The population of Morocco is just over 30 million. The largest city is Casablanca with an unofficial population count of 3.2 million. Marrakech holds 2 million inhabitants with Rabat, the capital, being the third largest populated city with a total of 1.4 million.
The Kingdom of Morocco is an Islamic, Democratic and Social Constitutional Monarchy. It is an African country and belongs to the Maghreb region.
Since the enthronement of His Majesty King Hasaan 11 in 1961, Morocco has played a dynamic role in major international and regional organizations (The United Nations, Arab Maghreb Union, The Arab league and the Al Qods committee).
The current King is Mohamed V1 who succeeded his father in 1999. Born in Rabat on 23rd august 1963 Mohammed V1 is the 18th King in the Alaouite dynasty which has reigned morocco since 1666. He carries with him also the title of Commander of the Faithful or Religious Chief and is known as a modernizer, having completed his doctorate in Law with distinction from the French university of Nice Sophia Antopolis. He was also awarded an honorary degree from George Washington University in June 2000 for his promotion of Democracy in Morocco.
On March 21st 2002 he married HRH Princess Lalla Salma. They have two children, Crown Prince Moulay Hasaan, born May 8th 2003 and Princess Lalla Khadija born February 28th, 2007.
The government is chosen from elected legislature and is currently a coalition of 6 political parties under Prime Minister Abbas El Fassi elected in October 2007 of the Istiqlal (independence) party, in theory a socialist party. The main opposition is the moderate Islamist PJD (Party of Justice and Development). Elections are held every five years, and all parties have to operate within political consensus, and are forbidden to oppose the Monarchy.
Languages and French Influence
Although Arabic is the official language of Morocco, French is widely used and is recognised as the country’s’ second dialect. The reason for this is that Morocco was once a French protectorate (1912-1956).
In theory, the protectorate status was slightly different than colonial status, as the main aim was not to send off large numbers of settlers (as was the case in Algeria). Rather, Moroccan customs and traditions were to be upheld, and the French government was to work in conjunction with the established Sultanate.
In practice, especially with the passing with time, the rules governing the Protectorate’s involvement were largely ignored ensuing an eventual push to Independence. This occurred on March 2nd 1956.
French is still widely taught in schools. In high schools and university science subjects are in fact conducted entirely in this manner.
Within the Treaty of Fes in 1912 France handed Spain a zone in the North. They withdrew largely after the return of Sultan Mohammed V retaining the coastal enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla.
The legacy of the Spanish language and cuisine is still quite evident in the Northern areas of Morocco.
There are also three Berber dialects spoken within the country. These are:
Riffi: spoken in the Riff Mountains and Northern Morocco.
Zaian: Used in the Middle Atlas and central Morocco.
Tashelhait, Soussi and Cheleuh: common in the High Atlas and Anti Atlas in the South.
It is interesting to note that Moroccan Arabic is substantially different to Classical Arabic or modern Arabic spoken in Egypt.
Police and Army
The Moroccan military consists of 196,300 active duty personnel and 15,000 reserves. Active duties are assigned to the various services:
Army, 175,000; Navy 7,800 and air force, 13,500.
In addition, Morocco has 50,000 active paramilitary personnel.
The General Office of National Security is a National Civilian Police Force divided into 37 local districts. The Royal Gendarmerie, a paramilitary force serves as the country’s main rural police unit.
Police wear different coloured uniforms depending on their role and location. Regular forces wear blue uniforms and typical traffic – police style caps. The forces auxiliaries wear olive green, and function both as police and army reserves. The gendarmes work in rural areas wearing grey uniforms. Plain clothed tourist police patrol many souks, particularly those of Marrakech and Fes.
Morocco is rich in calcium phosphates. It is the world’s third largest producer and the leading exporter. Phosphate rock, phosphoric acid and fertilizer are the country’s principal source of export earnings.
Calcium phosphate is mined at Khouribga, Youssoufia and Benguerir, and Bu Craa in the Western Sahara.
Rock is processed at Safi for export through the ports of Casablanca, El Jorf-Lasfar and Layoun. Coal, iron ore, lead, zinc, tin, silver and manganese are also mined throughout Morocco.
Petroleum refining (Morocco is almost entirely dependant on imported crude petroleum), food processing and the production of cement textiles and chemicals are significant within the country.
Agriculture obviously is another important sector of the Moroccan economy employing nearly half the labour force. The Government is currently reforming land ownership laws as traditionally farms tend to be relatively small.
A wide range of climate and soil structure has led to the production of a variety of crops: in the north grapes, fruit, olives and wheat; to the west citrus trees, vegetables, and wheat, and to the south, dates and argan trees.
Walnut and pistachio trees are common in the atlas region and you may encounter little boys on the side of the road selling bunches of thyme here. As you pass through you will encounter fields of roses in the valleys used to make high quality rose oil found in the abundant beauty products available.
Alfalfa is grown all over and used as feed for animals
Morocco is also an important producer and exporter of fish. There are major fishing ports at Agadir, Safi, Essaouira, Casablanca and Tan Tan. Amongst these ports are the world’s largest centres for sardine fishing.
Casablanca is the leading industrial centre.
Of course tourism is a high earner for the country with millions of tourists per year now visiting Morocco.
Morocco, like the rest of the Middle East is an Islamic country. That sound you will hear is the daily call to prayer. This serves as a reminder to solidify ones faith to Allah five times per day at times according to the Lunar Islamic calendar, usually starting before sunrise and finishing before 9pm.
These prayers can be performed anywhere in modern days but it is preferable to do so in a mosque, with Friday a compulsory day for mosque visitation. Mothers, children or the ill, elderly or unable are exempt from this rule.
Before prayer or handling the Koran worshippers must complete a ritual washing ceremony. Prayer at mosque is conducted through an Imam, a respected elder of the community.
Worshipers of Islam have five essential requirements called the Pillars of Faith that are central to Muslim life.
Shahada – Testimony of Faith.
Muslims must declare in public, their belief that “There is no God but Allah, and Mohammed is His Prophet”. This pillar is aimed at improving man’s conduct in the world as a general affirmation.
Salat – Payer.
Muslims must pray facing Mecca five times a day as close to Call to Prayer as possible. This pillar provides a constant reminder of their relationship with Allah.
Zakat – Charity.
Giving alms to the poor is a social and cultural obligation designed to reduce the gap between rich and poor.
Sawn – Fasting.
During the holy month of Ramadan, Muslims must abstain from indulging in any physical desire. They cannot eat, drink, smoke, chew gum, kiss or have sexual relations during daylight hours. This act of self discipline is proof of Muslims’ faith in Allah. Muslims do not feel deprived during this period, but more so a sense of solidarity and belonging combined with a sense of unity with all being on an equal level. Again, pregnant women, children, and the ill are exempt from fasting.
Hajj – Pilgrimage.
Muslims who are financially able to make a trip to the holy land of Mecca (in Saudi Arabia) should do so once in their lifetime. Men and women who have completed this pilgrimage earn the auspicious title of Hajj and Hajja respectively. This act unites them with fellow Muslims universally.
Traditional Dress –
The Djellaba is a traditional long, loose, long sleeved hooded garment worn by both men and women. For men these are usually of simple pattern and colour whereas the women will have embroidery, ornate stitching and patterns made in various materials. For special occasions men will wear a tarbouche or Fes hat, and most will commonly wear traditional slippers called babouches, usually in yellow.
To differentiate, kaftans are also worn but are not hooded, and for women these are often seen as home attire.
Though Moroccans are changing to Western ways rather rapidly, they are still for the most part a very traditional nation. As visitors in this country we need to take this and the way we appear into consideration. Shoulders and knees covered will imply respect and help prevent harassment.
Most shops throughout Morocco will open Monday to Saturday from 9am to 8pm, with many taking a break between noon and 3pm.
Post Offices and banks are open 8.30am (approx.) until 6.30pm Monday to Friday, as are pharmacies, and again all will take an afternoon siesta.
Money changers however will open for longer hours and most often on weekends.
Friday is the main Prayer day in Morocco, so you will find most medina’s closed on this day, but remaining open through the weekend.
Weekends however in the larger cities will see many shops and offices closed, as they are in the West. They will shut down for religious and National holidays.
It is always worth checking opening hours for sites and attractions as their hours and opening days can change on a regular basis.
Rivers and Mountains
The main rivers of Morocco are:
Oum Er-Ribia: The longest river in Morocco at 555km long. You will most likely see this when traveling between Marrakech and Casablanca. Its source is found in the Middle Atlas and it feeds out into the Atlantic Ocean. The river has 6 dams, the most important being the Al Massira which provides 18.4 billion litres of water to homes between Casablanca and Safi.
Oued Sebou: The largest river by volume and at 458km the second longest. It passes close to Fes and feeds into the Atlantic at Mehdia. The river also flows past Morocco’s only river port at the city of Kenitra and is hugely important for irrigation in the region of Gharb – Morocco’s most fertile area.
The Bou Rgreg: At 240km long, this river originates in at a high altitude in the Middle Atlas region also feeding into the Atlantic Ocean where it separates Rabat to the South and Sale to the north.
Morocco is traversed by four mountain ranges. From North to South they are the Riff, the Middle Atlas, the High Atlas and the Anti Atlas. Some peaks in the High Atlas remain snowcapped all year and are among the highest in Africa. Of these, the highest peak is Jebel Toubkal standing at a grand 4167 metres. This mountain provides the country’s most popular trekking destination attracting 75% of all trekkers. The summit can be reached easily in two days (except in winter months) allowing time to adjust to the altitude.
On the coastline the climate remains fairly temperate (an example being Essaouira that generally remains at 25 degrees Celsius providing an escape from the Marrakech heat and or cold.) year round although winter can bring wet conditions in the North and lowlands.
The cooler months are from October to April. This time of year is generally warm to hot during the day (around 30 Celsius) and cool to cold in the evenings (around 15 degrees Celsius.) Winter in the high regions gets particularly cold at this time with snow common. July to September can be extremely hot 40 degrees Celsius +). Rainfall tends to occur from November to March, mostly along the coastal regions.
Zagora in the South is the hottest town in the country!
Due to climate change ground water resources are expected to shrink in the next decade. The country is experiencing heavier rain during the winter and drier hotter summers. This will result in desertification in some cultivated areas.
Public Affection Norms
Same sex intimacy such as holding hands and cuddling is commonplace throughout Morocco and is simply a sign of friendship and unity. By contrast overt displays of affection between couples, either dating or married are frowned upon. Male/female contact in public is strictly limited to hand shaking.
Females may marry at fifteen (this may soon change to eighteen) and males currently must be eighteen. The marriage ceremony may last between 2 – 4 days depending on the region.
Polygamy is only permissible in accordance with the following legal provisions:
The judge will not allow this circumstance unless he is convinced of the husbands’ ability to treat his second wife and children on equal footing with the first wife and if he is convinced of the objective justification to allow polygamy.
The first wife must consent to this situation or will be given the right to demand divorce.
Most marriages occur within the couples early twenties with pregnancy resulting usually within a year.
Food and Drink
Moroccan cuisine is superb. Over the ages Arabic, Mediterranean, Moorish, African, Iberian and Jewish cultures have blended in this country bringing traditional meals and ingredients to create what is now considered to be one of the most diversified cuisines in the world.
Political refugees fleeing Baghdad in the Middle Ages to settle here brought with them many recipes that are now common dishes in this country but forgotten in the rest of the Middle East. An example of this is the blending of meat with fruit, for example quince with lamb, or chicken with apricots. This has even filtered through to Morocco’s signature dish – tajine.
Mealtimes in Morocco are a social event. Common rituals include washing the hands before eating and drinking tea before and after a meal. Moroccans eat with the fingers of the right hand, taking food from a shared platter. It is polite when eating from a communal plate to take from just directly in front of you.
Common dishes you will encounter:
Tagine: Named after the earthenware conical pot that this delicacy is cooked and served in. It usually consists of meat and vegetables combined with spices, slow cooked at low temperatures until tender.
Cous Cous: Another meal integral to this region. It is the traditional Friday lunch made from semolina wheat coasted with ground wheat flour. It is often cooked with spices, vegetables, nuts or raisins.
Harrira Soup: A thick filling soup consisting of chick peas, tomatoes and lentils. It is commonly cooked with lamb stock.
Pastilla: A specialty of Fes but commonplace throughout the country. Layers of flaky ouarka pastry, almonds, cinnamon, saffron and sugar are combined traditionally with pigeon, however you will now often find this dish prepared with chicken.
Kefta: Spicy minced meatballs cooked with egg.
Brochettes: Skewered meat or chicken barbequed over hot coals.
Salads are an integral part of any typical Moroccan meal. These are generally served before the main course, the most common being Salade Marocaine – finely diced green peppers, tomatoes and red onions.
Sweets are not necessarily served at the end of a meal but are widely consumed. You will encounter on a regular basis Kaab el Ghzal (gazelle horns) a pastry stuffed with almond paste and topped with sugar. Doughnuts and honey cakes made with almonds, raisins, and sesame seeds are common treats.
Spices are used extensively in Moroccan food, the most popular being saffron, cumin, coriander, chili, paprika, cinnamon and pepper. Shopkeepers in the spice markets make many special mixtures containing from 10 to 100 spices with each vendor using their own secret recipes. In these markets you will find an array of delicious fresh produce including dried fruit and nuts, fresh goats cheese and an array of preserved meats and fruits to name a few.
The national drink is mint tea otherwise known as Berber Whiskey!! It is made using green tea, fresh mint leaves, sugar and boiling water. with the technique of serving as crucial as the quality of the tea itself. It is boiled then poured and repoured from a height to infuse the flavour and served with extra sugar cubes. Interestingly, tea was introduced to Morocco by the British in 1845.
Whilst the standard of hygiene is not as high as in Western countries, generally most foods and drinks are safe to eat. It is not advisable however to drink the tap water. Choose restaurants full of locals with high turnover, and common sense will minimize your chances of fallin