U.S. Department of State Background Note
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Moroccans are predominantly Sunni Muslims of Arab, Berber, or mixed Arab-Berber ancestry. The Arabs brought Islam, along with Arabic language and culture, to the region from the Arabian Peninsula during the Muslim conquests of the 7th century. Today, there remains a Jewish community of approximately 5,000, and a largely expatriate Christian population of 5,000, who enjoy religious freedom and full civil rights. Morocco is also home to a 300-500-person Baha'i community which, in recent years, has been able to worship free from government interference.
Arabic is Morocco's official language, but French is widely taught and serves as the primary language of commerce and government. Moroccan colloquial Arabic is composed of a unique combination of Arabic, Berber and French dialects. Along with Arabic, about 10 million Moroccans, predominantly in rural areas, also speak one of the three Moroccan Berber dialects (Tarifit, Tashelhit, and Tamazight). Spanish is also used in the northern part of the country. English is rapidly becoming the foreign language of choice among educated youth and is offered in all public schools from the fourth year on.
Most people live west of the Atlas Mountains, a range that insulates the country from the Sahara Desert. Casablanca is the center of commerce and industry and the leading port; Rabat is the seat of government; Tangier is the gateway to Spain and also a major port; "Arab" Fes is the cultural and religious center; and "Berber" Marrakech is a major tourist center.
Education in Morocco is free and compulsory through primary school (age 15). Nevertheless, many children--particularly girls in rural areas--do not attend school. The country's literacy rate reveals sharp gaps in education, both in terms of gender and location; while country-wide literacy rates are estimated at 39% among women and 64% among men, the female literacy rate in rural areas is only 10%.
Morocco is home to 14 public universities. Mohammed V University in Rabat is one of the country's most famous schools, with faculties of law, sciences, liberal arts, and medicine. Karaouine University, in Fes, is a longstanding center for Islamic studies and is the oldest university in the Maghreb. Morocco has one private, English language university, Al-Akhawayn, in Ifrane, founded in 1993 by King Hassan II and King Fahd of Saudi Arabia. The curriculum is based on an American model.
Morocco's strategic location has shaped its history. Beginning with the Phoenicians, many foreigners were drawn to this area. Romans, Visigoths, Vandals and Byzantine Greeks ruled successively. Arab forces began occupying Morocco in the seventh century A.D., bringing their civilization and Islam. The Alaouite dynasty, which has ruled Morocco since 1649, claims descent from the Prophet Muhammad.
Morocco's location and resources led to early competition among European powers in Africa, beginning with successful Portuguese efforts to control the Atlantic coast in the 15th century. France showed a strong interest in Morocco as early as 1830. Following recognition by the United Kingdom in 1904 of France's "sphere of influence" in Morocco, the Algeciras Conference (1906) formalized France's "special position" and entrusted policing of Morocco to France and Spain jointly. The Treaty of Fes (1912) made Morocco a protectorate of France. By the same treaty, Spain assumed the role of protecting power over the northern and southern (Saharan) zones.
Nationalist political parties, which took shape under the French protectorate, began a strong campaign for independence after World War II. Declarations such as the Atlantic Charter (a joint U.S.-British statement set forth, among other things, the right of all people to choose the form of government under which they live), served as a base for the independence movement. A manifesto of the Istiqlal (Independence) Party in 1944 was one of the earliest public demands for independence. That party subsequently provided most of the leadership for the nationalist movement and remains a dominant political force.
In 1953, France exiled the highly respected Sultan Mohammed V and replaced him with the unpopular Mohammed Ben Aarafa. Ben Aarafa's reign was widely perceived as illegitimate, and sparked active opposition to French rule. France allowed Mohammed V to return in 1955, and by 1956, Morocco had regained its independence.
In the year 2006, Moroccans celebrated their 50th year of independence from France. After gaining independence on March 2, 1956, Morocco regained control over certain Spanish-ruled areas through agreements with Spain in 1956 and 1958. The internationalized city of Tangier was reintegrated with the signing of the Tangier Protocol on October 29, 1956. The Spanish enclave of Ifni in the south became part of Morocco in 1969. Spain, however, retains control over the small coastal enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla in the north.
During the 1990s, King Hassan made great strides toward economic and political liberalization. King Hassan died on July 23, 1999, and was succeeded by his son, Mohammed VI, who pledged to continue these reforms. Under Mohammed VI, the Moroccan Government has undertaken a number of economic, political, and social reforms, including the 2003 Moudawana, a reform of the family status code, and the 2006 Equity and Reconciliation Commission, which investigated allegations of human rights abuse from 1956 to 1999.
GOVERNMENT AND POLITICAL CONDITIONS
Morocco is divided into 16 administrative regions (further broken into provinces and prefectures); the regions are administered by Walis (governors) appointed by the King.
The Moroccan Constitution provides for a monarchy with a Parliament and an independent judiciary. Ultimate authority rests with the King. The King presides over the Council of Ministers; appoints the prime minister following legislative elections; appoints all members of the government taking into account the prime minister's recommendations; and may, at his discretion, terminate the tenure of any minister, dissolve the Parliament, call for new elections, or rule by decree. The King is the Commander in Chief of the military and holds the title of Amir al-Mou'minin, the country's religious leader.
Since the constitutional reform of 1996, the bicameral legislature consists of a lower chamber called the Chamber of Representatives, which is directly elected, and an upper chamber, the Chamber of Counselors, whose members are indirectly elected through various regional, local, and professional councils. The councils' members themselves are directly elected. Parliament's powers, though limited, were expanded under the 1992 and 1996 constitutional revisions to include budgetary matters, approval authority, and establishment of commissions of inquiry to investigate the government's actions. The lower chamber of Parliament may dissolve the government through a vote of no confidence.
Parliamentary elections were held in November 2002 and were considered largely free, fair, and transparent. At that time, King Mohammed VI formed a government appointing then-Interior Minister Driss Jettou as Prime Minister. Cabinet level positions were drawn from most major parties in the coalition.
Following the 2002 elections, King Mohammed VI highlighted several goals toward which the new government should work: expanded employment opportunities, economic development, meaningful education, and increased housing availability. To meet the King's objectives, the Jettou government embarked on a series of initiatives and reforms, which Jettou laid out in his early days as Prime Minister.
Jettou emphasized that modernization and revitalization of the country's infrastructure (roads, trains, communications, water, etc.) and national economy (support for Moroccan businesses, preparations for competition, modernization of modes of production, etc.), were necessary to further development progress in Morocco.
In order to create employment opportunities, the government is promoting investment in the tourism, industrial, fishing, and service industries, and is ameliorating, restructuring, and modernizing the education system.
Parliamentary elections were held in September 2007. Abbas El Fassi was designated to form a new government.
Principal Government Officials
Morocco maintains an embassy in the United States at 1601 - 21st Street NW, Washington, DC 20009 (tel. 202-462-7979).
Macroeconomic stability, coupled with low inflation and relatively slow economic growth, has characterized the Moroccan economy over the past several years. The government continues to pursue reform, liberalization, and modernization aimed at stimulating growth and creating jobs. Employment, however, remains overly dependent on the agriculture sector, which is extremely vulnerable to inconsistent rainfall. Morocco's primary economic challenge is to accelerate growth in order to reduce high levels of unemployment and underemployment. While overall unemployment stands at 7.7%, this figure masks significantly higher urban unemployment, as high as 33% among urban youths.
Through a foreign exchange rate anchor and well-managed monetary policy, Morocco has held inflation rates to industrial country levels over the past decade; inflation between 1999 and 2004 remained at 1.5% and fell to 1% in 2005. Despite criticism among exporters that the dirham has become badly overvalued, the country maintains a current account surplus. Foreign exchange reserves are strong, with over $16 billion in reserves, the equivalent of 11 months of imports at the end of 2005. The combination of strong foreign exchange reserves and active external debt management gives Morocco ample capacity to service its debt. Current external debt stands at about $17.9 billion.
Economic growth has been hampered by an over-reliance on the agriculture sector. Agriculture production is extremely susceptible to rainfall levels and ranges from 15% to 20% of GDP. Given that almost 40% of Morocco's population depends directly on agriculture, droughts have a severe negative effect on the economy.
The current government is continuing a series of structural reforms begun in recent years. The most promising reforms have been in the labor market and financial sectors, and privatization has accelerated the sale of Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM) licenses in recent years. Morocco also has liberalized rules for oil and gas exploration and has granted concessions for many public services in major cities. The tender process in Morocco is becoming increasingly transparent. Many believe, however, that the process of economic reform must be accelerated in order to reduce urban unemployment.
In January 2006, the bilateral Free Trade Agreement (FTA) between the United States and Morocco went into effect. The FTA represents an important step towards President Bush's vision of a Middle East Free Trade Area and is the first in Africa. The U.S.-Morocco FTA eliminated tariffs on 95% of bilateral trade in consumer and industrial products with all remaining tariffs to be eliminated within nine years. The negotiations produced a comprehensive agreement covering not only market access but also intellectual property rights protection, transparency in government procurement, investments, services, and e-commerce. The FTA provides new trade and investment opportunities for both countries and will encourage economic reforms and liberalization already underway.
Morocco is a moderate Arab state which maintains close relations with Europe and the United States. It is a member of the UN and belongs to the Arab League, Arab Maghreb Union (UMA), Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), and the Non-Aligned Movement. King Mohammed VI is the chairman of the OIC's Al-Quds Jerusalem Committee. Although not a member of the African Union (formerly the Organization of African Unity--OAU), Morocco remains involved in African diplomacy. It contributes consistently to UN peacekeeping efforts on the continent.
Morocco is active in Maghreb, Arab, and African affairs. It supports the search for peace and moderation in the Middle East. In 1986, then-King Hassan II took the daring step of inviting then-Israeli Prime Minister Peres for talks, becoming only the second Arab leader to host an Israeli leader. Following the September 1993 signing of the Israeli-Palestinian Declaration of Principles, Morocco accelerated its economic ties and political contacts with Israel. In September 1994, Morocco and Israel announced the opening of bilateral liaison offices. These offices were closed in 2000 following sustained Israeli-Palestinian violence, but Moroccan-Israeli diplomatic contacts continue.
Morocco was the first Arab state to condemn Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in 1990, and sent troops to help defend Saudi Arabia. Morocco maintains close relations with Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf states, which have provided Morocco with substantial amounts of financial assistance. Morocco has supported efforts to stabilize Iraq following the downfall of Saddam Hussein.
Morocco was among the first Arab and Islamic states to denounce the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States and declare solidarity with the American people in the war against terror. Morocco has seen its own terrorism at home as well. On May 16, 2003, Moroccan suicide bombers simultaneously attacked five sites in Casablanca, killing more than 40 people and wounding over 100. More than a million people subsequently demonstrated to condemn the attacks. In April 2007, a series of suicide bomb attacks occurred in central Casablanca, one taking place near the U.S. consulate general and one near the American Language Center. The bombings demonstrated Morocco's vulnerability to extremists who capitalize on widespread poverty and social exclusion.
The major issue in Morocco's foreign relations is its claim to Western Sahara. As a result of Algeria's continued support for the Polisario Front in the dispute over Western Sahara, relations between Morocco and Algeria have remained strained over the past several decades, although they have full diplomatic relations and there is periodic high-level contact between the two countries.
From 1904 until 1975, Spain occupied the entire territory, which is divided into a northern portion, the Saguia el Hamra, and a southern two-thirds, known as Rio de Oro. In 1969, the Polisario Front was formed to combat the occupation of the territory. In November 1975, King Hassan mobilized 350,000 unarmed Moroccan citizens in what came to be known as the "Green March" into Western Sahara. The march was designed to both demonstrate and strengthen Moroccan claims to the territory. On November 14, Spain, Morocco, and Mauritania announced a tripartite agreement for an interim administration under which Spain agreed to share administrative authority with Morocco and Mauritania, leaving aside the question of sovereignty. With the establishment of a Moroccan and Mauritanian presence throughout the territory, however, Spain's role in the administration of the Western Sahara ceased.
After a period of hostilities, Mauritania withdrew from the territory in 1979 and signed a peace treaty with the Polisario, relinquishing all claims to the territory. Moroccan troops occupied the region vacated by Mauritania and later proclaimed the territory reintegrated into Morocco. Morocco subsequently built a fortified berm around three-fourths of Western Sahara and has de facto administrative control over 80% of the territory.
At the OAU (now African Union) summit in June 1981, King Hassan announced his willingness to hold a referendum in the Western Sahara. Subsequent meetings of an OAU Implementation Committee proposed a cease-fire, a UN peacekeeping force, and an interim administration to assist with an OAU-UN-supervised referendum on the issue of independence or annexation. In 1984, the OAU seated a delegation of the Sahara Democratic Arab Republic (SDAR), the shadow government of the Polisario. Morocco subsequently withdrew from the OAU.
In 1988, Moroccan and Polisario representatives agreed on a joint UN/OAU settlement proposal for a referendum, but due to disagreements it never took place. In 1991, the UN brokered a cease-fire and settlement plan, and established the United Nations Mission for Referendum in Western Sahara (known by its French acronym, MINURSO), which deployed a roughly 200-person monitoring force to the territory.
The UN continues to explore with the parties ways of arriving at a mutually agreed political settlement and to promote confidence-building measures between the parties in the interim. In 2003, former Secretary of State James Baker, working as UN Secretary General Kofi Annan's Personal Envoy, put forward a peace plan calling for a referendum on issues of autonomy or integration with Morocco. While the Polisario Front and the Algerian Government accepted the plan, Morocco rejected it. After a seven-year effort to assist the parties in coming to an agreement, James Baker resigned as Personal Envoy in June 2004. In August of the same year, Kofi Annan appointed Alvaro de Soto Special Representative for the Western Sahara, to continue Baker's work. Special Representative de Soto left MINURSO in May 2005, and was replaced in July 2005 by Peter van Walsum of the Netherlands.
The Western Sahara dispute remains the primary impediment to regional integration and development goals. The parties were able to set aside some of their differences when, in August 2004, U.S. Senator Richard Lugar led a mission to the region that resulted in the release of 404 Moroccan prisoners of war who had long been held by the Polisario. Today, approximately 90,000 Sahrawi refugees live in camps around Tindouf, Algeria. The exact number of refugees living in these camps is not known since there has never been a reliable census of the population. Several thousand Sahrawis also live in the Moroccan-controlled area of Western Sahara among a large number of Moroccan settlers. Morocco considers the Western Sahara part of its national territory, while Polisario insists on the right of the people of the Western Sahara to self-determination. Algeria supports self-determination of the Sahrawis. The issue remains a major stumbling block to Moroccan-Algerian relations and regional integration.
The United States has consistently encouraged the parties to work with the United Nations, and with each other, in a spirit of flexibility and compromise, to find a mutually acceptable settlement. In this regard, the U.S. has welcomed Morocco's recent introduction of an autonomy initiative, is encouraged that it has spurred discussion, and believes that it has created an opportunity for Morocco and the Polisario to come to an agreement on this long-simmering problem. The United Nations Security Council resolution, which provides MINURSO its mandate, has been renewed for six-month intervals since its inception and is expected to be approved for a subsequent extension in October 2007. The U.S. has raised with the UN our support for direct negotiations without preconditions, as called for in the resolution, and in June and August 2007 the Moroccans and the Polisario, with Algeria and Mauritania participating as interested neighbor states, met for two rounds of talks in Manhasset, New York, mediated by Peter van Walsum. A third round of negotiations is tentatively planned for November 2007 in Switzerland.
Morocco was the first country to seek diplomatic relations with the Government of the United States in 1777, and remains one of our oldest and closest allies in the region. Formal U.S. relations with Morocco date from 1787, when the two nations negotiated a Treaty of Peace and Friendship. Renegotiated in 1836, the treaty is still in force, constituting the longest unbroken treaty relationship in U.S. history. As testament to the special nature of the U.S.-Moroccan relationship, Tangier is home to the oldest U.S. diplomatic property in the world, and the only building on foreign soil that is listed in the U.S. National Register of Historic Places, the American Legation in Tangier (now a museum).
U.S.-Moroccan relations, characterized by mutual respect and friendship, have remained strong through cooperation and sustained high-level dialogue. King Hassan II visited the United States several times during his reign as King, meeting with Presidents Kennedy, Johnson, Carter, Reagan, Bush, and Clinton. King Mohammed VI has continued his father's tradition; he made his first trip to the U.S. as King on June 20, 2000. Prime Minister Jettou visited Washington in January 2004, and King Mohammed came to the United States in July 2004. Then-Secretary of State Colin Powell traveled to Morocco in December 2004 to co-chair with Foreign Minister Benaissa the first meeting of the G8-BMENA "Forum for the Future." In August 2007, Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Karen Hughes visited Morocco to meet with Moroccan officials, Moroccan non-governmental organizations, and students.
As a stable, democratizing, and liberalizing Arab Muslim nation, Morocco is important for U.S. interests in the Middle East. Accordingly, U.S. policy toward Morocco seeks sustained and strong engagement, and identifies priorities for reform, conflict resolution, counterterrorism cooperation, and public outreach.
The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and its predecessor agencies have managed an active and effective assistance program in Morocco since 1953, for a cumulative amount exceeding $2 billion. The amount of USAID assistance to Morocco in FY 2006 was $19.2 million, with an estimated $18.9 million allotted for FY 2007. USAID's current multi-sectoral strategy (2004-2008) consists of three strategic objectives in creating more opportunities for trade and investment, basic education and workforce training, and government responsiveness to citizen needs.
The Peace Corps has been active in Morocco for more than 40 years, with the first group of 53 volunteers arriving in the country in 1963. Since that time, nearly 4,000 volunteers have served in Morocco, and have served in a variety of capacities including lab technology, urban development, commercial development, education, rural water supply, small business development, beekeeping, and English training. In 2007, 197 volunteers served in Morocco, working in four sectors: health, youth development, small business, and the environment.
Principal U.S. Embassy Officials
The U.S. Embassy in Morocco is located at 2 Avenue de Marrakech, Rabat tel. 212 (37) 76-22-65.
TRAVEL AND BUSINESS INFORMATION
For the latest security information, Americans living and traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department's Bureau of Consular Affairs Internet web site at http://www.travel.state.gov, where the current Worldwide Caution, Public Announcements, and Travel Warnings can be found. Consular Affairs Publications, which contain information on obtaining passports and planning a safe trip abroad, are also available at http://www.travel.state.gov. For additional information on international travel, see http://www.usa.gov/Citizen/Topics/Travel/International.shtml.
The Department of State encourages all U.S citizens traveling or residing abroad to register via the State Department's travel registration website or at the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate abroad. Registration will make your presence and whereabouts known in case it is necessary to contact you in an emergency and will enable you to receive up-to-date information on security conditions.
Emergency information concerning Americans traveling abroad may be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the U.S. and Canada or the regular toll line 1-202-501-4444 for callers outside the U.S. and Canada.
The National Passport Information Center (NPIC) is the U.S. Department of State's single, centralized public contact center for U.S. passport information. Telephone: 1-877-4USA-PPT (1-877-487-2778). Customer service representatives and operators for TDD/TTY are available Monday-Friday, 7:00 a.m. to 12:00 midnight, Eastern Time, excluding federal holidays.
Travelers can check the latest health information with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia. A hotline at 877-FYI-TRIP (877-394-8747) and a web site at http://www.cdc.gov/travel/index.htm give the most recent health advisories, immunization recommendations or requirements, and advice on food and drinking water safety for regions and countries. A booklet entitled "Health Information for International Travel" (HHS publication number CDC-95-8280) is available from the U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC 20402, tel. (202) 512-1800.
Further Electronic Information
Export.gov provides a portal to all export-related assistance and market information offered by the federal government and provides trade leads, free export counseling, help with the export process, and more.STAT-USA/Internet, a service of the U.S. Department of Commerce, provides authoritative economic, business, and international trade information from the Federal government. The site includes current and historical trade-related releases, international market research, trade opportunities, and country analysis and provides access to the National Trade Data Bank.
Revised: Oct. 2007