Morocco

Key facts

  • Capital city: Rabat
  • Land area: 446,300 sq. km
  • Population: 36,910,558
  • Population density: 82.703 per sq. km
  • Gross domestic product (GDP): 114,725,000,000 USD 
  • Gross domestic product per capita (GDP per capita): 3,009.249 USD
  • Gini index: 39.500
  • Average life expectancy: 76.680 years
    • Average female life expectancy: 77.895 years
    • Average male life expectancy: 75.423 years
  • Infant mortality rate: 1.830%
    • Infant female mortality rate: 1.640%
    • Infant male mortality rate: 2.020%
  • Adult literacy rate: 73.750%
    • Adult female literacy rate:  64.591%
    • Adult male literacy rate: 83.301%

This data was last updated on 16/01/2022 and has been collated from the World Bank’s Open Data database. To submit any queries or corrections regarding this data, including any questions about how to use this data, please do not hesitate to contact us.

Background

Depending on one’s interpretation of history, the Kingdom of Morocco dates as far back as 400 BC. Historians state that Idris ibn Abdallah (Idris I) – who fled modern-day Saudi Arabia following the Islamic Battle of Fakhkh – established what first resembles the present-day Moroccan nation in 788 AD. As Emir of Morocco, Idris I held close ancestral ties with the Islamic prophet Muhammad.

Where some claim that local communities peacefully accepted Idris I’s dawah (the act of inviting or calling people to embrace Islam), others view the establishment of the Sunni kingdom as the Muslim and Arab colonisation of indigenous Amazigh (or so-called “Berber”) people. The complex dynamic between these communities is typically embodied by Abd el-Krim (Muhammad ibn Abd al-Karim al-Khattabi). Abd el-Krim was a conservative Muslim and Amazigh guerilla fighter hailing from the short-lived Republic of the Rif within Morocco… as a secessionist, Abd el-Krim successfully resisted Spanish colonisers in Morocco.

Catalysed by its strategic geopolitical positioning, Morocco continued to play a role as both a perpetrator of and subject to historic colonialism. At Morocco’s closest point to Europe, a mere 14.3km separates Tarifa in Spain from Jebel Musa in Morocco. After becoming the target of Phoenician and Roman colonialism during the years of classical antiquity, Morocco colonised both the Iberian Peninsula and southern France between 661 AD and 750 AD. The kingdom was then colonised by Portugal, France and Spain in 1415 to 1515, 1912 to 1956, and 1912 to the present, respectively.

The Strait of Gibraltar, dividing Morocco and Spain, can therefore be identified as one of the MENA region’s most strategic and consequential naval choke points alongside the Strait of Hormuz (between the Persian Gulf and Gulf of Oman) and the Bab al-Mandab Strait (separating Yemen from the Horn of Africa).

Indeed, the term Gibraltar is a Spanish derivation of the Arabic term Jabal Tariq (or “Mountain of Tariq”), referring to Tariq ibn Ziyad, the Umayyad and Amazigh commander of the Muslim conquest of modern-day Spain.

It is finally worth noting that Morocco played a pivotal role in the Islamic Golden Age as the host of world renown polymaths including Ibn Battuta and Ibn Rushd. The latter is known in the Western world by his Latinised name Averroes.

According to our Arab Youth Survey focus group participants from Morocco, the King of Morocco is thus seen as a global ambassador of the relatively more progressive Maliki school of Sunni Islam. As such, imams across the country often pray for and endorse the king during Friday sermons. This provides legitimacy for the king and intertwines the religious identity of the monarch with the national identity of Morocco. We believe that the religiosity of Morocco’s monarchical institution is a major determinant of the country’s resistance to Arab Spring protests.

Economy

Morocco is known for its active tourist industry which, according to our Arab Youth Survey focus group participants from Morocco, was not substantially affected by the Arab Spring as much as it has more recently been affected by COVID-19. Popular destinations include the University of al-Qarawiyyin, which is the female-founded ‘oldest library in the world, housing the original 9th-century Quran’. Abd el-Krim al-Khattabi graduated from this university before later passing away in Cairo.

Moroccan focus group participants further claimed that, in normal circumstances, the country’s tourist industry provides substantial employment opportunities for young Moroccans, many of whom speak two or more languages (typically Arabic and French) and thus have natural skill sets applicable to the touristic and commercial sectors. Participants also expressed a desire to move beyond applied Arabic and French and see the future economy being embodied in other languages such as English and Chinese. Consequently, the country’s economy has been further leveraged by the many French, English and Spanish-language call centres residing in Morocco, although these have been marred by criticism relating to generally poor working conditions.

Morocco also continues to channel high volumes of trade between Europe and Africa, signing a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with the EU covering the ‘two-way trade of industrial products, together with a selective liberalisation of trade in agricultural, agro-food and fisheries products’. The ‘EU is Morocco’s largest trading partner, accounting for 59,4% [sic] of its trade in 2017’. According to our Arab Youth Survey focus group participants from Morocco, such large volumes of fishery and agricultural exports from the country remain a source of employment for young Moroccans in rural areas.

Human rights

Morocco’s positioning on the doorstep to Europe does make the nation vulnerable to extensive levels of drug and human trafficking. A damning report by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) states that 59% of sub-Saharan women migrating through Morocco experience sexual violence at the country’s borders. Furthermore, some corrupt parts of Morocco’s border authorities often engage in the sexual exploitation of females seeking to migrate to Europe. We suspect that many of these migrants may be minors.

In 2004, King Mohammed VI ‘raised the legal age of marriage from 15 to 18 and [formally] made sexual harassment punishable by law’. Additional constitutional changes followed in 2011, such as the inscription of rights for Moroccan citizens to directly elect their Prime Minister; this law is often criticised as an inadequate attempt to dampen the momentum of the Arab Spring which commenced earlier in 2011 in nearby Tunisia. It nonetheless seems that Moroccan citizens are content with average levels of human development if this means avoiding potential civil war; this attitude was shared by our Arab Youth Survey focus group participants from Morocco.

Other initiatives of the relatively progressive king include his marriage to Princess Lalla Salma. This marriage has been clouded by recent turbulence and speculation. Lalla Salma does, however, identify as Amazigh, which means that the marriage can be viewed as a continued attempt to normalise relations between those identifying as Arab and those identifying as Amazigh.

Under the previous monarch, relations between these two communities were more divided. Whilst the former king, Hassan II, did also marry an Amazigh lady, Mohammed VI has now made further steps to institutionalise Amazigh as an official language of Morocco.

In late 2019, a large social media movement started in Morocco called #Stop490; it demands the decriminalisation of consensual, non-marital sex and abortion, which is punishable according to Moroccan Penal Law 490.

The grassroots movement was mobilised after the case of Hajar Raissouni, a prominent journalist who was sentenced to one year imprisonment for allegedly having non-marital sex as well as an abortion. The journalist later received a pardon from King Mohammed VI, but the #Stop490 movement continues to grow in influence within Moroccan society. If successful, Morocco could constitute the first Arab country to take full steps to decriminalise non-marital, consensual sex.

At present, Riffian activist Nasser Zefzafi also maintains a substantial youth following despite currently serving a prison sentence under the accusation of foreign-led separatism. Whilst the arrest has been widely criticised by various human rights organisations, advocates for his detention claim that his arrest maintains stability and prevents the country from descending into civil war between the Arab and Riffian communities. Our Moroccan focus group participants declined to comment on Zefzafi’s detention, perhaps from fear of being monitored and reprimanded for holding more critical views of his arrest.

On the subject of civic monitoring within Morocco, our research further finds that Moroccan intelligence services played ‘a central role in Europe’s efforts to counter ISIS [Islamic State in Iraq and Syria] terrorism’; in spite of a ‘sharp increase in the number of terrorist attacks in the Maghreb region between 2011 and 2014’, Morocco remained ‘largely immune, with only one [ISIS] attack occurring in April 2011’. As demonstrated by the selective silence of Moroccan focus group participants during more sensitive parts of the focus group discussion, there appears to be a historic and collective “consciousness” of the presence of Morocco’s highly effective intelligence services in the country, even among Moroccan youths (who have historically been more vocal than older citizens).

Other than foreign intelligence assistance and agriculture (mentioned in the previous subsection on the economy), Morocco’s major exports derive from the automotive, textiles and phosphate sectors. Phosphate is used both as a chemical fertiliser and for pharmaceutical purposes. The kingdom has consequently engaged in a decades’ long dispute with Algeria over the status of the Western Sahara, a region south of mainland Morocco that is rich in phosphate reserves. This poses additional human rights challenges for Morocco.

In fact, a substantial nine per cent of Morocco’s 119.70 billion USD gross domestic product (GDP, 2019) derives from its phosphate reserves, accounting for 75% of the world’s combined phosphorus pool (phosphorus being the chemical compound that contains phosphate elements). That said, supporters of Morocco’s jurisdiction over the Western Sahara often point toward the historical and religious significance of the King of Morocco – also known as Amir al-Mu’minin (translating from Arabic to “Prince of the Believers”) – in addition to the antiquitous ties between the Western Saharan region and the “Greater Maghreb” of the Umayyad caliphate.

Despite international criticism levied at Morocco for its purported “soft colonialism” of the Western Sahara, the Moroccan youths who participated in the Arab Youth Survey focus group discussion believed that Morocco’s jurisdiction over the de facto “Moroccan Sahara” is justified. Research we have conducted conversely finds that the conflict between Morocco and Algeria over the status of the Western Sahara has been perpetuated by historic European colonialism, namely Europe’s unscrupulous division of the African continent. We believe that Algeria’s role in the conflict is equally problematic, as the nation likely has its own strategic objectives and may not be supporting the Sahraoui independence movement out of pure benevolence.

In the end, many marginalised refugee communities – especially those in Tindouf – are suffering as a result of the conflict. Poor sanitary conditions and lack of nutrition is a challenge for Sahraoui refugees. There are also many illegal and unmarked landmines on the Moroccan border that have resulted in numerous civilian fatalities and injuries.

News reports from more favourable sources – such as Morocco World News – highlight Morocco’s economic development initiatives in the Western Sahara as a justification for the country’s jurisdiction over the territory.

For example, traditionally strong ties between Morocco and the United States have resulted in a 2.5 billion USD wind farm investment in Dakhla. Other international organisations have avoided investing in environmental initiatives in the disputed territory due to purported fear of human rights violations.

With regards to Morocco’s collaboration with the US in the Western Saharan territory: Morocco was, indeed, the first nation to recognise US sovereignty in 1777. Former-President Donald Trump recognised Morocco’s jurisdiction over the Western Sahara in return for the normalisation of diplomatic relationships between Morocco and Israel which allowed Trump to take credit for re-integrating Israel into the international community. According to Israel’s centre-right newspaper The Jerusalem Post, approximately one million Israeli Jews are of Moroccan descent.

Other issues in the Western Sahara nevertheless remain and include the detention and torture of local activists by Moroccan authorities, the illegal extraction of phosphate from the region, and legally ambiguous fishing practices by international organisations in Western Saharan waters. Our Arab Youth Survey focus group participants from Palestine also criticised Morocco’s willingness to engage with Israel’s problematic regime in return for achieving strategic objectives in the Western Sahara (please see the Palestine section further below).

Focus group feedback

Inadequate healthcare infrastructure was identified as a major challenge among Moroccan survey respondents from our Arab Youth Survey. Moroccan focus group participants equally expressed mixed views concerning their country’s handling of COVID-19. Whilst they believed that Morocco is handling the pandemic with competency relative to the handling of the pandemic by other MENA nations, they compared Morocco’s performance against some European nations who have successfully managed COVID-19, reaching a conclusion that Morocco could also perform better.

Although the African continent has seen fewer COVID-19 cases compared with Europe – with approximately four million cumulative cases in Africa compared with approximately 33 million cumulative cases in Europe (as of 24 February, 2021) – Morocco hosts the second highest coronavirus case rate in the continent following South Africa. We suspect that this could be due to Morocco’s active tourist industry prior to the pandemic as well as Morocco’s higher technical capacity for identifying COVID-19 cases compared with other African nations.

One Moroccan focus group participant – identifying as a doctor under the age of 35 – stated that he worked in a hospital in a rural Amazigh village. He claimed that people in such villages do not have adequate access to healthcare and are not sufficiently informed about a variety of healthcare risks as a result. It is unsurprising, therefore, that recent studies demonstrate a correlation between poorer municipalities and a higher COVID-19 infection rate, especially as vaccines become harder to access due to logistical and/or financial constraints in these rural communities.

Although all of our survey respondents scored healthcare institutions in their respective nations poorly (this is especially the case for Libyan respondents), there was a lower reported healthcare score among Moroccan survey respondents compared with other institutions scored by Moroccans. Furthermore, in response to the our survey question which asks respondents to identify the ‘symbol, character or individual [that] best represents the future’, another Moroccan survey respondent under the age of 35 provided “COVID-19” as their answer.

Life expectancy is higher in Morocco compared to many other MENA nations, with young Moroccans being expected to live until at least their mid-70s. Of course, an ageing population could undermine the ratio of younger people compared with older people, especially as economic development ensues in the country.

Some improvements have been made to healthcare infrastructure in Morocco, such as improved access to metropolitan areas with the introduction of transnational rapid railway and motorway routes. These initiatives include the Boraq route between Tangiers, Rabat and Casablanca, the fastest trainline in Africa. In an ideal situation, healthcare institutions would be more prevalent in rural areas and would not require relatively poorer Moroccans to pay for transportation to access fundamental health services in the city. Moroccan focus group participants also claimed that metropolitan hospitals are overpopulated as a result of hosting patients from both urban and rural areas.

Poor sanitation in rural schools and colleges can equally exclude Moroccan females from the country’s education system. Moroccan females would evidently be less inclined to go to school if there are no suitable sanitary or restroom areas, especially as they reach the age of puberty and adequate sanitary facilities become much more essential for their wellbeing.

Morocco bears the burden of a low literacy rate compared with most nations, and this rate is even lower for Moroccan females who become excluded from the education system.

As such, illiteracy rates ‘for rural women and girls in Morocco remain as high as 90 percent (though official sources put the figure at 54.4 percent)’. Existing research also indicates a strong correlation between national literacy levels and GDP output. Therefore, a lack of sanitary facilities in rural Moroccan schools excludes rural-based girls from the education system, which in turn compromises their future employment prospects.

Despite the above, Moroccan survey respondents scored general women’s rights in their country “slightly favourably”. The result is approximately 24% higher compared with responses from Libyan, Egyptian and Palestinian survey participants. Moroccan female respondents also viewed women’s opportunities 40% more favourably compared with Moroccan male respondents. We suspect that these relatively favourable results are partly due to the subjective and relative nature of women’s rights in Morocco when compared with women’s rights in other MENA nations.

We also anticipate that young Moroccan females based in metropolitan areas are exposed to more progressive views concerning women’s rights and female identity expression when compared with their rural-based counterparts. This, coupled with a relatively more positive experience of women’s rights in metropolitan Morocco, could have served to provide a more favourable assessment score of gender equality by Moroccan survey respondents.

Nonetheless, both male and female Moroccan respondents reported that they believe that they can influence their futures, with all respondents of 35 years of age and under expressing that they have more opportunities now than they had three years ago.

Moroccan survey respondents based in Morocco did, however, express a desire to emigrate to another country. Due to favourable responses on the ability to influence their futures, we suspect that this desire to emigrate abroad is more related to economic grievances than to political grievances. For instance, Moroccan youths who participated in our survey equally expressed favourable attitudes towards their king, many of whom identify him as the individual who ‘best defends’ their society.

Adequate satisfaction with political processes in Morocco was further indicated by favourable scores attributed to the country’s religious freedoms as well as openness during the focus group discussion from Moroccan participants, all of whom were based locally.

All Moroccan respondents identified as Muslim. Therefore, we suspect that “religious freedoms” would have been scored less favourably by Morocco’s more marginalised religious demographics. Despite this, Morocco’s religious freedoms score is still relevant for consideration as the overwhelming majority of Moroccans identify as Muslim.

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