Arguably one of the most stable countries in the Middle East is Morocco. Officially known as the Kingdom of Morocco, Morocco is a Constitutional monarchy located in the Maghreb region of the Middle East. Morocco is bordered by countries such as Libya, Algeria, Sapin, Portugal, and Italy, has an area of approximately 440,000 square kilometers and a population of around 34 million. Morocco plays a significant role in contemporary Middle Eastern politics due to its relative stability in one of the most violent and unstable regions of the world, its ethnically and culturally-diverse population, and efforts to solve pressing regional issues such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The history of Morocco can be traced back to the establishment of the Berber kingdom of Mauretania in 225 BC, which was the first independent Moroccan state. Mauretania became a client state of the Roman Empire in 33 BC and was annexed directly as a Roman province in 44 CE. The decline of the Roman Empire during the 4th and 5th centuries CE resulted in parts of present-day Morocco being reconquered by the Berber tribes, who sought to establish an independent nation free of foreign domination. The Muslim conquest of the Maghreb during the 7th and 8th centuries CE brought both the religion of Islam and Arabic language to Morocco. The indigenous Berber tribes adopted Islam by the late 7th Century, although they retained their traditional laws and customs. By 788, the first of a series of Moroccan Muslim dynasties came to power. In the 16th century, the Sa’adi monarchy came to power and soon sought to make Morocco a significant regional power. Under the Sa’adi rule, Morocco pushed back repeated incursions by the growing Ottoman Empire and a Portuguese attack at the battle of Ksar el Kebir in 1578.
In 1666, Morocco was reunited with the Alaouite Dynasty, who has been the ruling family of Morocco ever since. During this period, Morocco faced much aggression from Spain and the Ottoman Empire, which were both seeking to expand their borders westward. The Alaouites succeeded in stabilizing their position for the time being and reunified Morocco. In 1860, Spain occupied northern Morocco and ushered in a half-century of rivalry among European powers that saw Morocco’s sovereignty steadily decline. In 1912, the French imposed a protectorate over the country. A protracted independence struggle with France ended successfully in 1956. Sultan Mohammed V subsequently organized the new Moroccan state as a constitutional monarchy and assumed the title of king in 1957.
The current Moroccan constitution was adopted on December 14, 1962, and most recently amended on July 1, 2011. The constitution stipulates that Morocco is a parliamentary constitutional monarchy with three branches of government. The executive branch is headed by both the king and the President of Government. The constitution grants the king extensive powers and states that he is both the secular political leader and the “Commander of the Faithful” due to his status as a direct descendant of the Prophet Mohammed. The king presides over the Council of Ministers, appoints the president following legislative elections, and selects the members of the government upon the suggestions of the president. On the other hand, the primary role of the President is to follow through on public policies and to serve as the elected representative of the Moroccan people. The current King of Morocco is Mohammed VI, who came to power in July of 1999 following the death of his father, King Hassan II. The current President of Morocco is Saadeddine Othmani, who assumed office on April 5, 2017. Othmani is a member of the Justice and Development Party.
The legislative branch of Morocco consists of two branches. The first branch is the Chamber of Advisors, which consist of 120 seats. Its members are indirectly elected by an electoral college consisting of local government councils and serve for a 6-year term. The Chamber of Representatives is the second legislative house in Morocco, which consists of 395 seats. 305 of its members are directly elected in multi-seat constituencies by proportional representation vote and 90 are directly elected in a single nationwide constituency by proportional representation vote. In the national constituency, 60 seats are reserved for women and 30 reserved for those under age 40. All of the members serve for a 5-year term. The most recent elections were held on November 25, 2011, and had a 43% turnout rate. The highest court in Morocco is the Supreme Court, whose judges are appointed by the King. The legal system of Morocco is considered to be a mixture of both civil law and Shari’a law.
Overall, the government of Morocco has a mixed record with regards to human rights and political freedom. Under the rule of King Hassan II, regime opponents were subject to heavy-handed reprisals such as torture, executions, and harassment by governmental authorities. The human rights situation in Morocco began to improve once King Mohammed VI came to power in 1999. Under King Mohammed VI, numerous rights such as freedom of speech, press, and expression have been upheld by the government, a new electoral system was implemented, governmental corruption was tackled, and an Equity and Reconciliation Commission was set up to investigate human rights abuses under the rule of King Hassan II. Many international observers credit these gradual reforms as preventing Morocco from descending into the chaos and instability that has been evident in much of the Middle East over the past two decades. On the other hand, some critics argue that these reforms have done little to fully improve the political situation within Morocco and only serve to strengthen the monarchies hold on power.
In terms of religion, Morocco is estimated to be 98.9% Muslim, 0.9% Christian, and 0.2% Jewish. An overwhelming majority (67%) of Moroccan Muslims are Sunni and 30% of Muslims are non-denominational. Approximately 3-8,000 Shi’a Muslims reside in Morocco, most of whom are of Iraqi and Lebanese origin. Morocco is home to approximately 400,000 Christians, giving it one of the largest Christian populations in the region (behind Egypt, Lebanon, Cyprus, Iran, Iraq, and Syria). A majority of Moroccan Christians are members of the Chaldean Catholic church, although a small number of Protestant sects are present as well. Approximately 6-8,000 Jews (mostly Sephardic) reside in Morocco, giving it the third largest Jewish population in the Middle East (behind Israel and Iran). Due to its status as a meeting place of many diverse faiths, Morocco has established a reputation as a pluralistic country that encourages ecumenical dialogue between all religions. Arabs are the largest ethnic group in Morocco and Arabic, Berber, and French are the official languages. Morocco has a 68.5% literacy rate and an average life expectancy of 77 years, comparable to many Western countries such as the US.
Morocco has a GDP of around $281.4 billion and Human Development score of 0.647. The economy of Morocco is primarily service-based (56.8%) Agriculture and Industry make up 13.6 and 29.5% of the Moroccan economy respectively. The unemployment rate in Morocco is estimated to be ~9% as of 2016 and the country has a GDP per capita of $8,200. The economy of Morocco is currently expanding due to the neo-liberal economic policies of King Mohammed VI and expanded investment by countries such as the US, UK, France, and Italy in recent years.
Morocco is an active member of international organizations such as the United Nations, the Arab League, and the Non-Aligned Movement among others. Moreover, Morocco maintains diplomatic relations with a majority of countries and has recently sought to increase its positive role in the international community and become the leading voice for Arab unity. Some of Morocco’s strongest regional allies include Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt, Algeria, and Kuwait. Additionally, Morocco has pursued a moderately pro-Israel foreign policy by forming close economic ties with the Jewish state, pushing for a permanent solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict, and working with moderate voices on both sides of the conflict. Morocco is also critical of the current Iranian government and supports efforts by the Arab states to isolate Iran. The poor relationship between Morocco and Iran can be traced back to the fact that the Moroccan government under King Hassan II strongly backed Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi during the Iranian Revolution and granted him asylum after his overthrow. Morocco is also critical of Iran’s regional ambitions and feels that increased Iranian regional influence will result in higher levels of instability that will ultimately weaken governments throughout the region.
Outside of the Middle East, Morocco has pursued close diplomatic and economic ties with many Western powers. In particular, Morocco and the US have a strong economic, political, and military alliance. The relationship between Morocco and the US dates back to the late 1770s when Morocco became the first country to recognize the US and an independent nation. The close cooperation between Morocco and the US has grown in recent years due to events such as the War on Terrorism. The US considers Morocco to be a major non-NATO ally and a beacon of stability in the region. As a reward for the close friendship between both countries, Morocco became one of the few countries in the Middle East to extend visa-free travel to American citizens.
In conclusion, Morocco is one of the most important countries in the Middle East due to its relative stability, a strong economy, close ties with numerous world powers, and diverse population. Continued progress is dependent on steady reform of the Moroccan political and economic system and support from the international community.