- History of Morocco
History of Morocco
Pre-History and Early History: The coastal regions of present-day Morocco shared in an early Neolithic culture that was common to the whole Mediterranean littoral. Archaeological remains point to the domestication of cattle and the cultivation of crops in the region during that period. Eight thousand years ago, south of the great mountain ranges in what is now the Sahara Desert, a vast savanna supported Neolithic hunters and herders whose culture flourished until the region began to desiccate as a result of climatic changes after 4000 B.C. The Berbers entered Moroccan history toward the end of the second millennium B.C., when they made initial contact with oasis dwellers on the steppe who may have been the remnants of the earlier savanna people. Phoenician traders, who had penetrated the western Mediterranean before the twelfth century B.C., set up depots for salt and ore along the coast and up the rivers of the territory that is now Morocco. Later, Carthage developed commercial relations with the Berber tribes of the interior and paid them an annual tribute to ensure their cooperation in the exploitation of raw materials.
By the fifth century B.C., Carthage had extended its hegemony across much of North Africa. By the second century B.C., several large, although loosely administered, Berber kingdoms had emerged. The Berber kings ruled in the shadow of Carthage and Rome, often as satellites. After the fall of Carthage, the area was annexed to the Roman Empire in A.D. 40. Rome controlled the vast, ill-defined territory through alliances with the tribes rather than through military occupation, expanding its authority only to those areas that were economically useful or that could be defended without additional manpower. Hence, Roman administration never extended outside the restricted area of the coastal plain and valleys. Christianity was introduced in the second century and gained converts in the towns and among slaves and Berber farmers. By the end of the fourth century, the Romanised areas had been Christianised, and inroads had been made as well among the Berber tribes, who sometimes converted en masse. But schismatic and heretical movements also developed, usually as forms of political protest. The area had a substantial Jewish population as well. The Spread of Islam: Islamic influence began in Morocco in the seventh century A.D. Arab conquerors converted the indigenous Berber population to Islam, but Berber tribes retained their customary laws. The Arabs abhorred the Berbers as barbarians, while the Berbers often saw the Arabs as only an arrogant and brutal soldiery bent on collecting taxes. Once established as Muslims, the Berbers shaped Islam in their own image and embraced schismatic Muslim sects, which, in many cases, were simply folk religion barely disguised as Islam, as their way of breaking from Arab control. The eleventh and twelfth centuries witnessed the founding of several great Berber dynasties led by religious reformers and each based on a tribal confederation that dominated the Maghrib (also seen as Maghreb; refers to North Africa west of Egypt) and Spain for more than 200 years. The Berber dynasties (Almoravids, Almohads, and Merinids) gave the Berber people some measure of collective identity and political unity under a native regime for the first time in their history, and they created the idea of an “imperial Maghrib” under Berber aegis that survived in some form from dynasty to dynasty. But ultimately each of the Berber dynasties proved to be a political failure because none managed to create an integrated society out of a social landscape dominated by tribes that prized their autonomy and individual identity. In 1559 the region fell to successive Arab tribes claiming descent from the Prophet Muhammad: first the Saads, who ruled for about 100 years, and then the Alawis, who founded a dynasty that has remained in power since the seventeenth century. Despite the weakness of its authority, the Alawite dynasty distinguished itself in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries by maintaining Morocco’s independence while other states in the region succumbed to Turkish, French, or British domination. However, in the latter part of the nineteenth century Morocco’s weakness and instability invited European intervention to protect threatened investments and to demand economic concessions. The first years of the twentieth century witnessed a rush of diplomatic maneuvering through which the European powers and France in particular furthered their interests in North Africa. Disputes over Moroccan sovereignty were links in the chain of events that led to World War I.
French Influence: At a conference held in Algeciras, Spain, in 1906, 12 European nations and the United States reaffirmed their respect for Moroccan independence. The protocols of the Algeciras Conference provided that every nation would have equal access to Morocco, but they could not alter the reality that the international community had sanctioned the preeminence of French influence there. In the first decade of the twentieth century, French forces progressively occupied Morocco, and the 1912 Treaty of Fès turned most of Morocco into a French protectorate. Spain was given control of pieces of Morocco in the far north and south and of the Spanish Sahara (now Western Sahara). Tangier received special international status. From a strictly legal point of view, the treaty did not deprive Morocco of its status as a sovereign state. Theoretically, the sultan remained the sole source of sovereignty. He reigned, but he did not rule. Under the protectorate, French civil servants allied themselves with the French settlers (colons) and with their supporters in France to prevent any moves in the direction of Moroccan autonomy. As pacification proceeded, the French government promoted economic development, particularly the exploitation of Morocco’s mineral wealth, the creation of a modern transportation system, and the development of a modern agriculture sector geared to the French market. Tens of thousands of colons entered Morocco and bought up large amounts of the rich agricultural land. Interest groups that formed among these elements continually pressured France to increase its control over Morocco. The Rise of Nationalism: Moroccan nationalism first arose in the 1920s. In December 1934, a small group of nationalists—members of the newly formed Moroccan Action Committee (Comité d’Action Marocaine—CAM)—proposed a Plan of Reforms that called for a return to indirect rule as envisaged by the Treaty of Fès, admission of Moroccans to government positions, and establishment of representative councils. The moderate tactics used by the CAM to obtain consideration of reform—petitions, newspaper editorials, and personal appeals to French officials—proved inadequate, and the tensions created in the CAM by the failure of the plan caused it to split. The rump CAM was reconstituted as a nationalist political party to gain mass support for more radical demands, but the French suppressed the party in 1937. During World War II, the badly divided nationalist movement became more cohesive, and informed Moroccans dared to consider the real possibility of political change in the postwar era. However, the nationalists were disappointed in their belief that the Allied victory in Morocco would pave the way for independence. In January 1944, the Moroccan Istiqlal (Independence) Party released a manifesto demanding full independence, national reunification, and a democratic constitution. The sultan had approved the manifesto before its submission to the French resident general, who answered that no basic change in the protectorate status was being considered. The general sympathy of the sultan for the nationalists had become evident by the end of the war, although he still hoped to see complete independence achieved gradually. By contrast, the residency, supported by French economic interests and vigorously backed by most of the colons, adamantly refused to consider even reforms short of independence. Official intransigence contributed to increased animosity between the nationalists and the colons and gradually widened the split between the sultan and the resident general. In December 1952, a riot broke out in Casablanca over the murder of a Tunisian labour leader; this event marked a watershed in relations between Moroccan political parties and French authorities. In the aftermath of the rioting, the residency outlawed the new Moroccan Communist Party and the Istiqlal. In 1953 France exiled the popular Sultan Mohammed V to Madagascar. Mohammed V’s deposition enraged not only the nationalists but also all those who recognised the sultan as the religious leader of the country. Two years later, faced with a united Moroccan demand for the sultan’s return, rising violence in Morocco, and the deteriorating situation in Algeria, the French government brought Mohammed V back to Morocco. Moroccan Independence: In late 1955, Mohammed V successfully negotiated the gradual restoration of Moroccan independence within a framework of French-Moroccan interdependence. The sultan agreed to institute reforms that would transform Morocco into a constitutional monarchy with a democratic form of government. In February 1956, Morocco acquired limited home rule. Further negotiations for full independence culminated in the French Moroccan Agreement signed in Paris on March 2, 1956. The abolition of the Spanish protectorate and the recognition of Moroccan independence by Spain were negotiated separately and made final in the Joint Declaration of April 1956. Later that year, Morocco regained control over Tangiers. In the months that followed independence, Mohammed V proceeded to build a modern governmental structure under a constitutional monarchy in which the sultan would exercise an active political role. He acted cautiously, having no intention of permitting more radical elements in the nationalist movement to overthrow the established order. He was also intent on preventing the Istiqlal from consolidating its control and establishing a single-party state. In August 1957, Mohammed V assumed the title of king. Reign of Hassan II: Following Mohammed V’s sudden death in 1961 from complications after surgery, his 31-year-old son Moulay Hassan assumed power as King Hassan II. The new king took personal control of the government as prime minister and named a new cabinet. Aided by an advisory council, he drew up a new constitution, which was approved overwhelmingly in a December 1962 referendum. Under its provisions, the king remained the central figure in the executive branch of the government, but legislative power was vested in a bicameral parliament, and an independent judiciary was guaranteed. In May 1963, legislative elections took place for the first time, and the royalist coalition secured a small plurality of seats. However, following a period of political upheaval, in June 1965 Hassan II assumed full legislative and executive powers under a “state of exception,” which remained in effect until 1970. Subsequently, a reform constitution was approved, restoring limited parliamentary government, and new elections were held. However, dissent remained, revolving around complaints of widespread corruption and malfeasance in government. In July 1971 and again in August 1972, the regime was challenged by two attempted military coups. The atmosphere in the country remained tense. Despite serious domestic turmoil, the patriotism engendered by Morocco’s participation in the Middle East conflict and by the events in Western Sahara contributed to Hassan’s popularity and strengthened his hand politically. The king had dispatched Moroccan troops to the Sinai front after the outbreak of Arab-Israeli War in October 1973. Although they arrived too late to engage in hostilities, the action won Morocco goodwill among other Arab states. Shortly thereafter, the attention of the government turned to the acquisition of Western Sahara from Spain, an issue on which all major parties agreed.
Moroccan claims to Western Sahara date to the eleventh century. However, in August 1974 Spain formally acknowledged the 1966 United Nations (UN) resolution calling for a referendum on the future status of Western Sahara and requested that a plebiscite be conducted under UN supervision. A UN commission reported in early 1975 that a majority of the Saharan people desired independence. Morocco protested the proposed referendum and took its case to the international Court of Justice at The Hague, which ruled that despite historical “ties of allegiance” between Morocco and the tribes of Western Sahara, there was no legal justification for departing from the UN position on self-determination. Spain, meanwhile, had declared that even in the absence of a referendum, it intended to surrender political control of Western Sahara, and Spain, Morocco, and Mauritania convened a tripartite conference to resolve the territory’s future. But Madrid also announced that it was opening independence talks with the Algerian backed Saharan independence movement known as the Polisario Front. In early 1976, Spain ceded Western Sahara to Morocco and Mauritania. Morocco assumed control over the northern two-thirds of the territory and conceded the remaining portion in the south to Mauritania. An assembly of Saharan tribal leaders duly acknowledged Moroccan sovereignty. However, buoyed by the increasing defection of the chiefs to its cause, the Polisario drew up a constitution and announced the formation of the Saharan Arab Democratic Republic (SADR). A new dimension was thereby added to the dispute because the liberation movement could now present its claims as a government-in-exile. Morocco eventually sent a large portion of its combat forces into Western Sahara to confront the Polisario’s forces, which were relatively small but well-equipped, highly mobile, and resourceful, using Algerian bases for quick strikes against targets deep inside Morocco and Mauritania as well as for operations in Western Sahara. In August 1979, after suffering military losses, Mauritania renounced its claim to Western Sahara and signed a peace treaty with the Polisario. Morocco then annexed the entire territory and in 1985 built a 2,500-kilometer sand berm around three-quarters of it. In 1988 Morocco and the Polisario Front finally agreed on a United Nations (UN) peace plan, and a cease-fire and settlement plan went into effect in 1991. Even though the UN Security Council created a peacekeeping force to implement a referendum on self-determination for Western Sahara, it has yet to be held, periodic negotiations have failed, and the status of the territory remains unresolved. More than any other issue since independence, the objective of securing Western Sahara had unified the Moroccan nation. Because of the firm stand the king had taken, it also enhanced his popularity in the country. But the war against the Polisario guerrillas put severe strains on the economy, and Morocco found itself increasingly isolated diplomatically. Successive governments showed little inclination to move seriously against pressing economic and social issues. As a result, popular discontent with social and economic conditions persisted. Political parties continued to proliferate but produced only a divided and weakly organised opposition or were suppressed. Through the force of his strong personality, the legacy of the monarchy, and the application of political repression, the king succeeded in asserting his authority and controlling the forces threatening the existing social order. Gradual political reforms in the 1990s culminated in the constitutional reform of 1996, which created a new bicameral legislature with expanded, although still limited, powers. Although reportedly marred by irregularities, elections for the Chamber of Representatives were held in 1997. Reign of Muhammad VI: In July 1999, King Hassan died and was succeeded by his son Crown Prince Sidi Mohammed, who assumed the title of Mohammed VI. One of the new king’s first acts was to free some 8,000 political prisoners and reduce the sentences of another 30,000. He also established a commission to compensate families of missing political activists and others subjected to arbitrary detention. In September 2002, new legislative elections were held, and the Socialist Union of Popular Forces (Union Socialiste des Forces Populaires—USFP) led all other parties in the voting. International observers regarded the elections as free and fair, noting the lack of irregularities that had plagued the 1997 elections. Under Muhammad VI, Morocco has continued down a path toward economic, political, and social reform and modernisation. In May 2003, in honour of the birth of a son and heir to the throne, the king ordered the release of 9,000 prisoners and the reduction of 38,000 sentences. Also, in 2003, Berber-language instruction was introduced in primary schools, prior to introducing it at all educational levels. In 2004 the government implemented reforms of the family code improving the status of women—first proposed in 2000—despite the objections of traditionalists. Internationally, Morocco has maintained a moderate stance, with strong ties to the West. It was one of the first Arab and Islamic states to denounce the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the United States. In May 2003, Morocco itself was subjected to the more radical forces at work in the Arab world when Islamist suicide bombers simultaneously struck a series of sites in Casablanca, killing 45 and injuring more than 100 others. The Moroccan government responded with a crackdown against Islamist extremists, ultimately arresting several thousand, prosecuting 1,200, and sentencing about 900. Additional arrests followed in June 2004. That same month, the United States designated Morocco a major non-North Atlantic Treaty Organisation ally in recognition of its efforts to thwart international terrorism. On January 1, 2006, a comprehensive bilateral free-trade agreement between the United States and Morocco took effect.