, 1956. Tangiers was an international city in Moroccan region ruled by the main European powers and it was returned to the nation in 1969. Morocco annexed the territory of Western Sahara in the mid-1970s but most of the countries of the world have declined to recognise this takeover.
Ancient city of Ait Benhaddou
The economy of Morocco has shaped up like a typical developing nation structure that is plagued with several issues deterring growth. After battling with poverty, deficit budget and unemployment for a long time, the authorities finally decided that the early years of 21st century should be dedicated to relax government controls and open up the trade market. Shares of some Moroccan government units, though in limited numbers, went up for sale and it opened avenues for foreign direct investment. Agricultural output also increased due to good amount of rainfall. The results became evident when the GDP growth passed 4% in 2004. As far as the industry sector is considered, returns from phosphate mining and surprisingly, cannabis production chip in the necessary financial boost for the economy.
The Moroccan government has also undertaken several infrastructure development projects with monetary aid from the IMF, the World Bank, and the Paris Club. Tourism is a very important activity for the national economy with more than 3 million tourists visiting Morocco each year, generating an average of 1.5 billion dollar revenue. The country also offers a wide range of tourism related services like business tourism and sport tourism that have a high development potential. However, a high unemployment rate at 12.1%, indiscriminate utilisation of child labour, poor standard of living, faulty economic policy making and stringent state control are some of the many lingering problems of Moroccan economy. Recently, the government of Morocco has signed Free Trade Agreement with United States of America to bolster revenue generation and foreign currency earnings.
Arab town in Morocco
The political framework of Morocco takes the shape of a constitutional monarchy but the democratic structures of the country are less developed than what is expected. The country is governed under a 1972 constitution, revised in 1992, that proclaims the king as the chief of state. The monarch is also hailed as the head of the military and the country's religious leader, "Defender of the Faith". He enjoys a supreme authority in affairs of governance and has the power to appoint the prime minister and other ministers, terminate the tenure of any minister, dissolve the Parliament, suspend the constitution and call for new elections. Under certain circumstances the king can rule by decree. The prime minister is usually the leader of the majority party in Moroccan parliament and is considered to be the head of government. He handles administrative affairs with help of his cabinet or Council of Ministers.
The legislative organ of Morocco is quite a young institution that came into being only in 1997 after the constitutional reform of 1996. The bicameral Parliament consists of an upper house or Chamber of Counsellors and a lower house or Chamber of Representatives. The 270 members of the Chamber of Counsellors are elected indirectly by local councils, professional organisations, and labour syndicates. In total, they serve nine-year terms with one-third of the members being renewed every three years. Out of the 325 Representatives from the lower house, 295 come to the parliament from multi-seat constituencies while the rest 30 members are from national lists of women. All the members are elected by universal suffrage for five-year terms. The parliament can build some limited powers that include participating in constitutional revisions, contribute in budgetary matters, and approve bills, questioning ministers’ actions and supervising government functions.
The Supreme Court in Morocco heads the judiciary matters in country. The judges are appointed by the monarch on the recommendation of the Supreme Council of the Judiciary. For administrative conveniences, Morocco is divided into 16 regions, which are headed by governors.