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Last updated : Nov 2009
Morocco History
Morocco History - TravelPuppy.com
The original inhabitants of Morocco, the Berbers, have experienced a series of invaders in past centuries. The Phoenicians were the 1st of these during the 12th century BC, followed by the Carthiginians – who incorporated the littoral region into their large empire. When Carthage was subjugated by the Romans during the 2nd century BC, the North African coast came under Roman control. After the Romans came the Vandals in 429 AD and the Byzantines during 533 AD. The 1stArabs came from the west in 682 AD and established a series of empires which have ruled Morocco ever since. As in much of North Africa, the conflict between Arabs and Berbers has been a central feature of the Morocco's history.

During the early 15th century, the rising marine powers of southern Europe started to take an interest in North Africa. The port of Ceuta – now in Spanish possession – was initially occupied by the Portuguese in 1415. This early struggle for power between the Arabs and Europeans came to a climax at the battle of Ksar Kbir in 1578, at which the Portuguese led by King Sebastian were conquered by the forces of Sultan Abdul Malik, who was then head of the Saadian dynasty. The victory heralded a memorable period of Moroccan history under the Saadian dynasty, during which Morocco became a major centre of artistic and scientific endeavour as well as enjoying economic prosperity.

After the Saadians and the descendant dynasty, the Alawites, Morocco came under growing European influence from the Spanish and the French. At the end of the 19th century, the French had inhabited Morocco and, in 1912, at the Treaty of Fez, the Sultan was deposed and control was taken by French Resident-General. The treaty was constructed to ensure that Spanish interests, of Ceuta and Melilla were assured.

An independence movement began immediately and was backed discreetly by the royal family. But it was not until after World War II, during 1956, that Morocco eventually achieved independence. Morocco’s 1st post-independence Head of State was Sultan Mohammad V, who later changed his title to King and in 1961, he was succeeded by his son, Hassan II. Until his death in 1999, Hassan held a strong grip on Morocco with a combination of repression and concession. For the majority of his rule, the most well-known opposition to King Hassan came from the Union Socialiste des Forces Populaires (USFP), the orthodox left-wing party.

Since the beginning of the 1990's, the Socialists have been exceeded by emerging Islamic groups which have made headway in impoverished urban areas. Both Socialists and Islamists shared, for different reasons, a dislike of Hassan’s autocratic rule and his consistent alignment of Morocco with the West and the United States in particular (the Americans maintain a variety of military bases in Morocco).

A rise of Islamists coincided with the introduction of a new constitution and the holding of popular legislative elections. Many national polls were held in the 1990's, all of which produced inconclusive results, as the poll split more or less evenly among 4 or 5 major parties. Hassan kept firm control of the executive by assigning a premier and a cabinet (representatives of the Islamist parties were excluded), key executive decisions were taken by Hassan and an ‘inner cabinet’ of key ministers.

The general election held in September 2002 repeated previous results, with the difference that under a new electoral system of comparative representation, no less than twenty-two parties are represented in the new assembly. Of these, the 3 main players are the Union Socialistes des Forces Populaires, the Islamic Parti de la Justice et du Développement and the centre-right nationalist Istiqlal. The premier, the socialist Driss Jettou, announced his cabinet during November 2002 and pointedly disqualified any Islamists from it, confining it to members of his own party and Istiqlal.

King Hassan had died 3 years earlier and was replaced by his son and heir Sidi Mohammed, who took the throne as King Mohammed VI. The new monarch appeared keen to adopt a more open, liberal image than his father, however in the 1st 4 years of his rule, few changes have been made. The ‘inner cabinet’ system of executive decision making continues.

Moroccan foreign policy remains broadly pro-western, with close ties to the United States and the European Union, especially France and Spain (Hassan had even aspired to membership of the European Union at one time). Closer to home, despite political differences with its North African neighbours, Morocco is a member of the Union of the Arab Maghreb which it helped to create and functions as an effective regional lobby.

Morocco has 2 major territorial disputes to deal with. Both involve the Spanish, but in different ways. During 1975, after the death of Franco, the Spanish pulled out of the colony then known as Spanish Sahara and now as Sahrawi. The Moroccans moved in instantaneously despite the objections of the indigenous Sahrawi people. During the next 16 years, until a UN-brokered ceasefire came into effect in 1991, the territory was the scene of a struggle between the Moroccan army and an indigenous guerrilla movement, the Polisario Front. The Moroccans believe the territory is an essential part of the nation and Polisario wants independence.

Since the ceasefire, Polisario has pursued a campaign almost exclusively through the UN. It has established a government in exile, the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), located in Algeria, along with a Sahrawi national assembly. Despite diverse initiatives mostly sponsored in 1 form or another by the United Nations, the movement appears to have made little progress.

Polisario has pinned its primary hope on a plebiscite in the territory: with the issue of eligibility to vote becoming crucial. The Moroccans have been moving settlers into the region in the hope of ultimately outnumbering the native Sahrawi. A new addition to this already potent mix has been reports of gas and oil fields in Sahrawi territorial waters. The United States, backed by other Western powers, has proposed compromising Sarhawi regional autonomy within Morocco. After an initial rejection, Polisario accepted the independence plan in July 2003 as a precursor to a final referendum on the status of the territory, however, the Moroccan government responded calmly and the future of the plan is uncertain.

Morocco’s other outstanding territorial dispute involves the Spanish-occupied enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla, on Morocco’s Mediterranean coast. These were originally annexed by Spain during the late 15th century and are now home to over 120,000 Spanish nationals. They have a particular significance in Spanish history recently as the springboard for Franco’s campaign in the Spanish Civil War. The Spanish are determined to hold on to them and decisively reject any comparison with the status of Gibraltar which is British run. The Spanish also hold a group of small, uninhabited islands along the northern coast. During July 2002, 1 of these, Perejil (‘Parsley’, after a wild form of the herb which grows there) was engaged by a token Moroccan force in a diplomatic stroke to raise the issue of Spanish possessions. The Spanish army unit rapidly retook Perejil, but the Moroccan move had the desired effect.