Modern Morocco: Islam, Society, and Politics


Morocco is a country with a history that has absorbed millennia of traditions into its culture. The imprint of several ancient civilizations can be strongly felt in it, resulting in an example of stunning diversity and complexity, which is seen in the streets of its cities and its people even today.

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Morocco’s history spans over three millennia, although there is archaeological evidence of hominids inhabiting the territory as early as 400,000 years ago. Closer to 2000 years BC, this area was populated by the ingenious ethnic group of Berbers. They were divided into numerous tribes and had no unifying government or a set of laws. As a result, the ownership of the territory of future Morocco was regularly contested.

The first civilization to claim it was the marine trade nation Phoenicia, in the twelfth century BC. Despite their successful conquest of the coastal areas, Phoenicia was itself pushed out of those territories in the 5th century BC by the city-state of Carthage, although not before leaving its cultural imprint on the people. In his works, Herodotus described the Atlantic Coast of Morocco under Carthage as an important trading spot, and archaeological finds showed evidence of all kinds of products being exchanged there, from metals to textiles and ceramics. Carthage opted to cooperate with the Berber tribes and generously paid for their help in the excavation of the local resources.

It is also during this time that the first records were made of the Berber kings and their inland territories. In particular, this is also when the first mentions of Mauretania are dated too, an independent Berber kingdom, corresponding to the northern part of modern Morocco. The kingdom was trading with Carthage and when in the 2nd century BC the Roman Empire marched against Carthage and conquered its coastal cities and settlements, the cooperation and trade agreements were renewed this time for the Romans, until eventually, they became a Roman province. This lasted until approximately the 4th century AD.

During this period, The Romans introduced was the native population to Christianity, and it became quite widespread. However, following the fragmentation and fall of the Roman Empire, the territory began changing hands again, first conquered by the East Germanic Vandal tribes in the 430s BC, and then falling into the servitude of the Byzantine Empire, although a lot of mountain regions remained free and in the hands of the Berbers.

Finally, following the death of Muhammad in 632, the Arab Muslims began their rapid conquest of North Africa, which encompassed the future of Morocco. Under the Muslim rule, the Berbers were converted to Islam but were allowed to keep their laws and traditions, in exchange for taxes and tributes. This motivated the tribes to join the Arabs in the invasion of Spain in 711 but did not keep them from despising the secondary status that was imposed upon them.

This eventually resulted in a series of massive Berber rebellions, which sparked throughout the Maghreb, which covered most of North Africa. The Arab rule was overthrown, and the Berbers created their vision of Islam. The following centuries were rife with both political and religious shifts in Morocco, as it became a magnet for numerous dissidents and refugees from the eastern Muslim caliphate, which ended when a series of Berber dynasties finally established an iron hold over the region (“History of Morocco” par.1-4).

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Their rule lasted until the 1500s. The Moors and the Jews who flocked towards the country from Spain during this time left a substantial impact on the culture of the land, and a lot of these influences are still strongly felt in the country today. The eventual decline of the dynasties invited the attention of Turkey and the West. The conflict between these two nations was eventually resolved in the favor of the Ottoman Empire. During the following centuries, the Moroccan lands also gained the interest of Portugal, France, Spain, and eventually even Germany in 1911.

Finally, in the 1950s, Morocco gained independence when Sultan Mohammed V became a king, which led Spain and France to eventually give up the claim to the majority of their lands in Morocco.

This has allowed Mohammed and his son Hassan II to build a modern government, in which the sultan has an active political role, which has remained strong to this day. King Hassan has lived till 1999, and his rule of 38 years being the longest in the modern history of the Muslim world. Throughout his and his father’s rule, Morocco has firmly attempted to gain control over the whole of the Saharan Desert (Cleveland and Bunton 6-103).

Modern Morocco is a quickly changing and developing country, with a diverse culture, in which influences of dozens of radically different civilizations can be felt. It is a distinct blend of the persistent, untamed Berber culture, Arab culture, strong Moorish, and Semitic cultures, as well as numerous European influences. They are felt in its architecture, both separately and on their own, and the styles can vary from generously ornate and colorful, to simple and modest. The cities shift from the towns, left-over from the years of the French colonization to the Berber and Islamic style houses, temples, and mansions. And nowadays this diversity is further added by the modern glass, concrete, and steel designs, which are built in their distinct style.

The country’s politics and social structure are no less fascinating and stand out among the North African and Middle-Eastern countries. In many ways, its current political decisions are a response to the legacy of King Mohammed’s father Hassan II, who, despite numerous successes and advancements, was widely criticized for abuse of human rights, high illiteracy, and a large gap between the poor and the rich. Since then, the literacy levels had improved to 72 percent in 2012, and in 2006 the country was even awarded the “UNESCO 2006 Literacy Prize”.

There also are notable efforts to improve healthcare. Since its independence, the number of physicians for the entire population of the country has increased from less than a thousand to over 20,000, with over 26,000 health care facilities. However, with a population of 32 million, there still is a noticeable shortage of doctors, and medical attention is inaccessible to large portions of the population due to its expensiveness (“Poverty & Healthcare” par.1-5).

Formerly, its Constitution accounted for a government is a monarchy with a Parliament and a separate court system, but in 2011, King Mohammed VI had initiated constitutional reforms aimed at transforming the country into a parliamentary constitutional monarchy (“Moroccan King in Referendum Win” par.8,13-15). The majority of the executive powers would be moved to the prime minister, while the King of Morocco would retain honorific powers as the “Commander of the Faithful” and the secular political leader.

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The prime minister would be appointed by the King from the party that has gained the majority in the parliamentary elections. According to the Constitution, the King is also the formal leader of the military.

Morocco is a member of the Arab League and is part of the United Nations. As defined by its history, it has strong ties to the West economically and politically, with France and Spain being its primary investors and creditors, as well as trade partners. However, Morocco is also not a member of the African Union, uniquely to the African countries, due to its interest in the Sahara desert and the Union’s recognition of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic’s independence and admission into its members. Morocco has friendly ties to the US, having been the first country to recognize America’s independence in 1777, and having been tagged as a major non-NATO ally in the later years.

The main religion of the state is Islam, although due to its rich history it is also host to a variety of other beliefs, including Christianity, Judaism, and pagan beliefs. Islam holds the 99 percent majority in the country, with the Moroccan Muslims being predominantly of the Maliki school of thought. King Mohammed VI and his administration are actively promoting it, to combat the influence of the ultra-conservative radical Salafi Islam, which is often connected with the jihadist militant group Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (Avni par.18).


In conclusion, Morocco is a transforming country. From the dawn of recorded history, it has absorbed external influences, yet has always found a way to retain its unique identity among them. Although hindered by some of the darker moments in its past, there are constant transformative motions in the country, and slowly the situation of the population is improving, as do the countries standing in the world.

Works Cited

Avni, Benny. “Fighting Terror Bogart-style: How Morocco Counters Radical Islam.New York Post. 2015. Web.

Cleveland, William L., and Martin Bunton. A History of the Modern Middle East. 4th ed. Boulder, CO: Westview, 2008. Print.

History of Morocco.History and Information of Ancient Morocco. n.d. Web.

Moroccan King in Referendum Win.The Irish Times. 2011. Web.

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Poverty & Healthcare. n.d. Web.

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