Morocco History


Morocco's strategic location has shaped its history. Beginning with the Phoenicians, many foreigners have come to this area, some to trade or settle, others as invaders sweeping the land and dominating it. Romans, Vandals, Visigoths, and Byzantine Greeks successively ruled the area.

Arab forces began occupying Morocco in the seventh century A.D., bringing with them Arab civilization and Islam. Other invasions followed. The Alaouite dynasty, which has ruled Morocco since 1649, claims descent from the Prophet Muhammad. Morocco's location and resources led to early competition among European powers in Africa, beginning with successful Portu-guese efforts to control the Atlantic coast in the 15th century. France showed a strong interest in Morocco as early as 1830. Following recognition by the United Kingdom in 1904 of France's "sphere of influence" in Morocco, the Algeciras Conference (1906) formalized France's "special position" and entrusted policing of Morocco to France and Spain jointly. The Treaty of Fez (1912) made Morocco a protectorate of France. By the same treaty, Spain assumed the role of protecting power over the northern and southern(Saharan) zones.

The first nationalist political parties based their arguments for Moroccan independence on such World War II declarations as the Atlantic Charter (a joint statement issued by President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Prime Minister Winston Churchill that sets forth, among other things, the right of all people to choose the form of government under which they will live). A manifesto of the Istiqlal (Independence) Party in 1944 was one of the earliest public demands for independence. That party subsequently provided most of the leadership for the nationalist movement.

France's exile of the highly respected Sultan Muhammad V in 1953 and his replacement by the unpopular Muhammad Ben Aarafa, whose reign was perceived as illegitimate, sparked active opposition to the French protectorate. France allowed Muhammad V to return in 1955; negotiations leading to independence began the following year.

The Kingdom of Morocco recovered its political independence from France on March 2, 1956. By agreements with Spain in 1956 and 1958, Moroccan control over certain Spanish-ruled areas was restored (see box, p. 2). On October 29, 1956, the signing of the Tangier Protocol politically reintegrated the former international zone. Spain, however, retained control over the small enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla in the north and the enclave of Ifni in the south. Ifni became part of Morocco in 1969. After the death of his father, Muhammad V, King Hassan II succeeded to the throne on March 3, 1961. He recognized the Royal Charter proclaimed by his father on May 8, 1958, which outlined steps toward establishing a constitutional monarchy.

A constitution providing for representative government under a strong monarchy was approved by referendum on December 7, 1962. Elections were held in 1963. In June 1965, following student riots and civil unrest, the king invoked article 35 of the constitution and declared a "state of exception." He assumed all legislative and executive powers and named a new government not based on political parties. In July 1970, King Hassan submitted to referendum a new constitution providing for an even stronger monarchy. Its approval and the subsequent elections formally ended the 1965 "state of exception."

An unsuccessful coup on July 10, 1971, organized by senior military officers at Skhirat, was followed by Morocco's third constitution, approved by popular referendum in early 1972. The new constitution kept King Hassan's powers intact but enlarged from one-third to two-thirds the number of directly elected parliamentary representatives. In August 1972, after a second coup attempt by Moroccan Air Force dissidents and the King's powerful Interior Minister General Oufkir, relations between the opposition and the Crown deteriorated, due to disagreement on opposition participation in elections. The king subsequently appointed a series of nonpolitical cabinets responsible only to him.

Stemming from cooperation on the Sahara issue (see box), rapprochement between the king and the opposition began in mid-1974 and led to elections for local councils, with opposition party participation, in November 1976. Parliamentary elections, deferred because of tensions with Spain and Algeria over the Sahara dispute, were held in 1977, resulting in a two-thirds majority for the government- backed independent candidates and their allies, the Istiqlal and the Popular Movement. The Constitutional Union finished first in local elections in June 1983 and parliamentary elections in 1984.

source: U.S. State Department Background Notes 1994

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